Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Riley Transformation (still in Progress)

        Let me answer some questions and clear up a few things. First, I will not be creating a new blog. This blog is about the recovery of someone with a traumatic brain injury. Yes, it is titled Shannon Blackham, but it does not change the nature of the blog. Riley is the persona of someone who has to live with a brain injury every day. And yes, Riley and Shannon are the same person if you see the very core of who I am, so no, I will not be creating a new blog. I also will not be legally changing my name. As far as email and social media, I do believe that I will be creating a new email, although I’m not 100% positive on that one. However, I am more certain that I will eventually create a new facebook. The only other version of social media that I’ve ever even gotten into has been Instagram. If you have an Instagram, you should add me (shannon.blackham) until I report that I have officially changed that to Riley as well. I am still working on letting go of Shannon.
        Let me tell you why it’s so important to me for you let go of Shannon. In my mind, 16 year old Shannon was an amazing person, who worked very hard to get there. In my mind, 16 year old Shannon was everything that I want to be now. In my mind, Shannon deserves to be preserved. Shannon deserves the dignity, respect, and common decency that pre-TBI Shannon earned. When the TBI struck me, it took away who I was down to the very core for a very long time. As time has progressed, I have been able to fight this TBI – but the TBI is still in control more than probably 80% of the time. Pre-injury Shannon did absolutely nothing to deserve her name to be torn apart because of a terrible brain injury. But right after the accident, the TBI took control nearly 100% of the time. So yes, the pre-Shannon did die, and it didn’t occur to me until recently that my friends were grieving the loss of a friend, while still trying to deal with someone else functioning inside of her body, while that other person thought they were the same friend as before. Okay, that sentence didn’t make a lot of sense, but let me share with you the biggest catalyst in this discovery.

        After my blogpost on my anniversary, I received a text from an old friend that said, “Hey, I saw your blog post... I can’t believe it has already been 5 years since your accident. I remember the day I found out, I was in my peer tutor class and Tonya was crying and kept saying ‘Shannon’s in the hospital.’ I thought maybe she had a bad dream. After class I ran into Emily who told me what happened. My stomach dropped and my heart ached. It was the first time a friend had been taken from me. When I found out you were okay, I was so excited to have my friend back but was suddenly shot down when I was told you were still ‘Shannon’ but won’t be the same Shannon I talked to weeks earlier. I thought, ‘There is no way the Shannon I knew was gone’ but the following months and years proved it to be so. The TBI had changed one of my favorite people in the world. And it hurt me inside. Instead of getting to know the new Shannon and being a good friend, I acted as if she really did die that day 5 years ago. It was too hard for me to see her struggling and what one stupid accident did to her life. I didn’t even think about how you felt and how me not being a friend affected you too. After reading your blogpost I got the same feeling I did 5 years ago and cried a little that Shannon had died. But was excited to see how you are moving on with it. I hope I can get to know Riley and be a better friend. If not, I will always remember Shannon – how she was before the accident. And I will never forget the friendship we shared. She was my go to girl, my example, and the friend that helped shape me and grow the most. She was always there for me, whether it was dumb boys or help on assignments. I miss her so much and was so mad that God took her away. I think it is definitely going to be hard to transition, Riley, but I am proud of you for doing that. So Goodbye Shannon, I love you. And take luck Riley. I wish you the best. And hope you find greater happiness because you definitely deserve it.”
                The best part about this text is the way that it made me feel afterwards. Honestly, when I read  ‘Goodbye Shannon’ my heart dropped to my toes. It hurt and it made me feel like I was asking everyone to abandon me all over again, except this time, I was going to abandon myself too. Until I read ‘I love you’ and welcomed Riley into this world, that’s where it all changed. That and reading over her preserving the memory that she has of Shannon. That’s exactly what I need in this identity switch. I need people to freeze their view of Shannon before the accident. Remember that person, love that person, tell me that you love that person and that as hard as it is, you will save that name in your heart forever and no longer associate the TBI-affected-Shannon (who I am now calling Riley) with the name Shannon. One other text I received made me feel similar, “Hello Riley, just thought I’d introduce myself. My name is Sarah and I like friends and ice cream. Sometimes at the same time. I’m a pretty busy person and when I’m not, I’m an introvert. Not that I hate people but I get anxiety being around them, even the ones I care about a lot. I’d love to get to know you better and when I move back to Alpine next month I’m sure I’ll be able to, anxious or not. P.S. Even when I’m not in contact, I still read a certain blog.”

       But what has made all of the pain and all of the struggles of making this switch worth it is this. After receiving those texts, I can actually look back on all of my memories with those people with a little bit of joy. It does not tear me to pieces every time I think about when I would hang out with friend #1 or when I would go to young women’s with friend #2. It doesn’t bother me when I think about all of the laughter, smiles, or joy that I had with them; whereas with everyone else, it does. It tears me apart inside because I can never have that again. It destroys me because we will never be friends again, and they have such an ugly opinion of Shannon L Blackham. I would love for people to be willing to get to know Riley, but even if that’s not something that they are willing to do, then please just tell me that you love and will always love the memory that you have and will forever keep of Shannon. 

P.S. The pictures of Riley here are not the complete transformation. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thanks for Being So Supportive, Love Riley

Wow, I cannot even believe the amazing remarks I have received from family and friends via comments, texts, or in person. I am so overwhelmed by everyone's embracing of Riley. For some odd reason, I haven't been able to take very good selfies lately, but let me show you a little bit of what Riley looks like. Once I'm able to take better pics (and/or get more purple in my hair) I'll update. Love, Riley
Okay, here I am June 19th, fixing weird picture issues in my blog so I'll just add some more fun pics of Riley on this post now!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

After 5 Years, It's Time for a New Identity

     Exactly 5 years ago today, right around this time, absolutely everything changed for me. I was a junior in high school, about to finish up the year with dazzling colors. I loved people – regardless of any race, gender, height, orientation, disability, religion, even regardless of how awful someone would treat me. As you can imagine with someone like that, I had friends on my right and my left, wherever I went. I was excellent at math, currently taking AP Calculus. In fact, I was pretty dang good at every scholarly subject – and always had to have an A to prove it. I was very spiritually strong although it was kept mostly to myself. I loved the fact that I could get ready – and look stinking cute! – in less than 15 minutes in the morning.  By this time, I had worked myself up to one of the most valued debaters on Lone Peak State Champion Debate Team. From debate, I also met this cute kid I called my boyfriend. We had been “dating” for over a year and he knew everything about me. He was such a sweet kid and was absolutely okay to be with me and all sorts of my other friends – even when my other friends were all guys. If I wasn’t at school, debating, or hanging out with friends, I was most likely rollerblading. My favorite thing to do on my rollerblades was begin at the top of my very steep driveway, go all the way down very fast, and jump off the curb. Then I would go right back to the top and do it again… and again. And now that state had finished for debate, I had just gotten a job at Snoasis – the best job ever! I loved taking orders, making and serving snow cones.
     With all of the varieties of friends I had, coming from so many different backgrounds, I helped a LOT of people with a LOT of HARD stuff. I prayed multiple times for God to send some angels to a friend in need. Even after someone would accuse me of terrible, awful things; after someone would treat me like trash; and after someone would not give me the time of day – ignore or even avoid me, I just continued to treat them with love. Yes, times obviously would be hard, and I’d feel very hurt; I know that I had all sorts of challenges, but I was constantly working through them because I knew that eventually, I’d be able to come out on top.
     But it only took one motorcycle with a broken throttle and one backhoe parked in an odd spot to take my entire life and throw it all away. Initially, people – family, friends, doctors, EMTs were concerned if I still had any life left in me at all. As the next 2 weeks went by, I was on life support, in a coma, and people started wondering why so many resources were being used on someone who might not survive at all, and even if they did would likely be brain dead, or paralyzed. After I came out of the coma, I was put through vigorous therapies, but I was unable to comprehend the reason why. I was asked simple questions like, “What does a cow say? What number is between 3 and 5? How many hours are in a day?” I was so frustrated because my brain had not registered that it had been injured, so I thought I knew the answers to all of these questions, even though I did not. I also had to endure physical strain like I’ve never even imagined before. Re-entering this life, completely dependent on others, I had to teach my brain how to do everything – from walking and talking to swallowing and holding my head up - all over again. 
     Because I had not registered that I was severely injured and actually needed to be in a hospital, I was bound and determined to return home as quickly as possible, regardless of how much care I actually needed. Doctors warned and instructed me of a lot of things that would be harder to do as a result of my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). With the amount of trauma I had taken, I was unable to accept that I had a TBI, let alone that I had any added difficulties. When friends came around, I felt like they were treating me differently and I still could not believe that I was any different, so I became frustrated. However with a TBI, frustration does not stay as frustration. It turns into anger, lashing out, and threats of all kinds of ridiculous things. Before long, I had run every single one of my friends out of my life. Amongst everything else, school was excruciatingly hard, I couldn’t hold a job for very long, and my spirituality had plummeted. For the last 5 years, there has not been a single day that I have woken up and been happy to be alive.
     For the last 5 years, I have felt intense pain physically and emotionally. For the last 5 years, I haven’t been able to understand why I’m still here, living. Over the last 5 years, I have asked Heavenly Father to take me home countless times. Over the last 5 years, I have struggled with accepting what happened to me. However, the time that I said, “Shannon, it’s about time that you gave yourself permission to emotionally heal,” was possibly the most emotionally painful time. That was 5 months ago and I’m not done yet. With 5 grueling, heartbreaking years, and a lot of faith, trust and insight I am learning to accept my TBI and my life with it.
     I don’t want people to think of Shannon as the person I have been after my accident. Shannon L Blackham worked way too hard to let a stupid motorcycle and a dumb backhoe destroy her name. So please, stop and think about everything you knew about me before my accident. Think about that moment when you heard that I had been in a terrible accident that could possibly take my life. Think about how heartbreaking it was to think that someone who loved you so much and whom you loved in return could suddenly just be taken from you. Stop there. Please, don’t go any further. Shannon L Blackham DID DIE that day; the itty bitty pieces of Shannon that are still fighting inside of me are torn down by the TBI 99% of the time. The TBI has tainted the name of Shannon Blackham and her history in the lives of my own and others. Let us hold the good memories of Shannon and keep it at that.
     The image that I have of Shannon L Blackham is very great and therefore holds high expectations. Trying to live up to the image I have of that name is an extreme struggle. Given my new set of circumstances, I am not able to reach many of my previous hopes and dreams. I need closure from the life I lived before the accident. I recognize that closure doesn’t come to all people in the same way. The TBI wiped my memory of nearly everything therefore I don’t know what really happened after my accident. I only know that this traumatized, brain injured person does not act in accordance to the way that Shannon would have lived. Additionally, one of the strangest things, is that occasionally some random note, shirt, picture, or landmark will flood back dozens of memories with a particular person. The hard part about this though, is that all of those memories can be incredible, but because of the way our lives parted, it tears me apart. It destroys me every time I think about certain people from my past; it kills me even to drive past my old high school; the worst part is knowing that it is all my fault. Or at least it’s the person trapped inside of a traumatized, brain damaged body’s fault. It hurts more than one could imagine that I will never have the ability to be the Shannon L Blackham from before the TBI.  The last 5 years I have been in a state of limbo – no longer being Shannon Blackham; someone largely devoid of personal identity, friends, companionship, confidence, motivation and a desire to move forward. In short, I have been controlled by a TBI.
     As the hardest yet beneficial thing to do, I am saying goodbye to everything I have ever known. In so doing, I’m going to try to reset my goals, dreams and expectations. To do this, I need an entire identity switch. Please do whatever you can to not associate the person you’ve seen for the last 5 years with the name Shannon as she has been TBI. Although selfish, going forward, I’m asking everyone to stop calling me Shannon and start calling me Riley. I need to be able to put Shannon L Blackham to rest and embrace a new persona. A persona that I do not feel the need to justify every action by explaining my TBI, a persona that can accept my new set of qualities and challenges and stop comparing them to everything I was before. With Riley I hope to be able to once again find joy from no longer equating myself to pre-accident-Shannon.
Love sincerely,
     Riley

Friday, May 1, 2015

Anxiously Impending my Anniversary

I haven't posted for a long time because my life has taken a chaotic spin down misery lane straight through hell. On a similar, yet polar opposite note, my 5 year anniversary is approaching. I have been in a far better state for previous anniversaries, so why is it that this year has to be the BIG 5? I am not going to give you a travel log of my life over the last couple of months nor over the last 5 years. I am hoping to treacherously write an extremely insightful post on my anniversary, (May 12). But that's about all that I can do right now. I don't remember the last time that I felt this anxious about anything.