I am writing this at 8 p.m. That is the hour when the world cracked in two. It happened in less than one second. The instant that set these four years in motion.Thinking about it now, my palms are already sweaty. Just one phone call. The words “brain dead.” My world went completely dark.
I wasn’t breathing. My head was on fire. My mind felt ice-cold. Stumbling out the door of my hotel room, typing “S.O.S” on my phone to my friends. Half drunk with shock, half-mad with a brain gone haywire. I was the bullseye of tragedy. And it was a direct hit.
The days that followed, people had tons of useless words to offer me. It was all I could do to keep my feet planted firmly on the cold, hospital floor, and my hands wrapped around any part of him I could touch. Yet circling like flies around my head, were the quips and phrases people ushered to me as a source of comfort. It was in God’s hands, they said. Everything happened for a reason, they said. The words fell empty like anchors, with a loud clamor that ricocheted off the frozen walls in the deepest pit of my heart. But the hardest, most foreign words to hear, the ones that tasted like sewage on my tongue and were practically undigestible, were the words: “It will be OK.”
Fools. It would never be OK.
Today is the four year anniversary of the horrific accident of my one time love and ex-boyfriend, Patrick. He was struck by a car and sustained a severe traumatic brain injury. Those four words have become a novel of experiences; a river running wide and deep with sorrow, grief, unfailing hope, determination, miracles and disappointment.
These days I have been keeping pretty silent about my life. Perhaps I needed to lay down my TBI torch and just rest and be still. Patrick and I have been living separately now for a year, and in that time, our lives have moved in increasingly different trajectories. This wasn’t by any means the natural evolution of breaking up, and had everything to do with a conscious choice on my part to pour my focus and energy into myself for the first time in my life, and to let Patrick decide if he wanted to fight for his health for the sake of himself, and without me as the motivation. The hardest part about this process, was the acknowledgement and acceptance that we could never be what I wanted us to be so badly. Yet while the brain injury he suffered could not save us as a couple, it did in fact save us individually: each in our own right.
When Patrick and I broke up, I was at the brink of a serious health crisis. My physical health had deteriorated to the point where I was being diagnosed with mounting issues by doctors, and being offered a cocktail of meds. I weight 236 lbs. My body hurt every day. I had no energy. My emotional health was worn thin to the point of being totally threadbare. All I saw when I looked at my life was wreckage. I felt crushed into the dust.
This past summer, everything came to a head, when I sustained a mental health crisis and basically suffered a mini nervous breakdown. I will leave the details for the book I hope to someday write, but it was the scariest thing I have ever experienced in my entire life. On a cellular level, my body, mind and soul had had enough. They were screaming out for self-care so loudly, that I finally had no choice but to listen. Until this happened, I had truly believed that I was invincible. I told myself that if I hadn’t broken yet, after all I’d been through, I would certainly not break now. But that proved to be terribly untrue. This forced me to seriously re-evaluate not only my life, but what I value, and also, how I view my own identity.
I wish that TBI hadn’t been the vehicle for which I learned how terribly flawed I had always been at practicing self-love, but I am eternally grateful for the very hard lesson it taught me. It took me 35 years to stop making projects out of people, and to work on myself. This process showed me that while I had no issue advocating fiercely for Patrick, I struggled with something as small as sending back food at a restaurant that was prepared the wrong way for myself. I learned that I had a lot of my identity wrapped around the idea that I was responsible for the feelings and emotions of others, and it was my job to make them happy and find peace. This was a game I could and would never win.
It took a ton of work, and peeling away some very painful layers of self, but I slowly started to break free of my patterns. I began to practice true self-care. I adopted an extremely healthy whole-food, plant based diet (called the Nutritarian diet), and to exercise. I lost a lot of weight. I went back to journaling. I got myself into therapy. I took long walks on the beach at night, and some nights I cried so hard I could hardly breathe, and it felt amazing. Then one day, I caught myself laughing, and was almost taken aback by the surprise of it. I began to build up the strength within me.
