Living With a Brain Injury

Standard

It was a beautiful sunny day in early May 2006. My friend and business partner and I were working on a house we were flipping. One of the tasks we had set for the day was to get up on the roof and sweep out the gutters–after a blustery winter there were a lot of pine needles. It was a one level ranch house with a low incline roof. Neither of us was worried about getting up there. We had a good, steady ladder we had already used inside to get up to sweep out cobwebs from the cathedral ceiling in the living room.

I climbed up the ladder a few steps and tossed the broom ahead of me so I could give climbing my full attention. As I began to transition from ladder to roof, everything went awry. The ladder began to fall, but I did not have full grasp on the roof. At this point, my memory becomes spotty at best. I remember trying to corral the ladder with my legs. I remember thinking that what I needed to do was  roll out of the fall. And I distinctly remember a peaceful voice in my head advising “relax relax relax and drop”.

I fell. My right leg was tangled in the ladder which upended me. I landed face first on the concrete. Caught in the ladder, the Achilles tendon in my right ankle tore completely apart. I did not lose consciousness. I looked down on the pavement and saw a lot of blood and my teeth. I remember being in the ambulance. I remember a brief moment in the emergency room when a nurse commented on my pedicure. Then I don’t remember anything until I was home.

I never really had any treatment for my brain–I think because I didn’t lose consciousness and I was always able to answer the questions the doctors asked. The ankle injury took months to heal–I was not allowed to put any weight on it at all for four months so I had lots of time just sitting–and during that time, I was advised to do crossword puzzles for my brain. At first, I couldn’t even complete the ones for brand new readers (first grade level). It took too much concentration. I couldn’t read a book, or a magazine–too much focus. I couldn’t even watch TV–I lost track of the story after about 10 minutes. I had a lot of healing to do. Ultimately, it was two years before my mouth had healed enough to put in implants. I had no nose the day I fell–it was reassembled. The plastic surgeon I had was amazing–today few can see any of my facial scars unless I point them out. I see them– there are dozens of tiny scars. I did sit and rub vitamin E oil all over my face for days on end which probably helped a lot.

Slowly, my attention and focus increased. At some point I realized I had no sense of smell. For several years I assumed this was because of nose damage. Finally I realized it was brain damage. Although the fall happened right before my 40th birthday–or right when things like memory are going to change–I ascribe memory issues most often to the fall. Memory issues can be anything from walking into a room and forgetting why I walked in (not uncommon in people ‘my age’) to having no memory at all of things, even when several people tell me I was there (people I trust). These issues are most pronounced if I am tired–brain tired, not physically tired. If I have been concentrating at work, or reading all day, or writing–there is a definite falling off point. It’s not gradual–all of a sudden I can’t continue. I can’t focus long enough to do one more problem, one more sentence, one more invoice. This is the legacy of my fall– loss of a sense and loss of some memory.

I often make light of my injury–I’ll laugh at an error and say “oops, brain damage!” I once had a co-worker roll her eyes and say “You know, you can’t use that forever.” and I replied “Actually, yes, yes I can. That’s exactly what a brain injury means–forever I have brain damage.”

I’m actually pretty lucky. Losing my sense of smell and getting brain tired  aren’t really that much of a permanent loss. There are many many more TBI patients who deal with far more profound losses every day. I don’t “look” like I have a brain injury, whatever that means. But if I can in any way make it so others with more profound injuries than I can be better accepted, I will do it.

This is Brain Injury Awareness month. Many people with brain injuries don’t want to talk about it because they are afraid of a stigma. My hope is that by talking about it, the stigma can be erased. Get educated, get informed. You probably know somebody with a brain injury. Like me.

Remembering Jim Jack–5 Years On

Standard

I started seeing the photos a couple of days ago–it’s February and the anniversary of Jim’s untimely death is approaching. I looked up the news article–to my shock it’s been five years. Five. Years. How can that be?

I reread what I wrote at the time and it is all still valid today. I am a little surprised at how often I think of Jim and his outsize personality. I think that the answer to the question “What Would Jim Jack Do?” is Live. Live Large. Live Joyously. Live without restriction. Be kind to everyone, and Live. That is what I am doing!

Below is my post from 2012…. I welcome other’s memories of Jim.

Remembering Jim Jack

I logged onto Facebook to see what was up in the world and there it was–the smiling face of Jim Jack with the words “RIP JJ–we will miss you” in my newsfeed.  I felt like I had been suckerpunched.  I quickly ran a search and discovered that he had been killed in an avalanche up at Stevens Pass.  And the tears began.

