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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.