Before I suffered a ruptured aneurysm and subsequent brain surgery at 36, I had felt young, strong, beautiful and independent. I had felt invincible. The brain injury left me devastated – both physically and emotionally.
A little bit about Iveta
Before I suffered a ruptured aneurysm and subsequent brain surgery at 36, I had felt young, strong, beautiful and independent. I had felt invincible. The brain injury left me devastated – both physically and emotionally. Even though I made a quick physical recovery, I was left feeling sad, anxious and shocked at the lack of continued emotional support for patients like myself. How come there was no support provided? How come no one seemed to understand what happens to brain injury survivors once the worst is over? How come no one seemed to care?!
It took me a while to realize that I shared the guilt with the rest of the world – for I was equally harsh on myself in denying my emotions and trying to convince myself that, once physically back on my feet, I should be grateful for my miraculously quick physical recovery and carry on with my life as usual. After all, I was still young and beautiful, I had the chance to work towards becoming fit again, and, obviously, I was incredibly lucky. I should be feeling lucky. I should be feeling happy. I should be “feeling blessed”. Why wasn’t I?! What was wrong with me?!
The challenges linked to moving forward
It took me more than 2 years to realize what was wrong with me. 966 days of self-doubt and loneliness. Numerous sleepless nights. Countless drinks and forced jokes about my health condition in order to try and rise above and laugh it off. Several occasions of looking out through my window, wondering whether the 4th floor would be high enough for a suicide jump.
At first, I blamed it on the physical pain. I also blamed it on being exhausted from trying to navigate the labyrinth of the healthcare system. Then, I blamed it on the uncertainty for my future and on the early onset of midlife crisis which the trauma had brought. I blamed it on the lesion in my frontal lobe. I also blamed it on the anti-seizure drugs and their depression-inducing side effects. Eventually, I blamed it on my husband who did not know how to help and tried to console me with the words “it was scary, but it’s over, so you can and should move on”. I blamed it on my friends who failed to understand and behaved as if I had moved on. I blamed it on my mother who had always pushed me hard in order to teach me to be strong and independent and to suppress emotions. I even blamed it on my therapist who gently told me that I couldn’t just force myself to move on, thus, in my mind, preventing me to do so. But, most of all, I blamed it on myself. I blamed myself for not being strong enough, for not being resilient enough and, thus, failing.
I really wanted to and I really tried hard to move on. And yet I obviously couldn’t.
I kept telling myself and everyone around me what I so desperately wanted to believe: that my ruptured aneurysm was behind me, that I had made a full recovery and that I was ready to move on with my life without looking back. I pushed myself as hard as I could in order to go back to just being a wife, a mother of two, a corporate employee, a fun and outgoing friend. Feeling negative emotions resulted in feeling guilty about them, so eventually I did my best to not feel anything at all.
Finding my way forward
What caused me to get out of the vicious cycle? This is as cheesy as it sounds, I swear: I started reading SameYou’s report on “The untold story of brain injury” and it felt as if someone had spelled out my thoughts and described my suppressed emotions. It was as if I had been quoted, even though I had never submitted any text for the report. This revelation helped me realize I was not alone in having gone through such a trauma, that many others with a similar fate like mine were probably suffering in similar ways – unrecognized, unsupported and lonely.
Today, I feel ready to forgive – both the world and myself – for the lack of emotional support.
More importantly, I feel ready to feel: to feel sad and insecure, to feel lucky, to feel alive, to feel relatively young, fit and beautiful again. Ready to be the right kind of strong again. Ready to try and make the world a better place for brain injury survivors.
My advice to other survivors
My name is Iveta. I live in Bulgaria. I am a brain injury survivor. I am not invincible, but I am lucky and, when I am not sad, I am happy.
Please reach out to me if you’re struggling with something similar to what I’ve suffered. You can’t just force yourself and you should definitely not try to. We’re all lucky to be on Earth together. We’ve all been through a lot.
We can overcome and move on if we help each other.