About a month ago, The Trauma and Attachment Report published an article about the impact that my mother’s brain aneurism had on my life and my relationship with her (A Daughter’s Reflections on her Mother’s Brain Injury, April 1, 2011). Both my mother and I shared a few tears and giggles as we read the published article about my experiences. We decided that we would like to share the other side of the story with readers as well, from her point of view. Here is a follow up interview that I conducted with my mother about her experiences as a brain injury survivor, her view on how it affected her as an individual, as well as her thoughts on how it affected our relationship, and my development.
Q: How would you describe your life prior to the aneurism?
A: Prior to suffering from a brain aneurism I would say that my life was very similar to most single working parents. I had a very demanding professional life as an executive secretary, and a very active family life raising you, as you were in your late teenage years. I would describe my life at the time as very comfortable, and for the most part, progressing as planned. I was always on the go. I participated as a performer in a local theatre group and enjoyed active involvement within my community. Like most single mothers, I often felt there was a great deal of pressure on me to manage juggling my profession, family, and personal responsibilities.
Q: How do you think your life has changed since the aneurism?
A: Since the aneurism my life has changed completely, as I have had to relearn to live. The aneurism affected my memory. There were large gaps of time missing from my memory, and any recollections of the time I spent in the hospital were gone altogether. I had to work very hard to retrieve past memories and fit them back into some kind of chronological order. At times, it was tremendously confusing. I also had to relearn to live alone, take care of my personal affairs, pay my bills, plan shopping trips; and since I was unable to return to work, spend according to the disability pension I was receiving. I found this new identity difficult to adjust to. I suddenly did not have a job to go to, and didn’t really know what to do with my free time. Often this left me feeling like I was not needed. I no longer felt like a contributing member of society. It was difficult to suddenly be at home most of the time with nowhere to go and no way to get anywhere, as I was no longer allowed to drive. This especially, was a difficult change. Driving had always been something I enjoyed. I missed being able to just get up and do what I wanted. It made me feel extremely dependent on others for even the smallest of things. I am happy to say that I have since been able to get my driver’s licence back, and am now able to enjoy my freedom again.
Q: What was involved in your rehabilitation?
A: I underwent treatment such as Ergo Therapy and Speech Therapy. I was able to work with a therapist who helped me to regain and redevelop my verbal and motor skills. I realize now I was very lucky that the aneurism had not severely affected my physical capacities. I also met with a psychologist to ensure that I was not developing secondary symptoms such as anxiety and depression. All the rehabilitation I received was covered by Medicare and, although I didn’t feel so good about it at the time, I am now extremely thankful that those treatments were available.
Q: Do you feel your brain injury has had an impact on your close relationships?
A: This experience changed the way I behave within my personal relationships. It taught me to mind my own business. I used to have a motherly approach with others, I would try to give advice and tell them what I thought they should do. Since the aneurism, I have realized that life is too short to stress about others people’s lives. I have learned to put myself first, and recognize that if others need or want my help, they will ask. Another drastic change has been that I no longer have a very busy social life. As I was no longer able to work or participate in theatre anymore, I unfortunately lost contact with the people in my previous social circles. I don’t really miss being incredibly social, however; I now prefer to keep more to myself. Once in a while, I will have lunch with one of my sisters or stop to chat with a neighbour as I walk my dog, but the only person I would say I am still very close with, is you, my daughter.
Q: How do you think your brain injury impacted our relationship?
A: I believe that it made our relationship closer. It made it easier for us to talk to each other. It helped me realize that I won’t be around forever, and that we need to appreciate each other despite any differences we might have. I think it helped you to understand me on a different level, not just as your mother. Before my aneurism our relationship was purely a mother-daughter relationship, but after the aneurism our relationship grew into a friendship. We now see each other as two adults who have limited time left together, and need to enjoy every moment we get.
Q: Do you think this experience changed me? If so, how?
A: Yes, I know it forced you to mature very quickly. I think you also realized that your time with your mother is not unlimited. Almost losing a parent is always shocking for someone, but for an eighteen year old girl this was much more shocking and unexpected. You told me during the time immediately following my release from the hospital that you suffered from anxiety and depression. Although it is difficult to think about, I believed it shaped you into the individual you have become. I also know you believe that my brain aneurism and rehabilitation process sparked your interest in pursuing an undergraduate degree in psychology.
Q: If there was anything that you could tell other individuals and their families who are going through a similar situation, what words of wisdom or advice would you offer?
A: I have tried to continue living my life in a way that is similar to the life I had before the brain injury, but I think everyone is different and I don’t feel I have any words of wisdom for others because I don’t really know their circumstances. No two people or situations are the same. Everyone has to accept their condition in their own way, and make the best of it.
Both I and my mother would like to thank The Trauma and Attachment Report for sharing our story. We hope it will help other families going through similar hardships. We hope it will help them realize that although recovery can be a long and painful process, they can make it through and sometimes change for the better because of their experiences.