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On June 6th, 2007, I swallowed handful after handful of pills. With all the happy colors and assorted sizes, they looked like candy, but there was no sweet taste. I washed it all down with gulps of my favorite Shiraz wine right out of the bottle. Now was not the time to worry about looking like a wino, and I rather liked the sad image it evoked. Then, I  laid down on my bed to die.

It was almost 4 hours before anyone found me, and hours after that before what I had taken became known. Because too much time had passed, my stomach wasn’t pumped, and the drugs went all the way through my system. Although I did not die (obviously), I did end up with a brain injury and was seriously mentally impaired.

The brain injury forced me to make the hard changes that I could have chosen to make under less duress earlier in my life  Believe me, it would have been much, much easier, but I was the kind that had to be hit over the head with a crisis before I made any big shifts for the better. Not anymore.

With the brain injury, I had to focus on myself and put all of my energy into my physical and mental rehabilitation and improvement. I absolutely had to in order to recover.  While, in retrospect, I wouldn’t choose this for myself under any circumstances, ever again, the resulting brain injury and accompanying lifestyle, behavioral, mental, and emotional changes have proven to be blessings for me.

After 20 years of smoking , I quit and started eating healthier. Exercising for decades out of vanity, I began working out for health reasons and started meditating. I learned about and started using mental health tools such as thought reframing, visualization, and positive self talk.Turning off the TV, l learned to be by myself, and like my own company even.  Finally, I began to extend compassion to myself.

Although the person I am today still talks funny, has poor penmanship, and can’t type very fast, I’m a happier, healthier person all around and would never want to go back to who I was before the brain injury.

In her book,Shadows Bright as Glass: The Remarkable Story of One Man’s Journey from Brain Trauma to Artistic Triumph, Amy Ellis Nutt tells the fascinating story of Jon Sarkin. As a young husband, father, and successful chiropractor, Sarkin suffered a massive stroke. He became a very different man. Before the stroke, he was calm, disciplined, and neat. After, he was wildly obsessive, volatile, with a manic desire and talent for creating art. He went on to become a proclaimed artist with New York art shows, commissioned to paint pieces, murals and album covers in his unique, characteristic, “full-Ninja art” style.

In addition to the stroke intensifying certain tendencies, the stroke forever changed his personality and sense of self. The book paints a picture of a man trying to reassemble the pieces of himself and give some meaning to a very different life and interpretation and experience of it.

The book was a very poignant reminder to me because, as Sarkin tried to do, I spent years expecting and working to get back to the person I was before the brain injury. Again, like Sarkin, only when I changed my perspective and began to accept and relax into who I’d become, could I embrace and fully allow the benefits of the new me to manifest and thrive.

Yes, benefits.

By traditional standards, some things were worse, but some things were better. I prefer to see it now as nothing is worse or better….just different.

Sarkin’s artwork is featured in this video of “Do You Love Me” by the group Guster:

Guster, “Do You Love Me” from Bait & Tackle on Vimeo.

image source:  Jon Sarkin http://jsarkin.com/art/

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18 Comments

  1. Judy M. Hampton Reply

    You continue to amaze me each week with new wisdom and insight. It has been a joy, most of the time but sometimes painful, to watch you go through your rehabilitation and metamorphosis to the angel you have become today. You continue to grow and gain wisdom and I’m proud to call you my daughter. Love ‘ya, Mom

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      All angels have to earn their wings, right? 🙂 I wouldn’t go as far as to say I am an angel, matter of fact, I don’t even want to be one. Does not sound like too much fun! I do know however, that I am the best me I can be and the happiest me that I have ever been. That is what it is all about!

  2. I’ve learned a lot from your blog and today’s story about Jon Sarkin and the book about him just released is another gift from you. I went to amazon.com for the book and found another video featuring the author, Sarkin himself and great montage of his art. Thanks Debbie.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks, Pam! The book is truly a great, inspirational, wise read. No matter what the issue is…a stroke, a brain injury,or whatever….it is a great lesson in learning to not only accept what is, but to embrace it and flourish. Enjoy it!

  3. Powerful, poignant post, Debbie! (Wasn’t aiming for alliteration, but there ya go ;).

    Stories like yours and Sarkin’s and my husband, Tim’s, who lost his lifetime memories after a head injury, remind us all that every one of us–whether we’ve suffered an injury or not–recreated ourselves minute by minute. We truly can choose to repeat patterns over and over or step, millimeters at a time, toward a better and better version of ourselves.

    I think many of us wait to get that big “hit over the head” to make change, but I believe that people like you who share their stories are an inspiration to make that change before the big “splat.”

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you for you kind “p” words! I like how you say that we are creating ourselves minute by minute. So true, but it oftentimes takes a huge splat to realize this. You can bet it won’t for me anymore! I can hope that maybe someone will learn from my examples of the hard and easy way of doing things and preferably choose the easier one.

