Sunday, February 18, 2018

WHAT EVER HAPPENED...? Acknowledgments, Preface


I have a long list of people to thank for getting this book out, but I have to begin with my editor, Dr. Douglas Winslow Cooper.

Not only has he typed this from my long, weekly scribbles and spent lots of time teaching me how to be a better writer, he also provided much love and concern when I was struggling either with writing or life in general.

There were many Friday mornings (our usual meeting times), that I had to vent about something before I could actually concentrate on the work that we had to do at that appointment.

He sat there patiently, listening to what was bothering me that day (problems with “Aiden” – an ex you’ll read about later – my mother's ailments, my dog's health, my health, and on and on and on).

After I was done with this venting, he'd carefully help me feel better about it all. Sometimes, he'd “take Aiden's side” and others, he would agree with me, that whatever Aiden had done or said was hurtful.

Dr. Cooper would also help me calm down if I was upset about not being able to take better care of my mother, or if I was scared about something regarding my dog Happy.

He helped me relax when I'd get bad news from various doctors (ulcers, skin cancers, back pains, bladder problems, tendinosis, etc.).

All of this going on at the same time was sometimes just too much for me. But, his gentle soul always brought clarity and calmness to our meetings (and he even allowed my dog Happy to accompany us at his house and at the office where we met), and so I got it done. I'll always be thankful to him for that.

And I will forever say, he's the ONLY man, since my childhood, that I allowed to correct me! All others before Dr. Cooper tried and failed!

As for everyone else, the list is too long to present. The people that have helped me are written about in here. There are just too many to count, and anyway, I want you to get started reading my story!

Finally, I have to thank God. If not for Him saving my life, I wouldn't be here to write a memoir. To Him be all my gratefulness….


To copy a sentence from my editor's memoir – why am I writing this memoir? So, why am I?

The answer for me is pretty simple. If I, a former special education teacher, who taught more than one child with a brain injury, knew as little about brain injury as I did before my own (damaged temporal and frontal lobes), then more work had to be done to get the information out there.

I am no expert when it comes to research or technology as far as the brain is concerned. What I am an expert in is what happened to me, what is still taking place to this very day, and what I have learned from many others with brain injuries. And I know there are many others with brain injuries like me. From 2007-2013, the rate of brain injury increased 50%, hitting a record level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the New York State Department of Health, “In New York State, more than 500 people sustain a brain injury each day. Prevalence is estimated to be 50% higher than reported.”

According to other sources I’ve read, elderly people are particularly vulnerable, as they have a high likelihood of falling, possibly causing a brain injury.

And as a side note, more and more famous people are being diagnosed with brain tumors and diseases. The ones that have been reported at the time of this writing (summer, 2017), include: ice skating champion Scott Hamilton; U.S. Senator John McCain; TV host Maria Menounos; comedian Jim Gaffigan’s wife, Jeannie, a comedy writer; and former New York State Congressman, Maurice Hinchey. I wish all of them, and everyone else with these scary diagnoses, the best of health.

As for me, I know how easily “bruised” I become with others' careless wording. I know how triggered I am by thoughtless questions (such as, “Why are you wearing sunglasses inside?” to name one of the too-many examples that take place daily; you’ll read why I do here).

I realize that I'm very high-functioning as far as brain injury comparisons. However, there are many of us that, though we “walk-the-walk” and “talk-the-talk,” there is much going on inside of our brains that gets us “off course” and thus, bothersome to certain other people who don't “get it” and therefore steer clear of us.

That's why I had to do this: so, hopefully, caregivers, family members, loved ones, friends, colleagues, and/or former colleagues, fellow church-goers, and everyone else, can try to help those of us with this condition to navigate life as well as we can, now that our lives will never be the same, after this injury.

I don't expect this book to be a bestseller. I know it’s not in chronological order. Within chapters, stories go back and forth. Some stories and/or information is repeated. My memory is choppy. Some details are sharp, others vague or missing. Even so, what I do hope is that people will learn how to take better care of someone who has a brain injury.

As I compiled this preface, I met someone for the first time who told me how her doctors told her to “steer clear” of a family member of hers whose brain was injured in a car accident, because of how much of a toll that brain-injured family member was taking on this person.

I really gave that story a lot of thought, and that's why it's here in my preface. If a doctor is counseling his/her patient to “steer clear” of a family member with a brain injury, then who is going to help that brain-injured person in need of love and warmth, when its needed most?

Shouldn't the doctor help find solutions to the problems within the family that are due to someone's injured brain, rather than take the easy way out and just advise the others to avoid the person?

As the highly knowledgeable Dr. Travis Stork stated on his television show The Doctors, “…brain damage, particularly in the frontal region…can control…judgment, impulse control, memory, social behavior….” [My brain damage includes this frontal region, and I have problems with everything he listed.]

As a brain injury expert from New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, Wayne Gordon, said with respect to treating prison inmates, “You need to train the correction officers to understand brain injuries so that when somebody may be acting rude or answering back or forgetting what they’re supposed to do, it’s not a sign of maladaptive behavior or disrespect, it’s a sign of a brain injury.”

We all need love, whether we're healthy or not. People with brain injuries, mental health issues, and other behavior problems need just as much attention as (if not more than) those without such problems because their behaviors can lead to detrimental societal issues, on a large scale, and to terrible family disruptions, on a smaller scale.

So, please, show some love right now to someone you know that is not well emotionally. Whatever the reason, just be there for them, even if it's just simply saying, “I love you.” Words that are warm can truly lift someone's spirit when that person is in a dark place.

