Celebrations, wheelchairs and ‘invisible disability’

9 years yesterday since my head injury/trauma triggering, and I’m celebrating getting through a whole journey to Amsterdam and back WITHOUT USING A WHEELCHAIR!  Thank you, Lord!  Schiphol was a struggle, hanging hard onto David all the way, but we made it.

Why have a needed a wheelchair through airports (and through train stations if they are strange and I’m alone)?  The multiple stimuli, crowds, noise, people walking past me, banging of trays at security . . .  make me disorientated, slowed down, and sometimes I get me distressed.

Being in a wheelchair can also be distressing, as I’m right down in the crowd; but I can just let myself ‘blank out’ (maybe that’s what the therapist calls ‘dissociation’ again) and someone else will get me through.  Also, in a wheelchair, I’m not in control, and feeling out of control is one of the big problems with trauma.

On one never-to-be-forgot occasion, returning from my very first attempt at an air trip after the accident, I asked the wheelchair pusher to go slowly and to be careful over the bumps.  He was annoyed and started pushing me faster, so I tried to ask him to go slower, but he went faster still, and I found myself screaming – whereupon he panicked and went faster still.  Thankfully, David was there and managed to run up and stand in front of the chair, so the pusher had to stop.

I was in a state of shock!  It took some courage to go in a wheelchair again.  I got myself a big notice that said, ‘HEAD INJURY!  I need to avoid noise, crowds, bumps, bangs, flashing lights and swerves’.  I learnt that people take notice if something is printed and is big, whereas they don’t take you seriously if you just tell them verbally.  They especially don’t take you seriously if you look normal – if you have an ‘invisible disability’.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been left a long time in a noisy place while people who LOOK disabled were collected before me.

It’s been easier since I got an official looking badge from Headway, the head injury support group.  But I’m very thankful to be well enough now to have got through one trip without a wheelchair.

Concussion and trauma

Continuing the saga . .   for the few days following the head injury, I would spend time in bed, then get up and try to function, then go back to bed.  I couldn’t cope with noise or light, or concentrate for more than a few minutes, and everything felt strange.  David took me to the doctor again, I was told just to rest and wait again, so we did that, then got referred to another doctor, and so on . .  I slowly got back to doing a little work, seeing a few students, but it was terribly tiring and I couldn’t cope with much.

I got a little better, and went to speak at a conference – had to find someone to travel on the train, I had my meals alone in a quiet place, couldn’t cope with social interaction etc – but somehow managed to give my papers (‘Did they make any sense?’ I ask myself now).

The medics told me I had a ‘mild head injury’ or ‘post concussion syndrome’, so we looked that up.  It’s a label for unexplained ongoing problems following a concussion.  In most people (I think, 60%), it clears after 3 months.  In 60% of the people who are left, it clears after another 6 months.  Etc.  After 3 months, it was clear that I was in the 40% who were left.  Maybe in another 3 months I’d be better?

I didn’t know until today that I didn’t really believe that it happened.

But WHY do I not really believe that it happened?  There is plenty of evidence that it DID happen, but my memory has blocked it out, and I am constantly wanting to live as if it never happened at all.

That’s why, I suppose, it keeps tripping me up.  And my body reacts every time something reminds it of that thing I can’t/won’t remember.

And, of course, I can’t live as if it didn’t happen, because it had pretty drastic effects on my life.  Maybe if I can thank God for the effects, or, at least start by being thankful for some of them, I can really accept it, and move forward.

Magnificent anger, eternal pain, unimaginable love.

God’s anger is pure and good, and it reaches like a flood into every last corner of evil and injustice in His world.  I do not need to contemplate my own, muddy anger, but to let myself be caught up into His magnificent anger.

I can do this because, along with His magnificent anger goes His eternal pain – His anguish over the pain experienced by His fallen creation (Genesis 6:6 reflects 3:16 and 3:17).

And greater than both is His unimaginable love, which commits Him to this mixed-up world from the rainbow covenant of Noah to the Cross of Messiah Jesus.

The foundations of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.

My anger is ineffectual.  I don’t know who or what to be angry with, I couldn’t prevent what happened, and I can’t undo what happened.  It’s Sunday, and I’m contemplating God’s anger.  He does know who or what to be angry with, and his anger is so powerful that it can shake the foundations of the world.  Here’s the classic poem on God’s anger:

Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.

Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.

He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.

He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.

He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.

Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.

The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.

And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.

Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. (Psalm 18:7-15)

I suppose that means that he could have prevented what happened . . and that’s another question.  For the time being, I’m going to remember that he did rescue me (I’m here!) and that he knows how to be angry.  Lord, teach me how to be angry!  Teach me to share your anger, and to share your even greater love and mercy!

Studying my own ANGER

Next to fear, anger seems to be the biggest emotion produced by trauma.  The problem for some of us is that it’s an emotion that we couldn’t afford to feel THEN.  It got buried, and now it can come out in all sorts of inappropriate ways.

And, of course, buried anger doesn’t just lie down and die.  It can get turned in to wrong direction – most commonly towards oneself, so that you are beating yourself and blaming yourself for everything.  It can get turned towards God – much safer, if it can get expressed and we can hear that He, too, is angry at what happened and that He can knows what to do with anger.  It can be denied (I AM NOT ANGRY!!!!!!!!!!!!) and that is very tiring – squashing anger takes a lot of energy.

And all this is, I think, because anger is frightening.  My own anger is more frightening even than other peoples’ anger, and it feels as if it might be uncontrollable.

So, how should I begin to deal with some of the anger that is still in me from the time of my parents’ death?  The therapist said, ‘Just take an interest it in.’  That doesn’t sound too frightening.  I think I can do that.  In addition to all my other academic tasks this week, I shall study my own anger.