Getting Off the Struggle Bus

David Grant and his wife smiling at the camera.

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!

Comments (4)

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I love this piece! You have such a kind way of exploring and making sense of so many of the issues that only a fellow brain injury survivor would understand - or not understand - until they read what you wrote. Thank you for continuing to share your insight and wisdom!
Barbara W.

Thank you for this post. It really hits home. And I do often say “Someone uninjured can figure this out easily,” or I used to easily figure this out and do multiple things at one time, and fast, but now I am slow, and everything outside me moves too fast and I either have to ask for help or I just get overwhelmed and exhausted and crash. My brain now is like an old computer that is patched together and can perform basic functions but if I try to open to many "windows" at the same time, or run more than one "program" the computer slows down and it starts to overheat and then it freezes and crashes. The circuitry it no longer functioning properly. The RAM has decreased significantly. It is constantly freezing up and not performing the commands correctly. The best solution is to put it in "sleep mode". And while that definitely helps with my brain and takes my mind away from the head pain and overwhelming frustration and stress and dizzying mental strain, going into "sleep mode" in the middle of the day, or several times per day, limits social interaction, productivity, and experience of joyful living activities. But i have learned that it is best to do what works for now for me and take it one step at a time.

I'm in my 27th year living with a serious TBI. I was incredibly fortunate, but I didn't get any real help from my family in the beginning when it would have helped. I pretended for years to be normal. I didn't ask for help...it wouldn't have been there if I did. Now, I have been married for almost 14 years. My husband had no idea what he was getting into, but has been my rock. Now, my built up cries for help come out all the time. It's difficult to be a TBI survivor during this horrible year, but Jim is still here for me. I am blessed.

Congratulations on your ten year anniversary removed from TBI injury date. I appreciate your ongoing posts and how your bring where you are to each writing. I share the TBI journey and am now five years removed from TBI injury date. Progress has been great. Your point of how the struggle can be present whether we want it to or not is one that resonates with me. How kind your teammate is to suggest - there are other ways than struggling. Beautiful. Wishing you and teammate well on the TBI journey. Thanks for your writings.