In just a few days, the ten year anniversary of my cycling accident will be here. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since I was run down by a teenage driver while I was cycling. Had you met me during the first few years after my traumatic brain injury, you would know almost immediately that there was more going on with me than meets the eye.
On a tougher day, my ability to speak would essentially disappear, leaving me stammering, stuttering, and misplacing words. You might have noticed my propensity to clutch my left hand. It didn’t take a sharp eye to see that my gait was off, leaving me listing like the Titanic, leaning heavily toward the starboard side.
Back in the early years, my disability was far from invisible. I was a person living with a disability that was quite easy to spot. While many people might not have known that it was from a brain injury, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that something just wasn’t quite right.
Let’s fast-forward by a decade to present day. Mostly gone is my speech impediment. It still resurfaces when I am overly tired, but not like it used to. I no longer clutch my left hand, and I walk without the odd gait that defined my strides for a couple of years after my accident.
Dare I even say it? I look and sound pretty normal these days.
Looking through the prism of perspective that only comes with time, I have come a long way since everything changed in 2010. I work on a full-time basis doing a job that I love. Sarah and I have a happy home, filled with love and mutual respect. A smaller circle of friends rounds out my well-balanced life quite nicely.
But just because things are okay most of the time does not mean that my brain injury disappeared. Though my struggles are less frequent than they used to be, I still struggle more than I’ll ever let on.
Just last week, Sarah called me out on it. I was struggling with a simple task. A task that should have taken five minutes was well into its second hour. I shared my frustration with her, voicing my frustration with my ongoing challenges with figuring out new things.
“You don’t have to ride the Struggle Bus,” she said to me.
Does she have a way with words, or what? She was kindly and gently telling me that it was okay to ask her for help, and that she was a “safe” person to open up with about my struggles. We all need someone safe in our lives, someone who loves and accepts us without conditions.
I can still be prideful. I don’t always like to ask for help — especially when it’s something that should be easy. My pride gets in the way.
In the days since I was invited to get off the Struggle Bus, I’ve thought repeatedly about her comment. There are still many struggles that I face, most of which are unseen by anyone. It goes with the challenges of life after brain injury.
It’s complicated, you know. While I can ask for help with those things that cause me to struggle, sometimes I like to push through and find solutions on my own. It helps with my self-esteem. But there are other times that I don’t want to admit my challenges. It feels like by admitting my challenges, I am somehow less of a person by doing so.
“Someone uninjured can figure this out easily,” my inner voice says on occasion.
That is a slippery slope as it sets up the mindset that being a person with a disability means that I am perhaps of less value than those that don’t share my challenges. Having a brain injury is challenging enough. Having a brain injury AND being a consummate over-thinker can be downright distressing.
What’s a TBI survivor to do?
Glad you asked. On the eleventh of this month, the day of my ten-year anniversary, we are getting a cake to celebrate. And why not? I’m still here. When I look back over how far I’ve come in a decade, it’s hard not to be excited about the future. Even now, I am still seeing gains. Though age may slow the pace of my gains a bit, I fully expect to be able to do more as the years continue to pass. The future is no longer something to be dreaded. I have a real hope that I will continue to recover.
And to those who have said, “It doesn’t get much better than this,” I say … oh yeah? Just watch me!