From Unlucky, Unlovely, and Unlovable and Unlucky to Lucky, Resilient, and Loved by Christine Durham, PhD

Christine Durham 2008Then: Tears of Shame

I found myself standing in the middle of the shopping mall with pie dripping from my hands, pie covering the front of my coat, and to my bewilderment, my daughter, Ann, who’d brought me on this shopping trip, ran away. I didn’t blame her. I’d run away from me too, if I could! I was so ashamed! I didn’t know what to do so I kept on trying to eat the pie. I’d been apprehensive about this outing to the shops, several months after I’d left the hospital after my car accident, but I hadn’t realized I’d be so totally confused and lost.

I just wanted to go home—but I didn’t know how to get home, I didn’t know where I lived, and actually I didn’t even know my own name. Tears ran down my cheeks. I started to sob uncontrollably; I was a sodden, soggy mess. Suddenly through my tears I recognized my daughter coming toward me with a fist full of paper napkins. She wiped my face, hands, and clothes, and led me to the car.

Once we got home Ann put me to bed, where I fell into an exhausted sleep. When I awoke I could hear her clattering in the kitchen making dinner, the other children were home from school and university, and dusk was falling. I cursed and berated myself. “Fancy making such a spectacle of yourself in public! You stupid bumbling idiot! Talk about pathetic—and into the bargain here you are feeling sorry for yourself all because of spilt pie—you know there’s no point in crying over spilt milk or spilt pie! In the world children are dying of starvation, and here you are crying over pie!”

It's not the pie that's messy.

It’s not the pie that’s messy. It’s me since my brain injury.

Slowly I came to realize it was not the pie, but what the pie stood for, that was breaking my heart. The “old” pre-brain injury me—mother of four, teacher of hundreds, wiper upper extraordinaire—would have known what to do in a flash. The “new” brain-injured me couldn’t work out what to do most of the time!

This pie episode shone a spotlight on how different I was, and further damaged my fragile self esteem. I felt unlovely, unlovable, and it was unlikely I’d ever feel any different. My husband and family must be just pretending that they loved me. I’d lost confidence in myself, I thought I was a bad person; I could no longer solve the simplest problem. I felt completely hopeless and helpless. A bleak uncertain future stretched out in front of me. I believed I was doomed.

Now: Tears of Delight

Tears of joy!

Tears of joy!

It’s now over two decades since the pie episode. Just the other day I found myself standing in front of a large audience with tears coursing down my cheeks. But this time it was in happiness. I was so pleased with their reaction to my presentation where I’d told stories to help them understand what it’s like to struggle with brain injury.

I look back on this long, long journey of discovery. I ponder the journeys of the hundreds of people with brain injury I’ve spoken to, and the participants in my PhD study, and realize that we have all learnt so much. We’ve learnt that we are not alone, that other people have similar experiences that leave them feeling low.

Brain injury is like a wizard that can turn optimists into pessimists, confident people into insecure people, hopeful people into people with no hope and vanished self-esteem We can blame and berate ourselves (and be our own worst enemy), when we need to be kind to ourselves (and talk to ourselves like our own best friend).

My journey has progressed from the faltering first steps of finding ways to help myself get dressed and so on, to helping my kids by unpacking the dishwasher and setting the table (even if these were challenging tasks). Learning about brain injury was crucial. There wasn’t much information around back twenty odd years ago, so I wrote down my difficulties and worked on them, and worked things out. I found out information and wrote a book about brain injury, Doing Up Buttons, which Penguin Books published. As I struggled with all the challenges I realized I hadn’t gone mad. It was my brain injury that tripped me up. The experts couldn’t make me better. I had to find ways to help myself. No matter how hopeless things seemed, I had to have hope—to keep on trying.

With a lot of planning and preparation and the love of my family and friends, I have slowly learnt to push myself outside my comfort zone. Nature, the seasons, feeding the birds, finding things I love to do—walking in the bush, writing, going out, doing “normal” things—have also helped dry my tears of shame.

If the brain injury wizard has put a spell on you, break that spell by learning about brain injury. Think about how you cope and find new ways to cope/ Never ever give up hope. I believe we can do it!

About the Author

An educator by training, Christine Durham suffered extensive injuries including a brain injury in a horrific car accident two decades ago.She is author of Doing Up Buttons (Penguin Books), where she brought to life her experience – from being unable to walk, talk, see, or think properly to how she regained her life and found her feet, her thoughts and her confidence and Chasing Ideas (Finch Publishing). Christine speaks to a wide variety of audiences. Christine’s 2012 PhD focused on the identification of ways that people with brain injury can help themselves to feel and fare better. She received the BrainLink 2012 “Woman of Achievement Award.” She lives in Australia.  


Special Collection on Brain Injury Journey

Special Collection on Brain Injury Journey

This article is posted with permission from Brain Injury Journey – Hope, Help, Healing, Vol 1, 2014.


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