Stuff That Clutters Needs to be Stripped after Brain Injury by Kimberly Carnevale

Life without Stuff

By Kimberly Carnevale

There’s a lot of “stuff.”  

Stuff Piles Up!

Stuff Piles Up!

We as humans, have a thing about “stuff”. Think about everything that you have…in your car, your basement, attic, storage facility, office, bedroom closet; how much of this “stuff” do you really need? Be honest. If you are like many people, most of your stuff is collected and hung onto with the small possibility that it may be needed someday.

Why do we do this to ourselves, when inevitably, it only complicates our lives? We end up getting bigger boxes, build bigger closets, rent a bigger storage space, or even move into a bigger house to accommodate all this “stuff.”

I think our stuff is sort of like a security blanket that we hold onto to get through life. “Stuff” in many ways signifies the past. We hold onto it with the belief that if we hold onto that stuff, we can live forever in the comfort of the past, never branching out to new horizons, which would bring about the uncomfortable winds of change.

I think if we are brave enough to confront our challenges without the security of what we’ve always known and open ourselves to the possibilities of the embracing the unknown, we would find great opportunities which often are well hidden with, yup, you guessed it – stuff.

Facing a new and uncertain life

I’m a single Mom to a wonderful daughter and a traumatic brain injury survivor. Prior to my accident, I was living my little girl dream, competing professionally in the prestigious sport of equestrian show jumping. I had my sights set on the United States Equestrian team until the accident ended my dream, and life, as I’d known it.

I was scared—terrified in fact, of the new and uncertain life that loomed in front of me, and I mourned for the loss of my old life. I wasn’t ready to let go of my dreams, or face the daunting challenges that traumatic brain injury subjected me to. There was still so much to do, so many goals to chase and dreams to achieve; but I learned the hard way, that even the best dreams are not immune to disaster, and I was forced to revamp my goals and dreams in order to fit my new circumstances.

Shortly after my accident, I was partnered with a service dog who made my life more independent and provided the fortitude I needed to move forward in my life. Together, we created what has become an award winning, service dog education program that also gave me a new and much-needed career. Canine and Abled, Inc. became my new dream, and educating and motivating others became my new life’s passion.

Losing everything frees me

In October of 2006, my daughter, service dogs and myself lost our home in a tragic chain of events. Losing my home and the majority of my possessions was, at first, a very traumatic experience. But once I got past the shock and feelings of loss, I got to a very unexpected place—clarity. Being stripped bare of all my “stuff”, all those things that I once found to be important, I gained a certain clarity in my life. I laugh at what I once thought I needed, knowing that those possessions were mere trappings of a cluttered existence.

I sustained my traumatic brain injury in 1998. I learned very quickly that clutter is a brain-injured person’s worst enemy! It clogs up what limited focus you have, overwhelms you with the inability to see past it, and distracts you from your goals.

When I lost all the extra clothes that I knew I’d never wear, but hung onto anyway, thinking there would come a day where I might wear them, I felt a sense of lightening. I had boxes of stuff stored from the house I lived in before my accident, sure that I would have use for it “someday.” I still don’t know what was in those boxes! Knick knacks that once cluttered my shelves, begging for dusting and rotation for the seasons no longer had power over me. All at once, I was free!

Knowing that I could not only make do, but do very well without all that extra “stuff” gave me a sense of empowerment. I started seeing possibilities that the blinders of my trappings had blocked out before. I didn’t have to work so hard to take stock in my surroundings; cause there was less “stuff” to process. I realized that living clutter-free in a literal sense cleared up the feelings of being overwhelmed and distracted.

Clearing my mind

I got to think that if only I could clear up my mind as my circumstances had cleared up my physical trappings, that I’d find great possibilities there. I was right, and by applying the stripping bare strategies to my thinking mind, I was able to create new and exciting opportunities for myself using this new perspective…. opportunities that I never would have found without stepping out of the comfort and security of what I’d always known.

What we view as important and necessary throughout our lives becomes so insignificant when we are stripped bare. While I don’t recommend sustaining a brain injury, becoming homeless, or literally getting rid of all your stuff, I do recommend that you make a conscious effort to get rid of all the clutter in your mind. Eradicate the false beliefs that try to convince you that you have to do things a certain way, that there are only certain paths available to achieve success, or any other limiting thoughts that dissuade you from moving forward towards attaining your goals.

