"I am disabled."
I spit out three simple words with about the same degree of dignity that a cat yacks up a hairball.
It was an unexpected admission that brought about unexpected emotion.
Just about every person with a brain injury I know defines life by "before and after." We count the days, months, and years since both "births." We are born into this world originally and we start lives anew as a person with a brain injury.
I am 52 years old and 3½ as well. If you are a brain injury survivor, you know exactly how this feels.
And so it is for Sarah and me. In our lives "before," we were frequent travelers. But brain injury has a way of making life smaller — much smaller.
Tough decisions had to be made during that abysmally tough first year or so after my traumatic brain injury. As my ability to earn a living continues to be compromised, we had to sell my Jeep. The monthly payment, easily made before I was hit that day by a car on my bike, soon became the cause for a monthly panic attack.
Hello, traumatic brain injury. Goodbye, Jeep!
No longer is there a sense of sadness about this as material "things" come and go. I've learned that pain comes from holding onto things I'm supposed to let go of.
Like a Jeep Wrangler ... or my old life.
In our "old lives," we were more than occasional travelers. But alas, said that Winnie-the-Pooh narrator who offers the running monologue in my head these days, many of those adventures remain in the past.
Which now brings us back full-circle to being disabled.
Sarah and I recently took a trip — one of the fewer we take. While trying to set up seat assignments, the US Airways online seat selector quickly became my nemesis. Try as I might, I was unable to find side-by-side seats for Sarah and me. I need to be painfully honest here ... this once confident traveler is now more than a little frightened by the thought of sitting alone for a couple of hours during a flight.
In fact, I was scared witless.
Over time, as life with a brain injury becomes more familiar, I am ever so slowly getting just a bit more comfortable asking for help. This gradual acceptance of my new limitations has come to me at a snail's pace, but it has come.
And I made a simple decision to call the airline.
A sincere and compassionate representative named Susan took my call.
"I am disabled," were the first three words I spoke.
I shared my challenge of being unable to find two seats together. And I openly shared that I have a traumatic brain injury.
Five minutes later, with a few magical mouse clicks on her keyboard, this angel not only has Sarah by my side for our flights, but she has moved us closer to the front of the plane
"That will make things easier for you, Mr. Grant. Is there anything else I can do to help you?" she asked.
Tears welled in my eyes; I humbly thanked her.
Brain injury recovery does not happen alone.
By far, the toughest part of my journey, the darkest time of my entire life, in fact, was the time before I met other people with brain injury ... when I walked the TBI path alone.
But I've learned that there are people along the way, some part of the brain injury community and others who are simply kind members of our shared human family, who are happy to help us find our way.