Life After Brain Injury: A Decade’s Worth of Thoughts

David Grant and his wife smiling at the camera.

At forty-nine years old, I sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). This month I’ll turn fifty-nine years old. The math is simple enough. I have been living as a brain injury survivor for almost a decade. Candidly, no one is more surprised than me!

Though I don’t think about it that often, as my accident anniversary time nears every year, my mind drifts back to that November day in 2010. It was as perfect a November day as it could have been, until it wasn’t. Never in a thousand possible outcomes of that day would I have guessed that I would end up whisked by ambulance across the state line to the nearest trauma center.

Also on my “Never List” would I have guessed that the very path of my life would pivot so dramatically on that fall day. Tragedy is supposed to befall others, it is not supposed to show up unasked for and uninvited. It is supposed to happen to other people.

“Yeah, right. How did that work out for you?” asked the inner narrator who comments occasionally on my life.

In what may surprise some people, it worked out just fine.

Today I am sitting in my office, a busy day of work ahead of me. Never one to miss deadlines, I blocked off some time to let you know how I’m doing — how I am REALLY doing. Like I have done without fail since I first started writing for Brainline back in 2013, I’ll share with you a few thoughts that have been churning about as I near my decade as a survivor.

My survivor life early on was one big bag of suck. And that is putting it politely. When the teenage driver barreled into me without even tapping his brakes, my entire life was ripped away from me. Think I’m being dramatic? Think again.

The losses were staggering. Having been self-employed for many years, my newfound brain injury challenges meant the loss of over 80% of my business. How we stayed afloat financially during those early years, I’ll never know. But somehow, we managed to hold on.

My dramatic personality change led Sarah to say that she felt as if she had been married to two different people. Looking at my life from the inside out, it was difficult for me to see how much I had changed. I was lost in a brain injured stupor. But my wife Sarah saw me from the outside in. I was different in so many ways after my accident. Impulsivity, lack of any meaningful filters, and ever-present and often paralyzing PTSD made me a challenge to be with.

Friends faded away. Unfamiliar with the not-so-subtle nuances of brain injury, they shunned what they didn’t understand. They shunned me. Several of my own children stepped out of my life and have chosen not to return to this day.

If these don’t fall into the “epic losses” category, then nothing does. I won’t even get into the years of suicidal ideation, chronic despair, ambiguous loss, and other challenges that were just beneath the surface. While my physical injuries healed up early on, the real battle was fought on the inside.

And happily, the battle is over!

There is not enough time, nor space to chronicle close to a decade of recovery. Nor is there the need to. TBI old-timers told me that “it” would get better. I clung to their belief as if I were following a single candle lit in a dark cave of despair. I know they had no reason to lie to me, to tell me untruths, or to offer me false hope. They were honest when they said that my recovery would be years in the making. They were right.

Let’s talk about life today, in this moment. Today I no longer feel broken all the time. In fact, most of the time, I actually feel like a pretty normal guy — something I never thought possible. I no longer grieve the loss of who I once was. It’s been close to a decade, and who I was back in 2010 no longer matters. This is a truth for anyone with a heartbeat. Does who you were a decade ago matter in your life today? Not one bit.

Years of healing has allowed me to get back into the profession that I love – web development and marketing. Never have I been more on top of my game professionally. Years ago, I learned about mindfulness, something I try to practice in all that I do, including my work. I am now able to contribute in a meaningful way to keeping our home afloat financially. Though all things material are transient, it is still good for me to feel like I am contributing.

Our home is our safe place, especially these days. Sarah and I have both grown and are wiser than we would have been had it not been for the tough years. In many respects, the difficulties we faced brought us closer together as we experienced how we were able to hold up during a stunningly painful chapter of our lives. How can I not be grateful? Not every marriage survives brain injury.

Though still a couple of months away, this year’s decade anniversary of that day doesn’t bring any dread or unhappiness. Rather, it is in reflecting upon how much has come to pass, and how average life is today, that it’s impossible not to have a deep appreciation for life.

