“Okay, let’s talk about your lunches.” Mary says as she leans against the counter with pen and notebook in hand.
Immediately, I tense. I don’t like this idea. Deep in my gut, an irrational, reactive urge starts to swell. With those few words, I feel overwhelmed, questioned, challenged. I want to yell, get crazy, push back hard. My fear tightens the muscles of my back – fear of failure, fear of proving yet again how incompetent I am.
I take a breath. Not this time. I am aware of my feelings, but they don’t control me right now. I don’t have to be reactive. This is a reasonable topic for discussion, and Mary has chosen a good time to talk. It’s not evening. I’m not exhausted. I am me, instead of my post concussion syndrome.
“Sure” I say guardedly. It helps that she has been prompting me about this change for weeks. Weeks. Maybe months? I’m not sure.
“So instead of me choosing your lunch for you every day, you’re going to make a list of lunch options for each week.”
I make grumbly sounds, but I stop what I am doing and think about what I want for lunch. I can’t think and do something at the same time, not since my first mTBI.
After some silence and some staring, she prompts me. She is handling me so well. “What do you normally eat for lunch?”
“A tuna melt” I say. After some thought, “That ramen and a hard boiled egg”. She jots these choices down for me as I speak. More thinking. “I have turkey left over from Thanksgiving, enough for two servings. I could have a turkey sandwich, and I could have turkey dinner, once each.”
This isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. I’ve been having leftovers and certain lunches for months, years. It’s nothing new. What’s new is me choosing, me taking responsibility for figuring it out.
“Okay, you need one more” she says.
One more. Hmmm… “Rice! Something with rice!” I say with relish. Ever since a three-week intestinal bug in October, white rice has become my favorite favorite food. It was one of only a few things I could eat without problems for quite a while, along with bananas and applesauce. Now all three are in my top five favorite foods in existence.
I frown. “But I need a protein.” I think for a bit. Then I turn around and open the fridge, perusing its contents. Darn, we don’t have any easy already-prepared-meats available.
“You could add some beans. They’re a good protein.” Mary suggests.
“Ugh. No. I’m not having beans and rice.” I think back to an orange juice flavored beans and rice combo I made for dinner last year. It was tasty, so I made it many, many more times. Too many times. No beans and rice for me this week. Anyway, adding beans would kill that deliciously pure jasmine rice taste I am looking forward to. “I could have a hot dog. I have some in the freezer.”
I already know what Mary’s going to say, and she doesn’t surprise me. “No. Those aren’t good for you.” If she wasn’t watching me, I’d probably just have a hotdog regardless of her judgement. But, since she’s involved right now, I need an official proper protein for my last lunch.
Silence descends on the kitchen as I strive to figure out an easy protein. I’m already having hard boiled eggs, so those are out. I stare off into space as I think, try to solve this problem. Mary gives me time to think, space to struggle to solve this problem. Finally, something comes to me. “I always have more tuna than I need when I make my tuna melt. How about instead of cramming it all on the bread, I set some aside and have it with the rice. That’s a good protein.”
We agree, and the list is complete. Mary kindly puts little check boxes next to each meal. I’m to check each one off as I eat it, so I only eat each option once this week. A good idea, as I might forget what I’ve eaten, otherwise. Plus, somehow, interacting with the paper grounds me, makes the choices more real and decided, more concrete.
Another small step towards my independence. It hasn’t come easily, for either of us. Mary has been prompting me and preparing me for this moment for months, maybe years? Each time she has suggested it, I have resisted. Vigorously. Not because I feel like Mary should do that work for me. Rather, I have resisted because it feels so overwhelming, so upsetting, so heavy and unmanageable to do this task of thinking and deciding, of problem solving. There has been yelling, hurt feeling, wounded looks, woe-my-world-is-ending thoughts and plenty of crying. But this time, success. She has eased me into it. And this time, she caught me when I wasn’t already exhausted – an important key to success with brain injured people.
As this week has progressed, she’s been checking in with me regularly. “What did you have for lunch today?” she asks as she walks over and looks at my list, making sure I’ve checked off the item I ate. It’s helpful, and it reminds me to use my list regularly.
I know how this thing will play out. I have some experience with Mary’s management style… and this is one area where Mary, truly, does manage me. She’ll help me with my lunch list a few more times. She’ll keep checking on me, that I’m eating and that I’m using the list. Once she’s decided I can do it myself, it will become my responsibility. Permanently. Probably, she’ll put it on my weekly to-do calendar.
She’ll check on me periodically, but I’ll be left to my own devices. There will be frustration, and flailing, and difficulty, but eventually I will succeed. If I’m overwhelmed and foggy from a particularly rough week, she might help me a time or two. But then I’ll be expected to take it over for myself, again. Eventually, it will become routine and normal and easy for me. And, because of the mTBIs, soon enough I won’t really remember anything different. For all that it is a painful process, I like the outcome. Me, re-becoming a competent, independent adult.