A few years ago, a college basketball player in March Madness missed two free throws in the waning seconds of a close game. His team lost the game. The player blamed himself for the defeat. The press, and the player, described those missed shots as his “defining moment” in the sport. Forgotten were the successful free throws in the past, the blocked shots, the scored baskets. It came down to two shots. The player never performed to the same level again. He defined himself as the player who lost the game, who missed the free throws.
What is a defining moment? We experience several throughout our lives. They are moments in time where through experience, profound change is possible. The experiences are individual; what becomes a defining moment for one may not impact another. The can be either positive or negative: graduating high school, becoming a parent, going to jail, winning the lottery, surviving cancer. A company of new Marines march proudly across the parade deck at Parris Island. It is graduation day, a public acknowledgment of the defining moment of becoming a Marine.
Often, there is a public, or outside labeling, of a defining moment. This can serve to bring the community together for celebration, if positive,or support in a tragedy. I think of the times of natural disasters and how to country comes together, if briefly, to support the survivors. However, at times, this outside labeling can serve to bring further harm. The survivor of sexual assault faces the horror of the crime,then the stigmatization of being a victim. Society blames her. How she dressed, if she consumed alcohol, did she resist; her actions her examined and questioned. Often, she is accused of lying, especially in a military setting. Defining moment? A liar? A victim? A whore? Guilty?
In thinking about defining moments in my life, three in particular stand out. Marine Corps boot camp is a life changing event. This was more a series of moments, generally involving a loud Drill Instructor, an impossible task, and/ or a high place. Did I ever mention I hate heights? Not anymore. I had to face that fear to succeed and I did.
After I was assaulted in the Marines, I accepted the story of the perpetrator. No one would believe me. After all, he was a well respected Senior NCO. I was a junior NCO, who was isolated and seen as barely average. Never mind that I was honor graduate from Corporal Leadership School. So, I stayed quiet until my end of tour discharge. I never reported the assault in the Marines. I only started talking about it 7 years later. People believed me. In the years since then, I have done a tremendous amount of healing and growth. I no longer believe the majority of his lies. Was this a defining moment? Unfortunately, yes. It changed the course of my life for many years. Did it ruin my life? No. I chose to grow instead.
On April 25, 2011, I sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury in a car accident. My life changed. A common thread weaving forward from the assault is “broken.” However, other parts definition weaves into the pattern as well: strong, determined, confident. The brain injury is a defining moment. The Army Reserve found me unfit medically for continued service and I will soon be medically retired. I have not run a marathon since my injury. There have been many changes in my life since. However, I choose to continue to live within the boundaries. I run several days a
week and am training for a half marathon. Life means living.
What I have discovered about defining moments is they are road signs marking the journey of life. Some life changes are more profound than others. Pursue life.
Today was Spring Equinox, or Ostara. It is the day where light and dark is equal, a day of balance. We see the Goddess awakening after the winter sleep. Trees are budding, early flowers bloom. Here, the spring winds blow and the weather is unpredictable.
My friend celebrated her birthday today as well. I prioritized the celebrating my friend over the casting of a ritual Circle. Life is about building relationships. There is no better way to celebrate Her than to be with friends, as they are among Her greatest gifts to us.
After returning home, I took care of my ferret and cat chores. Litter boxes do not wait, holiday or not. Then, I celebrated Ostara with my furchildren. A lesson I learned long ago is whiskers and candles do not mix. With five furry critters, simplicity was choice. Yet, it was spiritually meaningful.
The majority of Circle was meditation. I needed the quiet focus time. I chose to focus on the Crone's role in rebirth. I know this is a rather odd choice for Ostara, as it is generally a holiday associated with the Maiden. However, I have been dreaming of bats and fascinated by them recently. They are associated with rebirth, among other things. Honestly, I have liked bats for years, but more intensely recently. I feel "Bat" is trying to reach me. I felt a sense of Her presence and reassurance. She is pleased with my growth, in relation to the TBI, but there is more coming. It was an intense experience.
The ferrets played elsewhere, although the energy in the Circle attracted them to visit, and enticed a brief game of pounce from Bobby. It was amusing to watch. He played with me and Kaliyah for several minutes. Then, he saw something interesting on the other side of the room and bounded away.
Scout was barking at the door after the I ended the Circle. I have been hearing frogs for weeks. The first frog came to visit tonight. Frogs are also associated with change, growth, and healing.
You arrived wrapped in bows of twisted metal and spiderweb glass
The music of squealing brakes, rumble, boom, silence! Siren song begins!
Traumatic Brain Injury came home to live.
Riding the tide of confusion, I learned to live in a new world.
Balance and falling
I lived narrow, limited, restricted. You laughed.
Rehabilitation. Work. Sweat. Tears.
I took back running.
I took back part time work.
Scout came- service dog
My world grew.
Almost two years.
You just took the Army Reserve.
