Some things you just can’t see coming—like a traumatic brain injury. Never did I envision the life that I have today. It’s only natural to look forward in your life when you are younger. Some people yearn to become doctors, race car drivers, or even astronauts, but no one wants to grow up to be a brain injury survivor.
Brain injury is the last thing you think about until it’s the only thing you think about. And so it was for our family. At forty-nine years old, my professional career was in full swing. I had just married the girl of my dreams. There was a healthy and fun rhythm to our lives; days were long and the sun shined upon us.
Until that fated day in 2010 when everything changed. And I do mean everything.
For many who share our fate as a survivor family, they remember “the call” or the knock on the door. If you live a life defined by traumatic brain injury, you most likely have memories of “that day.” Perhaps there was a car crash or a fall. Domestic abuse brings some into this new TBI life. There are seemingly endless causes with one shared result—a traumatic brain injury.
Learning to live with a brain injury is a bit like learning to drive a new car. The controls are off a bit. Everything that was familiar is now unfamiliar. It takes time to get used to the new normal of life after TBI. In my case, it took many years.
And the changes were so unexpected and so surreal. However, not everything that defines the new normal of life after brain injury is a bad thing.
For example, since my brain injury, I’ve developed an instant love for seafood. I spent close to half a century avoiding all things aquatic that end up on a dinner plate. No longer! Truth-be-told, my new life has become a bit of a Food Channel type of adventure. A recent trip to Louisiana found me sampling local fare like crawdads and frog legs—foods I never would have tried in my old life. I find the new culinary adventures quite wonderful. My wife Sarah doesn’t seem to mind.
Changes in my tastes and personality transcend just about every aspect of my life. Today I live an unfiltered life as my brain injury has essentially wiped away my emotional and verbal filters. No longer does anyone say, “So David, can you tell me how you really feel?
These days, I am learning, often the hard way, to say less. My emotional and sometimes verbal filter departs at the most inopportune times.
“Mr. Spock, the shields are down, increase verbal output to warp factor five.”
Get in front of me in the twelve items or less aisle in the grocery store with thirteen (or more) items in your basket, and you might just see me behind you in line struggling to call you out on it. This alone is growth. In my first year or so as a survivor, there was no struggle as I’d simply call you out on it.
But the loss of my emotional filter has proven to be one of my hidden TBI blessings. I can freely and without worry or concern share what’s on my mind. It’s not uncommon now for me to tell my aging dad that I love him. The first few times he heard me say that, you could hear a bit of awkwardness creep in, but no longer. We are both new Englanders and have been trained for generations not to wear emotions in public. No longer. I can thank my brain injury for this new freedom.
I openly and often let those close to me know that I appreciate their presence in my life. If I have an opinion, I share it these days. Those close to me know that subtlety is not part of the new David. Better still, as the years pass, I seem to be able to put the brakes on when I need to, when tact or decorum are required.
Time passes, and my old life seems like that of someone else. Memories that dwell within me belong to someone who once was. Such is the everlasting surrealism and unending reality of life after TBI.
But today, just today mind you, that is okay.