TBI and the Meaning of Life

Mike Strand: TBI and the Meaning of Life

In my TBI life, I find that my opinions have no currency. Nobody takes what I say seriously, at least not as seriously as I do. The only person who doubts what I’m saying more than anyone else is me—unless we’re talking about living with a Traumatic Brain Injury. Then I’m the expert. Then I can speak without fear of contradiction.

No one would, or should, care about what I have to say about the meaning of life unless I tack brain injury on to it. Like I have done with the title to this piece. I’m okay with that. I can speak to finding the meaning of life after brain injury.

I don’t think the meaning of life is really any different without a brain injury, except it may be more clear after TBI. It is clearer because it is less clouded by alternatives. Life with a brain injury certainly can’t be about making money. In fact, being able to support oneself after a brain injury is more a matter of luck than anything a person could take credit for. It can’t be about benefitting society either. Again, I am lucky if I am not too much of a burden.

Many believe it comes from a higher power. God bless them, but I do not possess the gift of faith.

What can the meaning of life be for me, as a person living with a severe brain injury?

Life is all about building nurturing relationships. All this, and nothing more.

When I came out of my coma, when nothing I had before was mine any longer—my intellect, my physical abilities, my career, my whole identity, all I had left were the people in my life.

All I had left that was me were the people in my life. I treasured that. I was grateful for that. They had busy lives. Lives that did not easily accommodate spending time with me. All I could do was be grateful that they came at all.

My life didn’t begin until they walked into my room. My face would light up. I was glad to see them. Who doesn’t feel good when they light up the face of a person they’re coming to see? It’s magic, it’s visceral, it’s real.

Nietzsche wrote, “It is not sympathy in sorrow, but fellowship in joy, that makes true friends.” In other words, any decent person will cry with you, but your friends will smile with you. These are words that apply even to people without brain injuries.

To labor alone, to create that which is seen by and appreciated by no one else, is a supremely selfish act. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with living that way, but it often leads to one asking, “What is the meaning of life?” Whereas, if you can go about your day, surrounded by people who know you and enjoy your good company, you cannot but conclude that you are living a good life.

Posted on BrainLine April 15, 2019.

Comments (4)

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I’ve been catching up on articles and stories here for hours. It’s been a while since I felt disconnected and found myself reading up on TBI because for me, well, it’s also been a while since my own. This is the first time in a great while I dropped my jaw and felt someone else’s words come as if they were my own. I appreciate your article and your openness. I agree that the people and relationships from previous “selves” are our only true connection to the link of our identity, and also that connecting to the world and the places and people around us is about the only motivation I have; despite other interests and strong opinions I would always rise to resolve a piece of life or a person who was “wrong” to me, but I am not tempted to action or pursuit by such interests and positions in any way. It is only truly to preserve the people who were there with me, and saw where I’d gone, and bravely went there with me. I can think of one. Most preferred to stay stuck in the past - which was, of course, the present at the time - but that all depends on who’s perspective you take. I like the freedom of taking a chiral, racemic sort of perspective: completely my own ruled by the inner me that’s been excluded from competing in this world - nobody thinks I threaten their chance to dominate and decide this social order anymore - and I get to live as an interested observer of this effort full deception people seem to imprison themselves within - battling to correct the shared reality; to fight for a certainty to life, to persuade and petrify in place their own sense of the world. On the polarity completely opposite this perspective of observer I get to live free of a position to play, no cards in hand, I live for others and find meaning in seeing my way into someone’s life so they can be the best version of themselves they can be. I love to observe, and often paralysis by analysis roots me into inertia, but I drift away and couldn’t stay in the moment if I were to lock myself in a monastery for a million lifetimes. I can barely recall the point of this comment, other than to thank you for writing it - though I seem to have made it about myself just as every other TBI comment immediately takes shape. But to finish my thought, I observe and sit excluded, on the one extreme, and with that punishment comes permission to be self-less (not selfless, per se, but less than my former self and more of a part of people, separated from within). I connect, and merge and be with and within the experiences I treasure with everyone, really, but particularly with the one or two people who volunteered this duality of self and self, of past with present, that is astonishing to me to this day. What an expanse the human mind can be? What a gift I have. I suffered for this, but nothing in life is free- true to both sides of the transaction. I suppose the mindfulness movement and thousands of years of meditation traditions speak to harmony and balance. They seem to exist as much as can be directly down the middle, like stopping two binary stars mid-orbit at the moment they’re opposite paths cross. Yeah, may be peaceful in the moment of perfect unity but present is never present long enough, and keeping up requires a lifetime of following meaning as it skips moment to moment. I prefer the TBI harmony - wildly opposite polarity so rebellious of neutrality, really incapable of meditation on the moment long enough to get it and capture its meaning. I am already miles in some other moment way back then, or far out ahead. Boundless because I have no choice. Beautiful in it’s totality, though terrible in times of acute severity and distinctions. It really is all relative. Reality is where we want it, but it’s never quite what we thought it would be. The only constant in this existence is the connections shared and held together with someone else in unison. Enough of those flashes of self and selfless ego eroding but erotic in its togetherness. Yeah, that’s what I look for. Just simple moments along the way that Inshare life with others. Sometimes there’s complexity to them, but the necessary condition is the formation into the world with the togetherness of an empty sky. Links of self across time have set piecemeal in the past as I’ve carried onwards planting more of myself along this empty sky where your moment meets mine and - bang - permanence in present lasting into the past emptying meaning in bursts along the blank, tenentless sky until moments without purpose link together and grow along the way like one constellation that is life. constant binary orbit with thphilosophical stayed too, it’s been a while.

It was eye opening to read this. Please continue to share your life with us. This is inspiring to many.

Mike, Well written-I know I sustained my injury in 2000/2001- after a fall. I learned I had a contracue-who would have thought that all my years as a practicing OT; I would get that? I've been very lucky that my family/friends supported me in the long road back. Sometimes I wonder what did I do? Keep up the good work. John Koza

Nicely written Mike. Thanks.