I live with TBI.
You will not defeat me.
My life will be full.
My life will be meaningful.
I will live.
I found out the results of my medical board for the Army Reserve last week. I was found no longer fit for duty due to the TBI, my asthma,and my hearing. The last two findings are improper. I was not supposed to be boarded for asthma or hearing. The board had not requested records, as the lower medical authority had found me fit and issued a permanent profile, allowing me to deploy with those conditions. I could appeal those findings. I’m not sure there is a point to it, as the TBI findings are valid.
A rather interesting thing happened on the way to the medical board. Two weeks ago, I get an email on a Friday afternoon from my case manager informing me that my medical records were in a stack of paperwork she had thrown away accidentally while cleaning her desk. She was extremely apologetic and took full responsibility but I still had to send all new records. This was the same time that sequester started. It was late in the afternoon. There was nothing that I could do that day, so I just let it go for the weekend. I held no anger, no frustration. I would start getting everything together again the following week. That Monday was busy. I had no time to contact my case manager at all. Tuesdays, I am not scheduled to work as those days I am in therapy all day for rehabilitation. On Wednesday, I emailed her with what I had found out. The auto-reply informed me she no longer worked there. Long story short, my file was accidentally forwarded to the medical board without the hearing test. My medical records were “found.” The board met and decided my fate.
What I found hopeful was my reaction to the “lost” records. I remained calm and did not become angry. For me, this speaks of spiritual and personal growth. Also, a certain amount of recovery from the depression. I maintained a positive mental and spiritual state instead of being drawn I to negativity. I was able to enjoy the weekend without obsessing. Mindfulness helped. When I did find myself worrying, I consciously drew myself back to the present moment. Spiritually, I gave my worry to the Goddess to hold and worked some simple candle magick to remove blocks to getting the records replaced. At that point, I just wanted the board over. It is uncomfortable, having it hanging over my head, even when I knew the outcome.
As for the result of the board, it is what I expected. I am surprised how sad and angry I feel. I am not angry at the Army for the decision. If I did not have the TBI, and they were incorrectly kicking me out on the hearing and asthma, I would appeal (and win). I know with the ongoing effects of my injury that I can’t serve anymore. I was not ready to have my Army career end. It was the Reserves. But, it was still a commitment that I took seriously and that I enjoyed. I wanted to deploy with my unit last year. I planned to serve for at least another decade. This wasn’t what I had in mind. I miss my unit. The anger is aimed at the hospitals that missed the initial diagnosis. The first night, the ER sent me home in altered state of consciousness. Yes, I had a clear CT. But I was not firing on all cylinders. Sometime later that week, a second ER sent me home with unequal pupils. Time was strange for a long time. I know I had a least one seizure. I wet the bed. And I had a positive EEG when a competent doctor finally diagnosed me and got me to a neurologist. I keep thinking, if one of those hospitals did their jobs and diagnosed and treated me correctly, would I have been as damaged? Would my career have ended? Treating the sweeping with steroids or stopping the seizures earlier might have made a difference in outcome. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just angry about being injured.
Acceptance comes in stages. I joke about TBI being the gift that keeps on giving. In. A way, it is true. Each time that I come to a point that I think I have finally come to an end of my losses, one more pops up.
In my world of running, acceptance has made a difference. Listening to my body daily and accepting where it is that day allows me to maximize my runs while minimizing the risk of migraine. I find running is enjoyable again. This morning, Scout and I went to our favorite place, Bennington Lake. It was “breezy.” Spring has arrived. As I ran, I heard the birds singing and notice the new buds on the trees, and fresh blooms of grass. Each year, nature reminds us that rebirth is possible. What new beginnings do we need to make in our lives?
I had a conversation with a non-runner today. It was obvious we were not on the same page from the start. What does “short” mean to you?
Coworker: “I saw you running with your dog yesterday. How far did you go?”
Me: “Not far. Just 3 miles.”
Coworker: “Three miles!!! That’s a long run!”
Me: “Uh. Not really.”
I was trying to figure out if he was serious or trying to make a joke. He was serious. I should have known. It is a reaction I have seen in the past. This individual was also shocked that I have a TBI and can run three miles! He made a comment that I can’t be hurt that badly. No, I just work that hard. It took a lot of sweat, blood (literally), tears, pain (migraines), and vomit to be able to run again.
But, this is a humorous post. My serious one will be later.
Marathon runners define distances differently from other mortals, even other runners. Here’s a helpful guide.
Very Short Run= Under 4 miles. Very Short Runs are done grudgingly, usually when injured. In the week following the marathon, these are known as the “victory shuffle” or “the next marathon is in 4 months, I have to train” miles.
Short Runs= 4-9 miles. Short Runs are done for recovery from Long Runs. Or when you don’t have time for a “real run.”
Moderate Runs= 10-14 miles = Cruising. On a Sunday Afternoon. What a nice distance. Love it. This is a “real run.”
