Some acts are obviously courageous: a person runs into a burning building and saves a life, or a bystander dives into a lake to save a drowning person. These are dramatic examples of courage and bravery, when people make spur of the moment decisions and put their own lives at risk in order to save others.
There is, however, another, harder to see type of courage, and to appreciate it you’ve got to pay attention because this isn’t dramatic and doesn’t get lot of press. I am talking about the “we have no choice, wake up in the morning and do your work” kind of courage: the kind exhibited by TBI survivors who get up every morning, and slog through their confusion, frustration and anger to fight the daily brain injury battle with no fanfare and no immediate reward.
Think about that. People like you, TBI survivors, live a brave and courageous life simply by facing the battle, head-on, each day; the difficulty and commitment of which is something few people understand.
Your courageous-ness needs to be acknowledged, and that is what I am going to do right now.
The Courage of the TBI Survivor
A courageous person doesn’t usually consider themselves courageous or special. Rather, they act out of a feeling of obligation, or need, and because of this, true courage is often marked by humility. While it is normal and healthy for people to feel pride in themselves or feel good about what they have done, it is a characteristic of courageous people to just do their job because that is what they do, and to not consider themselves especially courageous. They are just trying to live their lives the best way they can and do what they think is right.
In the case of you, the TBI survivor, each one of you exhibits great courage as you attempt to rebuild your life. While it would be nice if others could see that or were able to understand what you go through, it’s much more important that you understand that you are fighting an honorable, courageous battle, and that the rewards you get are a product of being in that battle, and they are priceless. You should also know that other people will probably never understand it.
The TBI survivor’s rewards for being courageous are: 1) be able to live your life in a manner you find fulfilling, and 2) the knowledge and the feeling you get from knowing you have accomplished something great, even though others may not see it.
There have been very few times in my life when I have been acknowledged for what I have done; not because people don’t care, but simply because others just don’t understand. One time, I was speaking with a girl I had just met in college and the conversation shifted to the fact that I had been in a coma for a month. She stopped, looked at me and said, “You must be the strongest person in the school.”
I can remember being completely floored and not knowing what to say. I sheepishly shrugged my shoulders and walked off. That was so nice of her to say, and so completely unexpected.
How I reacted was an example of how we can be affected by our self-image. I couldn’t accept a compliment from her because, in my own mind, I was a long way from what I had been before my TBI, and not worthy of such a compliment.
That is a huge issue. Many of us can feel so unworthy and downtrodden, it is not only hard to let compliments in, we blame ourselves for too much and apologize too often.
When people pay you compliments; try to really listen to what they are saying. Don’t deflect them or refuse to believe them. Try to understand the magnitude of what you are doing. So many of us think we don’t deserve it because we aren’t what we used to be before our Brain Injury, and that we are not worthy of praise.
But you are.
We all are courageous and you are worthy
It’s hard to measure or see, on a daily basis, the results of your courageous-ness. Progress can be agonizingly slow. Add to that the fact that you aren’t performing up to our old standards, and it makes accepting any type of praise difficult. No matter how well you are doing things, it never seems good enough.
However, each day you grow. You learn. You become.
The courageous-ness you exhibit is not for a one-time event. It is on display every day, starting when you wake up and drag yourself out of bed to fight an invisible and silent opponent. In many ways life becomes a grind, one that’ll chew you up and spit you out if you let it; but you battle. You fight for your dignity and your life, and by being engaged in that fight you gain so much. That’s a hard thing to explain to someone, but you know.
Your courage is not rewarded, and is, in fact, many times overlooked, mostly for the following reason: people are unable to recognize it. Most of you heroes toil in obscurity for what you think is important; simply because that is how you need to live your lives.
There is dignity and honor in the way you live your life, and you should be proud of every thing you have accomplished.
It is an honorable battle and an honorable life.
Believe in the battle and believe in yourself.
Cassie Barr says
Thank you Jeff. It can feel impossible to continue sometimes as some people treat you like a fool. May we all remember how special we are always!
