Salvation: Becoming Me
What happens when hope is made real through effective treatment of brain injury?
Posted Sep 11, 2018
This is part eleven of a weekly serialization of chapters from Salvation, a section of my book describing the hope that effective treatment brings. Part one is here. For the first time in over five and a half years and after standard rehab had made little change to my injury, I received a "yes" to my goal of healing my brain. Concussion Is Brain Injury: Treating the Neurons and Me begins at the start of my brain injury journey; the Salvation section begins the journey of restoring my neurons. This week, I start to explore my post-brain injury personality and take my first successful steps back to my writing career.
Chapter 11: Becoming Me
Clouds chased drizzle in the light winds of early January 2006 as I made my way to acupuncture then brain biofeedback. During reading recall in my first biofeedback session of 2006, I’d remembered names! First time I had!
My male brain trainer said a couple of weeks later, “That’s what I like about you.”
“You’re a positive person.”
News to me. I hear so often that I’m negative.
“You always look at the good numbers.”
But I had more yet to accomplish, like remembering names without any help. I worried about my forty-session reassessment coming up on February 2, 2006.
The trip to the Mississauga clinic through haze and a stiff wind was different than in August, and it wasn't because of the weather. I was different. Chattier, livelier. I did much better than before on the boring test. That meant I really did have damage! Not malingering! The right treatment worked! The staff cheered my improvement in concentration and my normalized ADD scores, yet I had far to go. My response time had risen from less than first to seventh percentile for women my age. I’d gone from sub-sloth to sloth speed. I needed more sessions but only weekly. How to pay? I prayed. A way opened.
“You have a brain injury.”
My brain froze.
My mouth said, “I know.” Had Dad really said those words? My heart skipped into my throat. I couldn’t have heard right. I kept talking to him on the phone. He kept talking to me as if it was now clear I really had had a brain injury, not easier-to-accept depression, because I had improved. Significantly.
Meanwhile, Miriam, Judy’s youngest daughter, had asked me about Lifeliner. “Know anyone?” I’d tacked on to the end of my mid-January 2006 email reply to her after explaining I needed a human resource to finish it. She replied that she had a writer friend, Glen, who might be interested.
Was this hope? Was I to write Lifeliner after all?
A month later, the three of us sat around my kitchen table. Glen had one stipulation. My heart thudded.
“I must do your horoscope first.”
Uh, sure. I gave him my requisite information, information that went beyond simply my birth date.
Each day felt like a mountain. I tried to put it out of my mind, like I did with the lawsuits. Hurry up and wait. And while you wait, forget about it. Live life as if it wasn’t happening, my draining bank account notwithstanding.
On February 20, Glen said that he wanted to help.
I could hardly believe it. I had a human resource! I had help! I wasn’t alone in this humongous endeavour anymore.
He came over in early March, and we sat down in my living room on another cold winter day. He explained to me that 13 percent of the population is inner directed. They make decisions from principles and things inside them. The rest look to others. He said he could be truthful because Scorpios deal with reality, and I could take it. People lean on inner directed, and we are fated to carry others in how to lead one’s life.
Panic assailed me. I could hardly get myself breakfast. I couldn’t even write a book on my own. How could I lead anyone?
He insisted. My horoscope told him this. Perhaps not now. But it was my destiny, that I’m meant to write, that I’ve been given the gift of aloneness, and one needs to be alone to write. And Lifeliner is not the main event. It’s a necessary step to get me to my next project, a book about me, the story behind the story.
I shoved it out of my mind. I had to focus on reality now. The best part was he was leading me. Lifeliner was no longer an impossible behemoth that would take me the rest of my life. I could finish it!
We reviewed the outline I had put together so carefully over the months before my brain injury. Since 2001, I’d slowly faced the fact it didn’t work for me. The chapters were too large. I couldn’t write five thousand words, never mind sixteen thousand as I had before my injury. I couldn’t read the mind maps that I had effortlessly created before my injury.
We pared it down to what I could do. He introduced me to the screenplay concept of treatments and set me a word count goal. I couldn’t meet five hundred words, but I wrote diligently every Friday and Saturday.
He told me to call my editor.
I nodded and swallowed at that scary task. Shame at my failure to write engulfed me each time I had called him to say that once again, I had to put off Lifeliner. I had failed to meet my goals, failed to return to writing my book. I had lost opportunities for agents. But this man said we could do it together. It had been years and years since I’d spoken to my editor. Would he even want to still work with me?
“Come in to the office,” Henry said.
I told him I would not be alone. He was cool with that.
Henry looked the same as ever with his long hair, quiet smile, and Birkenstocks. The days were lengthening into spring as we all sat down in his sunny boardroom on the first day of May, Henry at the head of the long rectangular light-wood table, me with my back to the door, Glen opposite me, and Henry’s staff on my left.
