When I first began working with people with brain injury I read many memoirs about living with brain injury. It helped me understand brain injury and how it is experienced. After many years I no longer read every book. Over the past year or so I was drawn to three in particular “Flower Between the Cracks” by Helen Sage and “To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed” by Alix Kates Shulman and the book I write about today: “Wondering Who You Are”.
How I first discovered “Wondering Who You Are” is now a bit vague in my mind. It was the foundation for an earlier article here: “Intimacy, Sex and Brain Injury” when I heard an interview with Sonya.
I love to listen to audiobooks read by their author so naturally I chose to read / listen to “Wondering Who You Are” as an audio book read by author Sonya Lea. It kept me transfixed travelling to and from my home to the city.
What drew me to this particular memoir?
- Sonya was writing the book many years post brain injury which provides perspective on recovery and settling back into life.
- Richard who had a brain injury and is Sonya’s husband is part of the book and the process of writing it.
- Sex was freely discussed, a rare occurence. In fact it seems to be a headliner for many of the reviews written about the book!
- Sonya Lea was an established author prior to writing the book.
- There is a focus on strength and resilience rather than pity and tragedy.
- There are easy to understand descriptions of brain injury and outcomes.
Sonya does not flinch from talking about the bad times before, during or after Richard’s brain injury. There is no sugar- coating, or pretending perfection in their relationship before brain injury. The struggles and the difficulties reforging a relationship after brain injury are candidly described. Nor does she spare herself in talking about what contributed to the trials faced.
The path Richard and Sonya took would not be the path for everyone, nor should it be. It does provide insight into the challenges and changes that families commonly face: reforming family when roles change, building a new relationship with a person different to the person you knew, managing expectations.
I read a number of reviews critical of Sonya and some of her decisions. To see this from strangers reminded me of how often family members have talked to me about the difficulty coping with the judgements and criticism of others – friends, family and strangers – when you are doing the best you can possibly do.
A relationships counsellor of many years experience once said to me “a good relationship is one that works” – it is between you and your partner, it is not for others to judge. Yet how quick we are to judge rather than look to the strength and resilience of people after brain injury.
Not only does Sonya tell the story of brain injury in their family she provides clear simple explanations and researched information on brain injury and outcomes including memory loss.
Her explanation of aspects of brain injury are clearer and more personal than many professional definitions I have seen over the years:
Cognition and Cognitive Changes
“An injured brain is not less smart than it was before, Richard processes information more slowly giving the impression of a diminished intellect but that brilliant mind of his is still vital, wise, dazzling. I believe that his intelligience is simply locked inside. In my view my husband does not have access to the use of his brilliance.”
Mild Brain Injury:
“ Mild to moderate brain injuries are often not physically detected though they can create the type of deficits that seriously affect the person’s life, work, and relationships”
“Richard … has limited access to his past and he is unable to project on the future a sense of who he might become. No history, no story of a future. We his family are the ones who grieve his memory loss”.
Sonya gives vivid examples of the impact of brain injury on Richard, herself and the children. This resonates with many conversations I have had over the years with family. When questioning memory loss, she wants to ask the counsellor “… why Richard has lost his memory of some things – our marriage history, major events in the childrens’ lives but not others Hamlets soliloquy and the Superman monologue”
I liked this book a lot. I appreciated the openness and expansive sharing of relationship and family struggles and progress. It seems to have much to pass on to others whether interested in brain injury or not, and whether you may, or may not agree with another person’s life choices.
As I was researching what others had to say about “Wondering Who You Are” I came across this interview with a name that will be quite familiar to anyone who has been around Changed Lives New Journeys for a while – Cheryl Green. As often happens I absolutely agree with Cheryl’s comments on Wondering Who You Are in her post “Stories From the Brainreels – Guests Sonya Lea and Richard Bandy”:
And a final treat. In addition to Cheryl’s article on the book there is a transcript of an interview with Sonya and Richard:
Still Want More
‘Wondering Who You Are’ a blog by Sonya and Richard that continues
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