Recently, some friends asked me to join them at a local bar for a monthly get together. I chose to decline because I try to avoid situations that make me feel brain-injured.
I would feel brain-injured because I try to avoid driving late in the day, so I would have to ask for a ride. Sure, I have many friends that would not hesitate to give me a ride, but then it becomes difficult when I am tired, a little after getting there, and I ask them to take me home. Again, they would do it without hesitation. The problem is that this makes me feel brain- injured. The fact that I have a brain injury never leaves my mind, but it also isn’t too glaring after all these years. Until a situation like this comes up. First, I must be driven around like a child, but even more than that, it is the knowledge that sitting around a table amidst a lively conversation and the bustling of a popular local nightspot is not something I am really capable of enjoying anymore.
Chatting with friends is something I enjoy immensely, but it has to happen on my terms. I would need to enter, chat for a few minutes, and then excuse myself, go home, and sit in a low light room with absolute quiet for a while. Entering into this scenario by arranging a ride and subjecting myself to overstimulation makes me feel brain-injured. Having to leave early makes me feel brain-injured. Having to ask someone else to leave an enjoyable night out and attend to my limitations by taking me home makes me feel brain-injured.
Being on my own, following my routines, allows me to avoid this feeling of constricted opportunities that my brain injury has circumscribed my life with. I like to go to my favorite local coffee shop in the mornings. I am at my best early in the day. I can engage in conversations with a variety of people, and most importantly, when I begin to fatigue, I can pay up and just go home. Life is good.
I enjoy playing board games. Many of my friends enjoy playing board games. The most likely times that we can get a group together is weeknights. By night, I have trouble focusing on the game. This means that everyone has to come over to my house and I have to play host for every gaming session. Most of the games that we enjoy playing take two or more hours to play. All of this is extremely difficult for me. This makes me feel brain-injured. So now I very rarely game with my friends.
Nowhere made me feel more brain-injured than when I worked at my factory job. Every day, I was choosing between saying I couldn’t do something and then having to worry about my job, or doing a job that required all the things that I was no longer good at like working fast, working with small pieces and tools that required focus and fine hand-eye coordination, working for eight hours a day with only two ten-minute and one thirty-minute break. My brain injury became my identity. I was “that brain-injured guy.” After working for nearly twenty-five years unsupported in this factory I was let go. This was a gift. I think it was by getting out of that situation that I began to discover how much of my life I could live and not be limited by my brain injury. I believe that leaving the factory made it easier to avoid situations that make me feel my brain injury.
It’s not always this bleak. I really enjoy playing disc golf. I have a couple of friends that can play it with me in the late morning and early afternoon. It is something that I enjoyed doing before my accident that I was eventually able to come back to. For all the time and effort that I have put into playing (over 30 years), I should be much better than I am, but I have a brain injury. I have made peace with this. That I can play at all is good enough for me.
I hope that others with a brain injury can see this as well. Some days I feel as if my entire life is ruled by my brain injury. Where a resounding “No” squelches every opportunity! However, I have many more days where I feel that my life is not ruled by what I can no longer do. Instead, I affirm how much I can “be.” Not be good or be bad, but just be.
I can just be me.
Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.
Jeff Brooks replied on Permalink
Thank you Mike. I feel like I’m not alone because of my TBI. It’s been 3 years that my bike accident occurred...and I’m still battling depression. But reading your story makes me feel confident that I can still pursue all my dreams and not have this brain injury hold me back
Julie replied on Permalink
Thanks for sharing Mike! I also feel that most of my days are ruled by my TBI; but i've narrowed it down to just moments of my days-i won't give the whole day over. It's difficult to make someone understand my frustrations so I feel better off sometimes in my own comfort zone.
Joe Masanz replied on Permalink
Hi, Mark ..... of course, I know that feeling. And it has been a downer since the MnBIA group in Roseville suddenly quit meeting. I remember your talks there, as well as the books you have written. My brain injury has improved vastly, but now I am finding that I am disabled twice. Because although I may be able to contribute, a gap of some 16 years in the resume, plus the fact that I am over 60 means that it pretty much useless to look for anything meaningful. :-(
Mike Strand replied on Permalink
Hello Joe, it's nice to reconnect! It is a weird race to recovery. Just as you slowly put more distance and recovery behind you, old age sneaks up on you.
All those years spent honing my driving skills, and now I get too tired to drive late in the day!
Nancy replied on Permalink
Mike I appreciate you posting this. Really insightful. Thanks. I got a lot out of reading about how you experience life and know where you're at your best.
Judith replied on Permalink
Lovely article, Mike. Thank you for writing about our collective TBI experiences.
Al replied on Permalink
So much of your story sounds like mine. There are some differences where I tried to pretend there was no brain injury for many years. One of the results of this approach was to lose my friends. For one reason of another, I don’t remember them all, the friends are all gone. So, while you may have problems dealing with your friends, it is good tha you have them.
Mike Strand replied on Permalink
That is such a dangerous path; ignoring your limitations. Yet how do we reconcile that, with maintaining the positive can-do attitude that is so necessary to recovery?
Scott replied on Permalink
Thank you for sharing your story! It will help others understand the challenges people with TBI face on a daily basis with even the most basic activity.
AF replied on Permalink
Outstanding, Genuine and Very True!! Thanks!
David Bruce replied on Permalink
Dear Mike. Hang in there, You're NOT Alone. I had Brain Surgery, a right temporal lobectomy, in 2007, and returned to one of those factory jobs a mere 4 months later. I had anxiety issues from being labeled that guy with the brain injury. Here 10.5 years later, I am now not worried what others say or do. I could control that factory robot in slow motion, my bosses could control me in that same slow motion, but I found the Only One I could control in full motion was myself. After that discovery, no one else has any effect on my thinking or actions. Do as Your Mind Tells You, and Progress Each Day as it was Your Last. GOD Bless You for Keeping Strong.