The Only Normal I Know

David Grant The Only Normal I Know

I was recently out for a bike ride. It’s been seven years after my traumatic brain injury, and I still cycle daily. There are a myriad of reasons. The first one is the most obvious – I love cycling. There is something magical out being out on the streets, enjoying a totally immersive experience.

Of course, there are the health benefits. I’m diabetic, and daily cardio helps keep my diabetes in check. I get the dubious luxury of snacking a bit without gaining too much weight. In addition, over the last few years, there has been a growing body of evidence that daily cardio speeds brain injury recovery. Mindful of all this, I would be crazy not to cycle.

During my recent ride, music came on that I listened to the summer before my injury. It was the summer of 2010, my last summer before everything changed. For a few minutes, sadness consumed me as I thought about how things used to be.

I started thinking about “normal.”

Shortly after my injury, I heard someone describe life after brain injury as “the new normal.” Frankly, I could not stand that phrase. There was nothing normal about my life during those difficult early years after my injury. The very foundation of my personality shifted. Friends dropped out of my life; family members faded to black, and financial stressors kept me as awake at night as my PTSD nightmares did. Life itself had become a veritable nightmare.

People had the audacity to call this my new normal. There was nothing even remotely normal about that existence. Sarah and I were struggling daily just to regain our footing. It remains the biggest single event in both of our lives. I steadfastly refused to accept that things were going to be like that for the long haul. The never-ending parade of challenges made life unsustainable.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are looking for “normal,” it’s a setting on your dishwasher.

One of the blessings of time is that it passes. For those new to the wacky, unexplainable realm of brain injury, let me share something that I have learned over the years: Time is your friend.

While I never accepted my early post-injury chaos as normal, my life today is pretty—dare I say it—normal. My wife Sarah and I live reasonably uneventful lives, something I say with profound gratitude.

My perception of normal has shifted since my injury. Today it is normal to lose words and have speech challenges when I am overtired or stressed. It is also normal to take more time than I did before my TBI to process simple requests. It is normal to have my ears never stop ringing. It is normal to have a wave of emotion crash over me that brings me to tears. It is normal to say too much, too candidly. It is also normal to tell the people I am closest to that I love them and that my life is enriched because of their presence.

Sometimes the lack of a filter can be a good thing.

Let’s circle back to my recent ride, shall we? As I thought about a normal life, two things came to mind. First, I have trouble really recalling what life was like before my injury. As the years continue to pass, my life before my brain injury is not only forgotten, but somehow seems less important than it did in the early years of my recovery. Second, and probably more importantly, my life today with all its quirks and challenges is really the only normal I know. The volume has been turned down on a few of my more glaring deficits. And those that remain, well, I’ve learned to live with them.

Over the last few months, I have had quite a few people tell me that I seem happier than I’ve been in a while. While I have never really been unhappy, feeling that my life is reasonably normal does bring with it a bit of peace. In the end, that’s all most of us want - a bit of peace in the midst of this one shot at life.

Comments (3)

Several lessons that I as a Brain Injury Survivor have learned the hard way. And the older I get, the more important these lessons have become.

1. Good hydration is absolutely imperative. I am still working physically and on a hot day I need to drink 300 oz or more of vitamin water a day. My Dr. told me that that much straight water would flush out essential minerals.

2. Proper nutrition can not be ignored! I obviously take a ton of supplements and prescriptions every day and those can’t be taken on an empty stomach or other problems will arise!

On several occasions, I have failed to do one or both of the above and wake up in an ambulance on the way to the hospital!

Each time when I awake I have said, “I’m okay now, you can just take me home.” The paramedic, “Where’s home?” Me, “No clue!”

As long as I eat regularly and stay properly hydrated, I have no problems!

Be wiser than you were before your injury!

Thank you for your insight in to the ‘new normal ‘, I hate this phrase too, I’m not satisfied with this normal, I am hoping I will continue to evolve and progress in recovery. It’s 2 years next month when I had emergency brain surgery for a brain tumour.
I am glad to hear that people see a more happier you, this is something I long for. I feel a real loss of joy and laughter, I am determined and motivated to improve and at times that does bring a sense of achievement and some happier situations. I long to be more free and joyous. This brain injury does get the better of me, you’ve reminded me that time is my friend and give it longer. Thanks Joanne

Thank you for writing this. Much like you, 4 1/2 years after my accident, I am living in the "current normal." Tomorrow is likely to be different than today and certainly better than 4 years ago.