I’m tired of being tired.
But mostly I’m tired of people pointing out that I’m tired. And telling me not to be tired.
Most people would attribute this to, you know, normal tiredness. A standard result of lack of sleep, early mornings, and insufficient amounts of caffeine. But most people don’t understand what it feels like to have a brain injury.
In honor of March, Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month, I’d like to take you on a little journey inside the mind of brain injured person. Please keep in mind that this is only my story. There are thousands of people with TBI and I am only one voice.
4:45 A.M. My alarm goes off. A lovely Adele tune. But Adele can fuck off right now cuz' I’m pushing snooze.
4:55 A.M. Adele’s back. And this time she sounds aggressive about awakening me with her love ballad. But it won’t work. I don’t need to shower that bad. I roll over after carefully selecting an increment of time to awaken me once more.
5:08 A.M. Okay seriously, Adele, fuck off. Fine. Fine. I’m up. I peel the covers off one baby toe. Nope. I was lying. It was a farce. A charade. I’m not ready. I add an unknown amount of minutes to the alarm and crumble back beneath my sweaty covers.
5:12 A.M. The alarm sounds once more and I delegate if I really need to wash my hair or if I can just throw some water on it and affix it to the side of my head like a chic explosion of hair. How hipster of me.
5:12 A.M. I pull my phone from the charger and close one eye as I check my Facebook feed for any new friends to be engaged or pregnant. I have to close one eye or else my vision is double. At least this early in the morning. Three engagements today. I then open my email to check for any email responses from book agents. One. We’re sorry to inform you that your book is not the right fit for us at this time. I think about asking if they’d reconsider in a few months once they’d lost weight. I chuckle because I think I’m funny. Instead I say nothing and violently throw the covers from my body.
5:13 A.M. I stumble out of bed, knocking things over and dropping my phone on my big toe. I grope my way to my dresser and find several bottles of medication. Some to keep me from getting fat. Other to supposedly keep me awake. And a gummy vitamin because I’m a god damn adult.
5:15 A.M. I’ve made my way to the shower now and am waiting shivering and naked for the water to reach 1,000 degrees. I step inside carefully, making sure to hold onto the towel rack as I enter one shaky leg at a time.
5:20 A.M. The scalding water renews me. I spin in slow circles as waves of warmth hit various parts of my tired body. But I’m dizzy. I’m always a little dizzy in the shower. Every so often I have to stop and check for the presence of walls and try not to slip my way to an embarrassing death.
5:27 A.M. I pull my towel from the rack and press it to my face, then to the back of my neck. I let the soft material trace the outline of my scar. I shake it through my soaking locks then reach again for the towel rack as I clumsily step out of the shower and onto the bath mat.
5:33 A.M. I tear apart my closet looking for the shirt I want to wear. I could have sworn I put it back in the correct spot. But instead it plays hide and seek as I run around my room naked and helpless. I refuse to wear any other shirt.
5:40 A.M. I discover the shirt rolled up and under my pillow. Which makes absolutely no sense. By now my hair has frizzed out and requires a complex set of taming techniques to regain composure.
5:41 A.M. Did I take my medication? I can’t remember. Fuck.
5:45 A.M. I sit down on my floor in front of my mirror and begin the task of making my face look less terrifying. I add layers of tinted goo to my cheeks and nose and make sure to cover any trace of acne. Which is a pretty lengthy task. What am I, a fucking 14 year old? What the hell is this, the surface of the Moon?
5:55 A.M. My face is done but my eyes fill with tiny tears as I yawn. They stream down my face like I’ve just watched The Notebook. I dab at them and riffle through the kitchen for breakfast and lunch options.
5:55 A.M. I wander around the kitchen but then forget why I’ve gone there.
5:55 A.M. No seriously, what am I doing in here.
5:55 A.M. Oh shit, food. Okay, I can do food. Food is good.
5:58 A.M. I throw a frozen burrito in my bag and pull hot water from the microwave for my tea. I know it’s a bad idea to go with tea instead of the coffee. But maybe it’s all the coffee that’s making me so tired. Also I’m an addict. So I am already flirting with disaster and it’s not even 6.
5:59 A.M. I see a reflection of myself in the microwave and notice that all of my yawning has effectively ripped half of the make-up from my face. I run back to my room to fix myself.