And the dark place is where our brains take us if we're not careful. We, the brain-injured, need help getting on with our lives in as positive a way as possible. Please lead us there in a calm and gentle way. Show us the love even though sometimes we can be very difficult to be around.

I can't believe I'm about to suggest this, considering I was mysophobic (which is explained in great detail here in this book), but how about a simple hug now and again? Hugs can really help calm the inner turmoil that is bubbling and brewing below the surface in the brain-injured's mind.

I know one day I received three hugs from a woman named Hilary that I had just met because I was volunteering at church with her little four-year-old son. Those hugs helped me mentally later on in the day when I dealt with one more doctor’s appointment. It's amazing what may seem a small gesture to you might leave a big impact on the receiver. [But always remember to ask if the person would like a hug. I shrieked when others tried to touch me when I was afraid of germs. You’ll understand that as you read my book.]

Now – about my fear of making enemies since I decided to write this candid book. Author Judith Barrington in her Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art stated sentences that I'm going to use because I'm sure that some of the things I told in my chapters are not how others remember them. I did my best to tell it all as I remember it taking place, but there will be one (or more than one) story that someone doesn't remember quite like that. But, I did my very best in truth-telling.

So – here's Ms. Barrington's paragraph. It could not be better stated than this, and I knew when I read it the first time (January 2016) it would end up here to be repeated: “As soon as I started to write about my own life, I understood that to speak honestly about family and community is to step way out of line, to risk accusations of betrayal, and to shoulder the burden of being the one who blows the whistle on the myths that families and communities create to protect themselves from painful truths. This threat was like a great shadow lurking at the corner of my vision, as it is for anyone who approaches this task, even before the writing leads them into sticky territory.”

And “sticky territory” it was. I threw my pen more than once when I was remembering a story from my life and then writing it here, because the floodgates opened in my head of various bad and/or sad memories. One gut-wrenching aspect of my life story is the domestic violence I’ve experienced on and off throughout my life. (I’ve chosen not to go into detail about that here – this book is about brain injury.)

Despite how upsetting to me it was sometimes in writing this memoir, I hung in there, and here it is. I hope you enjoy it, learn from it, and best of all – treat others better because of it.

I'm 100% positive that I've forgotten things that I originally wanted to include in my book. I tried to scribble all ideas down, but some scribbles got lost along the way.

I'm pretty sure there were people I told that they would be in my book, but then they are not because of my forgetfulness, or, that my editor and I HAD to streamline some stuff because this adventure became too large, long, whatever…. I’m well aware that this book cannot be perfect. I know there are mistakes in virtually every book that is printed. There will be mistakes, either of grammar, punctuation, etc., and even some facts. Remember – I have permanent brain damage. As Dr. Barry J. Gibb wrote in his book, The Rough Guide to the Brain, “…the brain can create false memories to embellish its version of reality – just as it can suppress memories of events it found unpalatable.”

I just hope and pray that I offend no one. That was not my intention. I just had to tell my story to, hopefully, help some others with what I learned in the struggle I survived. Writing about what I did remember, the way I remembered it, was very difficult at times. But I pushed myself through it.

All the comments from others:
“Your book's not done yet?”
“You missed your deadline?!”
“What's taking so long with that book?”
“Are you ever going to be done?”

And MANY more frightening comments like these actually slowed me down because I would get upset, and take a break.

That is, until my psychologist, Dr. Robin Scherm, gave me an excellent idea: “finish when you're finished” and just say, “oops” to the pre-determined schedule.

I heard these pieces of advice (that became my “script” when more comments came my way) at the same time I learned from one more endoscopy that I had multiple ulcers.

My gastroenterologist, Dr. El-Schaer, told me, the day after I saw Dr. Scherm, that I had to relax, step back from working so hard to complete the book, and take better care of myself.

So, on this day, I say this: the work will go to print when I'm done.

What’s a truly sweet ending to this, since just hours after I wrote the preceding paragraph, I attended a book-signing for the New York Times best-selling author, Elizabeth Lesser, at one of my favorite bookstores (Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, NY).

I quickly spoke to her before her excellent presentation about her book, Marrow: A Love Story, and told her about my book, that I watched her intently when she was on Oprah's “Super Soul Sunday,” and about my deadline stress. I asked her how long it took her to write her very first book.

“Three years.”

I smiled a huge smile for the first time in a long time because I stopped feeling too much pressure trying to wrap this up by 2016 (the year printed on my first author business card stating when my memoir would be published).

          Then, there are the words she wrote on the title page of my purchase of the beautiful story she wrote about donating her bone marrow to help save her sister's life: “To Janet – take your time. Your heart will know when it's time. [heart] Elizabeth”

Thank you so much, Elizabeth. The heavy weight I had been carrying on my shoulders was lifted as you slid that book back to me!

I know that I am being calmer now as I conclude this book (2017), than I was when I began it three years ago. I thank you for reading it, and I hope it helps your life in some positive way….

Janet Johnson Schliff

Lake Katrine, NY


For the coming year, I will be excerpting, weekly, material from this fine book by Janet Johnson Schliff, M.S.Ed.. She wrote it over a three-year period, with some coaching and editing help from me, through my business, The excerpts are from almost the final version. The book is now available from and from its publisher, 
What Ever Happened to My White Picket Fence?



Janet Johnson Schliff will be speaking at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 3, at Barnes & Noble, 1177 Ulster Avenue, Kingston, NY.
I plan to attend, also.

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