Louise Mathewson - Author & Poet

"A gem is not polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials." Proverb

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Life with a Traumatic Brain Injury:

              Every Little Breeze Whispers

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Why I Don't Make Resolutions with a Brain Injury

Posted on January 31, 2013 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

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We are a month into a new year!  I have to confess I made NO resolutions for the new year. Kind of counter-cultural, but I don't celebrate New Year's like the rest of the U.S.   I didn't before my brain was injured, that's another story, but I sure don't now!!   I know as a brain injured person, that conditions inside my brain can change in a moment, and I refuse to set myself up for failure.  I've had enough of that failure stuff with a changed brain.  


Now I'll tell you the story of why I don't make resolutions.


Years ago before my brain injury, early one January, I met a woman from Turkey.  She told our gathering that in Turkey they don't make resolutions at the start of a new year.  Instead, they make wishes for themselves.  


Wow, I thought!  I let the idea of wishes seep down into my heart and wondered what I might wish for myself and how that might feel.  :)   I thought of the possibiility of a life free from disappointment in myself for failing to live up to my resolves.  I thought of the possibility of a life released from shame and failure.   I thought of the possibility of a life where I wished good things for myself, without all the performance junk, which I had lots of growing up as a first child in a dysfunctional family.   I saw that life could be new, free, wonder-full!!


We all know stories of broken resolutions, letting ourselves down, shame, guilt, disappointment, feeling like we've failed or worse, ARE a failure.   Wishing reminds me of making a wish over a birthday cake!   Can you imagine making a wish for yourself, like you would a good friend?!!    Boy, I like the image of a cake with candles for wishes a lot better than broken resolutions, broken promises to self, and a broken heart.   


Now, years later, I know that resolving to do anything when I have a brain injury with the resulting mood ups and downs, tired days, and my Chief Executive Officer in semi-retirement, puts pressure on me and I start the slippery slide downhill into a pit of shame.  Oh, a yucky slide, for sure!!!    


Even though I have some memory issues with my brain injury, I didn't forget the experience of hearing the Turkish woman's story of her country's new year.   And now it is mine!!   


I wish three things for myelf this year:  freedom from housework, more writing time, and freedom from my fears about money.   :D


Ah, a New Year!!   Now I look forward to it!   What do you wish for yourself in this new year?

An Anniversary Epiphany - 10 Years After TBI

Posted on January 22, 2013 at 7:25 AM Comments comments (0)

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It's a special day today, 1/22/13!  It is now ten years after a day that changed my life in ways I could never have imagined, even if I used all my psychic intuition. The date held a kind of message, like getting ready for take off.  1, 22, 3 - you can imagine what numerologists might have to say about a sequence of numbers like that!


Every January for the last few years we have come to Siesta Key and stayed in a condo right on the ocean, where every day I got to walk the shores of the ocean, while letting the waves play with my feet!   Oh the joy, on a sunny day, getting to feel the medicine of the ocean right on my body, as every so often, a wave jumps up on my calves like an eager puppy!


In past years, I have often felt like I hadn't earned this treat. But this year, I had an epiphany as I reflected that a special anniversary date was on the horizon for me, with all the color of a glorious sunset. This year, in the two weeks before, I felt an incredible joy and gratefulness that we get to celebrate every year with the ocean at our sides, that I came back to life, in a sense resurrected, after being so close to death.


So this year, I plan to celebrate that after being so near death, I am alive, able to enjoy my two wonderful little grandsons, watch my children continue to grow in adulthood, and age with my husband at my side while enjoying life, the ocean, writing, and meeting new people!! And I have a new book out, a memoir in poetry, "A Life Interrupted: Living with Brain Injury!"  I never planned to write a book, but then, I didn't plan on a traumatic brain injury either.


However, a couple days ago, forgetting that today was THE day, I woke with a feeling of lead in my veins.   My arms, legs and body felt very heavy, reminiscent of the waves of depression that are often part of my healing journey.  At first, I was confused, because I didn't feel sad at all.


