Capturing Memories: How a Brain Injury Taught Me the Importance of Real Friends and Pictures

By: Isabelle Flener 

My mother has imparted many pearls of wisdom during her lifetime, some of which I listened to as a young adult, while others I did not. One piece of advice that has stuck with me is her saying that when we lose friends, “Maybe those people were only meant for a season in your life, and maybe that season is over.” I often think about her words when people come and go from my life. There was a moment in my life when I had to put this saying into perspective. 

In the summer of 2019, I suffered a brain injury, and my mother’s words took on a new meaning for me. I was bedridden, weak, and terrified. It was summer so obviously teenagers were going to be living their life, enjoying their school-free vacation. I wanted to be one of those kids so badly, but I just was not capable of doing that.  

The people I considered my friends were so caught up in their social lives that I barely heard from them. I no longer fit into the mold of their “perfect summer lifestyle.”, despite my efforts to continue to interact with them and participate in normal summer activities like swimming, going on vacations, and hanging out at all hours of the day and night. I lost my chance to genuinely be a kid while those “friends” I had, still had the chance to be a kid.  

But in those moments, I discovered who my real friends were. They were the ones who came to my house and lay in the dark with me because the light hurt my eyes. They were the ones who checked up on me and asked how I was, even if they did not fully comprehend what I was going through. Those friends have a permanent season in my life, while the other seasons have flown away. Just like the leaves falling as winter sets in, the people I thought I needed gradually faded away. At first, I was outraged, as I wanted those people to care and enjoy doing the little things with me. But with those specific people, that was never going to happen. I no longer felt angry but grateful for the friends who stuck with me and made my world that had been turned upside down enjoyable.  

As the hot weather of summer turned into the cool breeze of fall, I allowed those people who used to be close to me to change with the season, as their season was over too. And I was okay with it. I was okay with moving on and letting go. I survived those moments, and I kept on healing. I had the people I needed, and that was perfectly fine with me.  

As I gazed at the beautiful pinks, oranges, and reds painted across the sky, I immediately snapped a picture. I want to remember this artwork painted across the sky. I take pictures of everything: my friends smiling and laughing as we enjoy the moment, my family. The people I am around the most and have the most massive impact on me, I want so many pictures of them. I love to capture the unforgettable places I see, my favorite being the mesmerizing sky. People ask me why I always take pictures of everything, and it is because I forever want to have memories of that moment I was in. You never know when you are going to lose something in your life, so I want to capture it, so I have something to remember. Capturing pictures became a significant part of my life after losing my memory. 

When I got my brain injury, I lost a lot of things. My memory was the most challenging thing for me to cope with. All the moments in my life where I was happy, or even sad, I lost. I could not recall the words for items or people’s names I was not close to. I could not fathom the fact that I could do something and not even five minutes later, I did not remember the thing I had done. The months before and after my injury are all just a blur of moments, and I do not think I will ever be able to unblur them. The years before I got injured are sometimes there but mostly, they blur together too. I felt like I lost who I was, and I could not remember who I wanted to be. Even with my past pictures, I was unable to connect the dots to whom I was with or what I was doing. 

I felt defeated and hopeless. I knew that there was a possibility that I was never going to get my memory back fully, and it tore me apart. I had therapy multiple times a week to try to obtain my functions back for the first two years. I had lost the ability to perform a lot of things. My eyesight and honestly my will to get up and do anything were two of my most substantial things, but with challenging work and time, I have gotten those back mostly. But my memory still lingers somewhere in my brain that I cannot fully access. That is why pictures have become a vital part of my life. My short-term memory has returned for the most part, and I can bring the pieces together for some of my long-term memories. I may not retain it all, but I am appreciative of what I have. 

I graduated from speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy after pushing through many hurdles. I have been diagnosed with Pure Alexia, which is an impairment that causes me to struggle with reading, but I continue to push myself. I have continued my passion with photography and writing. Being able to look back at my photos and my words has been something that has helped me more than I could have imagined. I celebrate every anniversary with a delicious ice cream cake and remember how thankful I am to have received so many chances at this beautiful thing called life. I know I cannot get all my memories back, and I will survive with that. My memory may stay foggy for the rest of my life, and I may never be able to read like I used to. My emotions may always be hard to control, and unimportant things may always seem overwhelming. I will never be who I used to be. But deep down, I am perfectly fine with that. I get to decide the new me and who I genuinely want to be. That is okay with me.

About Isabelle Flener

Isabelle is working towards her Associates of Arts degree, with plans to graduate in Fall 2024. After completing her arts degree, she intends to transfer to a university to pursue a degree in photojournalism.
View all posts by Isabelle Flener →

1 thought on “Capturing Memories: How a Brain Injury Taught Me the Importance of Real Friends and Pictures

  1. That is beautiful thanks so much for sharing your journey to us Enjoyed the story but heart breaking of what you and your Family has been through.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.