Sometimes I am disappointed in myself when I am unable to control tears from welling in my eyes. But this exact thing happened when I met the benefactors of my residency program on the eighth day after I started my position as the APhA Foundation Executive Resident in Association Management and Leadership. Near the end of our visit that day, the recent past-resident and I were asked to share our stories about what drew us to the position. When it was my turn, as I was stating my purpose, I suddenly became overwhelmed with emotion and began to tear up. I was baffled as it was happening. Why did I react that way?
I remember the evening after that trip, I reflected on why that profound experience happened. At first, I thought it was because I was a person with deeply-rooted trauma and perhaps I did not have as much control over my panic as I thought I did.
I think I was afraid because what motivated me to apply for the executive residency had a lot to do with my identity as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor. I understand how important it is for patients to be included in conversations about how their health is provided and I wanted to use my unique position as an individual who understands the pharmacist and patient perspectives equally well to improve how pharmacists services are delivered. Nonetheless, like many in the TBI community, we know how stigmatized our condition is. It is not uncommon for people’s faces to curl with discomfort when we say who we are, whether they mean to intentionally or not.
However, as much weight fear may have held in factoring into my tears, that conclusion didn’t seem to entirely make sense to me. As I thought a little deeper, I had an epiphany for another possible reason why I might cry other than when I feel afraid, upset, sad, or overjoyed with laughter…
I realized I cry when I feel overwhelmingly grateful.
On June 28, 2017, I cried in front of some of the most well-known and respected figures in pharmacy because of how grateful I felt for the potential their endowment afforded me.
Being the APhA Foundation Executive Resident means a lot to not only myself, but to the people I represent. Being able to graduate with a pharmacy degree at the same time as my peers, and to be selected as one of the few individuals with an opportunity to be mentored by some of the greatest leaders in my profession is more than I, or anyone else, could have imagined possible. I find it an incredible honor to be in a position to provide hope to people who really need it, like my peers who also survived severe traumatic brain injuries.
By having interactions with dozens of individuals with varying levels of brain damage, I know those with TBI don’t often have the same privileges or abilities that those without TBI have, let alone those with retrograde amnesia like myself. I remember thinking at the time:
“How ironic it is the Knowlton’s not only own a business called Tabula Rasa Healthcare, which means ‘blank slate’ in Latin, but they fund an experience for a person who’s mind was tabula rasa less than four years prior to when they met her.”
Since that memorable experience in late June of last summer, I have continued to grow exponentially to get closer to reaching my main goal: to create safe and sustainable communities of mutual understanding where quality of life is attainable for all.
From the first half of my residency when I was acclimating to an entirely different landscape, interacting with personality types I never encountered, being forced to develop new skills quickly, and becoming the most independent I’d ever been since the day I woke up in the neuro-ICU, I noticed I have come a long way. In the beginning, I was really intimidated to be surrounded by all the leaders around me who sometimes made me feel like I had to be just like everyone else because that is what everyone else is comfortable with.
However, the moment I began to fully embrace all parts of my identity in a setting where I understand a large part of me is in a place where it usually does not belong, is when my soul began to suffer less. After I realized I am a disrupter simply by the nature of who I am and what I accomplished, and then accepted what that type of person might have to face, is when I started becoming stronger and more confident.
I have purpose. I have passion. And I have people who need someone like me to stand up for us.
Not in 100 years could I have imagined that my life would end and begin again as a TBI survivor, pharmacist, and public health specialist. I thank all those in my community of pharmacists, patients, and just people for helping me get to where I am today. Whether I cry about it or not, I am in a position where I feel grateful day in and day out. What has been done for me, I will return two-fold for the rest of my life.
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