Amazingly, this is my 100th article for Brainline. Back in the early days after my injury, my wife and I turned to Brainline regularly as a trusted source for information about brain injury and PTSD. Never did I expect back in 2013 when Brainline published my first article that I would still be at it today, every month writing about a new topic, every month sharing new experiences.
Reflecting back over the years of chronicling my journey, I’ve learned a lot about living with a brain injury. Frankly, I had no choice. It was a sink-or-swim proposition. I was going to find a way to live this new life, or I would drown.
Today, I want to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way — things I wish someone had told me early on. Some are painful truths that took me time to accept, others unexpected joys and blessings that have come with the journey.
Things I’ve learned about living with a brain injury for more than a decade…
Let’s get the difficult stuff over first. Brain injury is the toughest thing that I have ever had to endure. Nothing else comes close. You can take all of my hardships before I was injured, add them up, and the sum total of pain would not equal the pain that has come with brain injury. I am not trying to be negative in any way, I’m actually hard-wired toward optimism by default, but for me, that’s a fact.
With a brain injury, the very act of existing hurts. Cranial pressure makes me wish I had a relief valve screwed into the side of my head. Brain fog can make processing even the easiest of thoughts feel like college-level calculus. Having my ability to speak robbed from me, leaving me to stutter when I’m tired has been another unexpected consequence. Most painfully, there was nothing in my life that could have prepared me for the loss of most of my children, and the friends who faded away, unable to reconcile “new David” with the person I was before my injury.
And, how about self-esteem and confidence? Though it may surprise many who know me, I still wrestle with both of these. Even this long post-injury, I often feel inferior to those who are uninjured. I spent most of my life a self-assured, confident member of humanity. I was a proud dad with four young sons, an owner of a successful business, and married to the girl of my dreams. I had money in the bank, a nice home, and things I loved to do. Until I didn’t.
Brain injury quite literally changes everything.
Had things not started to improve, had joy remained fully absent, my suicidal ideation that defined the first couple of years after my accident would have become suicidal actuation. I’m not being dramatic; despair defined my life. During those first few years, I felt as if my life were not sustainable. Fortunately, for me and those close to me, things changed … albeit slowly and with fits and starts.
What life is like for me currently …
Much to my surprise, delight, and amazement, I am a pretty happy guy these days. Early on, brain injury old-timers told me that “it” would get better. They shared that time would become my friend. I was doubtful, but this has proven true. Today, I am content with my lot in life, something I never saw coming, nor ever thought possible.
In the years since my injury, I have formed many new friendships … with people I never would have met had it not been for my brain injury. A couple of my closest friends are in fact members of the brain-injury-survivor community.
That’s not to say my challenges have vanished, rather their intensity has quieted. I fully accept that these challenges will be with me for the remainder of my life, and again, I am oddly at peace with that realization. I stutter less than I did a decade ago. My vertigo only rears its uninvited head infrequently. I still have issues with slow-processing speed, brain fog, and cranial pressure, but experience has shown me that every tough day passes. Where I used to have tough months, I now have tough days — more tangible progress of my ongoing recovery.
Many of the things that I used to do for enjoyment I can no longer do. No more people-packed concerts. PTSD put an end to that. I still miss reading books, something that memory challenges made difficult. Nevertheless, I’ve found new joys, new passions, and new hobbies that bring me a deeper sense of happiness and peace than anything I ever did beforehand. Landscaping out in our yard, planting fall bulbs — only to forget by spring what I planted — delights me. I may have always been a tech nerd, but anything with a power switch and an IP address interests me.
Better still, I have learned to slow down. I don’t have to do everything today. I can sit on our back patio and watch birds at our feeders, not preoccupied what I’m going to do next. This level of peace is still a novelty to me, but I do cherish it.
I can honestly say that I am a better human being because of my experience, and I’ll never know how life might have been had I not been injured. But, being a better human being means that I feel better about my life and my place in the world around me. And, that alone makes me happy.
If you are new to this journey, you can expect hardship, but don’t give up before the miracles start to happen. Life will again become meaningful. It happened to me — and it can happen to you too.