I graduated from high school with Jim.  Lakes High School, class of ’84.  My maiden name is Jackson, so we were always next to each other in the yearbook.  I was, to put it bluntly, not popular and Jim was.  Some from high school may see this and wonder why in the world I would cry at the loss of Jim Jack–I wasn’t best buds with him or even in the same Social Status. But he didn’t care about all that superficial stuff–unusual for a high school aged guy, but true.  Jim didn’t judge people (ironic that he grew up to be a judge–he would appreciate that), he just took people as they were, smiled, laughed and went on with life.  We had English together one semester, and we were in a drama club and a couple of plays together–in fact, one shining memory of him is as the silent but hilarious King Sextimus in “Once Upon A Mattress.”  His antics on and off stage kept us all laughing until we cried.  Or snorted.   A story that I tell often involved Jim–sophomore year we were picking up our report cards, and the teacher that had the “J”s was often drunk.  I didn’t realize it at the time–naive thing that I was, but it was true and as an adult I can see it clearly.  Anyways…she handed Jim Jack my report card in error.  That report card was the one and ONLY time in high school that I had straight As.  I will never forget Jim’s shocked face when he saw the 4.0 and then the sheepish grin when he realized it was my report card.  That became ‘our joke’–he teased me about straight As the rest of high school. And then, at our ten year reunion, he came up and gave me a big hug and said “Laura Jackson, how the heck are you?  What are you up to?”  At the time, I was working at CIA, and I told him so.  He paused, took a swig of his beer, nodded and grinned and said “That’s because you got straight As.”  He then proceeded to tell me about being a ‘professional ski bum’ and firefighter.  He was so happy and content–it all seemed to be a perfect fit for him.

With the advent of Facebook, like so many others, I have been able to keep in touch with scattered friends from long ago.  I don’t accept every friend request–I have to actually know you.  And remember you fondly.  Despite having only seen him at reunions since high school, I happily accepted Jim’s friend request.  It has been fascinating to me to have this window into his world, so vastly different from mine–his posts almost in another language to a non-skier “fresh pow today” meaning little to this suburban mom.  It was clear, however, that he loved his life and was filled with joy.  It seems wildly appropriate to me that his job was in the outdoors–no walls could contain that spirit and that larger than life personality.

Reunions will not be the same without him.  He will be remembered and toasted at all of them in the future, I can guarantee that.  I think of him now in Heaven, which for him will be sunny skies, clean crisp air, a killer run with “fresh pow” with a cold beer, warm fire and good friends at the end.  Cheers to you Jim–we will all miss your face.

I’m Angry–and I Don’t Like It

Standard

2017 has started off with a lot of noise, largely political. I am center-left politically, and I am more distressed than I can ever remember being about an administration. So much so, that I participated in the Seattle Womxn’s March the day after the inauguration (you can see pictures at my Instagram if you like https://www.instagram.com/elkaydee66/ ). I’m not a marcher–I haven’t protested anything since 1985 when as a student at Georgetown University I protested Apartheid–another regime I felt was so far out of line everyone needed to screech at it. Yes, I did just call this current administration a regime. The way they have been acting, it’s appropriate.  The march in Seattle took place on a beautiful sunny day. The atmosphere was friendly and positive–everyone there was there to say you know what? It’s not ok to say just grab ’em by the pussy. It’s not ok to mock a disabled reporter. It’s not ok to foment racism at your rallies and to say you’ll pay legal fees should anyone of your followers choose violence against minorities. Not ok. Not ok at all.

I then participated in Seattle’s rally for immigrants and refugees to protest the ban on immigrants and refugees from 7 nations (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia). To me, this ban is as unAmerican and unDemocratic as we can get. No, wait. It’s not. But it is close. The tenor of this rally was not as friendly as the women’s march. People were feeling directly targeted and angry. I firmly believe in open borders and that the words on the Statue of Liberty are not just a nicety, but  doctrine.

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

This means, to me, we let everyone in. All the time. (Yes I realize that our immigration policy has since the early 1800s been wildly exclusionary towards non-whites–even more specifically non-Northern Europeans. It has always been wrong.) Does this mean that people who wish the US ill will come in? Of course it does. But first of all, people who wish us ill are here, born and bred here, in all hues of skin tone. And secondly, by welcoming those who are in need or who are seeking a better life, we are  negating the  ill rhetoric being spouted by our “enemies”.   Let me just be clear about something–nothing we as a nation can do, NOTHING, will prevent 100% of infiltrators who wish us harm. Nothing. It is simply foolhardy to believe this to be true.  Instead of spending money on futile attempts to block individuals, races, religions; spend money on better communities. Communities that care will know when something is amiss. And then, actually listen. There’s so much screaming going on by both sides that nobody is listening.

