Bumping into Joy

A bright blue sky and some fluffy white clouds

If there was one thing the professionals who treated me after my injury could agree on, it was this: because of my brain injury, I was relegated to living a life with profound challenges. In fact, at the one-year anniversary of my traumatic brain injury, a neuropsychologist told me that my recovery was complete and that any gains after a year would be minimal at best. He suggested that I apply for disability as I would never be able to function at the professional level that I enjoyed prior to my injury.

These were bitter pills to swallow. At that time, my life was a living Hell. (Yes, the capital “H” was intentional.) Friends and many family members quietly walked out of my life, unable to reconcile “new” David with the person I once was. PTSD was torturous on my good days and downright debilitating on my tough days. Life at home was tough. Sarah, my wife, often said that living with me was like living with a newborn, particularly because we both suffered from extreme sleep deprivation — the direct result of bad PTSD nights. There was nothing good about life, and there seemed to be a never-ending wellspring of confusion, pain, and challenges that overwhelmed us both.

Being told that life would never get better felt like a death sentence. It is no wonder that I often felt suicidal. I wanted and needed a way out, and it seemed that medical professionals were not going to be able to provide me with one or any. A year post-injury, it was clear that time was not the healer it was purported to be. 

Now that I am in year 12 as a brain injury survivor, I have more clarity than I did back in 2011. I know today that at a year out, I was like a baby learning to crawl. I was very new in my journey and incapable of looking beyond the maelstrom that life had become. 

I know today that time is indeed a healer of pain, a giver of perspective, and a bringer of joy.

Last month, Sarah and I took a long weekend trip to Vermont — something we have done each June for decades. As we do so often, we found ourselves hiking on a boardwalk over a marsh. Birds of all varieties and colors darted about. Sarah spied a baby snake sunning himself (or herself?). The wind blew the marsh grass in peaceful waves. We crossed a small stream and watched a few rainbow trout lazily swim by. In the distance, the sounds of a waterfall created a pastoral soundtrack, while the Green Mountains became the literal backdrop of this peaceful scene. 

In that moment, one that I will never be able to describe in full detail, I felt an overwhelming joy. It is safe to say that I have never felt as happy as I did right then. I was at complete peace with … well, everything. I had bumped head-on into joy. 

This wasn’t the first time that joy and I crossed paths. Walking quietly on the boardwalk, my mind drifted to other joy-filled moments ... watching the annual return of the hummingbirds to our backyard feeders, looking out the sliding-glass doors at the new deck I constructed this past spring, walking our local rail trail with Sarah, hoping to see Great Blue Herons in our local rookery, or — perhaps one of my favorites — our nightly deer safari. We know where to go in town to spot deer. Our success rate of deer sightings is a whopping 90 percent. Even on those nights that the deer elude us, the very act of heading out on a local safari brings us joy. 

I can say, without reservation, that these days I am happier and more content than I have ever been. I am living a life that I never envisioned possible during the early years after my injury. So, you might be wondering how I got from there to here, from the darkest days to some of the brightest days.

There is no way around it: time was — and remains — my friend. For more than a decade, I’ve worked tirelessly on my recovery. As hard as it was, I accepted that recovery takes time, and as time passed, my sense of hope expanded. Hope became yet another new friend.

I have found that when hope is accompanied by joy, miracles happen. I can say this without hesitation, because I am a miracle. If fate finds you in a tough place in your own life, embrace hope and look for joy. With one hand in the hand of hope, and the other in the hand of joy, they can support you when you stumble. I have found this to be so, and I hope you do, too.