Brain Injury Recovery – An Evolving Definition

David and his wife in front of a brightly light Christmas tree

Early on after my 2010 brain injury, I heard that time was my friend and that life would eventually get easier. It wasn’t the well-intentioned members of the medical or professional community who professed this to me. Rather this was peer-to-peer sharing by brain injury old-timers. They told me that “it” would get better, but never really told me what “it” was. 

Time has a way of teaching us. I held out hope for a couple of years that I would recover fully. And why shouldn’t I have hope? The neurologist that I was seeing at the time all but guaranteed that I would have a full and complete recovery, back to 100 percent. How could I not be excited? While he was well intentioned, he was also quite wrong. 

Those early years were tough. Some might think that setting my expectations for a full recovery would result in a hard fall, but nothing could be further from the truth. As I was moving forward, passing time, hoping to “get over it,” I was actually becoming more familiar with all that encompasses life after brain injury. I was not getting over it, rather, I was getting used to it. There is a big difference between the two.

The dramatic shift in my life from before brain injury to after brain injury made me feel like I was actually two different people, something very common in the brain injury community. Today, thankfully, I no longer feel like I have lived two lives. Time has shown me that I am one person who had something catastrophic happen. And while it remains very easy — and normal — to divide life into the before and after, I am still just one person living my best life possible.

So, we circle back to how my definition of recovery has changed over the years, and how “it” has gotten so much easier.

During the first few years post-injury, I defined recovery as the process of becoming who I was before my injury. I would say goodbye to brain fog, my processing speeds would return to normal, the relentless tinnitus would fall silent, and word-finding challenges and aphasia would be in the rear-view mirror. I would stand tall and proclaim victory over brain injury. I would be the “old” David.

“How’d that work out for you?” you might ask.

Quite well, actually. Today, I have zero expectations about recapturing life as I knew it before my crash. As it turns out, with no expectations come no disappointment. Instead, what I have gained is an in-depth understanding of what it is like to live as a member of the brain injury survivor family. I am able to recognize that there will be “bad brain days.” There will be times when I struggle with my speech. There will be times when too much emotion or stimulation will leave me completely spent, wanting nothing more than to pull the covers over my head. 

However, there will also be times where I see clearly that I have been given a unique and worthy experience that helps me share my life with others in the brain injury community. There have been times over the last few years where I have felt such a sense of gratitude just for being alive that my eyes literally fill with tears. And because my pace has slowed rather dramatically since my injury, I am now, ironically, better able to see, feel, and experience things that I would have rushed right by before my injury.
When those brain injury old-timers said that “it” would get easier, they were telling me that eventually I would find my way to understanding that the life I am living now would be the only one that matters … and it would be worthwhile. 

Therefore, I share with you … if you are new to this journey, whether as a survivor, caregiver, or family member, time is your friend, and “it” will get easier.