The number one killer of community and of caring is greed. What we have in our nation is an infestation, an epidemic of greed and it is running rampant through government, through business, through religion. We are governed by those who have the best interests of the highest paying special interest groups at heart, not the best interests of the nation or the people they allegedly represent. I sound angry, I sound callous, I sound cynical and I hate that I sound this way and feel this way. I resent like hell that the actions taken by both political parties have led us to a situation where an individual who represents NEITHER political party has bought his way into the highest office in the nation. A person who actively dislikes the very structure he serves in–and a person who does not value service at all. He has treated this office with contempt and as if he were not an elected official, but one with a divine right to do as he pleases without regard for anyone but himself and his friends. In my opinion, we have a gross miscarriage of democracy playing out in front of our eyes, in front of the world, and what we do now will reverberate for generations to come.

What I see, is a shocked party system. I believe that the Republicans, although bearing a large chunk of blame for this) do not really want this person in power. He holds no Republican values dear. He is crass, he is not Christian, his personal life is not consistent with Republican ideals. His fiscal history is equally checkered–he is not a good businessman. He scoffs at unions and utilizes the very undocumented workers he would toss out of the country as labor for constructing his buildings. He refuses to pay bills. The hypocrisy here is tangible. And the Republicans appear to be clinging to tradition thinking that it will all somehow come out all right. I believe they are sadly mistaken.

On the Democrat side, I see familiar disarray. I see too much hand-wringing and not enough standing up and demanding a cease-and-desist to the blatantly unconstitutional actions taken. I see lukewarm responses when political fire demand to be met with fire. I see searching for a level playing field when it is abundantly obvious that not only is there not a level playing field, there isn’t even a field. This is not a party ready to grab any reins.

What we desperately need is compassion, empathy, and strength. There is clearly a severely disenfranchised hard-right wing in the country. Why? What can we do to fix it? We cannot tolerate racism. We cannot tolerate hatred. But we can fix basic needs that are going unmet. Ironically, the ACA was doing that.  We haven’t had civil political discourse for decades. I believe it really fell apart in the 90s with Newt Gingrich and his frontal assault on everything and everyone who had in his view wronged him. It could be traced back to Watergate and the then insatiable desire the media had to break the next scandal. A big part of the media problem came in the Reagan administration when entertainment companies were allowed to purchase news outlets. Competition for ratings then led us to the bullshit of  Fox news making wild accusations with soundbites gobbled up by conservatives. There is no reason for all of the nastiness that has ensued and that came to a vicious head this last election cycle. At least I hope it did. If it gets worse, our nation will fail.

Why can we not have room for differences of opinion? Why must liberals and conservatives call each other stupid when there are disagreements? Why must we peg far to the left or right on an issue and refuse to budge? This is political toddlerism, and has no place in a truly democratic society. Saying if you don’t get all of your way, all of the time or you won’t play is just unacceptable.

I feel as though I’m beginning to rant. OK, maybe I’ve been ranting for a while. But this is important to me. I love this country. I have a lot of friends in my life that have different political views than I do and I don’t think they are stupid, or racist–I know they aren’t. I don’t understand how my nation got to this point and I’m angry. And I hate that I’m angry. I shouldn’t have to be angry.

What I want, is the middle to rise up and say enough. Enough to the far right and enough to the far left. No, you don’t get to give businesses the same rights as individuals. No, you don’t get to give a splinter socialist party the same level of seat at the table when they flat out don’t have followers. No. We take care of each other. We take care of the planet. We take care of the environment. And we make money while we do it. But we don’t let money take over and become the most important thing. And we don’t let good legislation get derailed by bullshit side issues. We do not. We rise up. We pull the best from people. We innovate. We move forward. We create. We are a nation of doers and thinkers, workers and planners. And most of all we dream and include and  do it all with great joy. That’s the America I want. No, that’s the America I demand.

Western State Cemetery

Standard

I am not afraid of the dead. I love cemeteries, the older the better. I find them peaceful and if there are restless spirits, they likely belong to the living. A visit to an old cemetery is my idea of time well-spent.

Near where I attended high school is Ft. Steilacoom park and within that park is the cemetery for Western State, a hospital for the mentally ill. Buried in the cemetery are over 3000 patients, their graves originally marked with numbers to spare the families the ‘humiliation’ of mental illness. In high school there were dares to go to the cemetery at night–visions of deranged ghosts in teenage minds. I was never afraid. I thought the falling down, grown-over stones in the moonlight were beautiful.  I didn’t know that in the early 2000s a group called Grave Concerns Association had begun the work to match up names to the numbers and mark the graves more fully.

