Carrie, grateful soul
Gift Catalog - ordering Carrie 2.0
Catalogs are wonderful way to take stock of what you appreciate and check out what others have imagined. When I think of catalogs, my mind instantly jumps to my mother. She loved catalogs. She poured over them, collecting new ideas on how she might organize her house, help a friend with an idea, or just fantasize.
For the first two years of my brain injury, while I stared a the backyard or the wall, I kept trying to figure out, ‘What happened to Carrie? Where is that woman?’ I knew she had to be inside me somewhere, but I did not recognize her. I could not figure out where on earth she had gone.
It’s a funny thing trying to find yourself.
Some philosopher has probably tackled that debate. If you do not recognize yourself, are you still you?
In 2016 and 2017, I wrestled with the concept.
The issue for me was this: I had my memories, but
the things I considered indelible self-defining traits
seemed to be missing.
My ability to understand and problem-solve was off. I struggled to understand people’s words, not because I couldn’t hear but because the words just didn’t make sense. I sort of marveled at the words for their sounds and not their meanings.
My superpower of perception and pattern recognition was gone. I no longer heard the wind in the trees and calculated how fast it blew. Not only could I no longer identify when someone had a momentary off-kilter blip, but often I could barely understand their emotional state at all. And that thing where I look at a series of numbers or specifications and immediately identify the next potential outcome without aid of computer or calculator... where was that?
And then there were NEW things.
One day, I suddenly had a sense of smell. Carrie does not have of a sense of smell much. This imposter Carrie could smell all sorts of things. Like wet cat food. YUCK! And marigolds. That was nice. Cantaloupes smelled nice too. I had never smelled that before.
New Carrie was incredibly patient. For example, New Carrie could wait for-e-ver for someone to finish a thought. It was like time stopped and the only thing that was important was to hear the end of every word someone would say. Old Carrie would listen, but simultaneously problem solve or index the pending to-do list.
The more I found myself experiencing life differently than ever before, I really started to question if I would ever be Old Carrie again.
Which led me to create a list of things that defined “Carrie.” I wasn’t interested in the things that I used to do. I was interested in clearly identifying what I thought made me me.
As I built this list, it occurred to me, that this was a list of GIFTS.
I was building a Gift Catalog.
My Gift Catalog was different than my Gratitude List. These gifts were special ordered for me and I wanted them back.
I think gifts are different from gratitude. You may have a gift in your toolbox, but no gratitude for that gift. Gifts can be tricky. Double-sided with sharp edges that one must learn when to use and when to put back into the toolbox.
The longer I looked at my Gift Catalog, I realized, some of them were really awesome gifts… the kind of gifts that made me smile and feel warm just to remember them. And some of those gifts were not so awesome - I had learned to keep most of them in the toolbox.
For about 18-months, I searched inside myself looking for my old gifts.
Slowly it occurred to me, I may have lost my gifts. Or maybe they were never going to be as awesome or crisp as they once were.
Could I get a new set of gifts?
Perhaps I could just write up a new catalog and order new gifts! But, if I had new gifts, would I still be Carrie? Or would I be Carrie 2.0. You know, same idea, but repackaged with different features… with some of the old things missing?
As time slipped by, I quit looking for my gifts. I grieved for their absence.
Some of my greatest pleasures in my last life were gone.
Classical music was torturous to me.
It all sounded like a jumble of crazy notes and instruments.
My brain no longer organized the notes in near perfect order, evaluating the distance between the pitches, and appreciating the choice of instrument to play a specific tone and the deep emotional satisfaction of feeling the vibration of every note.
I had to cancel my subscription to the LA Phil. My beloved Walt Disney Concert Hall had become a hell instead of my personal paradise.
Ballet was a mystery to me.
I looked at ballet pictures and thought, “How did I ever do that? How did I manage to have that much discipline and focus to actually have a career in dance? Who does that? Surely not This Carrie.”
This Carrie would go to ballet class, watch the exercises, settle into the barre and then - chaos. Often I could not remember which exercise we were doing. That was disturbing.
Beyond disturbing was the complete lack of mind-body connection. My body knew how to do the steps, but it felt like some stranger was pushing my body around. As if I was learning to dance for the first time with a full lexicon, but no experience. Forty-years of passion disappeared from my mind and body.
Joy for my gang of friends became another circle of hell. My amazing friends - who normally give me enormous energy & joy - now confused me, exhausted me mentally and physically, and created great anxiety. It took me days to recover from a gathering. My Love devised a code to get me out of social situations. He would quietly ask, “Are you processing?” If he got a blank stare or some mumbled words, we would quickly leave.
Talking on the phone became so limited, it was comical.
Listening to people without seeing their mouths move wrecked my ability to function for days.
Phone conversations were kept to 10-minutes whenever possible.
Old Carrie would spend 8-hour days on teleconferences plus 2-hours of conversations while driving, and weekend chats with friends around the world.
Who was this woman? She didn’t talk to people. She didn’t enjoy happy gatherings with friends. She nearly had anxiety attacks taking ballet class. And this woman, she didn’t understand classical music any more. She wasn’t Carrie.
So I tucked away my Gift Catalog. I would not look at it for a long time. It was too painful to know that I was no longer Carrie.
I started making a list.
This list was a Gratitude List. Definitely a list, and not a catalog. It would change everyday.
Sometimes, I would struggle to find something to put on the list. Other days, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of my environment, friends, and family.
More time passed.
And then a miracle occurred.
ONE day in August 2018, I was Carrie.
The whole enchilada.
Nothing missing. I went to a mall for the first time in eons. I wasn’t overwhelmed. I nearly grabbed a woman and kissed her because the shape of her eye and the shape of her head slid together in my brain like a geometry equation, calculating the space, distance and variance in a millisecond.
I danced in my living room to classical music. I was in heaven. Every fiber of my being was alive with the thrill of knowing every note and every millimeter of my body and feeling them connect.
I called three friends and talked for a few hours.
Everything changed for me that day.
Carrie was still there. She was still inside me.
I sobbed with happiness. I would enjoy every moment that I was myself. It was like having a visit with myself. Carrie just showed up.
That evening, I created my gratitude list:
I met myself today
We had a wonderful visit
I enjoyed being inside my body, my head, my spirit
I loved playing with my gifts
I danced, and I knew how to move from decades of stored body memory
I inhaled Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, and Barber. Every note and instrument was like an old friend singing brightly with joy
I organized a shelf at the Container Store and felt SO GOOD because I simultaneously figured out how to complete an insurance form that has plagued me for months
I walked through a mall and knew exactly where I was all the time. I didn’t need to look at a map to find anything. I just knew where to go.
I listened to three friends tell me about their lives. I was able to respond, be supportive, laugh, and cry.
I am energized from this amazing day.
I never want it to end.
But it did end.
Over time, I had more visitations with Carrie. Then more frequently. Around April or May of 2019, I realized I could actually count on Carrie showing up almost every day.
Every single day that I am in my own skin, in my own mind, in my own spirit, I am grateful. Not only because I get to have lots goodies from the Old Carrie Gift Catalog, but because while Old Carrie was away, I got some new gifts. Gifts I didn’t even know I knew I could have.
So, I’m pretty psyched. Carrie 2.0 is way better than Carrie 1.0. But wait! She still has the power and agility of the original.