Stuart Phelps says
Jeff, thanks for the wonderful words that let us know how courageous we have to be to overcome all the obstacles that come with a TBI.
Its been very nearly eight years since I suffered a severe TBI in a motorcycle accident. At first I thought the person I was had died that day and now I had to come to understand who I am now. But as each year has past I get the opportunity to look back at the struggles I had the year before, and how I am doing better this year.
So learning to congratulate myself on being able to do what I could in the pre-injury years, and learn to be even more creative as time passes…is oh so rewarding!!
Thanks for your wonderful words of confidence!!
Richelle M Miller says
Thank you!!!!! Today was hard for me, I was turned down for something I really wanted to do on my own. I am six years out from waking up a different person than when I went to sleep.(brain aneurysm) Life is so much more difficult then it used to be, sometimes I just want to throw my hands up and say why bother? So when I opened your email it was just the shot I needed. Thank you again!!!!!
Joe Gunn says
Thank you Jeff. Your words could not have come at a better time. Sometimes it seems like no matter how hard you try to make the people who are most important understand all they do is make things worse by fighting with you over every little thing. They act like they care on the surface but deep down i don’t think they do. It’s like your life becomes collateral damage.
Joe Gunn says
Collateral damage to the people you loved and trusted the most. I would have stepped in front of a bullet for everyone of them without a seconds hesitation. It’s reached point that the ones I loved the most have become so bad for my mental health they’re almost impossible to even be around, and that makes me sad
Never have I read such a passage that has moved me to the core as this has. I find myself returning to this text, and I love it. This is a true gift, and I thank Jeff from the bottom of my huge Texas heart for his amazing life’s devotion to his work.
Words like this can heal. All we need to do is keep helping each other along, one word and hug at a time. ✌️
Jeff Sebell says
Cathy, That is very humbling. I’m so glad I can contribute. Thank you.
Douglas Cho says
Hi. Absolutely true, Jeff. In helping my 20 year old son with tbi for 4 years now after a fall off an overpass 60+ ft high, I’ve learned also to respect his decisions. Like for instance, when they make a mess after eating or how they put their shirt on. Instead of saying something about it, I’d fixed silently, to give them also a sense of hope and peace, which is also very crucial to their recovery as you know. Hope this be useful for you courageous journey.
Bob Taylor says
Thank you, Jeff, for articulating it so well and so truly. I was injured over a half century ago, when I was 7. I was nearly killed in a deadly suitcase bombing and survived miraculously.
I grew up in a world which knew nothing about childhood TBIs and was not properly reassessed until forty four years after my injury.
It has taken courage and thank you for reminding me.
Steven Rafferty says
Read this article and it was just the boost I needed today as it was my 10 year anniversary from receiving my TBI (car crash resulting in a 5 week coma). I have done alot in my recovery, ran a marathon 31/2 year ago and have been competing in triathlons ever since. I am just trying to get the most from life now that I have been given a second chance, I think I do all these things to give those close to me a reason to be proud of me, even though I know they already are. Anyway I just wanted to say thanks cause your article really helped me today.
Erin Hong says
Thanks a lot. I couldn’t stop crying while I was reading your article. You are expressing what I meet everyday. I am still struggling to survive, but I will not give up.
Beautifully said. TBI Survivors are the most courageous people I have ever met.
If anyone took the time to spend time with a Survivor, they would understand exactly what we know.
I am the proud mother & caregiver of my son who is a Survivor of a severe traumatic brain injury 6/4/2011 ?
I feel less alone in my battle now.
Thank you Jeff for your awesome testimony. June 16,2000 my life changed as I was hit by a train. It throw me through the windshield, fractured my back twice and broke my collar bone. I also had a serve traumatic brain injury. They had to drill a hole in my frontal lobe to relieve the pressure and swelling on my brain. I sent 4.5 months in the hospital, 70 something months in therapy. Speech, occupational, and physical every day of the week 3 hrs a day.