This One Is For Us by Robin J. Reid

We, the survivors. Brain aneurysms. Those little “bubbles” that form within the arteries/vessels in our brains. Some of ours decided to burst. We then suffered what’s called a subarachnoid hemorrhage. We survived strokes, seizures, emergency (probably more often than not, since these “bubbles” usually go unnoticed until/unless they rupture) brain surgery. If we were fortunate enough, our aneurysms were caught before they could rupture. However, we are all on an uphill battle, whether we ruptured or not. We are strong. We are fighters. We are here to speak and hope that you understand what we’re trying to say. Here are some things we would like you to know.

Just because we look normal doesn’t mean we feel normal.
You can look at us from the outside, and we probably look just like your average Jane/Joe. However, if you could see our brains and had any understanding of what a normal brain looks like, you might see that in comparison, we are no longer normal. We probably sustained some damage from the stroke, and maybe even the surgery. Blood pooling in a tight space like your skull is not good for the brain. Surgery helps, but surgery in itself is also taxing on the brain and the body. Your brain controls your body, and once it’s injured, something in your body becomes injured too. No matter how normal we may seem, believe us when we say we don’t feel normal.

There is no such thing as normal.
We tire much easier than we used to. We have to avoid certain lifestyles. Sometimes we feel everything, other times we feel nothing. Things can change quickly and often. We forget words in the middle of sentences. We forget dates. Sometimes we just really don’t care, and we don’t want to pretend to care. Depending on which area of our brains we suffered the most damage, that’s where we will have the most difficulty as we try to recover some normality. Life suddenly changes to a “before” and “now” mindset. Before is before our brains decided to explode, and now is how we have to live as survivors. We know we’re “not the same,” and we don’t need your reminders. Trust us, it’s frustrating (and probably more so because it’s actually happening to us) for us, too. Please be patient and be kind with us.

Unless it’s happened to you, no, you don’t understand.
No matter how much you want to understand, you simply don’t. Accept that truth, just like we do. It doesn’t make you a bad person or any less of a person because you don’t truly “get it.” We applaud you for making attempts to understand, though, because there are plenty of people in this world who lack that sort of care for others. It isn’t that we don’t appreciate your concern, compassion, or sympathy. We find it endearing that you take the time out to really inquire as to how we’re doing, and offer a helping hand. Thank you for that. But please, do not tell us that you understand when you do not. You cannot empathize with us, because you have not walked in our shoes. However, please know we really do appreciate that you reach out to us in sincerity as we try to regain our footing in this life. Oh, and believe, we hope you never do have to truly understand what this is like. We probably wouldn’t wish it on our worst enemy.

Sometimes, we just don’t want to talk about it.
Yeah, we know “it’s crazy,” we lived it, remember? Sometimes we want to focus on other aspects of life that aren’t so depressing as “most people don’t survive something like that.” Sometimes we want to try to live now like nothing happened before. Of course, we could never actually do that, but we’d like to pretend, okay? If we want to talk about it, we will. But please don’t bombard us with questions or assume that we’ll always want our illness/injury/symptoms/story to be the topic of conversation. It gets old, fast. Trust us. So when/if you see us start to look uncomfortable because you’re broaching this life altering subject once again, to the newest person who has yet to hear our story, try to realize that you’re overstepping a boundary that we may not want to cross. We wake up everyday with a reminder of it all, we don’t want to spend each day focusing on it, but we would like to focus on how we move forward now. We’d like to live for now, but remember where we were then.

Sometimes, we will panic. There will be times where a twinge of pain, some tingling or numbness, or just an everyday headache will send us into full on panic mode. That does not mean that we’re succumbing to fear, but it does mean that we we remember where this all began, and we are hyper vigilant of it happening again. Some of us even have PTSD from the traumatic experience of the rupture itself and the following days. We know it’s probably not as serious as the rupture was, but it does not stop us from feeling that moment of fear until we realize we’re not in a threatening situation. This usually eases up as time passes and we adapt to our new lives, but just try to understand why we are reacting this way over “just” a headache. It all started with “just” a headache, too.

Sometimes, we don’t know how to respond to “how do you feel?”
This has got to be the most well meaning and altogether most annoying question that we hear. Why? Because, we don’t know how we feel! Some days we feel “normal” again, like before any of this ever happened. Most days, there is always some constant reminder of what happened, you know, just in case we ever try to feel normal again. A lot of days we’re just “here.” Not feeling great, not feeling terrible, just feeling present. Some days, we honestly don’t have an answer as to how we feel. We feel blessed that we survived, but we also mourn our former lives. We feel robbed, except no one could ever quite capture the suspect, or reassure us that we would never be robbed again. We feel afraid and fearless. We feel far too old, and like a newborn. We feel strong, and weak. We feel like walking, talking, breathing, living oxymorons. We survived something meant to kill, but we’re still here pressing on. What could be more contradictory than that? We’ll probably just smile and say “I’m okay,” though. Most days we are just “okay.” That’s an okay response, too.

The level of fatigue is (literally) exhausting.
Once again, unless it’s happened to you, you don’t understand it. This is like reverting back to your infant days, except being adults, we are expected to behave accordingly. We need our naps. Even if we think we don’t need our naps, our bodies and brains need that down time. Our best chances at healing are when we aren’t having to use so much brain power to run our bodies. When does that happen? When we sleep. No, we are not being lazy. We are exhausted.

Just give us time to rest our brains so we can be refreshed, and continue moving forward. Some of us might even break down into tears (I confess, this happened to me a lot in the earliest days of recovery) if we become too overwhelmed to function and cannot have that nap to recharge. Naps are crucial and welcome. At least until we figure out this how this new normal works. Even then, though, we will probably need more rest than the average person. Remember, we are running on an injured leg, here. Except it’s our brain with the injury.

Sometimes, it still stings.
No matter how far we are from when “it” happened, it still stings to think about. Many of us look in the mirror and truly wonder where we went. We aren’t as happy as we used to be, but at the same time we are much more joyous than ever before, content to just be here, to just live a simple, uncomplicated life. We wonder if we will ever “truly” live again, but we are grateful each day that we get to live because we are always aware of how quickly life almost escaped us. Those pesky barometric pressure headaches some of us have to deal with are reminders. Who needs a meteorologist when you can have brain surgery? Trust us, we can instantly tell when the pressure changes, courtesy of an intense headache. The pills, pill boxes, alarms in phones, notes scattered around the house/car/office are reminders.

The incision site’s soreness and tenderness is a reminder. Whatever deficits we survived with remind us everyday of how drastically our lives changed. It still stings. We are grateful to be here, but we can’t just “let it go” that we have lived two lives (and possibly more) in one. That’s why we like to take things one day at a time. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, and we’re done with yesterday. Let us focus on here and now. Don’t inquire too much about the future, but also don’t assume that we are “over” the past because time moves on. Survivors of serious illnesses never really get “over” the illnesses that change their lives, they just learn to live for today as the blessing it is, be grateful they lived another yesterday, while hoping for a new tomorrow.

We need and cherish your support.
Seriously, thank you. Thank you for treating us as normal people, while still tending to our needs. Thank you for reminding us of just how far we’ve come, and just how strong we are on those days we seem to forget. Thank you for trying to make us laugh. Thank you for looking out for us, while not hovering over us. Thank you for driving us around when we lost our driving privileges. Thank you for offering to help in any way you can, even if we may or may not actually ask you. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for saying you’ll be there, and actually being there. We love that.

It’s so calming to know that there are people who will actually come through on the words they say. We don’t appreciate having those people who say they’ll be there, but suddenly disappear once they realize things aren’t the same. That’s okay, because surviving something so catastrophic has taught us the true value of life and life giving relationships. If you cannot offer us that, we will feel no qualms about cutting you from our lives. No, that doesn’t make us “cold hearted,” we just know the value of real life, and we don’t have any reason to expend precious energy on relationships that aren’t mutual or true. We need your support. We cherish your support. We value your support. For those of you who truly support us, thank you. We could not soldier on without you behind/beside us. We love you. Thank you.