It’s safe to say that the first year after my catastrophic cycling accident was a game-changer. Next week marks the eight-year anniversary of my brain injury, and what an eight years it’s been.
The majority of my first-year memories are gone forever. Most of what I know about 2011 has been told to me by my wife Sarah. Pictures taken as well as my writing have also chronicled that first year.
The challenges that I faced early on seemed insurmountable as I look back. Vertigo was my constant companion. Chronic fatigue was ever-present. How about word finding issues and aphasia? Yeah, that was quite a challenge.
As the years passed, things got easier, life got easier. Every year, without exception, was easier than the year before. I learned early on that time was my friend, and that the passage of time equated to healing.
My fourth year was one of my biggest growth years. It’s hard to forget the year that you were able to read again. Let’s not forget year seven. That was another year of stunning forward progress. It was in my seventh year that I was able to return to work on a full-time basis.
One of the things that still amazes me is the timeline of brain injury recovery. Not weeks, and not months – but years.
There have been the peaks and valleys that anyone with a heartbeat goes through, but that’s just life.
I have gotten to the point where I expect to continue to recover. Why shouldn’t I? The best indication of future activity is past performance. I’ve become accustomed to having more good days than bad. Being able to work until 5:00 PM (or later) is my new, new normal. While speech problems are mostly gone, I still slip with a word or two, but it’s okay. Compared to the loss of my ability to speak in 2011, an occasional lost word is a cakewalk.
But brain injury is patient. It is ever-present. And every now and then, life happens, and my brain injury challenges come back to the forefront. It’s like my injury says to me, “Knock, knock, I’m still here!”
Back in September of this year, our family was affected by brain injury again. Lightning struck twice. My injury is a traumatic brain injury – caused by forces external. My mom experienced her brain injury in the form of a cerebral hemorrhage, an acquired brain injury – caused by internal forces.
The silver lining over the last month or so has been our understanding about brain injury. Our real-world experience has been priceless. But the stress of all that we have gone through has been overwhelming. And in all that stress, my brain injury symptoms came roaring back into my life like a freight train. The last few weeks have felt eerily reminiscent of my early recovery.
Stress effects anyone with a heartbeat. But as a brain injury survivor, stress is like adding Miracle Gro to my challenges. The volume of my tinnitus has doubled – and stayed there. Cognitive challenges like slower processing time are back. Nightmares from my PTSD are at a years’ long high. I won’t even talk about the overwhelming exhaustion. Just thinking about it can paralyze me.
These days I am all about solutions, but some things are so huge they simply can’t be made easier. In early September, we were told that mom might not make it through the week. Big stuff.
Here’s the take-away: I have a brain injury. Some days will be easy, others hard. Some weeks will be easy, others more challenging. I am much better at rolling with the tough times than I’ve ever been. This ability to roll with things has come only with experience. While I’ve been living on caffeine and adrenaline, that is not sustainable. I am doing all I can to bring it back to basics – slowing my pace as I am able (which isn’t much), honoring my limitations (which isn’t easy), and trying to live mindfully that I am not like everyone else. Though others cannot see it, I am a disabled adult and I’m doing the best I can.
I have no fear that this is any type of brain injury setback. This is simply life on life’s terms. Never have I had a better circle of people around me. The outpouring of love and support for both mom and dad has been humbling. And as Sarah said again this week, “Maybe all that we have gone through is because we can now better help mom.”
The future is uncertain for all of us. That’s simply part of what it means to be human. But by being mindful that I have a very unique set of challenges – namely a traumatic brain injury – I can find occasional peace amidst the storms that we all weather. And like other challenges that have come to pass, I will emerge stronger, wise, and perhaps with more insight to help others. Seen in this light, there really is a silver lining.