  4. I do wish life would hit me over the head to get my attention, so I can learn. My head is pretty hard. In my case, life kicks my ASS, and it’s really unpleasant, though effective. I have become less resistant to learning however. As the father says about the son who must sacrifice his pet deer in The Yearling, I have “taken to punishment”.

    I also believe that each person faces a moment of choice when life may end or not, and that during the interval of transition we are somehow advised about the alternatives and what will be required if we decide to continue living on Earth. You are here. I believe it was by your choice. I can’t explain it very coherently, but I’ve encountered it over and over. I experienced it as a child myself, when running a 106-degree fever for a whole night.

    I think you are here because the world is better with you in it.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I think I used to believe in the drama of suffering…like I was earning a badge or something, and I expected some “payoff” at some point in the way of good times and happiness.

      Now, I do know that there are going to be challenges and pain. It is part of it. In a way, it makes it rich. However, now, I look at each experience to see what learning it has in it and discover the joy along the way.

      I do believe you are right about the deciding to live thing. Even if it was unconscious, in my case, it was a decision. I had a near drowning experience about 6 months after the brain injury which was a big aha for me. I was like “Wait a minute…I could have just let myself die, but I didn’t! What the….? Something in me WANTS to live.” I wrote a post about it… http://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/it-was-an-itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-yellow-polka-dot-bikini-2

  5. Debbie Hampton Reply

    A kick in the ass is most definitely a step forward. Much better than a kick in the face! I am glad I survived too! The best is yet to come. The better it gets, the better it gets. 🙂

  6. “nothing is worse or better….just different.” How true that is! Brain damage changes us fundamentally, no doubt. I love reading your stuff, Debbie. I wonder which of us talks the funniest.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I find that attitude works great with others and about any situation. I didn’t know that you talked funny too! Keeps life interesting. I think, in a way, it reminds me to always be appreciative of the small stuff.

  7. Debbie,

    I’m sorry for all the pain you had to endure to see the light, but I’m so happy your did and are here to share you insights with us today.

    The message that stands out for me the most strongly is that it takes effort, dedication, and focus to change.

    “With the brain injury, I had to focus on myself and to put all of my energy into my physical and mental rehabilitation and improvement.”

    These days people – including myself – are often looking for the quick fix or magic bullet, when really life is a path of evolution or confusion depending on how we decide to see it. I think it’s unfortunate that people today convey the message that you just need to be in the moment and connect with your heart. Maybe it is that easy for some people, but for most of us it takes time to retrain our brain.

    Thanks for your honesty and clarity.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sandra, thank you for compassion. I really do not have any regret or anger for how I got to be who I am today. A saying which I live by and believe is “If you like where you are, you can’t complain about how you got there.”

      I do wish that I had taken heed before I did and made some life changes along the way. The universe told me in subtle ways that I needed to make some changes, and, and I ignored them. The messages got bigger and more drastic until I did.

      I, like you say, was looking for the quick fix and the easy answer. I now know that there is not a quick fix, but there is an easy answer. The answer is in taking responsibility for creating ourselves and our realities. I believe this starts with our brain and the miracle of neuroplasticity. I does take time, but it is so doable and so worth it!

  8. Pingback: Into The Fire - The best brain possible

  9. Pardeep Arora Reply

    Debbie,

    In the above article you mentioned that we have to learn to accept ourself; does that mean that we can’t achieve a particular goal in our life, as we won’t be able to do all the acts required to achieve that goal, which come obvious to everyone (not met with brain injury), or does that mean that we will need more time to do that thing as compared to other persons.

    As my brain injury happened when I was six, I am not clear about the intensity of my injury, and which areas of brain are affected, and how it changed me. Least I can say is that I am slow at doing the work, which need the skills coming naturally to anyone and this is the reason I am lacking behind everywhere.

    How should I plan my life now so that I can earn a respectable and independent living? Can something be done so that when I meet or talk to someone they can consider me as one of them, and not different?

    P.S I was thinking that neuroplasticity can help us achieve, which is otherwise unattainable.

    • Pardeep,

      Only you can answer all of your questions in a way that makes sense and feels right to you. I know that sounds like a cop out, but it’s true.

      Accepting yourself may mean revising your expectations of yourself and goals. It may mean realizing the parameters which are realistic (being slower, for example) and working WITH those realities instead of fighting against them. Might there be some jobs where going slower, and paying attention to detail is valued?

      The person that has to accept you is you – not “them.” Hope that helps a little.

      • Pardeep Arora Reply

        If accepting oneself with all the weeknesses is true, and nothing can be done about it, then why go for all the therapies and brain supplements.

        • I didn’t say nothing can be done about it. Goodness no. If I had taken that approach, I would still be severely brain injured. I’ve accepted that I will always have some speech, memory, and manual dexterity impairments and have learned to live with it and accept it. It’s OK with me. “Normal” even now. You must find that sweet spot between pushing yourself and accepting yourself. Only you know what is true for you.

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