Like a fingerprint

While at work today, Amanda emailed me. Amanda Loucks is a reader, and she only wanted to let me know that she loves the conversation I’m having here about the makings of the mind.

My inbox has been less scary lately and I’ve come to look forward to getting emails these. Most of the time, they are life-giving, positive encouragements. And almost all the time, I am an ass at replying to them. It’s nothing to do with the internet. This really is just an extension of my preexisting struggle to reply to texts and phone calls, say thank you and please. I am terrible at this. One day, I will work on it.

But after reading the first few paragraphs of Amanda’s note, I knew I had to reply. And immediately, too- even though I was in the middle of work at my no-phones-allowed job.  I felt like I had to surrender this space to her story. Because I needed to read this. And I think you do, too. See, for Amanda, the brain isn’t just an interesting subject. It’s deeply symbolic. It’s a stamp on her life. She’s fought battles here, and won them. She’s had her slate wiped clean in a flash of trauma, and found her way back to herself again, a warrior. She writes about it all with incomparable and beauty that makes me teary, makes me hopeful.

Here’s her email.

~~~

fingerprint-heart-vector-graphic_53-9637

I just wanted to let you know that I really love your topic for #Write31.

For a long time I have been praying for God to make me straight. When He didn’t answer that prayer, I thought it was better for everyone if I simply didn’t live anymore. I couldn’t commit suicide myself. I didn’t want my parents to think that they had somehow failed. So December 2013 is when my prayers turned to begging God for a car accident. Everyday.

On August 25, 2014 I finally got the accident I had prayed for. There was a heavy downpour and I hydroplaned in a puddle and my car spun into the oncoming traffic lane. I was hit hard from behind.  I broke my pelvis, my ribs, and my C2 vertebrae (my neck). But I also received a traumatic brain injury.

I spent the next month and half in the hospital.  I was then discharged into a rehabilitation unit for those with brain injuries. I spent a year in that rehab unit. To be honest, I don’t remember the accident. Nor do I remember the two weeks in the ICU department. There was so much swelling in my brain that even though I was physically “present”, the ability to save memories was damaged. I will never be able to remember those events.

Some people learn things from near death experiences…I don’t remember mine.

The thing about traumatic brain injuries (TBI’s) is that they can have a thousand different outcomes.  Some people lose the ability to walk, talk, swallow, or see clearly. Some lose the ability to correctly filter their words or maintain social skills. Some people lose the ability to remember the person they were before their accident. Some people remember exactly who they were but don’t know how to be themselves again.  Even though we somehow survived our accidents, a part of us died that day.

Grief is a tricky, heartbreaking part of life that is hard for everyone. But grieving a TBI is different because no one has taught us what to do when you wake up as someone else. Our culture has largely ignored how to deal with the grief of losing a part of yourself.

As for me, I am considered a “high functioning” TBI patient. When my amnesia wore off on September 8th 2014, I felt like me. A slower, more tired me, who wore a halo head brace but me nonetheless.  I remembered who I was. I still possessed social skills. I still had the ability to be independent.  But in the next year, as I talked with doctors, nurses, EMT’s and the sheriff who first responded to my accident, they all said that I should have died. They wanted me to see the miracle of life. They wanted me to be happy I survived.

But I couldn’t have been more pissed. Here God was again….not answering my prayers.

Its hard to be excited for life when you think that you are so fundamentally screwed up that it would be better to be dead. Better for everyone.  Better for God.  I tried the conservative method of changing my orientation. I begged God, I did therapy, I read books. At the time, I could only think of one way to stop “sinning” and it seemed like God took that one away from me too.

So here I was, in the hospital and rehab, with people who had fought extremely hard for me to survive; with people who loved me. So I talked with them. I processed with them about life, love and brain injuries and these are some of the things I have learned that I want to share with you Ben:

I have heard many people who are in awe of fingerprints.  How amazing it is that we all have fingerprints that are uniquely different from any set that ever was, or will be.  But I think that we also forget that brains are similar to fingerprints too. Our brains form neural pathways that allow us to achieve every task. These pathways are formed from a complex, and sometimes unexplainable mix of our experiences, genes, and personalities. No two brains could ever be alike.

This concept intrigues me for several reasons. First, growing up in a conservative Christian atmosphere, I was taught that the world only came in black and white. That there were clear “normal” and “freakish” categories; that the world is easily divided. But upon learning that every brain processes things in a unique way, I realized that for a majority of Christendom we were placing on a pedestal only one brain process; and that was typically an upper-class, white, heterosexual, cis-gender male brain process.

I think that this is detrimental to our faith.  I feel like teaching that only one way to process the world doesn’t give enough credit to God and His beautiful creativity and the worthiness of His creation.

I find it interesting too, that how our brain processes effects our ability to relate to one another. For example, some conservative Christians literally cannot comprehend my experiences because they have never had them.  And, in their experience, any same sex relationship CANNOT be similar to their heterosexual relationships.  So even though we both are trying to explain what we think we aren’t even on the same page but we are reading different books.

Which brings me to the last thing I want to share with you…

The neural pathways that are formed throughout our lives and teach us how to process and function can be destroyed during brain injuries. These pathways cannot be healed. But we can teach our brains to form new pathways in order to get the same tasks done.  This is what speech, occupational, physical, and massage therapy does for patients.  Therapists see that our bodies and minds have formed or are trying to form neural pathways that are harmful and they try to re-teach our brains to form a new pathway that would better benefit our total health.

This is extremely similar to psychological therapy.  Counselors and psychologists, help us to see the neural pathways that our life experiences have formed for us and that are causing us harm. They take time to talk and process with us repeatedly so that we build new neural pathways that form us into healthier people.

We tend to look down on those who see psychologists, and praise people who are taking physical therapy…but the way I see it is they all are, in a way, seeing brain surgeons.  And if this accident taught me anything its that we need to love our brain, love ourselves, and love life.

So maybe with those who disagree with our belief that same sex relationships can be holy and pleasing to God, maybe it just takes them repeatedly seeing thriving gay Christians to change their minds.

Here is to all of us becoming brain surgeons, may we change lives, hearts, and brains.

  • So powerful. Thanks, Amanda, for sharing your story and wisdom.

  • Suzanne Brenimer

    De-lurking here for the first time to say a big, heartfelt “Thank you!” – both to Ben and especially Amanda for sharing this. This “slow brain surgery” process of building new and healthier neural pathways is sometimes easy to feel discouraged about because it does take repetition and hard work that often feels invisible to those around us. I forget a lot that I’m in the middle of the work, and not just stuck in a muddy metaphorical ditch.

    Amanda – you describe so succinctly how our thought processes about everything – the world, God, others, ourselves – are shaped in both good and potentially harmful ways by our communities and our upbringing.

    Thank you for the reminder that I’m not static, that my present struggles are neither fixed nor some indelible part of me.

  • Amanda, you are awesome. <3

  • Amanda Loucks

    Thank you all for your kind words! They really do mean a lot! I am honored that we all can do this life together. I have told some friends that, in a way, it shocks me that it took nearly dying to see that some people would never leave me. Even though it was an extreme lesson to learn, I am still grateful that I know that some people wont walk away. Some people do love without conditions. Sometimes it just takes us a little bit to find them.

  • Sheila Warner

    Beautiful!