Brain Injury Perspectives: Then Vs. Now

Brain Injury Perspectives: Then Versus Now with David Grant

Last month, I found myself with something quite rare for me these days – a bit of downtime. Sarah and I flew to Milwaukee for her mom’s burial and, for a few short days, we were out of our day-to-day routine. As odd as it sounds, we had some free time. I was able to just “be.” It was during a time of reflection that I fully realized how different life has become in comparison to what life was like for a very long time after my brain injury. The life that I live today is vastly different than I expected. Let’s talk about then versus now.

Vertigo

For the better part of my first year as a brain injury survivor, vertigo was ever-present. A trip to our local market often found me staggering as if drunk. Sometimes a gigantic wave of vertigo would wash over me so quickly that I would reach out to a shelf in the market to keep from falling over. That was then. Today it has been many years since vertigo troubled me. It’s part of my past.

Aphasia

To say that my ability to speak was shattered after my injury would be an epic understatement. In two ticks of a clock, I went from being articulate and conversational to someone afraid to open my mouth in public. The ability of my brain to simply replace words became a source of amusement for Sarah and me, but it was still immensely embarrassing. Instead of “Let’s take a ride in my Jeep,” you might have heard, “Let’s take a ride in my juice!” It happened hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I also developed a stutter. I got rather quiet for a couple of years while in public. That was then. Today, most of the time, you would never know that I had a speech impediment. When I am overly tired, or overly emotional, speech problems can still rear their ugly heads, but they no longer bother me. It goes with the TBI territory.

My Filter

Or should I say my “un-filter.” While I did indeed become a quieter person after my injury, life demands that at some point, you need to speak with other members of humanity. Some of my first year high points included swearing like a sailor and berating fellow shoppers who dared to bring twelve items into the “Ten Items or Less,” line at the grocery store. I became overtly opinionated and was not in the least bit shy about spouting off my opinion. I can say with absolute certainty that I made Sarah cringe on numerous occasions. That was then. Today I have learned to apply mindfulness to conversations. I take a moment to really think about what I plan on saying, and if I get the feeling in my gut that it might not be appropriate, I refrain from commenting.

Sleeping

Every now and again, I would hear someone share that they had a bad night’s sleep. What I wouldn’t have given for a single bad night’s sleep. I had many bad year’s sleep! From late 2010 until April of 2019, I had a whopping total of two nights where I actually slept through the night. That is over eight back-to-back years of sleeplessness. In my case, PTSD was the biggest offender, robbing me of any deep sleep. That was then. Earlier this year I went back into therapy for my PTSD. Early indications are good. I now sleep again, and the nightmares are gone. I no longer feel like I’ve come to. Rather, I awake rested, feeling like I’ve actually had a solid night’s sleep. Going on and on one day in a fit of excitement about this to Sarah, she replied with three words: “Welcome to Normal!” No one is more surprised than I.

Self-Worth

This one can be a slippery slope. During my first couple of post-injury years, I felt sub-human. My sense of self-worth was so low that constant thoughts of suicide defined most days. You’d be thinking about it too if you felt as low as I did. Life as I knew it abruptly ended in a wreck of twisted metal and broken glass. The David that emerged from that accident was fatally flawed, and things were never going to get better – ever. The world would simply be better off without me. That was then. Today, I am unable to recall the last time suicidal ideation crossed my mind. It has been many, many years. My general sense of well-being is healthy. In fact, most days these days are okay.

But today, “okay” is different…

I don’t kid myself for a moment. I will ALWAYS be a brain injury survivor. There is no reason to deny my fate. A speeding car struck me, my brain was injured, and life went on. Also, important to note is that I will always have TBI challenges. During last month’s trip to Milwaukee, an unexpected layover meant that we rolled into town at 1:00 AM. I’ve known for years that extreme exhaustion really exacerbated my TBI symptoms. While I was walking to baggage claim to grab our luggage, my head felt like it was going to explode. Cranial pressure is no cake-walk. I was cognitively worn out and struggling more than I let on. It was as bad as it gets – but it passed.

Looking at me today, you would never know that I am a brain injury survivor. But today life has not only become bearable but, it is more often than not, very average. I’ve grown fond of average. While the volume has been turned down on the worst of it all, life reminds me that I still have my share of challenges. And today… today I am okay with that, because it’s now, and not then.

Comments (11)

Your posts and the additional comments are invaluable to me. I have spent more than 6 decades feeling very much alone PTBI. So many of us have referenced God in our recoveries.

An auto accident put me in a coma for about 2 weeks. The medical community back then was not as well versed as in recent decades. When I came out of the coma, they decided that I might actually live. Then I relearned how to walk, who my family members were, how to talk and eventually I became "normal". But, it was a long lonely journey.

I graduated from High School, served in the Army and lived a "normal" life. But over those decades, I have continued to struggle with all the abnormal issues that are so beautifully addressed here by you, my fellow survivors. I really appreciate being able to come here and find comfort and understanding from you who live in a parallel world to mine.

Several years PTBI, I was listening to someone who I really loved and respected who was speaking to a group of us, not related by brain injury. She said, " Two can do anything as long as one of them is God"! That has been my motto ever since. She was right.

When I just had no where else to turn, I turned to God. Eventually the suicidal times passed, life eventually improved to the point that life was worth living again and I am so thankful that God was there for me, especially when no one on earth really understood my struggles.

