A long time ago, back in my pre-pubescent years, someone got me the Chicken Soup for the Soul book. I'm pretty sure it was the original one, and even then, the grouping of stories seemed to me a genius concept. I could sit in my room or on my back porch or on top of a towel on the North Carolina beach sand and read all about the trials and triumphs of other people. I remember starting the book, but I don’t remember finishing it. I just remember my dad’s brain injury, which stopped my life in its tracks in July 1996. No North Carolina vacation. No boys of summer. No more regular, happy, angst-y, curious teenage life. And no desire to finish that book about puppies and tennis stars and dreams coming true.
All I wanted that summer was a book about brain injury, and not one written by a doctor or a psychologist. I wanted a story about someone who lived with a brain injury. I wanted to read something I could relate to — anything with people who had their life flip-turned upside down by TBI. Anyone like me.
Four years later, Cathy Crimmins wrote Where is the Mango Princess, and it was the closest thing I could find to what I was looking for. (Cathy Crimmins, I wish you could know how much your memoir has done for me.) Later I would read Over My Head and Every 21 Seconds and a slew of other brain injury books, each of which has helped me heal in bits and pieces along the way. Yet each memoir and non-fiction narrative only scratches the tip of this gigantic iceberg that is brain injury. There are, after all, 5.3 million+ people with TBI. And I'm not even one of those 5.3. I am just a girl with a dad with a severe frontal lobe TBI. I’m one of the millions more who live a life affected by brain injury. Survivors, clinicians, caregivers, doctors, wives, uncles, fiancés, daughters — the endless many of us out there who have our own story of brain injury.
In 2012, I chose to tell my own story — like Cathy and Claudia and Brian and Geo and all those other brain injury authors I feel as if I already know. My book is He Never Liked Cake, inspired by the lost little girl 17 Julys ago and all my friends and the people I’ve met over the years that don’t know a lick about TBI but are up for a good story.
And then came the “Chicken Book,” as my family affectionately refers to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury. Seventeen years later, and here is a book I would have scarfed up word after word in the emergency room of Allegheny General almost two decades ago. Perhaps there is an irony in the fact that I am one of the contributing authors — “Yoga Love” is my snippet. But more importantly, this book is rife with the stories of getting that phone call, emergency rooms, accidents, tears, brain drains, rehab, spills, pills, and all the stuff I know so well. I’ve dog-eared every page that mentions executive function. Few books allow me to do that! To put it mildly, I’m positively thrilled that someone took the initiative to reach out to the vast pool of brain injury folk and as us to contribute our stories. These stories help us heal.
Just this past month, I spoke at the Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania conference on the topic of writing, and how sharing your story heals. After talking to this very large group of survivors, family, friends, therapists, caseworkers, MSWs, wanna-be writers, almost authors and creatives, I realized how much I unabashedly believe this to be true. Sharing your story heals, and we 5.3 million+ can use some healing. In fact, the pain is oftentimes invisible to the outer world and makes it hard to determine what exactly constitutes as a brain injury and how much that brain injury can change a person. We all see these singular events through our own lens. The injuries vary, along with the personalities, the people, the finances, the geography, the age, the lifestyle, but we all are the same, because we all have a story to share and our story will help someone else.
I could not possibly have articulated this notion better than the “Chicken Book’s” very own editor, Carolyn Roy-Bornstein, in her own contribution:
“But now, looking back, I find that writing was actually therapeutic after all. It gave me the opportunity to exert some control over a completely senseless situation. I could not change any aspect of the accident … But I could control the narrative. I could not change the outcome, but I could try to make something positive come of it, by sharing our experience with others.…”
Click here to find out more about Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Truamtic Brain Injuries.