What I Learned About Happiness After a Brain Injury

Getting Rooted in Happiness and Living a Life You Love

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In the fall of 2007, a 40-foot pine tree snapped in half and hit me in the head. Both sides of my brain suffered severe damage, as well as the brain stem. My spine was compacted resulting in damage to my low back. The damage from the accident presented itself in full display.

I lost my motor skills, peripheral vision, balance, many memories and my mobility. Before the accident I was a woman who identified herself as an outgoing and outspoken woman who was always seeking the illusion of happiness. The accident changed how I viewed life.

The accident left me with cognitive processing challenges and an array of physical limitations. While living as an adult with functioning issues may sound difficult, I also had my childlike wonder back and was able to approach life without the heaviness of emotional baggage.

For the better part of a year, I observed people around me without being able to communicate effectively. What I noticed was that many people carried their baggage of bitterness, anger and resentment around with them daily.

I couldn’t understand why adults let someone or something have that kind of control over their life. The accident took so many memories from me, which created many problems in itself. The positive side of it enriched my life because I also lost all my baggage! I didn’t recall encounters with individuals who hurt or upset me in the past. Emotions like bitterness, anger and resentment were foreign to me.

Listening to people around me talk about their life with such bitterness in their voice left me feeling confused and empathetic. Bitterness is a horrible emotion to live with and I had a front row seat to witnessing the physical and emotional pain others carried with them because of it.

As my recovery improved, I was able to process human behavior in a new way and share my observations about the heaviness and toxicity of bitterness, anger and resentment.

My position was unique. As an adult with limited functioning and a lack of negative emotions or recollections, I saw things in people they were unable to see in themselves.

I was able help others see the danger in holding onto their bitterness. It was stealing their happiness. The more I shared about what I witnessed in other people’s reactions and behaviors the more I was able to help them change their lives.

As my recovery from brain trauma progressed, so did my own encounters with other adults. The more mobility and independence I regained, the more life impacted me and my childlike wonder started fading once again. Eventually, I experienced the hurts and pains of life again myself.

What caught me off guard was how fast I felt bitterness, anger and resentment rush back into my life and create a negative impact. Gratefully, it took just a few minutes to recognize it was happening. After watching so many others around me struggle to carry the weight and burden of this type of baggage, I was certain it could have no place in my life. 

To put my own happiness first, I decided to accept an apology that would go un-offered from someone who wasn’t sorry. The emotions left over from a person’s hurtful actions could have derailed my personal happiness. Letting go of the emotions of bitterness, anger and resentment was an easy decision to make yet very hard to implement. I had to learn how to forgive, let go and be better.

We may never forget how other people have negatively impacted us. Forgiving them frees us from living bitter lives; that creates a space for us to live a life of happiness. Choose everyday to be better not bitter.

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