What’s Gone… and What Remains

David and his wife smiling, her hair whipping in the wind in front of her face

It was an unexpected realization, one that I immediately shared with my wife, Sarah. “I no longer have executive function problems,” I announced proudly. Her smile confirmed my statement. This had not always been the case. In my life before brain injury, I had never even heard the term “executive function.” For those unfamiliar with the concept, it simply pertains to whether my decision making and self-regulation are appropriate given the circumstances. Am I able to discern whether something is in my best interest?

A perfect example would be the day — about a year after my injury — when I decided to go out for a bike ride … in a snowstorm. My plan made perfect sense to me: I had plenty of tread on my skinny tires and I was certain I would be okay. The ride ended a few minutes later with a fall that resulted in torn ligaments in my hand. Along with the physical damage came a $12,000 medical bill and a lot of embarrassment.

As much as I’d like to say that this was an isolated event, it was not. For several years, I made one questionable decision after another. Poor Sarah must have been at her wit's end, wondering what was coming next.

Like much of my recovery, there was no light-switch moment when I was suddenly making good decisions. Instead, there was an ever-so-slow migration back to healthy decision making. Today, I no longer question the decisions I make. And suffice it to say, I haven’t taken any bike rides in snow storms.

Realizing that, for several years now, I no longer struggled with executive function, I started reflecting on other challenges that have diminished or disappeared.

That feeling of complete and utter loss? That’s no longer part of my life. How about the confusion that comes early on after a brain injury? That’s not a part of life today either. Consider the sense of aloneness … the feeling that I was the only one who ever experienced such a devastating loss that affected all areas of my life. That’s gone, too, in particular because, over the years, I have connected with countless other people who share my fate as a brain injury survivor. And the loss that came with friends and family who quietly backed away from the “new David”? That’s in the rearview mirror as well.

Today, my life is overflowing with new friendships, many of whom are survivors of brain injury. And for those who left, it’s a shame; they’ve missed out on me, and I have missed
out on them.

What's gone is no longer something to lament. Many of the things that have left my life have actually enriched its overall quality. Go figure … I never saw that coming.

What remains in my life does so largely by the choices I make today, choices I no longer second guess. What remains is a life very much worth living. I have a profound sense of purpose these days, much of which involves helping others with brain injury by openly and transparently living my life. What remains are people who love me for who I am, and who I am becoming. There is something precious about no-strings-attached, unconditional love. It’s wonderful to be the recipient, but even better to be the giver of love without conditions.

My life today is far from storybook perfect. I still have challenges that remain and may forever. Only time will tell. PTSD still lurks in the darkness. Cognitive weariness can still steal my words. Aphasia means that I often misuse and misplace English words. Thankfully, Sarah and I often laugh at the things I say. It no longer shatters my self-esteem. I’m just a bit quirky, but who isn’t?

And when it snows out here in New England, I no longer fight the urge to take my bike out for a spin. C’mon now, who would ever take a bike ride in the snow?