Several months after my TBI, when the shock of waking up after a month in a coma had started to dissolve into the realization that things were going to be really different, I began the slow task of sorting my life out.
There were so many issues; I was unable to process conversations quickly, I felt stiff and unemotional, and I was too accepting of the things happening around me. Others thought I was passive and disinterested, but it was simply my inability to respond that made me seem that way. I was having trouble making connections to people and things around me and, as happens to many of us survivors, felt extremely isolated.
Life seemed to be whizzing by and I couldn’t keep up.
Even with all this stuff going on, there was something positive lurking that I couldn’t see. Only later, when I looked back, could I understand what had been going on.
You see, my brain injury had stripped me of my past and made my present very confusing and non-productive, but I gained something very unexpected: a strength born of a crazy kind of freedom.
The freedom I felt was the result of calamity. This new freedom had come about precisely because so much had been stripped away from me, making me like new, presenting me with new opportunities. It was the freedom of starting over. Of being someone new.
Within a week of regaining consciousness I was given my first opportunity to start over when I was asked to make a “real life” decision; a decision which defined me and my approach to life after Brain Injury. Was I going to attempt to recapture the past or forge into the unknown to create a future?
My college had elected me to receive an academic award for the previous school year, and they wanted to know if I was going to accept my award at a ceremony.
How ludicrous that question seemed to me as I lay in my hospital bed, unable to sit up by myself or cut my food. I knew the answer without even stopping to think. The “new me” was not accepting an award for the “old me”; because that person who had done really well in school and had won that award was someone else.
I didn’t know anything about what lay in front of me, but I knew in my heart that it was time to move on.
The distinction I made between the old me and the new me was the first step I took towards beginning a new life. I wasn’t the one who earned that award and I was not going to accept it for the person who did.
And this was not just about the award, or the college. This was going to be how I would live my life after my Brain Injury. I gave a very clear sign I was not going to get stuck in the past, and was instead going to find a way to move forward and live a life I would create.
At that moment I felt a new kind of strength, and feeling this strength was a very different feeling for me, one I never knew I was capable of. It was so unusual, I didn’t really know what it was I was feeling. To me, it was just a “decision”.
I’ll be the first to admit that because of the shyness and insecurities I had before I experienced a TBI, I had been much more of a follower than a leader. But now, this experience, this Traumatic Brain Injury, represented an opportunity for me to become a leader by example; by the way I chose to live my life.
I chose to be fearless. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by choosing to be fearless and enthusiastic, as open to new things and new ideas as I could be, and, most importantly: I wouldn’t quit.
We don’t need no stinking permission
Rather than being on the shy and scared side, as I was before my brain injury, I was going to stand my ground when I believed in something; be more outspoken and strong in my beliefs. At times I was wrong, but I gave myself the freedom to not beat myself up and to move on with no regrets.
In a weird kind of way, my traumatic brain injury gave me permission to explore and grow and become whatever I wanted. In the past, I had been a big “permission” type of man, always wanting someone to say it was okay for me to do something or be something.
I realized after my TBI that I could be strong and outspoken, and I could do it because I was being me. I would be someone who set a course and stood up for his beliefs, because, in my heart, I felt they were right. I saw that setting that course and being myself would allow me to be successful as I moved past my TBI to a new life.
We all have that strength, buried somewhere inside us. We just need to figure out how to access it.
I read this while sitting in the waiting room at the VA psych services, where I once again will beg for one on one counseling and be denied, because “we don’t do that here unless you attend the classes also” and the class left me feeling stupid and demeaned because I couldn’t remember anything.
Anyhow, I’m crying because everything in your article is exactly how I felt/feel! I am overwhelmed that I am not alone, I really am not different. Thank you so much. I’ve been struggling with this for 27 years.
Jeff Sebell says
No, Tracy. You are not alone. We’re all here to support each other. Thanks for writing. Jeff
Myung S Yoo says
It is Myung. Thank you for your article.
When I was reading your article “The Courageousness of the TBI Survivor”, I couldn’t stop crying. It was me. It was my case, exactly same. I felt I am not alone. Thanks a lot. You told me I can do it.
Mine was mild. I could work, drive etc after the accident. Slowly I was getting sick and sick. Finally I could not work, go out, and I had stuck at home. The medication Namenda and Rehabilitation have helped me to go out into the world. Now I am trying to communicate with the world.
I will get Prism glasses next week. It will help me a lot. I still need to find out why I am impaired regulation body temperature and I have ear problems etc. Still I will not give up.
Jeff Sebell says
Thanks for writing Myung. I know it’s a difficult road, but it’s so great to hear your attitude. Keep it up! Jeff
Myung S Yoo says
Today I got prizm glasses. Do you know what I did right after putting on the therapeutic glasses? I looked at my face reflected in the mirror and pulled my front hair, Because I didn’t like the way I had done my hair. People saw me smiling up at myself. Then I looked at the people, TV, store, and the street. Everything was very clear, bright, and peaceful. I could walk better and laugh loudly. I had even danced with joy. Can you imagine how I was glad? I felt I was looking at the New World. When we came back home, I looked out the window, and I noticed that the street scenes didn’t attack me any more. I am very glad to wear these special glasses. Now I know I can drive again. Just I wanted to share my happy news with you. Thanks again.
Maria Romanas says
Wonderful article, Jeff!
Neil Rouda says
No…thank YOU, Jeff!
The possibility of reinventing myself is an exciting way to look at my challenges. I’m sick and tired of griping about what I think I remember that I can no longer do…
In our journey, a period of mourning was necessary before moving to acceptance that this is where we are now and it is time to just move onward. It was necessary to grieve for the loss of previous self to learn to love self as is, despite having had an injury that was life-changing. There are definitely daily reminders of activities that just can’t be done. In the context of other people, sometimes the modified actions often don’t make sense to them and a task or interaction may need to now be approached differently. But we just move forward anyways, with more acceptance of self and more compassion for others who do things differently. And when we can respond confidently to what life throws our way, it changes others as well as ourselves. , it reveals how strong we are and that TBI is not to be feared, but acceptd and even embraced. It is best approached with patience and a sense of humor, and it is just a part of who we are but it doesn’t have to be the only thing that defines us. In many ways, it helped reprioritize values and relationships and now the limited energy and focus can be directed towards what really matters..
Thanks for your post. The connection meant a lot today.
I also found my inner strength after my TBI too.
We who suffer a traumatic brain injury have an invisible condition. To everyone else we look the same, but really they have no idea what’s going on in the inside.
Since my TBI I have been more outspoken and I stand up to others and I especially stand up for what I feel is right. Sometimes my actions of being brave like this has caused problems but it has also brought good out of certain situations too.
Thanks for all your articles, it’s great connecting with others who deal with the same things as me. I often feel alone because not too many people understand me.
craig lock says
Nice article, Jeff and thanks for sharing. Will post links at
Regards and all the best
“The task ahead of you can always be overcome by the power within you…and the often seemingly difficult or even “impassible”) path ahead of you is never as steep with the great spirit that lies within you.”
Jeff Sebell says
Thanks Craig, and thanks for all you do.
craig lock says
pleasure and all the best, Jeff
Don’t worry about the world ending today…
as it’s already tomorrow in scenic and tranquil ‘little’ New Zealand