In a few short months, the anniversary of my brain injury will be here again. In late fall, I’ll be marking the seventh anniversary of the accident that not only changed me forever, but that has affected the lives of all who know me.
I can’t believe that I’m coming up on seven years out. I can use one of those standard clichés like “My, how time flies,” but brain injury anniversaries aren’t like traditional anniversary celebrations. There are no balloons, no streamers and certainly no cheering. On a few of my TBI anniversaries, we did buy a cake. For a couple of years, my wife Sarah and I celebrated the fact that I’m still alive. Not everyone who gets t-boned by a car lives to tell the tale.
As time continues to pass, my perspectives change, and my insight deepens. In the last couple of weeks, I have a couple of stark reminders that those closest to me are still paying a heavy emotional price for all that has come to pass.
Sometimes I forget that those close to me still hurt. In the reflection of their inner pain, I see my injury for what it really is. My injury is a lifelong condition that, though easier to live with as the years pass, will always cause angst to those I love.
I can’t begin to tell you the heartache that makes me feel.
My dad and I have a very special relationship these days. We are both survivors. You already know what I’ve survived. My dad wasn’t hit by a car; he survived cancer. We make quite a pair. While Sarah is my best friend, my dad is my second best friend. We talk almost every day.
We spoke just yesterday, and he was asking me about my newest literary project, a children’s fantasy book that I am writing that has nothing to do with brain injury (though I did slip in a reference to a concussion). I started rattling on about my project, my excitement building over the course of the next few minutes.
Without even thinking, I shared something not possible a few years ago.
“Dad, had it not been for my accident, I wouldn’t have a career as a writer and book producer.” I went on to tell him that in one respect, my brain injury has had some very positive effects on my life.
In two ticks of a clock, the tone of our entire conversation changed. It got dead silent on the other end of the line. You could have heard a pin drop. I kept my mouth shut – not easy for a guy like me. I could hear him contemplating the implication what I had just said.
“David, I’m not there yet,” he said with heavy emotion in his voice.
His pain was real. It was palpable. And it was difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that almost seven years later, he still carries the amount of pain that he does.
Brain injury never really ends.
This was the second of a one-two reality punch. Just a week prior, I was out somewhere with Sarah. I was having what I call a “bad brain day.” I still get them, though not as often. They are days defined by slow cognitive processing, word finding issues, st-st-stuttering, and repeating myself. They often happen the day after I’ve pushed myself too hard.
I’m going to paraphrase here, but she said something like, “Everything goes fine for a while, and then I get these reminders that you still have ‘stuff.’”
It was a bittersweet moment—sweet because we can have time pass where we both forget about my brain injury, even if for a short time. And bitter, because it still rears its ugly head, making an unasked for appearance, reminding me again of the pain Sarah still carries.
I am not the person I was a year ago. Both personally and professionally, I can do and be more than I was capable of in the past. But like my shadow follows me on a sunny day, I will forever be bound to my brain injury.
It is my hope that as more time passes, it becomes easier on those closest to me.