Learning to Honor New Limitations After Brain Injury

Learning to Honor New Limitations After Brain Injury

Like so many who now live a life defined by traumatic brain injury, I often refer to the “old” David and the “new” David. It’s hard not to. So much of my life has changed since my brain injury occurred back in 2010. My relationships have changed, with many who knew the old me stepping into the background of my life. There are many new post-TBI friends who now add meaning to my life. Relationships at home and in my professional life are still in the process of being rebuilt. Brain injury changes just about everything.

A big part of living life as David 2.0 requires that I honor my new post-TBI limitations. For several years after my accident, I tried, oh how I tried, to get up, brush myself off, and continue to live my life like I did before my accident.

That worked about as well as a cat at a kennel.

Day after day I’d resolve to do as much, and to be exactly the way I was before my cycling accident.

And nightfall would find me frustrated, inhumanly exhausted, and often ready to cash in my chips.

Learning to live again takes time, a long time. Forged between the hammer and anvil of pain, I slowly learned that pacing myself and really being in tune with my new-found limitations could be a game-changer. 

And so life began its inevitable march toward a smaller, less complicated life.

Part of ‘life reduction’ was easy. When your earning potential drops like a rock, you simply can’t afford to do as much. With smaller social circles that define life after brain injury, there are fewer relationships to juggle. Our lives downsized by circumstance and not by choice or virtue.

For the most part, I make choices that I know are in my best interest, largely because I pay a very heavy price if I do otherwise.

Though I don’t sleep like I used to, I try to have my head hit the pillow by 10:00 p.m. When sleep escapes me, I consciously remind myself that even when I’m awake and doing nothing, I’m resting this weary cranium. Daily exercise and cardio remain a must for me. Many years ago, a medical professional let me know that there was data out there that showed that highly oxygenated blood passing through my grey matter speeds recovery.

I am doing much better than more than a couple of well-credentialed doctors predicted. Is it the exercise? While I’ll never know for certain, it can’t hurt.

I try to make sure my basics are covered. But there are times when that is easier said than done, when life, as it so often does, has other plans. 

Life recently unfolded with many stressors hitting at the same time. My wife Sarah was out of town on another business trip. I struggle more than she knows when I am home alone. At about the same time, my mom went in for surgery, and both of my parents were experiencing health issues that impacted the quality of their lives. The added day-to-day stress that comes from living with a brain injury resulted in complete exhaustion for me. I found myself crashing hard.

I learned years ago that exhaustion pushes TBI challenges into overdrive. Some days I lost count of how many times I’d broken down into tears. My ability to retain any continuity of thought was gone. I simply couldn’t hold thoughts in my head.

Ever have that happen to you? 

Now you think it, now you...wait…what was I thinking?  I was going to.... I don’t remember. What was I just doing? Oh yeah, I was going to make lunch. Wait, it’s 3:00 p.m. and it was just noon five minutes ago. I need to go into our room to tell Sarah something. Wait, she’s been gone all week. What was I doing? Scattered thinking like this makes regular A.D.D. look like time in a monastery.

Simply put, life and circumstance had pulled the regularity rug out from under me, and I lost my “life balance” a bit.

The blessing here is that I have been living as a brain injury survivor for many years now. I am able to put a finger on the cause for my TBI symptom flare-ups. Better still, I know that life will again circle back to the new normal that I now live.

And just knowing those tougher days will pass, well, that alone makes it more bearable. 

Comments (19)

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You capture my life with this perfectly! Overstimulation and inconsistent ways throw me in a three day tail spin! Thank you for sharing!

Thank you so much for sharing. It helps so much to know that I am not the only one trying to come to terms with who I think I was and who I am now. Your words help


Thanks for this. I can so relate to the concept of "Old" vs "New". I am going to start saying Gloria 2.0. It feels good to know somebody else has lost their sense of time and has the worse case of ADD! It has been 11 years since my injury. I couldn't just let go of my life as I knew it. Somethings were not negotiable - teaching Sunday school and helping young people. So, I continue experiencing all the stress and exhaustion that goes with it but it's what makes me happy. This year I vowed to discover, accept, and celebrate the "new" ME after seeing a  vision board a person did called "I AM". 

thx for sharing...i got tbi 5 yrs ago...u make me feel we not alone....after that I feel I m being more emotional and hurt the bodies they love me. I m trying fix it. To all u guys.just keep fighting...

Thank you for sharing. I've been learning my new limitations since 2010; honoring them is truly a challenge. Hearing stories like yours reminds me that I am not alone. Thank you

I have been in this "new life" for one year. I hate it. It is such a struggle. I am trying but it is tuff. Good luck to you and to all TBI Survivers.

David-Thanks for sharing! It is much appreciated to read other people's journies. Mine started in 1990, with a car crash & severe TBI. I've added quite alot to Amy's post, so don't wanna go on again-just to say Thanks & Keep on Truckin!  :o) Jill Mortenson-Oregon

Gosh, your life sounds just like my husbands (survivor) and mine (caregiver). I wish we could meet and make friends with all of you. If you aren't living with the consequences of a brain injury you just don't understand, and not understanding makes it so hard and very sad for us. Thank you all for sharing your stories.

My beautiful son suffered a brain injury last May and struggles so much- just wants to go back to being "the old Stephen". It has been so difficult for him to come to terms with the person he is now - Even though he is still a incredible person!  And there are just so many daily challenges...

Wow, that was a great article to start my day. I am 2 year post brain surgery and still to figure out what causes my flare ups and having a plan in place when it does happen. I also agree that exercise has been a big part of my recovery, even if it is a short walk. Thank you for sharing your insight, you inspire me!

Thank you for posting this David, it is nice to see that I am not alone with my day-to-day struggles from my TBI, that I obtained 7 years ago. I also like the term that you used "TBI symptom flare-ups"; a very good way to describe what we go through daily - some days are better than others, especially to those that don't understand.

Stay strong! You are not alone! I'm cheering you on! :)


This was helpful for me to read. My husband is the one with a brain injury, and I'm always trying to better understand his situation. Thank you for sharing!

Thanks for sharing. I can relate to most of what you say although I'm still struggling with acceptance and pacing.

Thank you !! I can relate.. Tears do not come easily for me now probably my way of coping fearing breaking down? Or God holding me above water so to speak .,,,

Thank you for this! My husband had a TBI one year ago. It is extremely helpful to me to hear your challenges and ways you've dealt with them, helps me gain better insight as to my husband's struggles in attaining his new normal.

Thank you for sharing. Our daughter has a TBI 2 yrs out. Walking with a walker. Still have a long wAy to go.

Thank you. I am not alone.  This is my life as well 13 months post accident. Coming to grips with the fact that life is not the same, yet embracing the qualities of this new life that are better is key in the healing process.

Thanks for sharing your story i can relate to all you have said. I helps to know there are others out there who understand this journey.  The good thing i have found about all the limitations is that i have had to slow right down and i appreciate the many small things in life. My interaction with others is much less and some friends have dropped off but my interaction with the ones who have stuck around is deeper and more meaningful than before the brain injury.  Every day is a challenge and my full time job is managing the fatigue.  i look for the gifts hidden in the struggle of it all, some days thats easy and others its not.  I wish every one living with brain injury and their families courage and love.

Thank you for your contributions, they are quite helpful. I particularly enjoyed the "cat in a kennel" line.