If you are a survivor, God is there. If not, He's there for you too. Stay strong, this too will pass.

I have had a stroke in April 2015, Surrey, United Kingdom. I am talking 2-4 words into 2015 ("Yes", "No", swear (!)) but better speech therapy (Fish Hoek, South Africa) with writing and speaking into sentences:

I opened a biscuit box.
I mowed the lawn.
We lined up for class.
etc.

Carol Mestern is miracle into speech therapyist

I fought back: never give up.

Thanks David.

Cheers
John

I want to say thank you for sharing your most personal thoughts and experiences with us. My 28 year old son is now a member of your world. July 6 th, 2018 he was in a one vehicle rollover accident. He suffered no broken bones but his body was thrown from the twisted and destroyed vehicle. He was in a coma and on life support for 6 days, and suffered at least 7 strokes. He is married with 2 children.His father and I live in Florida and have tried to go home as often as we can, but the guilt is so overwhelming to not be able to be there through all of his trials and challenges. Hearing you talk about the years of ups and downs is very scary for you all suffering with this new normal you’ve been faced with. Seeing that you were willing to share your truths, fears, victory’s, and setbacks gives much comfort to those of us experiencing this new challenge that I can only say that God never leaves us without his power and love to get us through anything that life throws at us. You and your wife are a great inspiration, thank you again and God bless you both!

I was 25 when my injury happened. In September it will be two years, it took just 15 seconds to flip my life upside down. I was a police officer responding to a call, when a log truck ran me off the road. I am a father of two young girls. In the last 4 months, I have lost my job as well as my wife filed for separation. I’ve been struggling a lot feeling down, but I am going to therapy for it and it’s helping. But how did you all get new jobs? Did you tell them you had a TBI? Because I’ve applied for 7-8 jobs and have been denied every time.

First of all let me say I am sorry you are facing the struggles you describe. I can certainly relate. I'm not sure I can answer your question about attaining a job directly, but I can relate MY story (the short version). I spent just shy of 3 weeks in and out of coma. For whatever reason when I was released there was very little said about TBI or neuropsych evaluations that I recall. My marriage had just broken down and I found myself alone in a house still dealing with massive physical trauma and medicated. I came to believe that I was having an emotional breakdown and was not a strong person. Unfortunately the few family members and friends near by seemed to feel the same. I went from a very successful, married, professional technology consultant to moving in to a spare room at my parent's home and working at a fast food restaurant at 30. Eventually I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. The one thing I never let myself believe was that I couldn't improve my situation. As my body recovered and (fortunately) my mind put itself back together as best as it could time, chance, hope, and effort (along with a doctor who diagnosed me 4 years PTBI) has seen me back to a career in the same industry (with less stress and pressure), a wife worthy of my trust who supports me, and most importantly I am actually MUCH happier today than I was the day before my accident. I always say I wouldn't want to walk the same road again but if that was the only way to get from "then" until "now" I would. As to what you tell employers that is up to you and your symptoms. But do know that as an individual with TBI you qualify as having a disability. Most cities states have an office dedicated to certifying and assisting with employment. In my state it is called "having a Schedule A disability designation". However it also comes with not only protection but the benefit that many employers, but especially federal and state government and civil service positions give preferential hiring and accommodation discretion to people like "us". They not only are required to recruit people with disabilities but have greater hiring discretion and can bring people in with less hassle than a competitive posting. I'm sure with your police background some of this rings a bell. Hope that helps. One last thing if I may...I had more than one "false starts" when it came to returning to the professional world. I wasn't ready yet. Undiagnosed it felt like failure. But the lesson learned was that you can only do the best you can do on any given day. I put pressure on myself too soon. I hope you can avoid that during your journey. All the best.

Oh David, you give me and others so much hope, thank you.

I have been going through a difficult spot lately, yesterday was my 2 year anniversary and (from all I've been told by the many various doctors) where I'm at is where I'm going to be for the long term. I'm still struggling with lots of "stuff"(cognitive, visual, fatigue etc) and I'm only 39 so that's a bit depressing!

Thank you, God made sure your words found me when I needed them.

Hi 2 years post - I have my 2 year anniversary next week and I'm only 41. I struggle with brain injury stuff too, especially fatigue and depression. Have you ever read Brain Injury HOPE magazine? David is the editor. I've found the stories so helpful, especially when survivors write about how the 2-year recovery "deadline" is way off base. They're still seeing improvements 5 years, 10 years down the road. Doctors are experts on the brain, but survivors are experts on recovery. We all have a tough road to walk but God walks it with us and helps us help each other. You can find the magazine here - it's free: www.tbihopeandinspiration.com God bless :)

Thanks Naomi! I love stories of hope and success :)

I was 25 years old when i Got mine, I’ve felt down a lot lately, because my wife filed for separation and I lost my job on top of that. I was a police officer responding to a call when a log truck ran me off the road. It took less than 15 seconds to flip my life upside down. September of this year will be two years, I am now seeing a therapist and he is helping me greatly, but how were you able to get a job with a TBI? Did you tell them in your interview of what you had or just keep it quiet? Reading things like this really help me continue to push through.

You are spot on once again. It is amazing how survivors not only lived though a traumatic brain injury, but win. Yes, it can take us years to win, but when the fight overcomes the flee response we can do amazing things.

Thank you for sharing again the daily battles. My 3rd year as of June 9th, still a long path to walk. I find the extra strength in reading from others.