Like everyone says about themselves: before my brain injury, I was above average. I was super smart, athletic, type A, and highly motivated. This also meant that I put a lot of pressure on myself. There was absolutely no reason I shouldn’t be a captain of industry, spiritual advisor to the Dalai Lama, and the first president to be elected unanimously.
Of course, those things weren’t happening, and as I eased into my mid-twenties I began a gradual descent into despair. I was living a life deferred. I was telling myself that somehow between now and forty this would all happen. I was telling myself everybody would be so shocked when all this happened, even though I knew it would happen all along.
Except, that it wasn’t happening, and deep down I knew it never would. I was going to be one of those guys from that Bruce Springsteen song reliving the glory days of my youth. And then something wonderful happened.
I sustained a severe brain injury.
In one fell swoop, about as fell as swoops can get, all those hopes and dreams were off the table. It took a gravel hauling semi-truck to knock my dreams away. I almost died, but lucky for me, I tend to live.
Like most people who have suffered an accident like this, I eventually became depressed. I didn’t want to live half a life. I didn’t want to be in a world with only half the possibilities (and they were the lower half of the range). I raged, I strove, and I willed it otherwise. I made a remarkable recovery, but the best I would ever be is “a very high functioning person with a brain injury.”
My ideas and thoughts, achievements, and surmounted peaks, would always have the brain injury qualifier; i.e., that was great… for a guy with a brain injury. I had attained some degree of agency but without authority. Any argument I made was always suspect. Was I sure? How do you know? The most positive response I could get from any of my assertions was, “Well, I don’t know about that….”
So, I wadded up all my ambition and tossed it away. I radically accepted that I was just me, same as everyone else. I wasn’t better, smarter, or faster; nor did I have to be. When I truly accepted that, a most wonderful thing happened. This huge onerous weight that I didn’t even realize I was carrying, was gone.
That was the day I found that I had become a new person. I wasn’t trying to be who I would have been if I hadn’t had a brain injury. I may not be better, I certainly wasn’t worse, but I was most definitely different.
I no longer live a life complicated by ambition. If I want a feeling of accomplishment, I tie my shoes! There was a time when that simple act felt impossible, but that time has passed. I have done things, hard things. I don't need to prove anything to the world— competition is for other folks. Those poor people who never had brain injuries—they have to continue doing hard things.
I am simply me. I can care and feel, love and be loved, and be immensely happy all the while. I am happy in the here and now.
The hero awakens.