Taking gulps of my favorite, cheap shiraz wine right out of the bottle, I quickly swallowed handful after handful of the happy-colored pills.
They looked like candy, but there was no sweet taste. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to mix meds with alcohol, but in this case, it didn’t matter.
“That should do it,” I thought, with tears dripping off my chin making dark spots on my shirt. I considered making myself throw up. Being bulimic in college, I could have done it easily, but, I didn’t.
I felt calm, triumphant and even proud for having had the guts to actually do it. Once the deed was done, the snarly bitch in my mind finally shut up. The mental movie of my hideous past and dreaded future reached the end of the reel at last. It was eerily quiet inside my head for the first time in a long time.
It was a sunny spring morning in June of 2007, just like any other Wednesday morning, but this was the day I decided that I wanted to die.
Almost four hours passed before someone found me, and it was hours after that that what I’d taken became known. Because too much time had elapsed, my stomach wasn’t pumped, and the drugs went all the way through my system, wreaking havoc.
Needless to say, it wasn’t a successful suicide attempt, but the overdose did land me in the hospital for two weeks and leave me with a serious brain injury. I used to tell people that I was retarded until I became conscious enough to know that that was politically incorrect.
Right after the injury, I couldn’t remember anything short-term or long-term. On the way home from the hospital, my Dad turned to his wife in the passenger seat and said, “We’ll run by her house, feed the animals, and then head to our place.” With surprise from the back seat I asked, ”I have a house?”
My speech was slurred, without inflection, and like my thinking processes, s-l-o-w. I had trouble controlling my bladder, couldn’t chew without chomping down on my cheek or tongue and my hands constantly shook while hanging limply at my sides when I walked.
The closest thing I can liken my brain-injured state to is being shit-faced, out-of-your-mind drunk when it’s way past the point of being anything close to fun anymore. Stumbling around, room spinning, can’t think or function. But in this case, I didn’t sober up in a couple of hours.
In the year following the brain injury, I naturally healed enough to regain some memory, intelligence, physical coordination, speech and motivation. I then used what wits I’d recovered to find out everything I could about rehabilitating my brain.
After learning about neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections in response to repeated movement, behavior, emotion and thought, and how to consciously direct and encourage it, I devised my own neuroplastically-based activities and sought out alternative therapies.
I was obsessively determined to recover. I promised myself, “I am not staying like this!” For years, from the time I got out of bed until I hit the sheets again, my sole focus was rebuilding my brain.
In addition to performing daily cardiovascular exercise to promote brain cell growth, I began visualizing, thought reframing, meditating, practicing mindfulness and doing yoga to form new, healthier neuronal pathways in my brain. I spent hours every day doing brain training computer programs and activities online to improve my brain processes. I adopted a brain healthy diet, took supplements, guzzled water and got lots of sleep.
It took years, but I did fully recover.
Although I never thought I’d say this, the brain injury was a blessing in disguise. Really. Because it forced me to make the changes I’d needed to make long before.
For the first time in my life, I had to focus on and put energy into myself and make my needs the priority. I had to learn to be selfish.
The Dalai Lama had this to say about taking care of your own needs:
“It is important that when pursuing our own self-interest we should be ‘wise selfish’ and not ‘foolish selfish.’ Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, shortsighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate.”
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Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr