There were only two things I wanted to do when I was a child. One, I wanted to write books that touched others the way some of the books I was reading touched me. Two, I wanted to study whales. The whale bug, if there is such a thing, bit me in the 5th grade. That was when I discovered Pacific Blue; a cassette tape combining music and whale song. I listened to that tape over and over, dreaming of one day being on the ocean and hearing whale song for myself. I only applied to one university when the time came: the University of Alaska Southeast where I knew the Humpback whales’ migratory path would take them. Fortunately, I was accepted. Unfortunately, I was only able to complete one year of school before a car accident ended that particular chapter of my life.
I didn’t give up right away. One of my favorite classes was my Microbiology class and I thought I’d keep my dream but change it up a little by switching majors from Cetacean Biology to Marine Micrology. That’s a field I made up but the symbiotic relationship between Right whales and the parasites that clean their skin fascinated me. Maybe my new brain injury meant I couldn’t do the diving and ocean work I’d intended but the dream wasn’t completely lost and I liked looking through microscopes and conducting tests.
I underestimated the devastation of the car accident. I completed a second year of school before I had to call it quits, admit that the car accident had wrecked my life, and I wasn’t physically or emotionally up to completing my degree. I went home to recover.
Almost 15 years later, I am still recovering. It took 5 years after leaving university to give up the scientist dream. I applied to and was accepted in the Microbiology program at DU but wasn’t able to move forward. When that door closed, I was devastated. What was I if I wasn’t a scientist?
In the early months after my car accident, I had a neurologist tell me having a TBI (traumatic brain injury) was a little like PMSing all the time. She prescribed antidepressants and I hated them. I don’t know if I can put into words how antidepressants made me feel. Separated: from myself as well as the world around me is as close as I can come. I made the decision to stop taking them-without any doctor’s knowledge-and have been antidepressant free for 13 years.
A side note: if you are on an antidepressant and want to quit taking it, DO NOT do so without your doctor’s knowledge. If I’d known then what I know now about the effect an antidepressant has on the brain, I’d never have stopped cold turkey. Fortunately, I had no serious side effects from quitting the way I did.
I tell you all of that to tell you that journaling is what saved me once I quit taking mood stabilizers. My brain injury does cause some emotional difficulties but getting everything down in print helps me to see what I’m experiencing and put it in perspective. I’ve always written: I wrote my first novel in the seventh grade. It’s not bad though I say it myself. I did change the name of my villain halfway through the manuscript but it’s a handwritten manuscript: such a change would be noted and corrected in a second draft. 😉 I’ve consistently journaled since my family gave me my first one for Christmas when I was 9 and I’ve indulged myself over the years by writing poetry. With the death of my scientist dream, a second began to stir. What if I could be a writer? I had at least 20 books I’d started over the years but hadn’t been able to finish: all of them were interesting but none of them were the story my heart wanted to write. What if I had a story to write? What if people wanted to read it? I’d had a paper published while at university: it was one I’d written for my English class where I’d had the audacity to compare/contrast one of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets with one of my own poems. My teacher had told me I had talent and offered to help me switch majors if I wanted but writing was just something I did for fun: I was a scientist.
That being my belief, what now? I’ve never been one to quit on anything but this scientist dream of mine did seem thoroughly dead. What did I have to lose? My mother helped me get started. She smiled when I told her what I was feeling, opened a dictionary, and read me the definition of science. Definition 2 states “a systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied”. That struck me. My ultimate dream was to discover something I didn’t know about the world and share it with others. Did I need a microscope for that? Could I use a pen and paper instead? I opened a fresh notebook (college ruled-wide ruled has never inspired me to write. I don’t know why) and started with an idea.
That was years ago. So many I’m not even sure. I’ve completed a 612 page manuscript since then. When people would ask me how my book was going I would reply; “slowly, but I am writing a series of seven and the first one needs to be a solid foundation”. It’s true, I do have a series of seven planned but re-reading my giant manuscript made me realize I was writing all seven at once. I’ve narrowed my focus to Book One, laying a foundation I can build on later.
My sense of regret and loss has disappeared as I’ve written, researched, deleted, and written some more. Writing fulfills me the same way watching a bacterial culture blossom and grow used to. So, all the old adages are true. No dream dies but another is born. No door closes but a window is opened. And, thinking back, I wonder if a dream ever really dies. I don’t think they do: they are much too resilient to die. I think the same dream manifests itself in a different way. Life today looks nothing like I planned but my dream of making discoveries is alive and well. I have to work on the sharing with others bit. It’s not easy for someone as naturally introverted as I am, a personality quirk my brain injury has seemed to make worse. However, the brain injury does not define me and I am striving to expand the borders of my comfort zone.
In an attempt to stretch them to the breaking point, here’s a poem I wrote when I discovered writing could fulfill me and my life wasn’t a wreck because of one accident.
My dreams lay about me
Shards of once vivid scenes
I stand among them
Staring about me
Hoping to find even one
One piece large enough
To remind me again
Of all that I dreamed
For Oh, how I dreamed
But now there is nothing
Not a spark of the life that once was
As I stare about me
Finality comes like a fire
Leaving nothing but ashes
That listlessly swirl at my feet
But wait! A glimmer
Of light and another
I stand watching amazed
As Phoenix Dreams rise
From the pyre of the past
Taking wing they ascend from the ash
I step forward to follow
Forgetting what’s gone
For, in me, new dreams have been born