Picking Up The Pieces: When You Aren’t The You You Knew

You’ve changed.  She confessed. You used to own it! You owned Albany, You owned AP, everything you touched you owned because you’re brilliant. But… now… you sound defeated. Your confidence… it’s… you never gave a shit about what anyone said or thought because you were so good. You need to remember who you were three years ago.

 She was right, of course, I knew my confidence had taken a hit. If I’m honest, I hadn’t even verbalized it until the neuropsychologist had said the same thing to me a few weeks before. 

I promised her I would listen to Lizzo and try to remember who I had been before. Good friends will tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it. Good friends will push you to do the tough stuff. Good friends want you to be better, and she is a good friend.

Nevertheless, I was frustrated.

I had already approached my concussion like a physical injury so many times – push harder – push till it hurts. Only a brain isn’t a muscle despite what we like to tell our students. A brain is more like a fingerprint – unique – and no two treatments are alike, and pushing harder can make things worse. I’ve gone to therapy, I’ve tried the whole “push harder” thing over and over. If you want, you can read about some of that here, here and here.

All the same, the “confidence” thing got to me. I’m not as confident as I used to be. I am overwhelmed and frustrated. I am desperately trying to figure out how to make a living even though my situation is now so much more complicated. I need a full-time salary, but I can only handle part-time work. My last attempt to get back to my former self was about two months ago – I did a simple, quiet “job” for a few hours a day for a week. It took me three weeks to recover. Bills, however, do not pay themselves, so my struggle to find a way in the mess continues. My job had always been the steady one – the better paid one. Since the day the drunk driver decided to hop in a car and drive blindingly drunk into my car – my life has changed forever, and I have been dealing with the consequences. I lost my job, I lost my income, I lost my ability to function the same way I always had, my family has suffered, and somewhere in all of that, my confidence was shattered.

Having always been a fighter, I have doggedly persisted in my therapy and physical and mental improvement. My body has gotten stronger, but, I am still not whole. I talked to my husband about it, and his response was, of course, your confidence is shaken – that’s your whole identity. He went on to remind me that I never cared what anyone thought – I didn’t put much thought into my looks (no make-up – jeans and t-shirt kinda girl) because I was confident in my brain. Get an education, it’s the only thing they can’t shake outta ya, Mom always said.

Only – it can.

Much of my identity, how I perceived myself, had to do with the confidence I had in my brain. I was smart, I worked hard, I loved learning, I analyzed and researched, and was introspective. When my brain got all shaken up from the concussion – I was insecure about any interaction I had. I lost my security in knowing that I would know what to say, have some insight, or could figure out any situation. I never knew whether it would be a good brain day or a bad brain day. The anxiety I felt whenever I had to talk to someone was overwhelming. Would I be able to follow the conversation? Would I be able to connect the dots? Would I remember what I wanted to say? Could I find the words? The identity I had held on to was now a broken up puzzle. Everything was still in there, but accessing just the right piece became 1500 times more difficult.

I AM still me, though. The pieces are still there. It’s a blessing that they are. Perhaps, I should stop worrying about the fact that it takes me longer to get the pieces I want and focus more on the fact that I still have them. Maybe I need to give myself a break and say – OK, maybe I can’t jump seamlessly all over the map anymore because the shattered picture’s been distorted, but – if you give me a second, I’ll find what I’m looking for. Maybe there is more to me than a brain, a problem solver, an academic – maybe I need to focus on what else makes me ME. Perhaps, instead of remembering who I was – I need to embrace who I am now and be thankful I still have all the pieces I need to put it back together.

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