Occasionally, rogue waves make the news here in New England. For those unfamiliar with rogue waves, they are solitary creatures, spawned many miles offshore. They roll in catching unsuspecting sea-goers by surprise. Not your average wave, these enormous waves have been known to wash innocent souls out to sea.
They come out of nowhere, crash our shorelines and recede as quickly as they rise. They are simply part of life for anyone with coastal roots.
And just like seaborne waves can wreak havoc, so can the emotional waves that come with living as a brain injury survivor. Like their aquatic counterparts, they originate out of nowhere, offer a bit of emotional catastrophic damage, then recede, sometimes as quickly as they came.
As the four-year anniversary of my traumatic brain injury nears, an emotional rogue wave has come close to swamping my boat. And like those caught unaware at the seashore, I have been caught completely off-guard.
The last couple of weeks, I have seen a huge resurgence in the overwhelming sense of loss and grief. Shared before, my hope was to be that one-in-a-million person who completely recovered from a brain injury. For so many years, my "plan" was to wake up one day, wipe the sleep out of my eyes, and like magic I would be who I was before my brain injury—whoever that was.
Ever so slowly, I am letting go of that secret hope. Sometimes, I am okay with the fact that this is my life and that I have to make the most of it. At other times, the dark thoughts come back. The rogue wave that has crashed over me tries to pull me under.
During the first year of my new life as a survivor, a therapist saved my life. She made me promise that if I ever considered looking for a “fast pass” to the finish line of life, I would call her first. "If I suspect that you are going to harm yourself, you know what I have to do," she said with the civility of a drill sergeant. At that point in my life, a locked psychiatric ward with no doorknobs and the removal of my shoelaces held no real appeal.
Feeling the weight of it all, this past week I Googled "brain injury and suicide." No, I have no intention of cashing in my chips. Rather, I was more than a bit curious about how many others died from traumatic brain injury long after the initial injury. The numbers were staggering.
My new life these days is defined by living close to complete transparency. I share more than most ever will, knowing that my own complete disclosure will help others to feel less alone and less isolated. As my wife Sarah has shared since life forever changed in November of 2010, "the curse will become a blessing."
The process of evolving from one person to another almost completely different person is often hard to describe to those who have not lived it. But it is a process. There will be good days, and there will be tough days. On the tough days, it helps to remind myself that I have a 100% track record of success in making it through the tougher days.
And that rogue emotional wave that came crashing down? Unlike solo beachcombers, I don't have to ride that treacherous wave alone. In the years that have passed since my traumatic brain injury, I have met many others who have successfully navigated the unfamiliar waters of life after brain injury. Their support and success gives me hope that I can find a way, however haltingly, to live this second life I now have.
If today is one of "those days," where the wave looks too big, too much to handle, too overwhelming, try to remember that you are not as alone as you might think. Others are there to help you find your way.
P.S. from David: “If suicide ever seems like a real option to you or a loved one, please seek the help of a medical professional IMMEDIATELY”