We have come a long way from the days that Western State was named Insane Asylum of Washington Territory (for the care of insanity and idiocy). But still, there is stigma attached to mental illness. This cemetery was utilized from 1876-1953. I was struck, as I wandered around, how many woman were buried there. That even with the matching project, many of the deceased had incomplete records, such as a date or even year of birth. I saw a couple marked with “Indian.” I wonder how many of the ‘insane’ were depressed, or anxious. Or if their insanity was being not white. First homesteader of Des Moines, WA John Moore is buried here. He had Alzheimers. There is a Civil War Veteran. I wonder if he had PTSD.

The entire time I was aware that had I been alive during that time, I would likely have been a patient there. That one of these gravestones could be mine. It renewed my commitment to be open about my struggles with depression and to continue to belligerently insist that mental illness be openly discussed. It is not shameful. It is not something to be embarrassed about or to hide. It simply is.

Please peruse the gravestones I photographed.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Be Free

Standard

I have an unpopular opinion on immigration and refugees. I don’t believe there should be any such thing as illegal immigrants–we welcome all. Refugees? We’ll take them all. Yes, I recognize this would cause problems. All kinds of problems. I also strongly believe we are perfectly capable and intelligent and can figure it out. Don’t I know that “terrorists” will get in? Of course I do; of course they will. They’re getting in anyway and nothing–let me say that again forcefully–NOTHING will prevent a determined person bent on violence from getting in. To my mind, this is the price of a free society.

Immigration to the US has always been contentious. In the early years of our nation, the residency requirement for citizenship was raised and lowered several times, ranging from 2 years to 14. Xenophobia is widely considered to be the driving reason for raising the amount of time needed to become a citizen. The first exclusionary immigration law came in 1875 with the Page Act, banning the ‘landing’ of immigrants from China, Japan or any Oriental country. Ostensibly, this was to prevent prostitution, but was also in reaction to an unemployment problem and the availability of cheap Chinese labor after the completion of the trans-continental railroad. Embarrassingly, these bans were not specifically set aside until the mid-20th century.

Throughout the remainder of the 19th and all of the 20th centuries, adjustments were made. Allotments set, always favoring northern European immigrants. Literacy requirements were set. Bans on physical and mental disabilities were put in place in the late 1800s and were strengthened until the late 20th century. The common denominator behind all of the changes is economic. During times of unemployment, the restrictions tightened. During World War II, when men were off fighting, the US opened the borders with Mexico to bring in men to work the fields. We have had bans on political ideals twice–anarchists and Communists.

To my mind, the underlying factor here is fear. Fear of economic distress. For politicians, fear of being blamed for hardships. Fear that ideas might take root and sully our nation in some way. I reject this fear. Embrace the differences. We can all learn from each other. Think of the incredible cultural gifts America has received from every country in the world. Why can’t we remember that when we have economic downturns? In the face of problems, we have always done better when we set aside differences and work together. Always. We seem to be able to get this at a community level, but not much larger. It seems to become too abstract, too impersonal. What can we do to make broader, national policies personal? I don’t know the answer. But I firmly believe we should seek it. If we want immigrants to be tax paying citizens, decriminalize living here. Welcome new citizens. Encourage  a love for their new nation.

Refugees are similar–I cannot imagine being in a situation so horrible that fleeing with nothing is the best option. To then face discrimination and horror in a sheltering nation is unthinkable. Refugees are guests and should be treated accordingly. We should open our best for refugees. Most will want to return to their own country when it is safe to do so. Some will stay, sure, but most will not. What kind of memories do we want them to have of the US? Are we not discouraging radicalization by being a welcoming host rather than rude?  To me this is logical.  What can we do to encourage this? What about tax breaks for families who host refugees?

I love my country. I have had the opportunity to live overseas and to visit several countries and I believe with all my heart that the US is the best. But we have a lot to learn and always have room for improvement. This is an area we could and should improve. Challenge your elected officials to find creative solutions. We can all benefit.

Greetings

Standard

Hello! Welcome to my blog. I expect to have a wide variety of topics discussed here, depending on what is going on in the world or my world. Reviews, stories, recipes, opinions. This is to get me writing. This is, to quote Sixx AM, my reason to Rise.

Some rules: These are my opinions, my thoughts, my stories. Some are fiction, some are not. If you are inspired to use them, either cite and link appropriately if you are not using them to make money, or, if you are, compensate appropriately (I’m looking at you Huff Po). Please feel free to leave comments, but this is not a democracy. If you are a troll, a spammer, or someone that irritates me for Whatever Reason, you’re gone. My blog, my rules.

That’s about it! I hope you enjoy.