Regaining a Sense of Self by Hilary Zayed

Brain Injury Blog

Lost Sense of Self Made Me Unrecognizable to Myself

by Hilary Zayed

Reinventing Oneself to FInd a New Sense of Self

Losing your sense of self may be the most painful loss after brain injury.

The feeling of being unable to access “who I am”, either by feelings or memories, left large holes in my identity and my sense of self.  I just wanted to get better so I could return to teaching, reclaim my ability and standing as an accomplished flute player, and resume my role as a passionate horseback rider. But the harder I tried to return, the farther away I became. I craved the feelings of my former identity: who I was based upon what I did.

It was difficult to access memories of what I was like as a person. This left me without a sense of who I was because of where I had been. A profound difference in things that I liked and disliked was also disconcerting: in the past I was not afraid of animals and enjoyed them thoroughly, but after my brain injury I became afraid of dogs and other animals and uninterested in pets and horses. This strong sense of disconnect was a cement wall in my head that wouldn’t allow me to access who I was. What could I use to fill in my identity and sense of self? And how would I do that?

I needed to reinvent my identity and myself.  I attempted to become an artist and a writer, as those were the gifts with which God replaced my former abilities. I built relationships, learning to engage and finding a “new herd” and new interests.

But it was my husband’s simple request that catapulted my identity reinvention: he told me that my only job in life now was to be happy.  And although happiness is an emotion that comes and goes, its importance in my reinvention – of living in the now and moving forward – took my journey to a place where my sense of self and identity became more recognizable.

Blessings on your journey of reinventing yourself after loss.

You will find Hilary Zayed’s book at

8 responses to “Regaining a Sense of Self by Hilary Zayed”

  1. Hilary Zayed says:

    Donna, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It does seem to be daunting to become aware of your new self then learn to accept your new identity and circumstances. Taking action through finding and creating tiny steps that lead to more enjoyment is an amazingly long journey however it is a journey worth taking and not an easy one at that.
    I feel strongly that it is the sharing of these journeys that helps those who are new to this experience. Therefore, I thank you wholeheartedly for all that you do with your blog radio.
    Blessings on your journey of reinventing

  2. Dear Hilary,

    So many people change after brain injury and accepting one’s new self can be very daunting and scary. I hear this lament from so many people with brain injury who interview on my blog.

    I admire you for finding new ways to fill those “large holes” left in your identity. I applaud you for moving on with a positive attitude and finding your “new” self. And, I wish you all the best in your journey.

    Raising Awareness for Brain Injury – one view at a time


    Donna O’Donnell Figurski
    Donna’s Blog:
    Donna’s Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury Blog:
    Donna’s Website:
    Donna’s Brain Injury Radio Show

  3. Hilary Zayed says:

    Melanie, thank you for your thoughts and post. I too find that having a hidden disability is a bit of a challenge. I find that some people don’t believe me because I too look “great” and to me that is a painful type of discrimination.
    As for finding purpose, in my book when I go back and read it, I find that often I am in search of finding purpose, meaning and connections along with a sense of happiness. It is what I believe makes us human and fulfilled. I did this by recognizing what makes me happy and making that happen over and over again. I write about gratefulness, go outside for 15 minutes everyday, make an effort to socialize (even though it is hard), I volunteer (educating and advocating about TBI along with supporting survivors and caregivers) through a group here in Portland, Maine called Brain Injury Voices. These are the traits I used to identify myself pre-injury that I can use post injury with a lot of support.
    I hope that you can find the identifiers in your life now and take action to help you find purpose and meaning so that you can reinvent your life and identity. Blessings on your journey.

  4. Hilary Zayed says:

    Mike, thank you for your input. It is true, in my case too, that the lack of focus on learning to be happy again caused a lot of distress. However, I needed to go through quite a few stages of denial, recovery, self-awareness, learning to accept and then taking action in order to arrive at a place where I could identify that reinventing myself would improve my life. My journey outlined in this book through art and writings was the experience of how to find the good news in the tough steps of learning that my only job in life for the time being was to discover and create happiness.
    Thank you for your thoughts and blessings on your journey.

  5. Melanie Devoid says:

    Hilary…I have not read your book yet. However, the little bit of information given above lets me know that you understand what I am feeling. I was so hoping to return to teaching, to singing and playing the piano, playing volleyball, umpiring softball and all the other things that made up who I was. Now my life is void of all of those things. I’m still searching for a purpose for my life. Not sure what it will be but it is one day at a time due to the fact that I may or may not remember things when I wake up in the morning. I probably have made the stock for Post It to go up a bit as my daily life is on a bunch of Post Its on my bathroom mirror. They tell me what I need to do each day. The sad thing, or maybe not so sad, is I look perfectly fine. To just look at me, I look like I did before the accident except for a couple little scars on my legs.
    I’m not sad though. I can still travel from AZ where my treatment is still ongoing to NH where my family and friends are (especially my grandchildren). The airlines have been great about accommodations. But I’m still searching for a new purpose for my life. I do share my story with people and tell them….no excuses. They often look at me funny. No matter what I have been through and continue to go through….there are no excuses for me not to get out of bed, or to do my best each day, or to keep learning new things, or to be in a bad mood because it wasn’t fair. Life is life! Sometimes we are dealt a bad hand but we need to figure out how to change it into a good hand. For me….there are no excuses for negativity….move on. Someday, I’ll find my purpose. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Her writing is simply beautiful as is her artwork in this book.

  7. Mike Strand says:

    It is DESIRE that is the cause of unhappiness.

  8. Mike Strand says:

    What makes the command so profound is the extreme difficulty in realizing it. It seems that the more earnestly it is desired,the more remote it becomes. In this lays the solution, however counterintuitive it might seem. Relax, let go, and just be happy. As the Hindus teach

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