My name is Craig Sears. I'm a survivor of a traumatic brain injury. This is my personal experience about what happens when brain injury goes untreated.
It was July 9, 1987. It was a beautiful Connecticut summer afternoon and I was out riding my motorcycle. I had just turned 20, and had a lot going for me. I was making a very good life for myself. I had a great family and a good job in construction and as a part-time mechanic. I was making good money for a kid my age. I had a great girlfriend and lots of friends. I had two cars and lived in a nice condo right on the water. I was living the American Dream. I'll leave that up to you to fill it in because I had everything a man could have possibly wanted — and in a heartbeat it was all gone.
As I was coming up over a hill, there was a car going the wrong way and I was unable to stop. We collided. I was thrown an estimated 40 feet into on-coming traffic. I landed headfirst into a curb.
I have no memory of the next six months. That period of time is a black hole in my life. I was in and out of a coma, undergoing multiple surgeries. From there I was transferred to a rehabilitation center. While I was in this treatment center, I had to relearn everything about life down to using the bathroom on my own. There, I was fighting against the physical pain and the pain of not knowing who I was. Then one day they decided to transfer me out to a locked, mental health ward in Bridgeport, Connecticut where I was constantly put in four-point restraints and forcefully drugged. (I was told there were no other services offered for people with traumatic brain injury.) After being in the mental health ward for nine months, I began to regain some memory and I knew this wasn't for me! Keep in mind traumatic brain injury is not a mental illness.
So I started to call around to town officials and state government offices to ask them how to get out of the ward. The ward was holding me against my will and I knew I didn't need to be there. I did know that I needed help in other areas because of my brain injury but I also knew I was not mentally ill. After getting through to the Connecticut Governor's office and sharing my story with one of his representatives, they got a hold of the hospital and set up a jury room filled with my family, doctors, and a representative from the state office. All the while, I was saying that I wanted out of the ward. In order to be taken out of there, I had to have a place to go and my only option was my family and I did not want to burden them with the pain that I was going through.
I ended up in a one-room efficiency apartment. At the time, the building was a major drug trafficking building with rats, roaches, and prostitutes. There was no other place for me to go, no help at all; my family had tried everything to get me help. There were no group homes, no programs, no services offered, nothing. I still did not know how to do the basic functions of life so I would wander the streets trying to regain some kind of memory. I would watch other people to see what they were doing, how they were acting in order to regain memory of anything that I knew how to do before the accident. I knew at that time this was not who I was.
Things began to improve. My mother got me a weight set, my father bought me a bicycle, and I started volunteering at St. Vincent's Hospital in Bridgeport. At the hospital, I could go into the physical therapy rooms and I could watch what they were doing for rehabilitation. Then I would go back home at night to do the exercises on my own in order to regain my strength and abilities. But I overworked myself physically so as time went on, I found that I was spitting out blood and my body was in terrible pain. A touch hurt. I didn't know better, I didn't realize I was harming myself rather than helping and improving. My mother had to take me many times to the hospital because I couldn't walk or move.
Socially, things were awkward. One day after volunteering I was leaving the hospital and I saw a lady fall to the floor. My instincts were to grab a wheelchair and put her in it and run to the emergency department. Because I had ran to the emergency department, they called me the next day and told me not to return. I was crushed. There was a lot of other pain from being turned away … people always assumed that I was drinking or using drugs because I would slur my words and my equilibrium was off because of my TBI. It became harder and harder to find where I fit in. After remembering little things from watching other people and always trying to look at the good things in life, I started wondering what it would be like to get out of where I was living in Bridgeport. I asked my family for help. They got me a different apartment. Everytime I moved into a different place, I'd think it would help me by being in a better environment. I would temporarily feel like things were changing.
But I had learned a wrong way of thinking to solve my problems. I started drinking and getting into drugs. I thought it would help me cope with the pain by letting me forget all that I went through. Everything I had fought for, I started to lose. I found myself alone even more and getting into trouble, ending up in numerous mental health facilities all over the state because there is no help for TBI survivors. I continued to spiral down, and soon I wound up on the streets and homeless, and not long after that, in prison
I had several brushes with the law. While I struggled daily to live with my brain injury, I ended up with several minor arrests for public urination and things of that sort. The state of Connecticut did find a way to use my injury against me. It was a probation violation, for which I would ultimately receive a five-year prison term. I spent five years locked up in a level-four high-security prison where I received absolutely no help for my disabilities. I was locked in an 8'x 10' cell twenty-four hours a day surrounded by gang members, rapists, killers, and child molesters. All for peeing in a garage. Does that sound like justice to you? The police, the court, and the judge didn't know, care, or consider my TBI. And once behind bars, neither did the warden. I served five-years for what other people would sleep off overnight in the local lock-up, and then clear up with a brief court appearance. Again, there were no programs, no early release, or time off for good behavior. TBI or not, I served every measure of that sentence to the fullest. Common courtesy prevents me from sharing here. I will leave it up to your imagination to fill in the blanks. It was hell.