OCEAN GIPSY - The Underwater Realm of Traumatic Brain Injury
Updated: Mar 5
I'm always searching for ways to describe what
living with my brain injury FEELS like.
Because if you don't know, you can't know.
And if you can't understand me, how can we possibly connect on anything
but a surface level?
The best way I can describe it is that I have been living underwater for the past twenty years. Sometimes I'm deep-deep down. The world disappears, and I need it to.
Other times, I'm right up there. Almost at the surface. The light shimmers. Flashes. I'm so close. I strain. I stretch. I thrash and kick. My hand touches air. My nose breaks the surface, and then my mouth. My lungs heave in a few ragged breaths.
But that's all I get before I'm dragged back down by the anchor tied to my foot.
I grab the rope and haul that iron up to my heart. But I can't hold it there forever so I have to let it drop. The rope twangs tight. It jerks me down.
My head tilts up. The surface recedes.
Sitting on the bottom with my arms hugging my knees, I remember how refreshing it was to breathe with lungs instead of these gills I gouged between my ribs with a knife. I give thanks for the gills. I give thanks for the knife. I diligently set to work unknotting the rope around my ankle.
(I do this a lot.)
Sometimes there are weeks or even months where my mermaid tail is powerful and strong. I rip through the water and burst through the surface in a glorious fountain. SPLASH! I have a dolphin's dive--occasionally a whale's. CRASH! Back down in a gleeful tidal wave.
Just under the surface, I become sleek and deft again. My laughter is a dolphin's, too. I otter-roll and zoom on my back, waving, blowing kisses, beckoning you to come play with my irresistible smile. I zwing into the air, then dive back down, only to resurface half a mile away with a chuckle and a flash of my iridescent tail.
In this state, I am able to dwell above and below with equal ease.
In this state, I can do anything.
Then the next day, I need to stay deep down. All that zwinging has vaporized my tail overnight. It's been replaced by the rope and the anchor.
You wonder where I've gone. From my place in the dark depths, I watch you peer over the side of your boat. I see your sleek bodies zipping here, zwooping there, breaking the surface to laugh in the light. I ache to join you and you have no idea I'm right below you.
The next month, I get to come play. I sold my voice so I could grow legs upon which to dance once more. I entertain you with feats of acrobatics on that tightrope I made by tossing the anchor over the shark pool. You have no idea how many times I bobbled, because my smile is oh-so brilliant and I never fell. We frolic in the jacuzzi until wee hours and collapse into a drooling, snoring puppy-pile by the fireplace.
At dawn, I gather up my pumpkin-self, stuff my glass slippers into my bag, and pick my way through all your slumber-strewn limbs. I blow you fond kisses that glow with my promise to return as soon as I can.
Unfortunately, I forgot that it's winter (you know how my memory is). The ocean has frozen overnight. I scurry across the ice, searching for a hole. How I long for my dad's old auger, but we haven't been ice-fishing in an age. The clock ticks in my head. Louder. Louder. An insistent, booming click...CLICK...CLICK! Hurry up. Get out of here. But there are no breaks in the ice so I can't retreat to the silence. Can't get back to my sea-cave where I've stored my cauldron boiling with the magic tonic that allows me to re-collect the fractured pieces of myself and glue them back together.
I'm cracking with every click of that clock.
But not the ice. The dawning sun hurts my ears. It's too loud. The waking voices burn my skin. They're too bright. The sunlight hurts my eyes. It's too sharp, and the air is freezing up here. I shiver so hard I could jackhammer through ice.
All it does is make earthquakes on the bottom of the ocean floor.
Deep-deep down, the old seams jerk. The plates shift with an ugly, cracking THUD. Sonorous. Demoralizing.
My shoulders slump when I feel it. Well, shit-damn-fuck.
I know what's happening down there. Burbling magma and seismic waves.
Here they come.
The tsunami hits. At least it'll break up the ice so I can get back home.