On the night of Patrick’s accident, I was at a music convention in L.A, California. I was set the following morning to fly to Indiana where I would purchase an RV, for the purpose of touring in support of my soon-to-be-released record. After I got the news, I changed my flight and flew to Florida, where Patrick laid in the ICU. I picked up my RV a week later, and it sat in my driveway for 6 months, before I sold it and used the money on Patrick’s recovery. The record was never released.
This past July, I decided that it was time to bring my life full-circle. I purchased a 1974 Argosy Airstream trailer, with the intention of restoring her to greatness, and then afterwards, touring the country with her on a travel binge with no specified end date. Bringing her home was a really big moment for me. It some ways it felt as if I was standing right back where I had been in 2013, and yet, the world felt completely different to me from this post-TBI vantage point.
I named her JoyBug. She represents the embodiment of my personal revolution, my ultimate pursuit of joy, and new lifestyle of self-love and mercy.
It is with great humor that I admit that I am the least handy person on earth. Naturally, the progress has been extremely slow. But I’ve been taking it one step at a time. Just like I did with TBI, I am learning the language of Airstreams little by little. I’m a trial-by-fire girl, so I must admit that it’s nice to be engulfed in the brand new flames of a brand new passion.
Now that I had resurrected my dream of living in a vintage RV and being nomadic, there was another dream that I had shelved that I needed to reclaim: solo travel female. Before Patrick’s accident, I had traveled 14 countries solo. Since he had been hurt, I had ceased to travel. It was time. And I wanted to make the trip a big, fat, wonderful adventure of a lifetime.
So in September, I embarked on a two-week solo road trip around the other-worldly country of Iceland. I rented a car in a foreign land, and I drove 1400 miles in 14 days through barren wilderness, Martian landscapes, bubbling geisers and geo-thermal activity. I saw the epic Northern Lights, picked up hitch-hikers, met a couple from Switzerland and became best friends with them, saw the largest waterfall in Europe, got terribly lost in the mountains, rode on the back of a galloping horse through a canyon, went snorkeling in the icy waters of Silfra between the tectonic plates of the North America and Europe, ice-rappelled down the back of a glacier, explored a lava cave and ice cave, drank natural sparkling carbonated water from the ground, hiked a gorge, and bathed in the sulphur baths of the Blue Lagoon! It was pretty damn epic!
I also spent a ton of time alone. There were many days where I drove for hours and hours and never saw another human being. The barren lands were so epically desolate. One afternoon, I pulled over my car, got out, stripped off all my clothes, and just stood there on the side of the road, buck-naked. I let out a primal scream as loud as I could, and still, I was met with silence. It was in this moment, that I knew I had broken free.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since that horrific night that changed my life forever. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel grateful for Patrick’s life, and for a recovery that few are so fortunate enough to experience. Even though things did not go as I had hoped, if I were given the chance to go back and make the choice again, I would absolutely choose it again for myself and for him. I think that it’s the most important thing I have ever done in my life.
Yet I have to admit, that there is feeling of irreverence about the fact that I did not wake up in tears this morning. I actually had a good day. I guess the scars are fading. The heavy weight that typically follows me on this day did not arrive at my door. To my heart it feels almost as if someone is swearing loudly in a church, and a part of me wants to quiet it. Some part of me feels like this day should always wreck me. The fact that it hasn’t is laden with relief, but also loss.
It feels sacrilegious and a betrayal of the me that existed four years ago, to say aloud that today was a good day. She would’ve hated that I could possibly be happy ever again on this day. She would’ve hated the idea that she and Patrick could be apart, that her dreams wouldn’t come true, and that things would never be the same, and yet somehow she could have a good day. She had sworn off good days once that horrific day arrived.
But I willingly am betraying that girl, because she is a phantom of the past. I know now that if I want my life to be all I dreamed it could be, I have to embrace the now. It still hurts. But I choose to embrace the joy. I choose to embrace the now.
For what it’s worth, that’s the takeaway message I have to offer you all — here, and now, at four years post TBI: the direct-hit-bullseye, catastrophic tragedy that struck my life on November 8, 2013.
They were and are still wrong. It will never be OK.
But I will be ok.
I am on my way to OK.