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.