Looks the same, Doesn’t work the same

Frustration. It comes and goes. It comes less frequently now, but when it arrives, its head is ugly and upsetting. My definition of a brain injury is that everything looks the same, but it doesn’t work the same.

I challenged myself this week to step outside my comfort zone and try something different. There are so many things I want to do but I know I’m not cut out for the task so I step aside. Other times I feel like I need to try, to push my limits and see where the line is drawn. I’m usually ok in a group to do just about anything. With a group, when I get confused there is always someone to help me, someone to cover for me, or someone that knows I might just need a little extra time or instruction. When I’m on my own, it’s all me.

This week I took a bold step to volunteer at church to help at VBS. Justin is working games, Hunter is helping lead worship, and the mom in me finds it hard to drop the boys off, with 300+ kids, and not try to help. Sometimes I feel guilt telling me I don’t help enough, sometimes I hear a voice just begging me to try. So this week I tried. Monday went ok. I couldn’t be there Tuesday so yesterday I was back in my assigned place. All was going fine until I was asked to change gears and help fill in a spot where more help was needed. The age group was bulging at the seams and they asked me to help with their snacks and crafts. Ah…..

Ok, to start with I simply don’t do crafts. It’s not in my genes. When I was in the Elementary church choir my mom had to make my own costume. I will never forget her telling me to lie down very still on the fabric while she traced my body on the fabric. She doubled it over and cut the fabric along the lines and sewed the two pieces together. My belt was a shoe string. I thought my costume was fantastic…until I showed up to dress rehearsal and saw everyone else’s costumes. Clearly my mother and I yielded ALL creative ability to my Uncle and his children, as they are artistically gifted in monumental portions and we are not.

Back to VBS…when I was asked to help elsewhere, everything in my servant heart wanted to, but the immediate swelling in my throat and rushed heart beat was screaming NO! How do I look at someone and say “I can’t”? They won’t understand me, I look able bodied but I knew as my brain began spinning inside my head this could not end well. I explained that I would try, and a gentle but confused face met my comment. My brain kept spinning and wondering what to do. I saw Justin and asked him for help. How desperate must I be? I’m 39 years old asking my 14 year old what to do in the face of a simple request to change direction? I felt like the 3 year olds who needed more help. Justin was sincere but stern “Mom, you can’t do that. You have to tell someone you can’t.” Oh, how I hate these moments when I can sense the physical symptoms emerging from the darkness of a brain injury and I know I have met my limit. I know I look the same, but things don’t work the same anymore.

I was alone. I wasn’t with a group that could explain, I wasn’t with a group that could cover for me and I wasn’t with a group that could pick up my slack. The people around me don’t know my brain has been hurt and I hate having to say it. I had to look at someone who hardly knows me and just say “I’m sorry but I really can’t do this.” Our world doesn’t understand adults who can’t pull their load, especially when the world can’t see it. No one is at fault, no one means harm, it’s just that no one expects a capable looking adult to say “I’m sorry but no.” With all my strength I spoke up for myself and felt completely useless as I walked away knowing there was a need that I couldn’t fulfill. My heart ached that I couldn’t help but I knew the increasing stress was going to lead to the public embarrassment of a seizure. I looked around and the noise of the kids echoed, the busy adults overwhelmed me. I felt like I was in a fog at the center of a carnival ride. I felt invisible, useless and helpless in the midst of need. I couldn’t help where help was needed and feeling demoralized by admitting my inadequacies, I slipped out the side door to the safety of my car and I drove away.

I stepped outside my comfort zone this week. Some of it was successful and in other places I know where the line is drawn. I have to be proud that at least I tried. I will try again, something different, somewhere different, and hope that I will find a place were I can say “yes, I can help with that”.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, June 2013



Anniversaries… dates that we recall for some special reason. Typically I think we relate anniversaries to celebrations. Often they are attached to sad or traumatic events. Whether the occasion marks happiness or sadness I think it’s worthy of recognition.

As this week passed, the 5 month anniversary of my Grandmother’s death passed. As I look forward to the weekend our family will remember the 75th anniversary of my Grandparent’s wedding. For the last 17 years this date has passed and she could only look back to the years they spent together. This year, at long last, I find comfort and peace that on their Diamond Anniversary my dear Emmer and Weed are reunited. He has been gone for many years now, but she still talked of how she would awaken in the night and try to be quiet so she wouldn’t disturb Weed’s sleep. Then she would realize he wasn’t there. Night after night, month after month, for 17 long years, she never got used to living without her groom. This year, this special year, on their Diamond Anniversary, we can all celebrate that young love has been rediscovered.

After 5 months I still miss Emmer. I still think about her at 9:15 every morning and often reach for the phone to call and wake her up. Sometimes I replay saved voicemails so I can just hear her strong voice. I wonder who has taken her weekly Wednesday 10:30 hair appointment. In the same way that her daily routine revolved around what she was doing with me, my daily routine revolved around what I was doing with her.

Adjustments and a gracious learning curve…that is the gift I have given myself over the last 5 months. Emmer used to have a saying when anyone hit a bump in the road. “It’s not an arm or a leg so we move on” and she would sort of shrug her shoulders. I’ve repeated that to myself many times. I’ve wondered what she might say to me if she could speak to me now. You know, I think she would say the same exact thing. I haven’t lost an arm and I haven’t lost a leg (though sometimes it may have felt like it) so I must remain grateful in ALL things, for all that I DO have. I must remain grateful for the years and life that I had with Emmer. I must glean from those years all that I can and then press on. In her 97 years she said goodbye to a LOT of treasured and dear friends. I watched her weep in loss and heartache and then laugh and reminisce.

Memories have carried me through darker days and her unique sense of humor has carried me into brighter days. What’s next? It’s always the million dollar question no matter where you are in life. My life has already defied many odds. My Grandmother lived past 97, my Mother is a leukemia survivor and I live with epilepsy everyday. “It’s not an arm or a leg” and I can’t imagine that God has washed His hands of me yet.

Heartache is heartache, no matter the cause. In hindsight, I can share of so many things I learned through epilepsy and my brain injury. Everyone in my family experienced heartache during those first few years. I know that was part of God’s plan for gaining insight I would need later in my life as I became Emmer’s constant companion. When my injuries forced me to walk away from my career, I couldn’t imagine what God what do with me. I was heartbroken. He mended my broken heart and made me stronger. He has taught me great lessons in this heartache. He has been mending my brokenness and He will beckon me to His next purpose for my life.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NIV)

So as we pass through a week marked with noteworthy anniversaries, I choose to focus on the celebration of reunions, the valuable lessons of heartache and the seasons of life God sees us through.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, June 2013