There are times when it feels like things cannot get any more surreal, and then they do. Such is the unexpected life that unfolds for so many of us after brain injury.
Today, I am struggling to put into words this latest turn of events—the feeling that I can’t explain how I got from where I was to where I am so quickly.
This past year has been a year of major growth. In fact, I can safely call year seven my biggest growth year since my traumatic brain injury back in 2010. To quote Jerry Garcia, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” Today I have the benefit of looking back through time, through many years of living a post-concussive life. I am not the same person that I was during the first year of hell that my wife, Sarah, and I struggled through.
My first year as a brain injury survivor was defined exclusively by losses. I lost many of my close friends. Half of my children walked out of my life, never to return. I spent many years building a successful marketing and web design company that was reduced to ashes in the fires of early recovery. The list goes on. I lost, lost some more, and lost even more. The most devastating loss was the loss of self. I had no idea who I was anymore. I looked in the mirror and did recognize the face looking back at me. Scary stuff. It was terrifying.
Today, the losses are years behind me. After extensive reconstruction, I have a good life—a life that is meaningful, and that allows Sarah and me to serve others. Dare I say that I have a pretty incredible life?
Somewhere this past year, things took a giant leap forward. A few months ago, I started to sleep normally again. For many years post-injury, if you asked how I was, my standard answer was this: “I’m tired but okay.” Until earlier this year, I could only sleep for a couple of hours at a time. Thankfully, this has now changed. I get up once a night, but I’m able to return to sleep. What a priceless gift!
The PTSD nightmares that dogged me for years have been reduced to once a month or so. I no longer dread bedtime as I did early on. If you had the types of nightmares that I had, you would be scared of your pillow, too.
Professionally, I am back to work full-time. I no longer get the 2:00 pm crashes. I am ever-so-slowly rebuilding my web design and marketing company. I need to say that it feels good to be contributing significantly to keeping our lives afloat. Earning an income is good for my self-esteem, and our mortgage is current. Not a bad deal.
Full-time work has a different definition these days. I spend a good part of my day doing my professional work, and a portion of every day is spent on my ongoing advocacy work. One job pays the bills, the other helps the world and makes life meaningful.
But here is the challenge: Over the last few months, I have felt like I’m slowly waking up from a seven-year nap. It is unexpected, and frankly, this leaves me a little uneasy. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I’m not grateful to the core. How could I not be?
But man oh man, it’s like waking up into a different world. I expect to hear echoes of my children in our home, but while I was checked out, they seem to have all grown up and moved on. I can still hear the sounds of my older two son’s voices, but they left my life many years ago, unable to understand “new dad.” I suddenly find myself walking around in a body that is seven years older than I recall. It often hurts, as aches and pains from various challenges over the last few years remind me that I’m not as young as I once was.
I’m not kidding myself as I realize that I will always have brain injury challenges. But these now feel secondary, no longer front-and-center in my life. I tire more than I used to. Sometimes words still escape me. I forget more than I would like to. But thankfully, I am not in that dark place that defined my life a few short years ago.
If only the ringing in my ears would stop, but I guess you can’t have everything.