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Regaining a Sense of Self by Hilary Zayed

Brain Injury Blog

Lost Sense of Self Made Me Unrecognizable to Myself

by Hilary Zayed

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