Measuring Brain Injury Recovery a Bit Differently

Measuring Brain Injury Recovery a Bit Differently

As I round the bend to the seven-year anniversary of my life-changing brain injury, I’ve looked back over this past year like I do most every year, to see if I can see measurable gains.

One of the biggest lessons that I learned in the first few years is that there is no finish line for my recovery. As long as my heart continues to beat, I will continue to recover. Though there are still a few old-school hold-outs who insist that meaningful brain injury recovery ends after a year, new science and the wonders of neuroplasticity mean that the future is indeed brighter for those of us living with brain injury.

For years, I measured my recovery by external gains. I looked for tasks that I could do better and longer. This was easily quantifiable data.

I’ll give you a few examples:

For several years, my ability to work ended at 2 p.m. like clockwork. While I count myself fortunate that I can indeed work again, full-time work still eluded me. By early afternoon, I was exhausted. My cognitive ability crashed hard, my ability to speak fluently fell away quickly, and nothing meaningful happened at my desk after 2 o’clock. It was like that for a very long time.

As the years continued to go by, I was able to gradually surpass the 2:00 threshold, still able to work. This was an easily measured gain. Other gains that were easy to measure included regaining my ability to read after four years, and moving beyond middle-school books at the five-year mark.

These gains all have one thing in common – they are external measurements of my progress.

I recently took some time to take stock of my growth over this past year. And what I saw surprised me. In fact, it was a completely unexpected revelation.

Over the last year, I cannot work any longer than I did a year ago. Nor can I read at a pace any faster than last year. Looking from the outside in, not much has changed, but I measure this past year as one of my biggest growth years in the last few.

“How can that be?” you might be asking.

Great question! My epiphany came with the realization that I can now accept what I cannot do. I am unable to work full-time, and may never be able to do so. I accept this truth as part of my new life. I may always be burdened by neuro fatigue and a cognitive processing speed slower than my pre-injury life. I can accept that as well. Many people have left my life; unable to understand what happened to the David they once knew. I count a couple of my sons among those who chose to step back and out my life. While I may never fully understand why many I was close to are now gone, I am more accepting of it than I was a year ago.

Time takes the sting out of what had been an unfathomable pain. Time has also shown that though I will always have brain injury challenges, these are not a barrier to having a meaningful life. All these changes reflect my inner changes and not anything I can measure with a yardstick. As time continues to pass, I will continue to heal, though I define healing differently than I did in the first few years of my injury.

Today, healing is not the gradual cessation of challenges from my brain injury. Rather, healing involves the slow realization that I can live with the challenges I face. I now coexist with my brain injury. I have ceased fighting both my injury as well as my deficits. Paradoxically, when I cease fighting, I win, as my new understanding of healing continues.

My year seven gains can’t be charted on a graph, but living with a level of acceptance heretofore unknown to me reminds me that I am going to be okay. And isn’t that what any of us really want - just to be okay?  

Comments (8)

Well stated.
You have accepted and moved on.
Hold your head even higher knowing that you have met that challenge.
God Bless!
13870 days and counting. (survived and LIVED)
A lot of new days!!

Wonderful writing and reflection. It really means so much to read about something that I have felt internally for a long time. Thank you.

So well written. I was rear ended while stopped on the hwy behind another car waiting for oncoming traffic so she could turn. The pick up was going 60 mph and my life has never been the same. Kind of an adult version of shaken baby syndrome. I need much more sleep, start crying when there is a lot of stimulation, such as a large movie screen, or a game crowd, which is embarrassing. I just choose not to go now. I also choose not to drive because of lack of judgement and slower reflexes. I know mechanically how to drive, but I would never want to cause an accident. My balance is affected, so I use a walker or a cane. All in all, every day is a gift and moments with loved ones are precious. My accident was almost 5 years ago.

I read your story and I am truly proud of your confidence and speech I am also a TBI survivor. I still suffer from my brain damage till this day because I got hit by a car June 5 2009 and have had 8 years of brain trauma and I haven't been normal since. I loss my coordination on the whole right side of my body , find myself dragging when im walking , I use to be real good at basketball and skating but now I struggle. I find myself with no sensation , slow movement , muscle twitching and muscle weakness and finger tingling alot . Ive gotten a whole lot stronger and faster but im still too numb and uncoordinated to play sports now. Instead of playing basketball i run on the treadmill alot and lift weights hoping and dreaming one day ill be normal back to my original movement. I really like your story because I read alot about brain injuries since I have one and I try to find out who has 100% recovered from theirs but I still haven't seen a story like that so i just hope and keep my faith strong day by day as im growing. You also said that your friends all left you and the things you can't do anymore you just accepted the reality of that. Well yea my friends left me too and I also accpeted the fact that i probably won't be the same again but i still try and dream even though its been nearly a decade. I hope you read my story its similar to yours and I hope you stay strong because we are survivors and that is our victory.

Sounds like a solid victory to have acceptance for what you can and cannot do. That is a victory I am working to achieve. I shifts from day to day as what I can do varies from day to day. I appreciate your writings.

My life has changed too, not to far behind yours was my accident, but I have learned so much and continue to grow - but the one thing you might not know is how much YOU (David Grant) teach me every day. Somedays are better than others. Somedays I "get it" better than others, but still you teach me (and others) so much more than just one thing, you teach so much more - and really only those that say "been there, done that, own the T-shirt" get what I'm trying to say. Simply put, Thank you David, you really are both a man of honor and a hero to many. Many happy days I look forward to....

This article was so beautifully written. Thank you for your writing and time!