Early on after my brain injury, I had only one real goal: I wanted desperately to get back to the person I was before my injury. One of the biggest challenges was the fact that my personality changed rather dramatically. I was much more overt with my thoughts and opinions, sometimes uncomfortably so. I was quite unfiltered, and most anyone within earshot knew it.
As the years passed, it became painfully clear that there was no going back. In fact, Dr. Glen Johnson, a clinical neuropsychologist and author of the Traumatic Brain Injury Survival Guide, says that never in decades of working with brain injury patients had he ever seen a patient get back to 100 percent. But still, I fought it. It was my intention to get back to the "old David," the David who existed before my 2010 brain injury.
Fast forward to today, and my definition of recovery has shifted significantly. I accept that there is no going back and have come to believe what I was told early on is true: brain injury recovery is indeed lifelong. And in that acceptance, my mindset shifted. No longer was I expending useless energy trying to capture my old life. Time and years of frustration have taught me the futility of that. Rather, these days, I strive to live my best life.
There have been a lot of things that have increased the quality of my life. Becoming a lifelong student of "all things brain injury" has helped. Adding other survivors to my social sphere ended the feeling of uniqueness. While I can't say that it's a good thing there are countless others just like me, there is a sense of peace that comes with knowing that I am not alone.
We can add a few other things to my recovery bag of tricks. I am 100 percent committed to fitness, investing an hour a day in cardio. A healthy body has a direct correlation to a healthy brain. I've made lifestyle changes to adapt, including a quieter life, more time outside, and more time spent advocating for brain injury survivors.
I've learned as well to be open to new ways to continue to improve the quality of my life. Over the years, I've come to understand that this has a ripple effect on those closest to me. A few years ago, I was introduced to mindfulness as a way of life. And since that introduction, I've done my best to carry what I've learned into my day-to-day life. The effects have been life-changing.
Learning to live in the moment comes with a whole lot of advantages. As a survivor, spending too long looking back can be devastating. I see the wreckage of all that has come to pass since my injury — the lost friends and family members, the pain others have experienced. It's a bleak landscape. Looking forward brings with it a different set of challenges. I was in my 40s when my injury occurred. I am now in my 60s. As I age, some health data shows that I may be more prone to dementia as an older person with a brain injury. There is the normal cognitive decline that may be exacerbated because of it as well. The future can be absolutely terrifying.
But mindfulness has taught me that true and lasting peace only comes in the moment. Right here, right now. In the moment, my past carries no weight, and the future does not exist. Life is truly a succession of moments.
Just this morning, I had a rather wonderful realization. I was watching our backyard bird feeders where there was a veritable convention of starlings, titmice, chickadees, and more, all vying for food. I got lost watching, enjoying the moment. And in that space, I realized that not only was I truly living in the present, but I was also aware that I was in the present and nowhere else. That sense of peace stayed with me for much of the day.
The disciplines of mindfulness are not always easy, but the rewards are well worth it. I still have significant challenges since my injury, and I might have these for life. But by staying in the moment, I have found a new peace, one that I never imagined possible early on after my injury.