Living as a brain injury survivor sometimes takes a bit of finesse. Like most life lessons, I learned this the hard way. During the first year after my cycling accident, well-wishers asked me how my recovery was progressing. For quite a while, I looked like I had been run over by a car. The fact that I was run over by a car only added to this.
Early on, I had no real understanding of disinhibition, nor did I have any way of knowing that a certain societal stigma still exists regarding traumatic brain injury.
When asked how I was faring, my reply was pretty consistent: “Other than my traumatic brain injury kicking my backside, I’m doing okay.”
Well-wishers would look at me a bit longer than one would expect, and some would actually take a step backwards as if they might catch my brain injury. Most conversations ended abruptly and awkwardly.
Simply put, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
These days, many years later, I am both more reserved and more careful about how I share when I meet someone face-to-face. If they are part of my new TBI family and ask how I am, I am very straightforward. We owe that to each other in the brain injury community.
If, however, someone outside of the TBI realm asks, I am more inclined to change up my reply. Instead of using the term, traumatic brain injury, I most always reply with something a bit less inclined to distance people from me.
“Thanks for asking. I’m reasonably well, but do have some ongoing concussion-related challenges.”
This approach allows me to be true to my inner self and honest about my life, and all the while, others are less inclined to abruptly end a conversation. In fact, it’s become a door opener for more dialogue. These days, the media spotlight shines brightly on the concussion world. We need look no further than the NFL.
I feel like I have mastered the face-to-face challenges I used to confront when asked about my health. But it’s my written work that still often causes me angst. Like a human-sized pendulum, I swing back and forth about how much I should share. How transparent is too transparent?
My wife Sarah and I were talking about this during a recent conversation. She is as reserved as I am open. “David, you’ll share just about anything on Facebook,” she said with a bit of a sigh. And like she often does, she got me thinking. I am going to meet her halfway on this one. When it comes to the challenges I face as a brain injury survivor, there is almost nothing off-limits. I’ve openly shared about tough topics – topics that many deal with, but no one wants to write about.
Days so hard that nothing short of oblivion looks like a solution? I say it’s quite okay to write about them. The endless frustration that those close to me face almost daily? If you’ve followed my work, you know I’ve written about it. Boxers or briefs? Never! This has nothing to do with my second life. See? I do have my limits.
A few weeks ago, I posted a short piece about an abysmally tough day. There is documented science that shows that writing is cathartic and helps us to heal. When life gets overwhelmingly tough, I don’t jump to a bottle of Jack Daniels or something else that isn’t good for me. Rather, I jump to my keyboard and purge my soul. All too often, tears flow as freely as my words.
And ironically, the deeper the pain, the more others seem to relate and reply to it, knowing that they are not alone in their struggles, that someone else “gets it.”
After a painfully honest post, a post that left me second-guessing whether I was oversharing, two replies floored me.
“I am a professional who has worked with TBI for 20 years… Your post has educated me more than any class or conference I have ever attended.”
“You put into words all that I feel and experience but am unable to explain. Thank you.”
Someone who had made the decision to support the TBI community on a professional level came away with a deeper understanding of what life is like after a brain injury. And a fellow survivor knows that others understand her, and that others live with issues similar to her own.
I recently heard that the two most important days of your life are the day that you were born and the day that you realize your life’s true purpose. Over time, it’s become clear that my life’s true purpose is to serve others who share my fate. And with every hard post I share, I help humanity to rise.
Am I too transparent in what I share? These days, I don’t think so, but I’d love to hear what you think. Come on, it’s your turn. Be transparent. You might just help someone.