6:05 A.M. I leave the apartment and walk swiftly to my car, trying my best to see through my fogging contact lenses.
6:20 A.M. I’m well into half-way through my commute to work now, jamming to Backstreet Boys and sipping my tea carefully. I’ve already sipped prematurely; burning my lips twice.
6:25 A.M. I feel comfy. Like I might fall asleep. The problem is I’m not in my bed, I’m in my car. Driving a metal death machine. I stretch my eyes open wide and turn up the music louder.
6:33 A.M. Shit am I going to make it to work? How am I this tired? Didn’t I get the standard 8 hours of sleep last night? Did I take my medicine? I can’t remember. I must have. But it’s not working. Focus. Focus. Sip tea. Focus.
6:40 A.M. I arrive in the parking lot of school and close my eyes in relief. But I open them immediately because I’m afraid that I’ll fall back asleep and miss 1st period.
6:50 A.M. I finally exit my car after 10 minutes of trying to coach myself out of the vehicle. You can do this. Greet the day with enthusiasm. What a load of bullshit.
6:52 A.M. Another teacher starts speaking to me from across the parking lot as we approach the school. “Are you awake? Time to wake up, Mimi! Rise and shine!” I feel like hauling off and hitting her. She has no idea the battle I’ve endured just trying to arrive here without committing vehicular homicide.
7:00 A.M. I’m in my classroom now and I’m moving slowly around the room trying to decide which task on my to-do list I should tackle in my tired stupor.
7:15 A.M. I didn’t tackle anything on the to-do list. Because I’ve passed out on the couch in the office and am awoken by the sound of colleagues moving around the office and tapping me to make sure that I’m breathing. I’m sure they are annoyed that I’ve been drooling all over the couch but they kindly motion me to join the waking world.
7:30 A.M. My students enter looking as exhausted as I feel.
“When I say ‘Good,' you say ‘Morning.’ GOOD………"
They mumble and grumble and we’re all just putting on a brave face because we all have beds at home and couches in the office missing us dearly.
8:15 A.M. My tea is cold because I’ve been too busy pestering my freshmen about writing in complete sentences to drink it. There’s also a bowl of yogurt getting warm because I haven’t remembered to eat it. And a burrito thawing in my bag because I’ve forgotten to put it in the freezer. There’s a pill on my teaching desk that I think I was supposed to take with food.
8:35 A.M. 2nd period. They’re a pretty chill group of kids. Except on days when Diana thinks it’s funny to shush me and Shawn literally will not stop asking me to check his grade. I am slightly more awake now and take a few bites of my warm yogurt. I am so busy helping students I forget to take attendance until the bell rings to end class.
9:20 A.M. I have 3rd period off. I want to take another power nap but I know I have to make copies and do shit. I finally put my burrito in the freezer. I heat my tea back up again.
10:00 A.M. I am trying to grade papers I’ve been putting off for days but keep getting distracted at how dirty my classroom is. I spend the next 15 minutes picking up every scrap of paper and gum wad on the carpet.
10:15 A.M. I decide to try to finish a stack before the kids come in for 4th. I search my desk for my tea. I’ve forgotten it in the microwave and it’s probably cold again.
10:16 A.M. I give up on the tea and pour some hot coffee from the pot instead.
10:20 A.M. I sip that coffee like it’s the only thing between me and a dark and mysterious death. It revitalizes me.
10:35 A.M. 4th period rolls in as the loud bell sounds shrill to my ears. I wince as the bell seems to last 30 whole seconds.
11:00 A.M. The kids start yelling at me because I keep telling them it’s Tuesday when it’s actually Friday. I misplace my worksheets three times and Brendan has to help me find them.
11:22 A.M. I haven’t sat down in what feels like years and I can’t remember the last time I went pee. Should have gone during 3rd. I stand on a chair to make an announcement to the class then immediately forget what I was going to say. “Have a great weekend!” Damn it, I hope it wasn’t important.
11:30 A.M. Lunch time. Hell yes. I heat up my burrito and sit happily to eat it. My colleagues join me in the lounge and the small office fills up with sound. Suddenly every word feels like a blow horn. I try to focus on eating and checking my phone. I have 30 junk emails, 5 Snapchats, 1 text message, and a missed call. I am overwhelmed and put my phone back on the table.