Moderate Long Run= 15-18 miles This is the work distance. A long time on your legs and starting to learn about blisters, fatigue, mental chatter, hydration, and planning where to find a public toilet….. Another “real run.”
Long Run= 18-23 miles. Work, work, work! More blisters, mental chatter, and starting to question your sanity. Why do I run marathons? True dedication. Real running happens here!
Fartlek: Despite the funny sounding name, this does not happen in the Port-a- Potty. This is a particularly noxious twist to a run, where a crazed individual runs sets of distance at accelerated pace during the run. For example, the runner might run at training pace for 2 minutes, then accelerate for thirty seconds. They repeat this throughout the workout.
Intervals: Running like someone with an axe is chasing you, usually on a track. This is done using a stopwatch, so you know how long you’ve suffered. It is a form of speed work to improve you’re aerobic conditioning.
Tempo Run: Running with headphones while listening to Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. Or running at steady pace at 70%-80% of your max aeorbic conditioning, to build up your lactate threshold.
That’s how to understand your marathon runner.
When I was younger, my dream house was literally a castle. It was located in the country, surrounded by a forest. The grounds were wooded, with an expansive lawn, maze, and gardens. Behind a hidden door in the library was a passage to an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, gym, and indoor track complex. One could swim through a tunnel to emerge into an outdoor pool. The outdoor pool was landscaped as a wooded glen. The castle itself was replete with a library, excellent kitchen, rooms, and hidden passages. Some of the passages featured slides that dropped either into the swimming pool or the “dungeon” ala Scooby Doo. Naturally, I had the money to afford this glorious house and the employees to keep it maintained. I must have married rich or won the multi-billion dollar lottery. Naturally, the castle was “haunted.” Whenever there were guests, mysterious, but harmless “happenings” occurred. Sometimes, people would get lost in the walls. My practical self knew I would never afford to build a haunted castle. It was still fun to dream and joke with my friends about it. We had quite the elaborate plans at one point. Some dreams are not meant to be achieved. Other dreams are lofty, difficult goals. They are achievable, with luck and hard work.
As my recovery from TBI continues, I find myself redefining dreams. Or, perhaps, redefining my present. Prior to my injury, I ran marathons. Running was a lifestyle. It took considerable time and dedication to maintain the level of fitness I had. The distance captivated me. It was a challenge to redefine my training to improve my time and recovery. The last year before my injury, my goal was to achieve “Maniac” status by completing three marathons in 90 days. There are many ways to be a Maniac. That is a “Bronze” achievement. It was a start. I planned to go further. If you are a runner, are you a Maniac? http://www.marathonmaniacs.com/index.html
The continued issues of TBI makes marathon training too difficult and demanding on my body at this time. The migraines and fatigue prevent me from putting in the mileage without having problems. I still run but not as intensely. There are advantages. When I run now, I am free from the constraints of mileage and time. I am no longer a slave to my Garmin GPS. Faster! Faster! No longer! Running is more enjoyable at least when I’m not triggering a migraine. I learned to listen more intently to my body. There is a fine balance between improving my fitness and myself sick. The lesson a learned was about balance. Running is now more balanced in my life. I hope to run another marathon someday. Perhaps even become a Maniac. However, I do not want to be driven anymore by the watch or my own mind howling faster! or not good enough!
What are my dreams now? They are more practical; returning to work full time, conquering the migraines, running a marathon. The freedom of imagination is shackled by the reality of living life. My castle is a house with a mortgage. Responsibility is part of being an adult. Is all this a part of “growing up,” a sacrifice on the altar of adulthood? Or another reminder from the wonderful gift of TBI? I want life to “make sense” now. There is safety in routine and predictability. Dreams break away from the mundane. Anything is possible when you break away from “what always is.”
It will fit! It will! It will!
Imagination is not just for children. Adults need creativity in oder to enjoy the experience of life. And, in a practical sense, to earn a living. Most jobs require some application of imagination, even if it’s applied logically, “If I do this,then that will happen” is, after all, imagining a future outcome. But, enough about real life. It is time to play and use imagination for creativity. I often watch my ferrets going about their business. They are totally in the moment. Even when they are intensely trying to drag a toy that will not fit under the couch, they have a sense of enjoyment in their fierce concentration. The joy of play! RIght now, Brigid and Bobby are playing chase and pounce. They take turns chasing each other through the house. Brigid pounces on Bobby and wrestles him. When he wiggles free, he chases her and pounces on her tail end. She’s not convinced that’s a fun part of the game. Brigid is a cat. Having one’s tail pounced on is not part of cat. Brigid is fairly tolerant of ferret antics. I think being raised from age 8 weeks by a business of unruly mustelids had an impact. I often wish I could experience life as a ferret. The freedom to just play and be in the moment fully.
Tonight, I will break out of the mold and play. Time to blow soap bubbles….