By Matthew Becker
Where do you place your identity? Do you place it in your profession? Your accomplishments? Your relationships?
What if you were suddenly and without warning, put into a position where all of those things were taken from you? Where would your identity then lie?
These are questions that Jenna Shotmeyer was forced to wrestle with when she suffered a traumatic brain injury during her freshman year of college. Shotmeyer, who attended Eastern Christian School and and is now based in New England, chronicles her journey in the 2021 book, Are You Drowning?: Overcoming in the Midst of Trauma and Loss.
Until the moment of her injury, Jenna would have described her identity as something along the lines of, “honor student,” “tennis player,” “best friend,” and somewhere in that mix would be “child of God.” That was, until the “Child of God” label was all she had left.
The injury occurred when someone attempted to dunk water out of a cooler from atop a balcony, but dropped the whole cooler on her head. Jenna suffered two contusions, also known as bruises on the brain, losing, as she puts it, “everything that I put my identity in besides God.” This forced her to come home from school, leaving behind nearly everything she had placed her identity in from her academics to the tennis team to her dream career.
“From an identity perspective I went from having my resume and having everything completely lined up perfectly, and the life that I had really worked for and was working towards…then I came home and I wasn’t any of those things,” said Shotmeyer.
For the next couple of years, Jenna visited doctor after doctor all over the country including New York, Chicago, and even Florida. They were certainly helpful in making her better understand her condition, but didn’t provide any hope that it would get any better. As a result, Jenna fell into a deep depression.
“I thought that I had lost all the things that I saw value in and I thought that I had lost all the things that God saw value in…Not only had I failed myself but I had failed God by not overcoming this injury,” she said.
One day while Jenna was home alone with whatever hope she had left having completely drained from her, she looked out to two opposite ends of her lake. One end was all dark, dreary, and lonely, mirroring how she had been feeling ever since the incident, while the other side showed the same darkness and loneliness in the foreground, but at the very end of that path there was a small spark of light in the distance.
Jenna interpreted this as God giving her two options. She could continue on her path of hopelessness and despair, or choose to cling onto hope even when everyone around her, even the various doctors she’s spoken to, have told her that things will not get better. It no longer mattered what everyone told her, even what she had told herself. All that mattered now is what God had in store for her. From there, she fully committed to placing her whole identity into being “a child of God.”
With everything else she had previously placed her identity in gone, she was able to reshape her identity and place it firmly in Christ. She described placing your identity as a follower of God like building your house firmly on the rock like the wise man described in Matthew 7:24-25. Previously, she placed her identity firmly in her skills as a student, a tennis player, a friend, and after her injury, all of that was taken away and she had nowhere else to turn. When she placed her identity firmly in God, she realized that couldn’t be so easily shaken.
In Are You Drowning?, Jenna describes the challenge of journeying closely with God through injury or loss while praying for and believing that God could bring relief of her symptoms or even full healing at any moment: “It was difficult to pray for my healing and still value what God was doing through my pain. Somehow, believing I could be healed meant longing for a future me that looked radically different, and it was too hard and too painful for me to pray for that every day.”
At almost the five-year mark since the original injury, Jenna worked up the courage and hope to attend another prayer meeting where she would allow others to intercede on her behalf for full healing yet again. It wasn’t the first time praying for healing that year, or that month, and the people praying weren’t any different than the dozens of times they had prayed before, but this time, she went home healed. No more falling over. No more throwing up. She could read. She could drive. She went back to her doctors and they described the whole turn of events as a miracle.
Are You Drowning? recounts the traumatic incident and everything that followed in her road to recovery. She details the events leading up to and after the healing and offers her perspective on this highly challenging topic.
During her time injured, Jenna discovered painting and art was one of the best ways to calm her symptoms. She is now a professional artist, specializing in watercolor and digital art. She is “passionate about helping people find their grounding through the waves of life” and speaks to high schools, colleges, and churches sharing her story of hope. Jenna also completed her degree in marketing, in which she works part-time.
Jenna said she wrote Are You Drowning? as a way to reach out to “the girl in her dorm room crying on her floor.” She wrote the book to reach those who feel as lost as she did, to let them know they are not alone, and to encourage them to never give up hope.