How is Anyone Thinking About Anything….but Me?

My family, a few months pre-accident.

During one of the most challenging periods of my life, Chrissy Teigen wrote her own essay about losing her baby. I remember being really compelled to read it. And whether you love or hate Chrissy, we can all agree that putting yourself out there and exposing your own trauma to the masses is pretty intimidating. So here I am, full force, trauma dumping on anyone who chooses to read this.

In the summer of 2020, my younger brother was at the beach in Miami. He was with a bunch of his new friends from college, when he decided he wanted to cool off one last time before they headed back to campus. A strong swimmer, and an ocean-certified lifeguard, my brother dove under a wave that was a force to be reckoned with. He was thrown head first into a sandbar, and broke his C6 vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed.

This was the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to me. And it didn’t even happen to me.

I was suffering. Covid-19 left my family separated, and I was stuck at home in New York while my parents flew to Florida to be with my brother. I was a pandemic college graduate, who at the time had no job prospects, and no real distractions. In the moment, I tried my best to focus on my health, hang out with a few high school friends, or do anything that brought me some semblance of joy. But the only thing that provided even a little comfort was FaceTiming with my brother.

Embarrassingly enough, HE has been getting me through this. Telling me not to cry, not to worry about him. His effort, his energy, and his ability to still laugh, talk about his future life with no stress or fear (or at least none that shines to the surface) is truly admirable. I will never understand how at age nineteen, with his entire life ahead of him, he does not feel the pain and the anger that I do. Instead, he’s cracking jokes and has stayed himself throughout this entire experience.

And while now, I can shine a little bit more clarity on the issue, at first, all I could feel was separated from my family. I was miserable about a hundred different things. Chrissy wrote, in her own essay, “you kind of wonder how anyone is thinking about anything but you.” And that was the only thing I could think about.

“Why hasn’t so-and-so, who I haven’t spoken to in months, who I don’t really even care about myself texted me yet to tell me they’re sorry?” “Why hasn’t my mom called me today to tell me she loves me?!” As if no one else had a single other thing to think about. And I’ll admit, these were some of the darker thoughts I had as I was taunted by my iPhone, social media posts of acquaintances with zero worries, and the texts from my brother’s friends who were desperately trying to get in contact with him.

I was a tricky person to talk to those first few months. My friends’ issues were benign. Any problem my boyfriend wanted to talk about, I brushed off. No one’s family was suffering through a trauma like mine. No one’s life was as hard as mine. No one dared tell me about a problem they were having at work — I was unemployed and their brother wasn’t paralyzed in a hospital a thousand miles away without his family.

After spending some time thinking about my life pre-accident, it’s embarrassing to admit that I was always thinking about myself. Whether that was in my professional life, my friendships, or even my romantic relationships, a lot of the time my first thought at any sign of conflict is “how is this going to affect me?” That of course is problematic, looking at it with some distance. Someone who supposedly cares so much about other people really only thinks about herself.

Even this essay that is about my brother’s life-altering injury is about myself. I could have written this about his resilience, his unwavering strength, and his patience with not only himself, but both my parents, who are of course his new caretakers. The energy he exudes every time we call him when he’s been working tirelessly on regaining the simplest of movements. Five months post accident, and my brother can wiggle some of his toes. I never thought that I would cry so hard over a toe.

But this is about me, because it has to be. It has to be about my own self-reflection and my own growth. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is thinking about me and who isn’t. It doesn’t matter who wants to come over and listen to me cry and complain. It doesn’t matter which fringe acquaintances from high school and beyond reach out to me — because this isn’t about me.

For the first time in my life, I really had to learn that it’s not always about me.

This is about my family. My brother, and my sister, my mom and my dad and the industrial bond that we have formed to get through this together. It’s about the nurses and physical therapists that come into work every day to help my brother get stronger. It’s the selflessness of every single person who donated to Ernest’s Fundraiser. And it’s the patience that the people in my life who care about me most showed me every single time I’m sure they wanted to tell me to quit whining.

It’s about the covid-19 pandemic. And how every single person on this earth has lost something they’ve cared about this year. Whether like me it’s their own graduation, or the loss of a close friend/family member, or honestly, even a birthday. Everyone has suffered this year. And their suffering is no less painful than mine, regardless of what they’ve dealt with.

Trauma is not a competition. There is no numerical amount that we can equate pain to. And for a while, I played the Trauma Olympics, constantly comparing my problems to others’, when I could have been spending that time doing much better things. Talking to my friends and explaining my pain. Spending socially distant time with my loved ones. I regret that anger and pain that I held on to. But I also think it was necessary for me to cope, and come out stronger on the other side. I had to learn that when tragedy strikes, it is truly how you react to it that says the most about you.

This experience has sucked. I want my brother to heal, and I’m confident that he will make a full recovery. I’m confident that my family will recover from this trauma, and only grow closer and stronger because of it. This is more important than a lot of things I’ve dealt with in my life, because at the end of the day, I will be fine. But it is how I will have reacted to pain in my family’s darkest hour that matters the most.

When Ernest heals, it still won’t be about me, because it will be about him. He will have done the work to get better, and that is what counts.

Lover, not a fighter.