Surviving My Flood of 2022

David and his wife smiling from a simulated space station

This is the month that I mark 12 years as a brain injury survivor. Twelve years since the day everything changed. Twelve years since the day I survived being hit by a car. The memories of twisted metal, shattered glass, and a broken body rise less frequently, but they do come at times, unbidden, a reminder of all I have been through.

These “crash anniversaries” have pushed me to reflect; it’s hard not to look back at the “before and after” chapters of my life — sifting, shuffling, and reinterpreting the contents of each. I still mourn the loss of my old life and lament the disappearance of precious loved ones who walked out of my life, unable to understand or accept that with brain injury comes personality changes. For all of us, I was no longer who I once was.

But, this year feels different. I’ve been much less introspective, much less interested in comparing life today to what it used to be. I think this year is the healthiest crash anniversary I’ve ever had, in large part, I believe, because I spend less and less time looking back. These days, life is pretty okay. Learning mindfulness over the last couple of years has definitely helped me to better see life through the prism of now, instead of yesterday or tomorrow. 

The brain injury life is now familiar. It comes with quirks and oddities, sure. But for the most part, I’m okay with it. Not taking things too seriously took me years to master, but it certainly beats fighting what I can’t change. Humor and acceptance go a long way.

But, even after 12 years, I am still learning and discovering new things about how TBI affects my day-to-day life. Last month, my wife, Sarah, and I were fortunate enough to take a vacation. Like so many others our age who steadfastly refuse to grow up, we went to Disney World. In the midst of the mouse ears and happy families, I had a moment, an unexpected in-your-face reminder that I’m still compromised. 

One of the newest attractions at Disney is actually a restaurant — Space 220, which simulates dining on a space station. As only the Imagineers at Disney can do, the experience is stunningly realistic. A simulated elevator ride up seven miles into space ends with a short walk to the dining room. Window walls 25-feet tall show the earth far below. Random astronauts float by weightlessly. It was incredibly realistic and all-encompassing. Gazing in wonder at the earth below, I lost it. It was like every emotional barrier and every restraint inside me lifted all at once. Tears filled my eyes. I was completely unable to speak and so overloaded and over-stimulated that all I could do was sit there and let it wash over me. 

Seated at our table, Sarah was completely unaware of what was happening to me until our eyes met. Well experienced from living with me, she knew just to wait and to be there. She understood that whatever “it” was, would pass. 

Here’s where the learning comes in. Early on in my recovery, I would have called that kind of intensely emotional experience a meltdown, but that is not really a good description. I was actually experiencing what is called “emotional flooding” — something I only heard about a couple of years ago. Fortunately, I’ve learned that no matter how my brain injury may be affecting me in the moment, it will always pass. And, as expected, the emotional floodwaters receded and we were both able to fully appreciate the immersive experience — and our dinner.

I no longer assign good or bad attributes to events like this in my life. Things are things. But I can say that being able to feel so deeply, at almost a primal level, is a gift — a surprising and strange gift, maybe, but a gift nevertheless. I was more than present in that moment gazing at the “earth” from “space”; I was overly present. While this may make no sense to some, others will be undoubtedly nodding right now, having experienced similar events. 

And now I begin year 13. I have no expectations; I only hope to live my best life possible. So far, so good. 

Comments (2)

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It's always wonderful to read about your post-TBI life. Sounds like you and Sarah are doing well since I last saw you both at the brain injury support group in Conway, NH, way back in 2015.

I read with interest your latest post and wanted to share some of my insights. Let me assure you that some of what you're experiencing now has little if anything to do with the brain injury you sustained. Like yourself, I find myself literally weeping like a baby at times, so overwhelmed by emotion when caught up in something that cannot be explained. However, I've learned that maybe, just maybe, it has nothing to do with the severe TBI that I sustained while cycling almost 30 years ago when I was hit from behind by a truck and launched 70 feet along a deserted highway in Shreveport, LA.

Instead, I have learned that it has to do with my being almost 60 now, nearly 30 years removed from the four-day coma and 37 days of posttraumatic amnesia that left me confused about an injury I had no recollection of.

No, it's not brain-injury related. Instead, it's called aging.

As someone who routinely sits with and evaluates individuals, well past midlife and many of them aged and showing signs of cognitive decline and dementia, I see a pattern. One thing that stands out is how they experience life now, as both a wonder and something to be grateful for. They share stories of how watching a commercial, an old movie, looking at photographs of grandkids (and their own kids) sends them reaching for the Kleenex box. Tears flow easily now not because of neurological decline or disease but because of a renewed sense of awe and wonder for everything they've experience and witnessed, and now as they've aged, they look back on their lives with a renewed sense of all that they've been blessed with.

And so, as you gazed in wonder at the universe and all that God has created, perhaps those tears have more to do with your age and your acknowledgment that you have been blessed, that you survived something that claims someone's life every 60 seconds, that even as small as you are, your life has intrinsic and eternal value.

By sitting with folks who are in their 60s, 70s, and 90s, I've learned that age has a way of opening our eyes to what is important, to marriages that last, to wounds that have healed, to an appreciation for all that we have been blessed with. As we age, we lose the fear of what others think of us, and we gain perspective on change. Our history informs us of life's brevity, and we are made aware of everything that we should be grateful for.

Something that should bring all of us to tears.

Just my two cents worth. Keep writing, David, and keep experiencing the newness of all that life has to offer -- and your blessed existence!


As a TBI survivor myself, I am so very empathic to a lot of what you have written. It seems that you have come to be very much at peace in living with your brain injury, and you conveyed that very well. Thank you for sharing your peace of mind!