It’s time for a deep and personal confession. As my life as a brain injury survivor continues to move forward at light-speed, I marvel at how different each chapter is from the one before it.
Long ago, I gave up trying to predict what my future would look like. The reality that I live today, in my eighth survivor year, is not even close to what I had envisioned early on.
My first few years sucked big time. Sure, I could clean it up a bit and share that those years were difficult. I could extoll the discomfort in all things that come along with early recovery after a brain injury. I could use words to paint a flowery and colorful picture of those early years.
But to what end? The reality of my life immediately following my injury can be summed up in two simple words – it sucked.
For several years, various doctors, neurologists, and neuropsychologists took wild guesses to predict my outcome. The reality is that none of them had a clue.
“You’ll be back to normal in twelve to eighteen months.”
“Once you hit the five-year point, you’ll be back to where you were before your accident.”
“You are permanently disabled.”
“Now that you have hit the one-year mark, your recovery is essentially over.”
And perhaps the cruelest comment of all, “I can fix you!”
Shared innumerable times before, I hold no ill will, malice, nor resentment against these professionals. Each was doing the best they could at the time. If anything, I was learning, one predicted outcome at a time, how little the medical community still knows about brain injury recovery and about the timelines of recovery.
Interestingly enough, I was spoon-fed more meaningful information from those within the brain injury community. I was told that my recovery was lifelong, something I inwardly laughed at. I was told that time was my friend, something that has proven to be true for me.
More importantly, “brain injury old-timers” told me that I would eventually find my way. Guess what? They were right. I am finding my way.
So what is this deep and personal confession I mentioned early on?
Much to my surprise, as my path of recovery continues to move forward, I have been consumed by guilt. In what amounts to a bit of irony, I’m experiencing survivor guilt.
Last year was my breakthrough year. With my seventh year came the vestiges of normalcy as I began to sleep through the night and resume full-time work. As my clarity returned, and I looked around to those close to me, I realized that my recovery was continuing and that I was indeed fortunate.
And the guilt set in.
I do not like to say, “I am working again,” in the presence of other survivors. In many cases, it makes me feel different, very much like admitting my brain injury in the presence of the uninjured. That makes me feel different as well. In many respects, I feel caught between two worlds.
Life is funny. For the first several years after my brain injury, I wrestled with “why me?” questions that many of us try to come to grips with. Why was I struck down in the prime of my life? Why did I have the bad luck to be rendered disabled while all of my close friends lived normal, un-brain-damaged lives?
And now the “why me’s” have come back with full force. Recently, Sarah and I saw a segment on television about a cyclist who was struck by a car. If this sounds remotely familiar, it should. I was also a cyclist struck by a car. The spot went on to show him left partially paralyzed, struggling to rebuild his life with his newfound challenges. Again, the guilt came roaring in like a freight train. I can walk unaided.
Years ago, I could only dream of a life that resembled something normal. In my mind’s eye, I would rejoice and dance an endless happy dance. Never could I have envisioned the angst that has come along with this chapter of my life.
My brain injury is an integral part of who I am today. I will have challenges for as long as I have a heartbeat, though those challenges no longer rule my life. However, I am still searching for a way to be at peace with all that has happened, a sense of peace that I know will eventually find me.
I need to learn to live with the questions, the uncertainty, and the guilt.
At least for now.