Comments (10)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

Your Never ending endurance to overcome the obvious has made You much more of a person than you ever thought possible I'm sure. These injuries can be Overcome Eventhough they are Overwhelming from the onset. Your ability and desire to share your experience with others will take them further than you can imagine in their effort to regain their confidence. Congratulations on another year, i know the feeling as It's been 13 years for myself. May God Bless and Watch Over You.

David, I forgot to mention that we are the same age. I will turn 59 in November. I was 32 when I had my accident.

October 4, 2020 it will be 27 years since the car accident that left me with a TBI. I was in a coma for 2 weeks, was told I wouldn't walk and would never be at the level intellectually that I was premorbidly. I walked into graduate school four years later. It has not been easy, I'm very smart, but have difficulty holding a job because I get overwhelmed. My family dropped the ball and I had no ongoing therapy, at this point I haven't spoken to my siblings in years. They all refused to acknowledge what Traumatic Brain Injury actually means. I'm married to a wonderful man that had no idea how trying it would be to live with someone who was aging with a TBI. I talk to a therapist (zoom because of damn COVID) weekly and she asked me today if I could erase my TBI, would I? I thought about it, a lot of it has been a real struggle. Finally, I said that the fact that I am a walking, talking medical miracle makes my TBI my "super power".

Dear David,

Your 10 year anniversary is eerily similar with my own 4 year brain injury. Sure, there are differences with the month / years (mine was July 2016) as well as impact (I had a incredible migraine that turned into a massive brain bleed) but there is completely the same. Both of us had impressive role, didn’t see this coming on that bad day happened, and saw that dramatic pivot that was the scary beginning, a more horrible middle and the positive, new normal at the end.

I’m not sure about all your physical challenges; my largest issue was, and still is, aphasia where my communication is damaged through speaking, reading, writing and processing. I remember my first speech therapy session when I could not know the difference between CAT and DOG.

But the hardest part was the emotional trauma from day one. Like you, I spent the first 2 years being either sad or mad; there was no happiness. My anxiety and depression, never planned for that. And I can only imagine how incredibly difficult it has been with my partner and my children. It truly was the darkest day...

And just like that, we both turned the corner and started making life whole. It’s a journey, no doubt, but it sounds like we are moving UP and not down.

So thank you, David. Thank you for sharing your story, thank you for being open and honest about the good and the bad, and thank you for reminding me that we can get better, it just takes time, and that’s okay.

Christine

Great story. I'm at year 12 post-TBI. As a physician, medical school teacher and researcher, prior to my injury, I found I didn't have enough of the right cognitive stuff, energy, or insight how to modify my job to the new me to continue work. I began retirement two years post injury at 62, after trying to make a "comeback."

Post-TBI I've taken creative writing courses, puttering around the house, been depressed, recovered from depression, been anxious, recovered from anxiety, and have been waiting for some thing grand to happen. Nothing has but even in my 70s, I haven't given up on that notion. I hope to get a book or two published and wrote a grant on how to improve care of elderly with TBI- it wasn't funded. The truth, life before the TBI was more fulfilling and settled, two aspects of my career i miss. So happy to read your story.

Dear DR. Anonymous,

I am 17 years post TBI. Your scenario sounds eerily similar to mine. At the age of 40, I was a 4 day/week private practice dentist who taught at a dental hygiene school on my off day. I also attempted to return to my practice for about a year, but I finally had to admit to myself that my post TBI mental mistakes were not safe or fair to my patients. You can probably relate to that very tough decision.

It’s been 17 years now that I feel like I have been looking for what to do with my life now. Who am I? I really wish that I could answer that question without just saying who I used to be. Thank you for your truth statement. You are not alone. If you ever want to talk with someone who can relate to your daily hope for moving forward with a fulfilling life, I might be able to understand. Contact me anytime.

I was also in healthcare, a Chiropractic Physician and Acupuncturist working in primary care clinics in a network of Federally Qualified Health Centers. My freak accident, a fall, left no physical scars only invisible physical and cognitive disabilities.

