Over the last few months, things have really changed for me. However, for as much as they have changed, many things remain the same.
Looking back, it was sometime last fall that my ability to sleep in a meaningful way finally returned. Little did I realize how much my lack of sleep was contributing to my brain injury symptoms. As the weeks of improved sleep continued to pass, my memory began to sharpen. I found myself being able to recall events of the day, as well as things that happened the week prior.
Those uninjured might think this is no big deal, but for me, it was huge. There were years that I was hard-pressed to tell you what month it was.
As I continued to ride the sleep train, other challenges began to abate. Word finding became less of an issue, my ability to hold a conversation for more than a few minutes returned, and my confidence grew by leaps and bounds.
I said to my wife, Sarah, on more than one occasion, “Thank God that’s behind us!”
Only through the prism of time can I see that many of my lingering challenges were symptoms of sleep deprivation. The equation was simple: take away the sleep debt, and the symptoms go with it.
If this all sounds great, rest assured, it is. Sarah and I have walked a very difficult path over the last seven years. I am eternally grateful that we are still walking this path together, side-by-side, and that we remain happily married.
But what goes up must come down.
Sometimes unexpected and unrelated medical conditions can exacerbate my traumatic brain injury symptoms. I have known this for years, but have just learned a new lesson about how true this can be.
In mid-January, my back went out again. I have had back challenges for close to forty years, so this is not new to me. However, having a herniated disk is no cakewalk. The pain was off the charts and with the pain came the loss of sleep. You probably know where I am going with this.
Once my meaningful sleep decided to go on a vacation, it opened the door for my brain injury symptoms to make a comeback. They took to the stage as if they had never left. The bank of brain fog came rolling in and brought with it speech challenges and processing speeds that were slower than a snail on a summer’s day.
Moreover, against my will and wishes, I was very abruptly reminded that I am not over this thing. I will forever be a brain injury survivor and live in the reality that I may react differently to health challenges than those who are uninjured.
I have a new perspective these days that informs me that my challenges are only temporary. I continue to learn to take it all in stride. Once my back issues are behind me (pardon the pun), my sleep will resume, and with sleep comes an increase in my quality of life.
These days, I try to be mindful of how I view events in my life. If I view this recent turn of events as a setback, I will get discouraged. However, if I choose to look at this as a lesson, then it becomes a positive experience, one that can help me grow.
I have some uncertainty about the future, now knowing a couple of my vertebrae by name. There may be a back surgery sometime this year. But I’ve learned that I need to simply take it day-by-day and to let tomorrow take care of itself. If I live well today, my tomorrows are something to look forward to, and not to dread. Today I chose to live and to embrace my life. Worry serves no greater good. My days of hiking with a backpack are most likely gone, but that’s okay. I’ll just carry my granddaughter!