Letters to Myself – 1 of 5

July 5, 2003

Hey Jay,
Happy 24th Birthday man!  Nice work negotiating an early release from G.F. Strong on your birthday, and nice work by Anya to have everyone meet you at Uncle Bob’s for a BBQ!  That was a nice surprise, eh?  If you were wondering, your throat is sore from trying to talk to everyone, drink ice water to soothe it.  The vocal chord issue sucks, but don’t worry, you’ll get that fixed in time to sing Christmas carols.  I know the biggest differences you notice now are physical ones, and losing 40 lbs will do that, but those will fade in time too.  A tip from the future, keep your hair short.  You look like a Renaissance painting when you grow it out.

So hey, things are pretty surreal right now but I want to give you a heads up ( get it, heads up?) on a few issues.  The first one is a game-changer, so pay attention: your brain doesn’t work like it used to.  I know, I know, you dominated the tests and therapy sessions at G.F. Strong, you still remember your client card number for the bank, and you’re as funny and witty as you’ve always been (which experts say is characteristic of a highly functioning brain).   Well, I hate to burst our bubble, but you’re pretty messed up. Denial and post-traumatic stress are just getting warmed up so I won’t waste our time trying to convince you.  Instead I’m going to give you some insider information so you won’t be caught off guard when you come across these things. So grab a beer (dont’ worry, you don’t get drunk any faster with only one kidney), another piece of cake, a comfy chair, and listen closely.

So far it feels like nothing has changed but the reality is everything has changed.  I mean everything. Your thoughts, the way you think about those thoughts, and your response to the thoughts you think about.  Your cognitive deficits are motivating your motivations, inspiring your inspirations, and managing your attempts to manage everything.  The brain damage you have affects the deepest levels.  Watch “Inception” when it comes out in 8 years, it’s kind of like that.  So what does that mean, then?

First, if you find yourself acting differently than you’re used to, no matter how natural, organic, and justified it may seem, just assume it’s a manifestation of some sort of cognitive disability.  It may feel like you simply have different tastes, that you like one thing less than you used to, or another thing more than you used to.  Or it may feel like you are simply responding to the actions of others, that the people around you, even your friends and family, are being unreasonable, pushy, or just plain dumb.  And it’s because of these things, you’ll reason, that you get angry quickly and more often.  But these aren’t natural responses or logical conclusions, these are all brain changes. Don’t worry about it too much for now, that will just mess things up more.  Just know that the effects of the damage done to your brain cannot be underestimated.

Second, and this is just as important and dominant as the first, you will have less energy to do things from now on.  Yeah, that’s crappy news to get, but it’s also important to remember.  Things you used to find fun will feel more like work because your brain is working harder.  Hmmm?  Yeah, you do get back into longboarding, but first your balance, strength, and stamina need to improve, plus you have more immediate things to worry about.  Interesting side-note though, you make some wicked longboards in about 5 years. Yeah, they’re super nice, wood grain and stuff.  Remember, everything requires more energy now, but you have less to work with.  It doesn’t feel like it now, but when you return to school you’ll experience some unmistakable problems.  No, you end up dropping out, but not after giving a totally solid effort.

Oh, here’s another important tidbit.  You’ll become very familiar with this tension between what you can do, what you want to do, and what you should do.  I know, it’s a relentless, exhausting, balancing act. I can’t even give you any tips because I still haven’t mastered it.  What I will tell you is that you’re going to have to set some new boundaries.  Learn to say “No” and you’ll save yourself a lot of stress, anxiety, and back-pedalling.  Between decreased energy levels, cognitive deficits, and changes in preferences, life takes on a much slower pace and, believe it or not, that’s a really, really good thing.

I know that is a lot of information to take in, but don’t stress about it.  You’re improving all the time and things turn out unbelievably well in the end.

Hey, how do you feel about bicycles? Nevermind, you’ll see.


About jaybrandsma

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5 Responses to Letters to Myself – 1 of 5

  1. Naomi Unrau says:

    I think that in reading these letters, we’ll understand more about the process you have and are going through. Some of us have underestimated your stuggle because of what we saw on the outside; not that we didn’t hear what you said but because we always saw so much of the Jay we love and hoped health for, and/but we probably didn’t know how to respond appropriately to the reality of the effort it took you to do the everyday things. Maybe in our hope to encourage you we/I invalidated your difficulties and efforts in our responses. I’m pretty sure that everyone is amazed at who you have become, who you are now, knowing that in the face of everything some of us would not have come out swinging like you have.
    I can’t wait for the next letter.

  2. james says:

    hey Buddy,

    Letters to you in the past – very cool way to process and reflect.

    I’m enjoying reading your posts – getting some insights into what you’re processing.
    Oh, and I’m enjoying knowing the you you are now. I didn’t really know you in high school – just passed in the halls and small talk, that sort of stuff…The 2011 version of Jay is way cool – glad to know you man!

  3. I think this one is my fav so far….looks like more to come. Very cool and very good reflecting process. And good call on the hair…..

  4. Judy says:

    So so so so interesting! Thanks for sharing Jay. love the writing style. love the notes to self. love the caring way you are talking to your old self… like a wiser, more finer, version of your old self. :-) glad to hear you are into the bike-thing! me too! me too! we should go for a ride when i get my butt to Van!

  5. Julia says:

    Funny how I feel calmed by your letter to your self. I agree with Judy – you do talk to yourself in a very caring way, which is also so encouraging. I also like how you ‘listen’ to the questions your old self would ask. You know yourself so well :)
    I wonder what your future self would write to your now self.

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