I heard it early on—and I cringed.
Five words that will literally define the rest of my life: Brain injury recovery is lifelong.
Over the years since my traumatic brain injury, I’ve come to look at my own TBI as a wound to my soul. Such is the depth of pain and anguish by all who are impacted by a brain injury experience.
If I had just broken my arm and nothing more on that cold November day back in 2010, I would have been the only one to feel the effects of the accident. Sure, my wife, Sarah, might feel for my discomfort, but a broken arm really doesn’t impact anyone except the person wearing the cast.
But add a brain injury to the mix and everything changes. My wife was, and remains, profoundly affected by my injury. My parents lost the son they had raised, only to have a new David in their lives. My children had their dad removed from their lives in two ticks of a clock. Now you see him; now you don’t! Has anyone seen the Dad who raised us?
As I close in on my six year accident anniversary, I have learned some very important lessons.
Treating my brain injury encompasses body, mind, and spirit. If my spirit is unhealthy, my ability to function as a survivor falls by the wayside. Equally as important is to be wary of what I think, as my mind is not always my friend. Negative mental chatter can ruin any day.
Staying as physically fit as possible has been a game-changer for me. I count myself as one of the lucky ones as I was able to get back on a bike after my cycling accident. It took almost a year, however, to leave the comfort of my neighborhood – such was the stranglehold that PTSD had over me.
Even now, years later, I prefer cycling on roads through cow pastures than most any other road. The sounds of a car from behind or of an ambulance siren can reduce me to panic in short notice. But the benefits I receive from my daily cardio are worth the price of admission.
Most every afternoon, I take a bike ride. And for ninety minutes a day, I come close to forgetting about my brain injury. I watch the trees explode with leaves in the springtime, pass fields of wildflowers in the summer, and am blessed to cycle through waves of yellows, oranges, and reds as fall colors abound in New England.
My sporadic lack of impulse control means that I occasionally fight with my weight, the call of sweets more powerful than my ability to refrain. My daily cycling helps keep my weight in check. I feel more mentally sharp after I ride.
Many years ago, a member of the medical community shared a bit of information with me. “There is evidence that daily exercise speeds brain injury recovery,” he shared.
When I get my daily exercise, I feel like I am doing my part to help recovery. It’s like having some extra skin in the game. I come away grateful as well. Many survivors I have met over the years have seen a fate far different than mine. I count myself as one of the lucky ones as it could have been so much worse. I’m still able to cycle. Not everyone can.
Every year, I gear up for an annual event – my yearly century ride. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a century ride is a one-day, 100+ mile bike ride. Conveniently, it’s a hundred miles from our front door to my parents’ home in the central part of New Hampshire. This past spring, I completed my tenth consecutive yearly century ride.
This is not a ride for the faint of heart. The largest hills loom at the end of the day. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s more of a mental event than a test of physical endurance. This years’ time was a speedy six hours and forty-five minutes – my best time ever. Not bad for a mid-fifties year old guy!
The last ten miles are thankfully flat. I sometimes cramp up and have to walk a portion of it. Sweat mingles with tears. Since my brain injury, at least once toward the end of every century ride, I break down in sobs as the emotional floodgates open.
These are not tears of sadness.
It is while I am alone with my thoughts for hours on end, pushing my body harder than I should, that the weight of how far I’ve come hits me hard. I was told early on to expect a life of handicap and hardship.
Yet one mile at a time, I have proven so many to be wrong. And I prove again to myself that I can do just about anything I put my mind to.