12:05 P.M. The Children of the Corn are here -I mean 5th period. There’s less than a 5% chance that they’re going to listen to anything I say or get any work done whatsoever. I adjust my collar and fake a smile of confidence as they enter my classroom.
12:15 P.M. If someone walked in this room right now they’d fire me or take me to jail. I haven’t taken attendance, my coffee is cold again, and I already lost my patience with every child in this room. Half of them are either eating (not allowed), texting (no), waltzing around the room (what the fuck are you DOING), or yelling to each other and cursing.
12:22 P.M. Just when I think I’ve gotten most of them SEATED with a god damn PENCIL so that they can answer a simple QUESTION on the BOARD, the phone rings. Angel’s mom is here. Great. Okay, bye Angel. Okay, back to-
12:22 P.M. A kid walks in the room with a pass. Alex needs to go to room 308. Okay. Go. Get out of here. Fine whatever. What am I teaching? Is anyone listening? We haven’t even answered the warm-up question.
1:05 P.M. I’ve resolved myself to attempting to carrying out the lesson. I can feel my blood pressure rising and my emotions the past half hour have ranged from psychotic to on the verge of a mental break down.
1:15 P.M. The calm after the storm. 5th period is gone. I collapse into my chair. I want to take a nap again or maybe cry in a corner, but I have to go to a meeting. I go to the office to fill my water bottle that I haven’t used all day. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the wall. I look like death warmed up.
1:45 P.M. The meeting’s done but I’m not sure I understood what anyone said. The words seemed to fill the air and get stuck there; tangling together. I leave the meeting and go to the restroom for the first time all day.
1:50 P.M. I go to the teacher’s lounge to buy a Cherry Coke. I sit on the couch and pass out until the bell rings for 7th period to start.
2:20 P.M. I sip my Coke and tell the kids that I fell asleep twice today on a couch older than I am. They laugh and we get our notes out for our activity. I walk them through directions but stutter on some of my words. They slur too, like I’m a little drunk.
3:21 P.M. I take attendance again as the kids are leaving, trying to remember which kids were in class. I peruse my room for further signs of food wrappers and scraps of paper. My body feels as though it’s been hit by a bus. My pedometer on my watch reads 7,000 steps.
3:45 P.M. I begin the long journey across town to my apartment.
4:10 P.M. I’m tired again. The kind of tired I was this morning and pretty much every moment since Adele rudely woke me up. I call up a friend to talk to me and keep me awake in traffic. She’s worried I’m so tired all the time. I tell her I drooled on myself today.
5:00 P.M. Home. Thank God.
5:01 P.M. Pants are off and I’m in bed.
9:30 P.M. I wake up to the sound of my own snoring. Is it too late to eat dinner? Cottage cheese and some potato chips? Is that fine? I eat my snacks then brush my teeth and wash my face and return to bed.
4:55 A.M. I do it all over again.
Traumatic Brain Injuries are unique and all-encompassing. They can mess with your emotions, your memory, and even your sense of self. Every survivor of TBI fights invisible battles every day.
Many of us are frustrated at the obstacles we face now that were never there before. We are tasked with overcoming these obstacles in whatever ways we can, all the while having to explain to people why we are the way we are in the hopes that we’re not told we’re “over reacting” or that we “look fine.”
My legs work okay. I’ve ripped 3 pairs of pants and a skirt this year while running into desks in my classroom. But I don’t have cancer (that I know of) and I can drive a car. I have singular vision now except in the morning when I wake up. I can do all the things I never thought I could just a few years ago.
But since then I’ve found that the struggle is still very much real. There are things I deal with every day that have changed who I am as a person and have held me back from certain things.
I’m not upset at my TBI. I actually think it’s the coolest thing about me. Not to mention all the hot dudes I can pick up in bars now with my sick scar.
But it’s changed me in a lot of ways that I am still coming to understand. And as I learn more and more about my brain and how it has impacted me, I just ask that you please be aware of TBI’s around you.
Don’t tell me not to be tired.
Ask me how I’m doing and mean it. Let me sleep on the couch and try to remind me to eat when I’m supposed to. Help me remember to take attendance and keep an eye out for where I hide things from myself.