Life after Brain Injury — Learning to Roll with It

Life after Brain Injury – Learning to Roll with It

A lot of time has passed since my brain injury. Now in year seven as a survivor, I marvel at how far I’ve come, as well as how compromised I remain.

After I was struck by a teenage driver back in 2010, the physical injuries slowly healed. Bones mended, bruises faded, lacerations healed, and after a few short months, I looked pretty much like pre-accident David.

The memory of that fateful day slowly faded from most who knew me. Sure, David had that accident years ago, but look at him now – he looks great!

In The TBI Guide by Dr. Glen Johnson, the doctor makes a startling prediction. He states that within the first year or two after a brain injury, most close friendships fall apart. I can recall reading that and thinking, “Not me!” How naive. Time has proven him correct.

We are going to skip the small talk today and fast-forward to 2017. The good doctor was right. I did indeed lose many close to me. With a TBI, the collateral damage is high. But as he also shares in his TBI Guide, old friends are slowly replaced with new ones. And so it has come to pass for me. Many souls now dot the landscape of my life who never knew me as I used to be.

But with that comes a challenge. You see, I still have bad days. By looking at me, you’d never know that it was a “bad TBI day.” Today happens to be one of those days.

Let me tell you a bit more about a bad TBI day and why a bad TBI day is different than it was a few years ago. Just last night, I only got a couple of hours of sleep. Like many others, my injury stole my ability to sleep. In fact, I’ve only had one uninterrupted night’s sleep since late 2010. There were no PTSD nightmares last night. I am grateful for that. Even without the nightmares, sleep eluded me. No meaningful sleep all but guarantees a tough day.

Today is one of those days that I just need to get through. My head is full of pressure, feeling very much like it’s packed full of ten pounds of cotton. My ability to focus is all but gone. Low-grade vertigo will define most of the day. It’s best I speak to very few people today as my ability to speak crashes with meteoric force on the tough days.

As they say, it is what it is.

So why is it different now than it was a few years ago? I’ve found that learning to live as a survivor is a bit like learning to dance. There is a one-two rhythm to it all. I embrace the good days, do reasonably well through the average days, and on tough TBI days, days like today, I hunker down like a turtle pulling into his shell, and simply roll with it. Having the benefit of living over 2,000 days as a survivor, time has shown me that virtually every tough day passes. Today will be no different. It will pass.

Frequent contact with other survivors now defines my life. Often, I hear a friend say that they are having a tough day. In fact, I think that more than one person turns to me when the day is tough – perhaps looking for a bit of hope and inspiration. And I share the same thing with them that carries me through the tough days. “You have made it through every tough day of your life. You’ll make it through today!”

Ever so slowly, I am learning to roll with it. It doesn’t take away my challenges. Many will be lifelong. But by being mindful of the fact that today will not last forever, I seem to get by. And on the tougher days, just getting by is a huge victory in itself.

Comments (17)

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Im about a year and a half in since my tbi It was a bad snowmobile accident. I completely understand about the loosing friends but I’m different now and I know that. They stood by me through everything. The friends are still there but I’m not who I was. every situation I handle/process different now. I think that’s why they are different toward me. Also I haven’t spent any time talking with someone with a similar injury maybe that would help. It’s great to read this to see the differences

Thank you for this sometimes it feels like no one really understands this process. I am 5 years out and I feel like some days there’s just no hope. I look normal so people think I’m ok. That’s so far from the truth. Like you sleep is a an animal that haunts me every night. The pain in my head from the headaches and migraines are often unbearable. Yet I have to work to survive. All because a person decide to go down a one way street the wrong way and hit me head on. I never got the proper care I needed it’s not available where I live. I haven’t had an advocate to help me. I am trying me best. I am trying to see the positive out of all of this. I’m alive but my heart breaks for the person I was. I know she’s gone. I have to love the new me. To get through this. I am trying to find her and love her. Thank you for this post.

Thank you so much for the post.  I really needed it today as I am having one of those tough days and it makes me frustrated and depress when I have them.  My husband has a hard time understanding-he can't figure out why my moods change so quickly...I have emotional issues and brain fatigue and off and on vertigo along with trouble saying words. I suffered a TBI in December 2015 after slipping on some ice and falling back wards and hitting my head. One week before Christmas and a month after burying my mom; which made it harder to deal with the psychological TBI issues because I was never sure if it was from the injury or because of grief. Have made great strides, but trying to learn to be patient with myself on the bad days. It helps reading posts like this to help me remember that I am not alone.  Thanks again and God bless.


Well Mr. David, reading your article is like reading something that I, myself, wrote. Each TBI, as well as TBI survivor, is different, it's true. However, we DO share some similar tales. I hope and pray that you keep on rolling with it and stay strong my friend.

God bless. Needed to read this.