After my accident I had to relearn a whole new way of doing things. My “new” brain did not process automatically, and I was forced to retrain myself to work in a manual mode. Was it hard? You bet it was! There were days I wanted to hide in bed to avoid the grueling rehabilitation that I knew awaited for me. But I also knew that I had to learn new ways to overcome my new challenges and fight for a new future, and so I endured.

Keeping life clutter free

Living with a traumatic brain injury is different – difficult sometimes, but more different than anything. I don’t have running movies in my head of memories or thought processes the way I once did; I have no conception of time, and often have difficulty processing my environment. Cognitive difficulties often cause me to become completely overwhelmed, resulting in paralyzing anxiety. It is imperative that I try to maintain a clutter-free environment to cut down on the amount of “stuff” my brain must process.

Memories are fleeting, and therefore more precious than ever. Where I once automatically retrieved time-related memories with ease, I now have to think about those memories in a different way to manually retrieve them. I have to ask myself questions such as, “Was I wearing long sleeves, or short sleeves? Were the leaves green or turning colors? What did the air smell like?” I depend on the rest of my senses to fill in the blanks where my injured brain leaves off.

Simplifying my environment, and memorizing differently was for me, seeking out a new path that led me to my own personal success. When the way I used to do things didn’t work for my injured brain, I had to readjust and head down a different path to get me to the same destination. Sometimes that path was longer, and sometimes there were some obstacles to overcome on this new path; but I found that by doing things differently, I was blessed with challenges that enabled me to see things I’d never noticed before. Using my other senses heightened my awareness. This new awareness brought new thought processes, and these thought processes brought me to discovering new methodology that I was able to successfully apply to all challenges that confronted me.

Clear your path

grandma on laptopWhether you are a brain injury survivor, caretaker, or friend of a TBI patient, I challenge you to clear your own path! Make your own way! Create new and innovative roads to success using alternative thinking. Strip bare what you think you know and look for new possibilities born out of a different methodology.

For some, road blocks exist in others telling them, “There is only one way to do things”, or that “So and so didn’t do it like that, so you can’t either”, or my personal favorite when asking someone why something is done a particular way, “Well, that’s just the way it’s always been done; you have to do it that way.” Baloney! I’m here to tell you that if I listened to all that garbage, I never would have made it to the level of competition that I did when I was a professional equestrian, and there would be no Canine and Abled, Inc. either. (I was told that a person with disabilities with no prior experience could not build such a program!)

Challenge yourself to throw out all the old preconceived notions that clutter your mind; strip it bare. Don’t be afraid to follow your instincts and have faith in your own abilities, regardless of what others say. You are in the driver’s seat of your life…don’t ever let anyone else reach over to take the wheel! Forget what you know and try to use that insight to see viable opportunities that exist, but can’t be seen but for the clutter.

Build a new vision

When we use this new vision to pick up things that flew below the radar in the past, we can effectively combat stress, enhance productiveness, and produce new and innovative solutions to whatever life, or the business world throws out way. This new perception leaves us open to explore the road to success, secure in the knowledge that we have the ability to pave our own way, and steer clear of inevitable hazards that will come to pass. We are then able to remain calm throughout the storms in our lives, maintaining focus on confronting challenges head-on and learning from them in order to embrace the journey that we have primed for triumph!

I wish you well on your journey. Let life strip you bare. Keep focused on the prize, but don’t be so rigid that you miss an opportunity to take the long way once in a while.

–Kimberly Carnevale
Copyright 2007 by Sarah Lynn Communications, L.L.C

About the Author

Kimberly Carnevale is the founder of Canine and Abled, Inc., and is an accomplished writer and motivational speaker. Her thought-provoking messages inspire the corporate world, politics and day-to-day living. She is available for nationwide bookings.

The Canine and Abled, Inc. program is an award-winning program founded by Kimberly in 1999. The program is dedicated to promoting awareness and acceptance of service dog teams everywhere as a means to battle the widespread problem of illegal access denial.

Access denial stems from lack of education and sensitivity training in places of business. Many teams face embarrassing, degrading, and illegal access barriers on a daily basis. Canine and Abled, Inc. is committed to ending illegal access denial and opening doors for service dog teams everywhere…one door at a time.  To find out additional information about Kimberly Carnevale, see LinkedIN.

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