“I used to be so well-behaved.” she said, rolling down the passenger window and lighting a cigarette, her odd-socked feet resting on my dashboard.
One of my favorite cases as a support worker was a 40-year-old lady who had sustained a brain injury a few years prior to us meeting.
Our weekly visits were to check her house was in order — it always was — and to take her to the supermarket.
“My kids love the new me…” she laughed, “Or they’re too afraid to talk back.”
Damage to several areas of her brain, including the frontal lobe, had meant a long spell in rehabilitation. But she’d recovered with almost flying colors. Having a brain injury meant she’d never legally be able to drive a car again, but she seemed to like the company anyway.
In her own words, she hadn’t just recovered. She was even better. In her past life she was meek, pure-mouthed, rule-abiding and a committed perfectionist. Now she didn’t give a shit what anyone thought, including me. A full-time mother of three, I remember the first time she greeted me at her door.
“Ignore the fucking mess, my family are animals.”
As we approached the supermarket, she threw her cigarette end out of the window and I remembered the near-miss fight we had with another shopper the week before. What my client had lost in timidness had become exaggerated in her directness.
Thankfully our shopping trip went without incident, although she did flip off an Audi driver who sped past us on the A-road.
I loved her free-spirit and openness. But what intrigued me most is that this lady remembered — in some way — who she was before. Rather than lament and ruminate as she might have done in the past, she was like a phoenix from the ashes.
A bump on the head completely changed her. She wasn’t broken by any observable standards, just…different. It wasn’t simply that surviving a tragic accident had given her a new lease of life, although that could definitely be a factor. Her entire personality had changed; outlook, mannerisms, reactions — the works.
So, how fixed is our identity?
It’s not. A few neurons out of place and you could be anyone.
As far as I’m aware, my ex-client continues to enjoy life, smoking and swearing at all who encounter her.