Then I asked, "what's the date?"   I was a little worried that I had missed my anniversary. When I realized the anniversary was still two days off, I knew my body was remembering the trauma.  A few tears clouded my eyes, but no rivers, as in years past.  Yes, a memory that will always be a part of my life, a memory that I do not wish to discard, but rather befriend and accept.  There are treasures in this experience that have changed my life hugely!   One of those treasures is that I now write poetry, and have a book.  I know that writing, especially poetry, which gets at the heart of an experience, healed my broken heart!


I bought this pin for my family, who suffered the most while I was in the peace of a coma.


 

You can get one or similar ones at zazzle.com.


Yes!  I, too, love someone with a traumatic brain injury - ME!!!


Even though I may still have ups and downs, the ride is much less bumpy than it was in the early years.   I've worked hard to get here, and you can too! What is the hardest part for you? Have you tried writing?

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Posted on January 11, 2013 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (3)

Personal Blogs

"The Life of Pi" and TBI

Posted on December 13, 2012 at 4:15 PM Comments comments (0)

 


 

Have you seen “The Life of Pi”?   WOW!!!   As I watched it, I thought "this is the story of my journey with grief after TBI!!"


"The Life of Pi" is a story about a boy who survives a disaster on the ocean and is thrown into an epic journey - alone, and at sea.  Life after TBI for me was, without a doubt, an epic journey, alone, into a frightening unknown world!  Pi loses his family in the shipwreck.  I lost the family of cells and neurons that made up who I thought I was. Gone, lost at sea, I wondered where the old me was, how was I going to survive without her gifts and abilities.  Some cells died, and some, I learned later, had become “couch potatoes” and just needed some oxygen, rebalancing, recuperation and exercise to get moving again.


For Pi, life was filled with the promise of a new life in America as he boarded a ship with his family. Suddenly, there was a storm and the ship was wrecked at sea.  My life was filled with the promise of a new life with an impending move.  Then suddenly, our car was wrecked on black ice in beautiful Boulder, CO. 


There he is alone, left to fend for himself on a life raft in the company ofa hyena, an orangutan, an injured zebra and a Bengal tiger. Two months after being released from the hospital, after moving to a new state, my husband went to work in downtown Chicago, 40 miles from where we lived.  I was left alone, with no practitioners, in a new neighborhood, to fend for myself in the company of primal energies and a damaged brain.



Pi’s journey is a metaphor for my life following a traumatic brain injury in a car accident.  I felt so alone in an ocean of grief.  Inwardly, I battled a tiger of anger, a sea of fear, confusion and shame at what I could no longer do, with hyenas clawing the hurt, while I built a life raft.  That life raft was writing poetry.  Poetry allowed me to wade the waves of grief, but to contain them, like being in a boat on a big ocean.  Poetry helped me express deep sorrow over my losses.   Poetry is medicine because it gets to the heart of the matter.  The act of writing, where I could tell the story of my journey through a raging ocean of feelings was my lifeline.


 

Like Pi I journeyed into myself, I journeyed to survive and ultimately, I journeyed with hope to a new faith in myself.


A traumatic brain injury is an experience that is hard to understand unlessyou have lived   inside it.  Many of us look so normal tooutsiders.  I had to come to terms with a new life, inside an injuredbrain. This new life was not in my plans. My dreams had not included losing myexcellent memory, losing my planning, organization, motivation and initiation,also known as executive skills,  or losing my ability to think, and process auditory and visual information. And unbelievable fatigue to go along with big losses!

 

Thrown into a journey of epic proportions that interrupted my life, I found life with a new me, one composed of the essence of the old me, with variations on the original score.  At the end of the journey, like Pi, I found myself.  And I like her!  

 

"The Life of PI!"  is a movie that can teach us all, about survival through the hardest of times. 