I'm too weary to elaborate tonight, but let me tell you how I stumbled on this site. I have been unable to return to my profession, in any capacity, something I didn't know until I tried several routes back.

Yet, I still keep 3 chiropractic licenses active. Don't ask me why, because I don't seem to be able to do anything in my field consistently.

So, I've got to acquire a certain number of CMEs. In Illinois, Chiropractic Physicians are under the same Medical Practice Act as Medical and Osteopathic Physicians. I need 150 credits to renew for 3 years. In the 8 years since my head and neck injury, I've not had too much trouble doing this. I still had credits from when I was still practicing and using Up to Date on line. I also earned free CMEs on Medscape and enjoyed the challenges involved. But last year, I bumped my head 4 times in 1 month, 3x trivial insults. However, the sequelae were anything but trivial-- my memory and executive functioning were disproportionately affected. And so here I am, on my 2nd or 3rd (4th?) attempt this month, to earn some free CMEs on Medscape. I am still unable to do even the EASIEST ones, for example one on diet. I had to keep rereading the abbreviations LFD (Low Fat Diet) vs HFD (High Fat Diet) and fight to remember what they stood for! There may have been additional letters to those abbreviations... In any case, I would develop severe, disabling headaches while attempting this. Repeatedly. Prior to my concussion,
I rarely had headaches. My health was excellent, and I was very active.
In my despair, I searched for a TBI group and found this one. I won't disclose the transient suicidal thought that crossed my mind upon arriving here (although I just did! I would never act on it).

In short, I have an idea how you feel. The invisible injuries make it hard for others to remember that you're not the same person. Rather, you don't have the same capabilities, no matter how sharp you may sound that day, that hour.

While I have dwelled on this less and less over the years, I'm confront ed now with my worsened state. May try some easy chiro credits on line. I have to keep at least my IL Chiropractic Physican license active!

Please don't despair; there are other avenues for self fulfillment and feeling grateful. I guess that means focusing more on what we can do, not can't do.
( Though, I think it sounds trite!) Hang in there, doc!

Glad to read your unvarnished story.
My PostTBI life is similar to yours...no therapy and trying to seek support for the elderly with TBI.
I so miss my old life which was fulfilling in so many aspects. I miss the old me. I can recognise how I have changed. I am difficult person to live with, sometimes.

Take good care. And, all the best,
Greetings from Trinidad.

Hi David,

As I am living through the just started third year after my TBI and two years after completion of my PhD. Your story of living through a decade after your TBI is impressive and hopefully useful to me.

Best regards,
Ritesh Sevanthi

Thank you so much for sharing your feelings with all who are enduring pretty much the same things after TBI but I still pray each time I read all of your positively written stories that one day I will get to that point . There are many days in which I feel normal, and I am forever grateful for my survival, but I cannot yet say and feel the best about where my TBI has left me and I want to get there but also I have had to go through 5 major spinal operations since the accident and by the way I hit the 14 yr. mark on July 30, 2020. I was only 51 when my entire life was turned upside down and inside out as it feels often. I too have PTSD and there are all of these unexpected times that it decides to take my life away from me and puts me in the stupor that we all as TBI Survivors would love to know how to reject those times. I tend to be mindful quite often but there are times when that is not anywhere close to what I am doing . I need to find away to dismiss the grieving process for it seems it has been entirely too long to still grieve over what life was as opposed what life really is now. I have so much in my life that I am so full of joy about and so grateful for and that is what keeps me going and I am speaking of my most amazing children and my most wonderful and loving grandsons. They have been through so much with me that it hurts my heart always to think about and to feel what this has done to their lives more than my own. I also have the best son-in-law and daughter-in-law that I feel are like my own children also. I know many may get tired of people such as myself writing what seems to be the same ole' same ole' that all or most TBI Survivors write but in reality we all have a very personal story and one day I would like to get mine told, all of it ! Thanks again for the positive and real stories you put out there as I get so much hope from all you share with others such as myself. You are a true Blessing to all that endure the old and new US and trying to accept it all with Grace. GOD BLESS YOU & SARAH.