“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” ~Joseph Campbell
It’s been just under five years now since I had a head injury that changed my life forever.
Unfortunately, I spent more than two years going to multiple kinds of therapy and doctors several days a week and ultimately had to stop working. I was devastated.
I loved my career as a special educator and school administrator. I’d been in classrooms since I was twenty years old, and here I was at fifty-seven, suddenly unable to return to a school in any capacity because of a head injury.
The first two years, when I wasn’t being transported to therapies and doctors, I was mostly in bed or on the sofa.
To be honest, it wasn’t just because I was physically hurting so bad—it was because I was emotionally hurting, too.
I have had a headache every day since that horrible day almost five years ago when the head injury occurred. I have problems with dizziness, vertigo, fatigue, and sleep.
A neuropsychologist diagnosed me with executive functioning, processing, memory, and recall delays.
But even these problems were not as bad as the emotional anguish, and the hurt in my soul, once I realized I would never be able to go into a classroom again.
And sadly, I learned the hard way.
It was the first Grandparents’ Day at my grandson’s school after my head injury. My husband took off work and picked me up from home, dropped me off at the school doors, parked the car, and then escorted me to our grandson’s classroom.
I always loved Grandparents’ Day at schools where I worked, as well as at our grandchildren’s schools. I loved greeting the grandparents when they arrived at my schools; some of my most treasured moments were when students would introduce me to their grandparents.
We always made a big deal out of Grandparent’s Day with our own grandchildren, and I was thrilled to be attending this year because it was one of my first ventures out of the house for anything other than medical appointments.
I continued to have balance problems, anxiety, panic attacks, vision issues, headaches, and other symptoms from post concussive syndrome and post traumatic stress disorder.
But my husband was my best support person, so I thought I’d be okay for this outing.
Until I found myself backed into the corner of a crowded classroom with dozens of grandparents and students, and no way to get out. And I had a full-blown panic attack.
Difficulty breathing, sweating, shaking—and near syncope.
My husband excused us quickly and escorted me through the crowd and out of the classroom immediately.
I was unable to stay.
I was devastated.
The next time it happened, I was attending a basketball game at our granddaughters’ school where they were cheerleading and dancing.
I thought I could handle the crowds until suddenly the stands started filling up around me and another panic attack left me sweating, shaking, and having trouble breathing.
Again, my husband escorted me through the crowd and out the building—unable to stay.
As the appointments became fewer and farther between over time, and the doctors claimed I was improving, I continued my counseling appointments for PTSD.
I was becoming much better at using coping skills we had practiced weekly for more than two years. But I still struggled.
I was now doing my physical therapy and vision therapy at home, so I didn’t go to those appointments anymore. I wasn’t seeing the specialists or doctors as often as before.
I was seeing my counselor remotely because of the pandemic, so I didn’t even get out of the house for that weekly appointment.
Around the two-year mark, I knew something had to change. The joy in my heart and soul had suffered long enough. In fact, it was probably lost for a while. I needed to find it again.
I was living half of a life. My career was over because of the head injury, and I was going to retire. My social life was stagnant because I couldn’t drive or be in large crowds.
But I knew my life was not over and I had much to live for.
I made the conscious decision to crawl out from under my rock! I was done living a life of seclusion and self-pity without joy in my heart and soul.
I knew I had to find, and choose joy, from here forward. I was going to work hard on changing my mindset and not allowing what happened to me to control my life.
As I was coming out from under my rock, friends and family noticed a change. I would explain that I was taking back my life and choosing joy again. People were super proud of me. In fact, I was proud of me.
But I sometimes discovered that the concept of choosing joy didn’t always resonate with people. They didn’t seem to have the spiritual foundation necessary to understand what I meant.
So, I started explaining exactly what I was doing—choosing joy as a lifestyle. I shifted my attention and mindset from what had happened to me to all the wonderful things around me—flowers, animals, music, sunshine, and smiles.
I practiced compartmentalizing like I had done as a school administrator. I used strategies from my counselor to help me put what happened behind me. I had to focus on positive things rather than negative things.
I made it a point to laugh more—watching more comedies and scheduling time with fun people. It took a lot for me to ask friends or family to drive because I was always the driver – but I did it.
I even laughed about the mess my house had become during my down time and decided to just pronounce “Bless this mess!”
Little by little, I worked on cleaning the house and getting organized again. Fortunately, my husband was very patient and understanding during those difficult times. Clothes piled up, bills piled up, and mess piled up.
I focused on an attitude of gratitude and controlling what I could control—my attitude, my words, my behavior, and my responses to life. I also accepted my imperfections rather than beat myself up for not being perfect (or being able to work anymore).
The more I talked about choosing joy, the more empowered I felt to take back my life. And I could see and feel more joy around me every day.
I spent time outside and spent quality time with my family (and my cats). I planned family get-togethers again and learned to live with my headaches and panic attacks.
I accepted that IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY. If I had to cancel something because I was having a bad day, the world would not fall apart. I accepted this fact. And so did my family and friends.
My whole life shifted.
My mindset shifted.
And I felt the joy return to my heart and soul.
I have now been able to see the value of being retired and love it! I have started making jewelry again. My house is cleaner and more organized than it’s been in twenty years. And I am more functional than I’ve been since the head injury.
Not because I’m all better but because I have a better mindset. I am choosing joy and it changes everything!
Some days are better than others.
It’s still like that.
Almost five years later.
But I no longer live under a rock—or in bed under my covers!
I’ve learned through it all that choosing joy is a lifestyle concept. And I’ve been living it as I recover from my head injury and take back my life.
I’ve become empowered and confident again because I control how I see the world.
Joy is a lens through which you see the world. Choose joy and you will see the world from a new perspective.
About Susan Ballinger
Sassy Sister Stuff is a place for awesome women who are actively seeking to redefine their personal growth, wellness, adventures, happiness, self-love and self-care, mindset, entrepreneurship, plus so much more—at any age or stage of life. Founded by Susan Ballinger in 2020, Sassy Sister Stuff contains a wealth of information about managing life and taking good care of yourself. As an Exceptional Needs Specialist, Susan is committed to making her website accessible to ALL.