Completing My Education After Traumatic Brain Injury
Kelli Gary talks about the struggles she faced when going back to complete her education and some of the ways she coped with the difficulties caused by her injury.
I tried to go back to being in ROTC. I was medically discharged from the military, so I didn't go back to my Army--my Army setting. But then I also tried to get back into the same class that I had. I was about to continue in my junior year, because I basically didn't miss any classes because I was basically at the end of my sophomore year when I had the accident. So I was just like a semester behind, trying to jump back into those same classes that I was scheduled to take in the semester, and I couldn't do it. I couldn't focus. I could not follow the lectures. I could not understand the material. And this was all of the things that my neuropsychologist told my mother that would happen to me and that she tried to tell me, but I wouldn't listen. I--you know--I was emotionally unstable. I had anger management--I had anger problems. I was still angry and didn't really realize it. I thought I was okay because I had gotten so much better physically. I--you know--so when I came back home and just sat back for a couple of months, and had a chance to at least just sit back and think--okay, you can no longer do this. What can you do? So I went back to school, and I started slow. I just took small--just basic--actually, remedial classes just to get me in the-- just to get me going back to school again--getting used to going back to school again. Taking a class here or there. Remedial reading. Remedial math. Remedial vocabulary. One speech class. And then as I was learning to learn how to study--I was taking study skills classes, things that I thought I would never have to take because I had moved beyond those things. And basically it was also a hit to my ego, as well, because I'd never considered myself a lower-level student. I was always a high achieving student. But I did. I started back slow. I started to seek out some resources, not many, but at least I went to the department of disabilities for my school and--you know--saw how I could integrate into the school that way. After about being in school for a year, I was able instead of taking one class here or there, I was able to take--maybe take two or three, and at the same time I was exploring different options, because I know I did not want to go back. I couldn't go back into the military. I no longer wanted to be a business major, which was my major on the side besides military science, so I looked at other options that was at the school near my home. It was a commuter school, so I didn't have to stay on campus. I could go--I could stay at home and commute to school. And so that was very helpful because I had the supervision of my mother. And I decided--then I looked at all the options, and then I looked into occupational therapy because I knew about the field because I had it. I went to speak to some former occupational therapists that were part of my care. And I spoke to my neurologist, who actually advised me against it. [laughter] But I did speak to him, and I decided that I would just take a few classes at a while until I could build up. And so that's what basically led me back into the--led me, and then I continued to study hard and take more classes until I was taking a full caseload. And I got accepted into the occupational therapy program at the school and learned from there. Well, for the 2 years that I had completed before the injury, it took me 6-1/2 years to finish. Because I basically--when I came back, I had to start all over again. So, I mean--starting from remedial classes and just taking one or two classes a year, but because--luckily because I had already had 2 years and a lot of my prerequisites--the general English, math--was already taken and I had already passed those classes, those credits transferred. So, besides the fact that I had switched majors from a business major to a science major and I had more classes related to occupational therapy to take, I didn't have to take any other prerequisites. And the other things that I took was for my own edification --you know--to build up my reading skill or to build up my math skill.
Posted on BrainLine December 2, 2009.
Kelli Williams Gary, PhD, MPH, OTR/L is an assistant professor in the department of occupational therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University. She sustained a severe traumatic brain injury in 1991.
Produced by Vicky Youcha and Brian King, BrainLine.