I showed Henry what we had come up with. He noted it was disjointed. Because I was so visual, he agreed with Glen that the way writers outline screenplays would work well for me. I wrote the titles and names of the authors he suggested I learn from down in my notepad in the brown leather folder I had brought with me, the one I’d used to use before my brain injury when I’d visited potential clients in my computer programming and desktop publishing days. Glen and I left together. By then my neurons had hunkered down, covering their little dendrites from any communication with thought. Glen explained the meeting in three easy steps. Step one: buy the books on screenwriting.
I trundled to Theatre Books, a tiny store in an old mansion on a little street of pollen-hurling trees near Bay and Bloor. Warm and thirsty, with my two new screenwriting books in hand, I retraced my steps back to the familiar, wide intersection busy with cars fighting hordes to turn corners. I froze as my field of view widened. I blinked. Though I travelled through this intersection fairly often, it was like I had been away for six years and had just returned home. I could perceive the whole of it. I yearned for that same astonishing feeling with reading. Maybe with brain biofeedback reminding me weekly of how to read and to practice, improvement would stick. Glen kept me going with my book so that I began writing a two-minute treatment and step outline as per the screenwriting books. I read only the parts I needed to learn from, using all my strategies. I showed my outlines to Glen and Henry at our next meeting on May 25.
Henry liked my step outline the best and gave me a task: condense each chapter’s description to one sentence. I nodded. As Glen and I left, I fought panic at the enormity of the task and lost.
Glen said, “We’ll do it together.” We went into a nearby restaurant for lunch, and he pushed two tables together so that he could condense my step outline. Although I knew the story inside out, he could see the big picture and I could not. He could see how to organize the book. I could not.
Focus on what made Judy special.
Focus on the pioneering part of her story.
Let go of the injustices, the extraneous details.
I got so excited that when we left I followed him across the street instead of going in my direction. One-quarter way across, he asked where I needed to be. I swivelled and almost got run down by a rushing right-turning car.
He said, “I can’t have an author getting hit,” and steered me safely back to the sidewalk and in the right direction.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Tired of my decades-old clothes that pre-injury Shireen wore, tired of the same cartoon-festooned T-shirts and flamboyant skirts, I walked into a clothing store. For once, I had enough energy to buy and didn’t care too much about my tight budget. I wanted to wear a pretty skirt, and I didn’t want to wear the clothes of another person one more day. I told myself: don’t think, just try on what you feel drawn to.
I wandered through the airy, small store, letting my eyes roam along the rack of dresses. No, they wouldn’t do. I scanned the skirts. My hand reached out to a pigeon-grey one that flared out like an upside-down lily. A thought bubbled up: Shireen doesn’t—don’t think! I liked that grey. I liked the subtle flare and the white ribbon outlining its waist. I tried it on. I felt pretty. I felt calm. Oh so calm. I looked in the mirror and saw—me.
I didn’t know who this me was, but I liked her choice in clothes. I wore it to visit my spiritual mentor. She noticed. And even before we sat down in her yellow-painted office in the glowing filtered sunlight of mid-June next to the table with its small candle flame swaying in the breath of the spirit, she was cheering with me over finally writing chapters for Lifeliner. I yearned to cheer with kith.
But their calls kept dwindling. I hadn’t seen them in ages. She had been praying for new friends for me for almost three years now. But she assured me I’d done well because I’d focused on myself, that my life was full of confirmations that writing was my path.
She advised me, “Don’t explain yourself. If they’re angry, let it go.” She spread her hands out, miming bad words falling away from me. She said, “Your Net contacts are so good for you. You’re not responsible for them.” My mind leapt to the previous day’s miracle. I shifted in the enfolding armchair and told her how someone had commented on one of my photos on Flickr. My spirit lifted as I remembered out loud.
I thanked her, this kind Torontonian.
Her sense of humour tickled my smile into being. I typed back, my fingers flying over the keys so that she could see my words before she logged off.
She replied again!
I laughed. And typed.
The conversation lasted a little while; then it was time to say good-bye. But not for long. She Flickr mailed me. She introduced me to a puzzle group. A British man chatted with me on the weather, said, “Blimey” to my puzzle solve. She and he gave me Flickr tips, and I had two new friends!
Was that answered prayer? I didn’t know. But happiness bounced me out of my computer chair and out the door to my mother’s for her mid-June barbecue. I wasn’t going as the person left alone in her miserable injury. I was going as a person whose conversation was enjoyed, not one reluctantly replied to. I was going as a normal human being.
To be continued next week.
Copyright ©2017-2018 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.