Once recovered, I have to send out apology notes on my fanciest strips of coral-and-pearl-encrusted seaweed. "Sorry for the mess. I don't blame you for banning me from any future awesome partays." I go back to jacuzziing with the anemones near the hot vent that's still belching hot bubbles from where my floor cracked open.
But hey, the watery denizens enjoy my dark, Underworld humor. They're groovy like that.
Sometimes the icing-over happens when I'm snoozing underwater. Alas, there are things up there that I truly, desperately need. Things like air. Sunlight. Human-food. I haven't been completely claimed by Davy Jones yet, so I do still ache for the occasional pizza and the touch of another's hand. A fucking hug.
But my fists aren't strong enough to pound through ice today.
So I exhale and let myself sink.
I relish the ride...
For many years, reactions to my rebranded dancing, and especially to this memoir blog have been...interesting. The first time I shared my tales of injury, brain damage, and dance with the world, it was this sensational thing, a large component of the excitement that launched my brief shooting star.
But people had a really hard time learning that the Grand Hollywood Overcomer's Tale didn't end with, "And then I arose triumphant once more and all was glorious in DanceyLand!"
Once I began speaking honestly about the decline of my health in 2009, I learned quickly that people didn't want their bubble to burst. To many, I was a Character of Inspiration, not a person. I was a starlet. I wasn't supposed to fall amidst my rise, and I certainly wasn't supposed to be the one requiring help.
I got dropped on my ass, just when I needed my growing dance tribe most.
Makes sense. I AM, after all, the product I sell. My goods aren't created in a factory full of workers who can be replaced if they become ill or injured so that productivity continues uninterrupted. When I break down, so does my product. And who likes to buy defective goods? I don't.
Since I've started telling the uncensored versions of what was really going on amidst that Hollywood Overcomer's Journey, since I started talking about the old traumas my brain injury cracked open and forced me to deal with, and for sure every time I start writing about the day-to-day, year-after-decade experience of living with this condition...
It's not nearly as fun and shiny as that old version. So I guess you'll have to switch over to my steamy, gory, kinky, twisted fiction for that. My fiction, after all, is Fantasy.
Now I blog and dance something else. Personally, I think this is where the true, deep magic dwells. It's all the muck and murky water, as well as the lotus. But this cocktail is not for everyone.
So I deactivated my Facebook account last night. That's been coming a long time. The poem I posted to my Hartebeast Page last week was a warning tremor. A little 2 or 3 on the Richter Scale. Then the tsunami hit. Now I'm sighing and floating on the bottom, watching as the wreckage crashes and sinks down from the surface. Soon, everything meant to survive will all be down here with me.
I know. You can’t hold the ocean And that’s okay Others have tried Crushed beneath the tidal waves Drowned by the tide Doesn’t mean I can stop the flood I’ve opened the dam Let the battering ram Slam down the door Ka-Blam Gush And tell me to hush “Can’t you just go back to making it pretty?”
Not if I want to breathe.
Don’t worry about the water You were never meant to hold it As if you could mold it into A form possible to contain You just want to hug me I know And I need to surge Rage Storm Purge I don’t know if I’ll ever be huggable again I’ve broken the basin and let myself sprawl It’s nice here Letting it all Hang like my unbound hair
You can’t uncut the cord Can’t rewind that word Can’t unsaw the board Or un-unleash the hoard you sent thundering down that hill
So here we are You can’t hold back the ocean Can’t hold it either That’s okay That’s not what an ocean is for.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--UP NEXT: THE COMA & THE SWIRLING SEA: Some things we discovered in my recent neuropsychological exam
--OR if you want to swim a little more in my mermaidy waters, here is another artistic piece I wrote about it.
— And no, I never did regret deactivating my Facebook account. Got banned from Instagram for sharing my blog there, too. I’m such a dastard. (That’s a dastardly rat-bastard, if you didn’t know.)
If you're a Medium Member and want to follow me, this post is also published Over There.