The Chaos of a City After Brain Injury

Posted on December 5, 2012 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

 


 

A beautiful sunny day in NY, 60 degrees in early December!  I came to visit my children and 2 handsome, wonderful grandsons, 9 and 7 1/2!  As I walked down York Avenue, facing the south, I received a huge dose of sun medicine as it seeped into my pineal gland. Suddenly, I spotted flowers on a corner lot.   I just had to stop to take pictures, to thrill in the garden of colors and shapes that feed my eyes and soul here in the early days of December in New York City!  What a joy!  


      


Nature, so little of it in NYC, and yet I found it on a busy, noisy, stimulating street with walkers, cars, trucks, honks, beeps, running motors, pounding jackhammers, noise, noise, noise!  As I walked, I thought to myself, there is no such thing as silence in NYC.  And yet I crave silence for the deepest part of my being, after a traumtic brain injury.  I couldn’t live here for very long without going a wee bit crazy, without feeling starved for the medicine of nature.  


As my nervous system became over-stimulated by the sites and sounds of NY, I pulled deep into my self, as close to my core as I could.   In the middle of a big city, where I am usually hyper-vigilant as I search for safety, I pulled in to myself to see if there was a message inside below the noise of the city that pounded against my ear drums, that are now so hyper-sensitive.      


What I found was that the stimulation on a NYC street felt like the chaos of a car wreck, with the sound of shattering glass, screeching tires, metal hitting metal, crunching, pounding, honking.   I knew then that I needed to go back to my hotel room.  There I would find quiet, there I could put on my iPod with soft music, there I could close my eyes and get relief from unconscious memories that my body held alone, without the consciousness of my spirit, or a working left brain to tell me that I was now OK.  


The accident was nearly 10 years ago, almost ancient history.   In the breezes of a beautiful day on a noisy NYC street, my body still remembers that chaos nearly stole my life.  Instead, chaos left me with a brain injury, so I had to take a different route in life than I had planned.

The Medicine of Writing

Posted on October 15, 2012 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (2)

 


 

Unable to get myself to write two years after the accident, even after some healing had happened, really scared me.  I knew writing would help in healing and I had been published several times before the accident.  I began to wonder if terror was locked in the vault of my being.  


As I thought it over, I realized I had no key to unlock the door to whatever feelings lurked inside me. I also knew there was no way to learn what messages they might hold for me, unless I found a way to get behind that door.  One day I saw an ad in a writing newsletter for a writing mentor and I began to have hope.  Having someone by my side as I opened the door to grief over what I had lost and how my life had been changed might be my way back to the light.   


Once I opened the door, with her help, I saw a monster that, if let out of the cage, would swallow me up whole and I would die.  The loss of the self that I had grown to know over 55 years was huge.  What I thought I could do, my dreams, energy, memories, were gone or filled with holes.  I was no longer able to depend on myself the way I had. I had to depend on others to get me through sometimes simple daily things, like how to get to the grocery store, where things were in the kitchen, how to write a check, how to make change, and talk to servicemen on the phone.  


The list of things I couldn’t do by myself any more was endless.  Grief about the losses of cognition from my brain injury felt very deep, almost like an ocean.   I couldn't think on my feet because my processor was so freakin' slow, I could hardly process information as people spoke, especially abstract concepts.  I was lost in a big, wide, scary world, where people thought I looked and sounded just fine.


I was so humiliated and embarrassed. I didn’t understand that relearning things would be so difficult, take so long, and then could be forgotten in an instant. It made me so angry. I got so frustrated that I couldn’t remember how to change the vacuum bag.  My solution was to not vacuum.  Then I didn't have to face how it felt to not remember how to do something I had done for years and taught my kids how to do. I lived in such deep shame, that no one even knew about - shame because I couldn’t function the way I had, the way everyone else did.


