The Dark Forest: A Tale of Two Pictures (12-Year Anniversary Post)

By Joanne Phillips, MS, RD

April 15, 2019

They say life imitates art. I believe this is true.

When I was a little girl, I remember going to my grandparents’ cozy little lake house that my grandfather built in Old Lyme Connecticut. Every summer we would spend two weeks in this sleepy town area of the northeast.

I have such wonderful memories of those summer days as a child. I remember the view of the beautiful lake from the front porch, the murky pond just around the corner from their home, feeding the family of swans that would visit us in the evening down by the dock and family badminton games filled with competition and laughter. I can remember the smell of freshly laid tar as I walked along the road, the smell of gasoline when my father would fill the tank of the motorboat, the smell of varnish and wood in the basement of my grandfather’s workshop, the smell of the pine trees that we would climb, the smell of the lily pads that sat clustered together on top of the water, tucked away in secluded locations on the lake. It’s amazing the memories our brains lock away, unwilling to ever let us forget them and it is a true blessing to be able to go back and visit those special moments of our lives whenever we want.

Another memory I have of their home was a picture of a dark forest that sat above the couch. I can remember as a little girl always standing in front of that picture, staring and being both scared and intrigued by it. I remember wanting to go into the dark forest even though it terrified me. I thought about all the unknown dangers I would face if I entered that picture and my little girl’s mind would run wild with chilling scenarios.

Little did I know that at 37 years old I would actually enter the dark forest and it would be a scarier place than anything that I could have ever conjured up in my child’s mind.

The dark forest of my traumatic brain injury was a very sinister place for me. No longer did I have the ability to pretend what it would be like to enter the dark forest, I was now in it and I could not escape. I was trapped in an 11 year battle of my will to get better against a brain that I felt was betraying me. My personality changed drastically after my brain injury. I became very angry, depressed and suicidal, the term “stable” was something I could no longer connect with. My brain injury ripped away my identity and left me curled up like a ball feeling broken, alone and isolated. In the dark forest negative thoughts would haunt me and it was impossible to keep them quiet. The emotional problems were a constant tap on my shoulder from my brain injury letting me know it was still there, surrounding me. I felt like my injury was mocking me and that no matter how hard I fought to fight my way back, it was here to stay. The dark forest was closing in on me, I was suffocating and I needed a way out.

I dragged myself along the path in the dark forest for almost 11 years searching for answers, any answers that would free me from spending another day there. In February of 2018, a glimmer of light peeked through the blackness of the dark forest. That ray of hope was my stem cell therapy and by the Grace of God, brought me back to me. After 11 long painstaking years I was able to walk out of the dark forest, no longer bound by the emotional chains that weighed me down. I was finally free.

There is a picture of a forest that sits in my parents’ home, the forest is bright, very different from the picture of the dark forest I looked at as a child. There is a path in the lighted forest and it represents to me the new path I now travel on, one that is filled with happiness, possibilities and purpose. 

Today, I don’t think about the difficult years I spent in the dark forest, there is no reason to look back when there is so much beauty right in front me!

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