I was accused of faking my brain injury for attention. There is no way to soften the blow of a statement like this. I took what is arguably the toughest hit of my life, had to be rushed to the nearest trauma center with cuts, bruises, broken bones and a damaged brain – and was subsequently called a fake.
As I began my second life as a brain injury survivor, I found myself having to play defense against stunningly hurtful and relationship-ending accusations.
Brain injury is blatantly misunderstood by so many. The healing process for most injuries follows a predictable path. When I was plowed down by a car back in 2010, my orthopedist let me know that I would be in a cast for three months and that most of my pain would be gone within six months. Broken bones heal at a predictable rate. In fact, you could have set the Atomic Clock by his prediction. Six months after my accident, almost as if scripted, my physical pain ended.
But not so for my brain injury.
There is no end-date. No ah-ha moment when you wake up one day and say, “Thank God that nightmare is over!”
Our bodies heal, as do our brains. But we, as survivors, are left with unseen, invisible and silent injuries that we carry for life. They represent TBI battle scars on our collective souls.
Those who know us, and often those closest to us, see us regain our physical wellness and expect our brain injury recovery to follow in lockstep.
Kids, how’s that one working out?
My oldest son turned twenty-eight just last week, and we haven’t seen each other in years. His birthday tore open a still festering wound.
In 2011, the first year of my second life, the whispers started. “Dad is faking this whole brain injury thing for attention.” These fires were fanned by a family member no longer involved in my life until they grew from small flames to fires only a dragon could produce.
My life lay in utter desolation, withered by false accusations. We know the old TBI two-step: I looked “normal.”
The most insidious part of it all is this is that many are accused at the same point in time that they are least able to advocate for themselves, to defend against falsehoods. Early on, many of us have yet to find our footing. Our lack of the ability to meaningfully defend our injury is perceived by many as a passive admission of wellness. And to have an injury that needs to be defended is another can of worms entirely.
I, you, and anyone impacted by a TBI has much better things to do than walk through life “pretending” to be compromised.
This topic hits a raw emotional nerve with me. Can you tell?
I’ve not seen my oldest son since 2011. He drank the Kool-Aid and thinks I am a faker. His younger brother walked out of my life as well. For the first couple of years, I kept calling and texting him:
How is life?
I heard you had a new girlfriend.
I heard you moved to a new place.
You can only reach out for so long and have texts and calls unanswered before you realize that each call, each text opens the wound anew. Last week was the first time in twenty-eight years I’ve not wished him a Happy Birthday. His life is moving on, and these years are unrecoverable. What I wouldn’t give to hear his voice, to hear how his day passed, to feel my phone vibrate and see a text from him.
Later this month, his younger brother turns twenty-seven. He drank the same Kool-Aid. He moved from New Hampshire to Wisconsin last year –at least that’s what I’ve heard. He’s been gone for years as well.
Is life after brain injury complicated?
You tell me. I already know I am not alone in this one.
As time passes, I have found that by being painfully open, others who share my fate know that they no longer travel alone. Such is the power of survivors sharing with other survivors. Thank you for being there to hear me, and please know that I am here for you in this strange reality we share.