I couldn't find words to tell about the monster of grief that now lived in my life.  Often, I would be feeling OK, until I would suddenly start to sob.   I would wonder what triggered my tears, be so confused about who this person living inside me was, and wonder if I would ever get over it.  


As I healed, I re-learned to use the computer, and was able to sit longer at the desk.  I began to do some research. Gradually I found books, information online, all of which helped me begin to understand more about what I was feeling, the significance of the losses.


Chronic grief, grief that might not ever leave me, had become my constant companion.   I felt like I lived in a dark cloud that I dare not tell people about.  A psychiatrist, who had worked at the Centre for Neuroskills in CA, a highly regarded institute for brain injuries, explained to me that the injury would bring up and exaggerate old grief even though I had worked on it.  


Ah, I was being given an opportunity to re-examine the past once again!  I was so NOT excited about going over those old traumas I thought I had worked so hard to excise from my being.  I just wanted to get on with life and live my dreams.   How to get back to life was a question that plagued me.


Writing became my lifeline!   It helped me get the grief out of my head and onto paper, using metaphors and images that broke open the feelings so I could find the treasure that this trauma held for me.  Transformation began for me, through the medicine of writng poetry!!

Coming Out of Hiding Through Writing

Posted on September 27, 2012 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (0)

 


 

OK, I’m gonna start a blog. I’ve thought so long and hard about doing this.  Always the decision came back to - Yikes! I’ll be soooo out of the closet - there’s a story about me being born in a closet - I'll get to that in another post. It’s kind of like going on stage, in a virtual manner. There’s another story about being on a stage when I was 5 - that's later too. I am an introvert of the highest order! However, I have a book coming out or maybe I have given birth to a book, yes, even in my 60’s I can give birth. Who knew?!! And when one gives birth, the birth deserves to be acknowledged, celebrated in some way, cuddled and coddled, presented to the world, nourished and nurtured, you know what I mean. So here I am!  ;) 


A Life Interrupted: Living with Brain Injury, published by the amazing and wonderful Peggy Elam, founder of Pearlsong Press, is now a present to the world!  It was an early birth, since it was actually due October 1, 2012, but came out September 16th.


Here’s how it all started....I was in a car accident, hit my head hard on the dashboard, which translated into a severe brain injury, traumatic for my family who weren’t sure if I would make it or be a vegetable.  Traumatic for me when I realized that I had lost something very precious.  I was peacefully asleep in a coma for 5 days and in the ICU about 10 days.  A year and a half later, as I recuperated and could actually write more than chicken-scratch, I found I just couldn’t get myelf to write.  I just couldn’t pick up a pen and even pour an alphabet soup of words onto the page. 


Not being able to write terrified me.  I had been writing for a few years before the accident and knew that it had really helped me to write my thoughts and feelings out on paper, get them out of my head. I was told I wrote poetically, though I didn't have a clue what that meant.  It sounded nice though.  Not too long after discovering that I couldn’t make myself sit down and write, I found a writing mentor who was eager to work with a TBI survivor who used to write, but suddenly couldn’t get herself to pick up a pen.  (If you want a writing mentor, just email me and I will be happy to share her contact info with you.) :) 


I think I was afraid if I started writing I’d be washed over by waves of sadness and swallowed in the mouth of grief.  I’d be swept out to the ocean and lost at sea. She gave me an assignment to write from stems starting with “I reclaim.”  I was to use images, describe sensory details as best I could, use childhood memories, (dolls were big for me as a kid, remember Tiny Tears?) and by all means use metaphors if they came to me.  I started writing “I reclaim....” I misunderstood her directions, one of those brain injury moments, and started writing poems. First, I wrote about things in my childhood, then the accident began to take over my writing self more and more. Writing poems became how I listened to myself and how I got what was in my heart out onto a page.  And in talking with my mentor, I found someone who heard my pain and was a witness to my feelings about losing a huge part of myself.   And so began my journey to this book, " A Life Interrupted: Living with Brain Injury."


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