After suffering a life changing accident myself I can totally relate to this article. Because your body heals the TBI is always there. I have really good days but the bad days are what I call black days. The hardest thing is people close to you don't understand the black days. They expect you to be the same as you look. Healed. Not so and because of that it leaves one feeling quite alone

Thanks so much - very informative xxx

This that is discussed is probably going to be sum of the best truth I've seen. It's maybe that it was given to me before. I don't recall. I've been accident prone all my life. I was in a well developed state of coexisting and clear communication skills. I had mastered getting into a confrontational communications and not getting blocked and emotional because I was manipulated and the others grammar and self righteous strength mulled me over. Rather I had mastered to listen and speak back their opposing perception with the art of saying ::::: so you say this and you direct/ or refer to a direction wich means in the end you get this.... they would reply no thats not what I mean. I would apologize and explain with I saw it as I did.::::: This would happen 2 more times. I would always make sure that the reflection from my view was undeniable unless could be challanged be a realalistic documented file or by a 3 dimensional mock up or existing. So even if I was not correct. They could knock my perception down as wrong and only said with the opposing conversation, that their perception may be correct. But with no document or sculpture to prove with. They could not have the ability to explain why their way was the right way. Then the TBI. In a time that even if only a distant equaintance and completely difffrent in taste or views. I was respected and I gave respect. I was becoming known and knew the whole damb county. Now I dont really know anybody. I did not do any follow ups. I got my disability lifted by county health services the 2nd wk, so I could go bk to finishing my plea bargain labor detail charge and not go to jail. It has been ruthless. I thought ahh' in 3 mnt worst , ill be back to a normal Taylor. No" and I had no clue as to the challeanges that were magnified by my actions. That was 10 yrs ago in November. It has taken me 7 yrs to actually start looking up conditions, disability rather from such injury. For seven years I only made those disabilities magnified and no one I mixed with new anything so their comments and behavior or reactions due to how I operated, also magnified my disabilities. What could of been 7 yrs of learned habits that would help me with a flow. Was so dark I stopped trying to live. That only caused another head injury. Because I did not die. I dont have seizures or even simple black outs. I have frustration problems that become self frustration broblems that destroys my self confidence. It gets ugly sumtimes. And I suppose that is a bad TBI day and I would b better off doing the turtle rather than start knocking down what lik self confidence I have. Most likely it will help me Build self confidence.

I feel exactly the same way! My TBI was in 2016; some days are still worse than others, but that's ok! I'm still here, God has a purpose for me. He didn't just bring me through all of that to have me just "survive" Keep the faith and keep on keeping on :) ~Amber

As a PT working with TBI survivors, I'm always happily surprised when you give another "pearl" to share with my clients that are often only a year or two post TBI and still "finding their way". Thanks.

I have those "days" as well. November 18th, 2009 is the exact "day" for me. I too don't sleep well at all. The only peaceful sleep I feel that I have gotten, are the times I get put under to have surgery. I long for a peaceful night's sleep! How fast simple things get taken from you in an instant!

Well said! I can definitely relate with you on a TBI good days and bad days. Maybe not in the same symptoms but definite common grounds. Thank you for sharing your article, it makes me feel like I'm not alone in this world. My car accident was in 1991; I was 16 and passed a bicyclist over a double yellow line, then struck a car at 100 mph impact. I got the worst of the injuries, though you would never know it. Brain injuries can definitely be an invisible thing to the world around us and cause frustration among us through and through. My doctor, back then told me I would never be the same. I'm not. But in many ways I feel like I'm a better person.

Thank you for writing this, it is encouraging. My accident is almost 11 years ago, and on a bad day my photo may much more stressed, but your words ring very true. I pretty much isolate myself until I can deal with people, noise, sound,  when things are bad for me. You need to do what works for you. 

So very true.

Getting by really is the key, regardless of tough days or pleasant days. thanks for another great post.

Thank you for writing this. Your words described so well, what so many of us want to say to others... I don't know why we TBI survivors feel so driven to communicate precisely what we experience to others.. So that others will understand? So that we will understand better, ourselves? I know I am not driven to share my own experience in order to gain sympathy.. Not at all! Is it for a sense of validation? Or commendation? To be identified with? Or do we share, desperately, unconsciously, asking for permission to be excused from others' expectations and demands that we can't always accommodate anymore? Acceptance? Appreciation? It's been a very long time since I've felt truly appreciated and valued. I'm not sure.. All of the above I suppose. But it seems the more time that goes by, even with improvements and accomplishments, and with challenges met and overcome... It seems that there are fewer and fewer people, even in my own 'inner circle', who want to hear... I've become fearful to share my TBI experience as it morphs over time, as TBI experience does... Afraid of being dismissed as 'needy' or attention-seeking, or just plain being rejected. Oh the weariness of not being 'normal' like everyone else anymore, of being expected to just try harder, to snap out of it, you look fine, you seem fine... No matter how hard I try. No matter how positive I am. No matter how much joy and gratitude I express for the simple things of life that I appreciate. No matter how hard I stretch myself to find new ways, new strengths, new value, new joys. It's a very lonely existance inside the head of a TBI-challenged survivor, even when surrounded by many people and loved ones. So it is strangely comforting to read your words and to know that I am not alone in my experience. Thank you. PS.. LOL! It was a challenge for me to complete the 'Symbol Captcha' below, in order to share my comment with you!! LOL! So I guess that in doing so, I have proven to still be 'human' as it says. HA! There is TBI humor to be found everywhere! ;)

Funny, I was literally just having a conversation with a friend, also a TBI survivor. We talked about the invisible symptoms that make it difficult for "normal " people to understand or relate to. How they treat us like it's "all in your head", can't understand why we might forget things, or ask the same question several times. We're not crazy. We're not seeking attention. It's great to have a resource and support group like, not only for support but for validation also. I sustained my TBI in Dec, 2003.