When I take my Thyroid medication in the morning I throw back my water cup, screw the little lid back onto the bottle, and flip the container upside down.
That last part is key.
If I don't flip it upside down then I never took it. Or at least that's what my brain thinks, anyway. Unfortunately my brain cannot hold onto whether or not I took this medication essential to my health and well being.
I actually can't recall if I took it this morning, so that's fun.
Last year I forgot about Brain Injury Awareness month because like the location of my keys, wallet, and cellphone, this information was beyond me.
How fucking ironic.
A brain injured person forgetting a month dedicated to them. This is actually quite hilarious if you ask me. I also wrote this post about a month ago and am just now posting it.
But this year I made a point to remember that I am not alone in brain injury. And I wanted my students with brain injuries to know that they are not alone either.
That's where the brain facts come in.
Every day this month I have been reading out brain facts to my students. Some have to do with which centers of the brain control certain functions, others with addiction, and some just flat out cool shit about how our brains run this show without us even realizing it.
Like did you know the language center of the brain responsible for speech has different pathways to neural connections than the part responsible for reading?
Freaking cool, you guys.
Some days my kids are reluctant to hear the brain fact of the day, rolling their eyes at another silly brain pun. Other days they refuse to do any work until I read them off a new one. They even correct me when I repeat an old fact from the week before.
"You already told us about how similar sugar is to cocaine to the brain, Miss! Give us a NEW one!"
I even showed them some of my "brain videos" of me in rehab rolling around my hospital room in my wheelchair popping wheelies.
We all had a good laugh.
It's startling to see how far I've come since then; a frail, silly excuse for a human trying to do tricks over broomsticks and skipping down hallways with tennis-ball-clad walkers.
And up until now I never really understood what it all meant. To have a month dedicated to all this.
And then I got a note from a kid on one of my worst days on the job.
Picture two tiny mice sprinting across my classroom as twenty Freshmen leaped over desks and squealed. This was not my idea of an engaging Geography lesson.
I was being upstaged and I was not amused.
The mice were derailing my 5th hour and nobody accomplished anything but adequately pissing me off by continuing to discuss the size, shape, and color of the intruders for the entire class period. It got so bad at one point that one mouse was doing a sprint routine up and down the length of the room and I threw everyone out in the hallway.
"This is ridiculous. Everyone out. OUT."
What a disaster. We tried to work on our Mayan packets but all seemed lost.
By the time 6th hour rolled in I was exhausted and peeved; utterly incapable of dealing with one more disruption.
Someone tested me again by popping the N word to his friend like it was no big deal.
"Miss, I wasn't saying it to you, chill."
"No I will not chill. We don't use that language in here and you know that. 10 push-ups. Now."
He reluctantly moved to the carpet.
I have a rule in my classroom. You curse and you owe me push-ups. Some kids make it a daily routine. Drop an F-bomb. Drop and give me ten. It may be a little corporal-punishment-y for some, but it works. Also you have the option of a parent phone call.
9 out of 10 kids prefer a little exercise.
I tried helplessly not to roll my eyes at this utter waste of a day.
"Miss, are you okay? You seem...off today..." The kids know. They always know.
"Oh, I'm fine. Just a long day, that's all," I lied.
I continued with my lecture on the Cold War and hoped to the heavens that I would survive the day without my brain re-exploding all over my dusty teacher desk.
As 6th hour left at the sound of the bell, I went back to my desk to take attendance that I'd forgotten to take all day. No surprise there.
By my computer was a small note, folded up with tiny hearts and the words "Open Me" scrawled on it.
As 7th hour sauntered in I opened it curiously. It read:
Dear Ms. Hayes,
You're the greatest teacher to ever exist! You actually make learning fun and make school fun. I love coming to this class because you're always so happy and smiling, I could easily have a really bad day and the moment I step into this class all my worries are gone! I can trust you as someone to come to when I'm having problems, you're like the psychologist I need, someone I can talk to! I really appreciate you Ms. H! You're amazing and so wonderful! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise! You're so brave and strong and that's also why I look up to you because we both had a brain injury, and we still managed to keep moving forward! Yay us!!! If you're ever having a hard or tough day just remember how far you've come and why you became a teacher! I love you so much Ms. H! You're like a mom but here at school. I hope you have a great rest of your day! Love you!!!
Your favorite student always,
Alice E. , 10th Grade
It took a while for it to sink in, most likely because I had to greet 7th hour and lead them through their case studies without someone smacking someone else or throwing a pencil across the room. But when I took the time to read it again that night I cried and cried.
It felt like I had waited my whole life to hear the words.
I had bonded with Alice before about our shared experiences of brain injuries. She told me that she hadn't felt like herself since her stroke and that school was hard for her now. I couldn't help but feel for her. Being so young with a brain injury, things would likely get harder for her trying to get through school.
I felt lucky to have had my brain explode after college. There would be no way I could have finished my degree with my lack of focus and inability to remember anything.
But she said the words, "look how far you've come" as if she was right there with me when I couldn't do anything.
Back when being able to read a text message without double-vision was a good day and when my go-to outfit was stretchy pants and a stained t-shirt.
Now I am executive functioning at top speeds.
I put make up on my face without poking my eye out, am currently wearing heels that I can walk in without falling off a curb, and even drove a car this morning.
I teach students to be their best selves as I strive to be my own.
I am doing everything my body never dreamed of doing back in 2014. And the fact that someone else could see that and looked up to me for that reason simply blew my mind.
Brain injuries are silent disabilities.
They impact people in unique and strange ways. What Alice didn't know that day is that just a few short years ago I never would have expected to be standing in front of a group of teenagers imparting my quasi-wisdom, much less standing without a nurse nearby to catch me when I inevitably tumbled off the sidewalk.
For every step I take there's a neuron hard at work. Every movement a reminder of who I once was, and will always be.
On my year anniversary I posted a picture of me in my hospital bed after brain surgery; a stuffed elephant on my head and a lopsided smile, my face puffy from brain drugs. I shared my excitement at how far I'd come and thanked my friends and family for getting me through my "brain days."
A woman who I didn't know, but followed me on Instagram congratulated me on the accomplishment but told me "not to dwell" because it was "all about the future."
Wait. Isn't dwelling a negative thing?
I almost wanted to smack her through my cellphone screen.
How can I appreciate the future if I don't respect where I've been? Why forget the past when it's made me who I am today?
That's the whole reason why we have Brain Injury Awareness Month, people!
I don't expect sympathy. I don't ask for pity. I simply want to show my humbleness for an organism that nobody can fully understand. I want to share my story so that others are empowered to share their own.
Unlike my keys, wallet, and cellphone, I will never forget Brain Injury Awareness Month.