Friday, May 28, 2010

It was an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, yellow polka dot bikini.....

OK, I am showing my age here with this one. (I remember my Dad singing that song when I was little.) And for the record, the bikini had blue and purplish flowers. Whoever would have thought there was a profound “aha moment” waiting for me in my bikini in a bay in Hawaii?

It was 7 months after my brain injury. I was still mentally impaired, but trying very hard not to act like it. Just packing for the trip and navigating my way through the airport was a real challenge for me. It made my underarms wet. At times, I felt like a scared, little kid lost at the mall.

Then there were times that I told myself “You can do this. Dammit!” It felt great just to accomplish what most people would consider normal. Everything terrified me, but somehow I knew that I had to overcome the fear and push through it to regain any kind of semblance of a regular life.

I had gone to Hawaii with my brother and this was our first snorkeling excursion. Hanomolino Bay looked like something on a postcard. There were leaning palm trees complete with coconuts flanking a beach of black sand leading up to azure blue water rolling into the beach in gentle waves capped with white surf.

For a while, we were content to swim around the little bay and ooh and aah at the colorful sights under the surface. Not being nearly as physically coordinated as I used to be, it took me a while to get the hang of breathing though the tube. I used to be a lifeguard during the summers in college, so I soon felt pretty comfortable. I ventured out to where the bay opened up to the ocean. The current and waves had much more force here.

I kicked some rocks with my fin, and it came off and sunk to the bottom. It was probably about 20 feet deep. Without the fin, I was not nearly as strong a swimmer.

Just keeping my ahead above the water and fighting the waves was a struggle. I was really scared now. I swallowed big gulps of salty water. I had that urgent, panicky feeling I would imagine an antelope has when being chased by a lion. I managed to make it over to some rocks and to partially climb up on them cutting my feet and legs in the process. They were covered with coral and sliced my skin upon contact.

By this time, my brother had noticed my predicament. He yelled for me to stay on the rocks while he went and got my sand shoes. Never having been one to follow directions too well, I decided to swim to a sail boat anchored in the bay rather than just wait there.

After what seemed like the longest swim of my life, I reached the sailboat and managed to grab the top of the side of it and gasp out several times a squeaky, but urgent "help!"

A thin, scruffy looking man with long hair and wearing cutoff jeans – think stoner - came up on deck. He looked startled and surprised, to say the least, to see me hanging from the side of his boat in my bikini bleeding. He had that “WTF??” look -- like he was not sure he wasn’t hallucinating. After he got it, he rowed me to shore in a little boat. My hippie hero!

The experience scared me, for sure, but was also a very meaningful lesson. I was brain injured because I had tried to kill myself. In the months that followed, I did recover physically somewhat, but I was still unstable emotionally. I was undecided as to whether I wanted to live this life. I wanted to kill myself before, and now I was supposed to live like this - half retarded and sounding like I was drunk? I was not convinced.

I realized that instinctively, without me going through all the typical drama of weighing the pros and cons, something inside of me had just kicked in and fought hard to live. I could have very easily just slipped quietly under the water and finished what I had started months earlier. Eureka! Something inside of me wanted to live!

That was a major turning point for me in which I realized that I did not want to die. Since then, I have been acting like I want to live. I started taking responsibility for my recovery and my life. I have worked every day to get better and to make my life better. I have a few grains of black sand in my foot that remained after it healed to remind me of the valuable lesson I learned that day just in case I ever forget.


  1. Great Article. Somewhat difficult to read as it reminded me of my own attempted "death trip" But gave me solace and encouragement. Glad you stuck around. You're a true inspiration.

  2. I think if people are honest, almost everyone has had "a moment." It is an instinctual part of human nature to survive. It is wonderful when you consciously get the head and the instincts working together to not only ensure surviving, but flourishing and thriving. Is great! I am sooo glad I stuck around too!!

  3. AnonymousMay 30, 2010

    nice one Hamps. Like this one.

  4. Thanks Paul...I mean Anonymous!! :)

  5. the trick is to keep that urgency about life as the days become mundane...

  6. Nice! Excellent! Love this!

    I was once caught in a rip tide off the coast of Southern California and had a very similar experience. I remember thinking, "Wow, could this be *it*?" and then pulling out all the stops, finding almost inhuman energy to make it to safety. It was a memorable experience, to say the least.

    Sometimes I think it takes these "game changers" to wake us and help us remember the gift of life we've been given.

    Horay for you, Debbie! And, two thumbs for near drowning. It can teach us a lot, yes?

  7. Kim - exactly! You are so right! We need to keep and remember that feeling of being glad to be alive without almost dying.

    Lori - Even seemingly "bad" things such as a brain injury, a near drowning or having MS are really blessings in disguise and have many gifts to give us if we allow them. I would not have scripted my life this way, but I also would not change anything.

    One of my favorite sayings these days is "If you like where you are, you can't complain about how you got there."