Right Now is Just Right
expressive aphasia be damned
The trouble with starting a newsletter is that my brain injury took my words away.
I won’t go into detail about the how of my brain injury, it’s already been covered with astonishing care by Haley Nahman, for the now bygone, but forever loved, ManRepeller.
And though that blow to my head was certainly the catalyst of everything, it wasn’t until much later in recovery that the real work revealed itself: Discovering my singularity anew. What was me and only me.
Not quite being able to conjure a connection to whom I was before, and having yet to have found the way-to-be that would fit my new, fragile existence; my post-traumatic life became a frantic search for an identity I could get comfortable in (both the impetus and plot line of my first movie post-injury, not coincidentally).
There were the limiting conditions of my disability to consider: debilitating fatigue, confusion, hyper-sensitivity to light and sound, an unsteady sense of gravity, the emotional development of a teenager, and on and on. Then there were the rooms of my past identities that had been seemingly closed to me.
WRITER: there was one label I knew well, possessed a talent for since my youth. It seemed feasible I could slip back to turning thoughts into words with ease. But then, the cruel residence of my bounds would surface.
Within that same ManRepeller article, these limits were formally published.
“Our conversation turns to writing. Bruley used to be a freelance writer and editor, covering fashion, culture, and music for various digital publications. But her expressive aphasia—which she describes as “knowing what I mean to say but not being able to say it with words”—sounds almost like a diagnosis for writer’s block. A year and a half after the accident she tried to return to her career and was fired from multiple jobs. This was heartbreaking. Ever since, she’s turned to more visual forms of storytelling, like film and painting, which are more in tune with her creative sensibility post-accident.”
A global declaration that due to my newly acquired expressive aphasia, I am no longer a writer and am now exclusively a visual story-teller. Not only because I have supposedly lost my relationship with words, but one of the best essay writers in the game had written about it being so.
It shows up defiantly in my speech, as either blundering “What’s the word?” verbal charades, or, worse, a clamming up, falling into an anger-quiet because what’s the point if I can’t get it across anyway?
But writing can potentially afford me some slack not offered by in-the-moment communication. And anyway, I’ve been through some heavy shit in my slim amount of years. There’s gotta be something valuable there to share, right?
So, I’d think of writing about the lessons learned, the well-being turned, the mindsets changed…and all that would emerge were the same banal wellness platitudes used by the voices fitting their message into Instagram squares. Where was I?
Returning to essay writing felt like a fool’s game. A closed book.
It was a direction adopted for use in the Community Guidelines for the Begin Again class, my six-week course based on the fundamentals of mindfulness and meditation, that incited my willingness to even give it another go.
The direction is aimed at the importance of confidentiality and not repeating what another student has discussed in class:
“We are speaking the truth, which is movable, and what they said may have been true at the time, but might not be true anymore.”
A generous exercise in respecting the privacy and mind-changes of others, of course, but what stood out to me was the notion that one’s truth is not fixed and can change at a moment’s notice.
I’ve developed my brain in countless ways since receiving that diagnosis years ago, AND it’s been a long, cold pandemic of doing inner work since the ManRepeller article was published. It could be possible my truth has changed.
But what would it look like to be a writer with expressive aphasia? Can I let go of the need to be clever and whip up turn-of-phrases that dazzle? Instead of a quick wit and talkin’ sharp, could it be just as satisfying to come-of-age right in front of you?
That is the experiment. The writing out of this is an important step of organizing it. Glad I’m here and you’re here to witness.
I find myself coming back to a statement I used a lot in the beginning of my recovery that continues to assure me: I can do hard things.
There are these aspects of ourselves that we are a stranger to, the aspects that make you think: I didn’t know I had it in me! But we all do. It just takes giving yourself a chance, continually showing up, and gently holding what’s true each time we do.
An email arrived in my inbox recently with the subject ‘Create Your Better Future’ and I wanted to throw my laptop against the wall. This promise of the better future is the ultimate abandonement of our current truths. ‘What I’m hocking in this email will deliver you from your wretched present,’ it might as well say. The not-good-enoughness is just rude.
I propose a different subject line: ‘Right Now is Just Right’.
Right now is just right to gently hold this compulsion to write again and let it have some fun to play and unfold. Just to see. Maybe I’ve transferred from words to visuals and back to words, or a combination of the two. That could happen. The truth changes. I’m a different person now from when I started this essay. And you might be, too.
Because the truth is always changing. It was absolutely true when you said “There’s no way. I could never. Forget about it.” And then it changed, an hour later, and you sailed.
What’s Here Now ?
A nice exercise to find your current truth is to do a practice we do in class called What’s Here Now? In which we take a moment to notice what sounds, body sensations, moods, feelings or thoughts are currently showing up in our present experience. When we go around the room taking turns speaking our truth by noting what’s showing up, we tend to speak in verse. Presence literally turns life into poetry.
You can do it, too. Right now. And maybe even share your truth below. I’ll do it with you:
Sirens blare in the distance.
The aquarium bubbles and froths.
Cotton drapes over my forearms.
An ache behind the eye. A thought: Damn sinuses.