Saturday, February 03, 2018

So, You've had a Brain Injury. Now What?

Brain injuries are the worst. I know, because I’ve had a doozy in 2008. I don't remember much, but I know it scared the hell out of everyone I love.
I’m not the same person in many ways. Sleep, pain, balance, reasoning skills, memory, the ability to divide my attention and my patience have all taken a big hit. For me, my cognitive abilities were most affected. Sometimes I think, “Wouldn’t it have been nice if I were missing a leg, or paralyzed from the waist down?” At least then, people could see the challenges I face every day. No one would be asking, “Are you really disabled?”—which happens. But that’s not the case, and there is no way to know which effects are going to stick around for the long haul.
How did I deal with it? At first, not very well. I had to give up my profession as a teacher, I hibernated, I wallowed in self-pity, and I grieved for the loss of me.
I’ve sometimes wondered if those were important phases to go through, and I like to think they were. At the opposite end of that spectrum is denial. Had I chosen to lie to myself and pretend nothing was as bad as it really was, maybe I never would have ever gotten down to work.
Everyone has seen those 30 second inspirational videos of heroic patients on treadmills or in braces learning how to walk again. These are truly amazing people making progress against all odds. They are living miracles. But, in the case of a brain injury, much of that struggle is invisible. There are no physiotherapists or coaches. The work happens every moment of everyday while doing the simplest tasks. A brain injured patient is struggling alone, and it’s exhausting.
Some skills are easy to work on and a brain is plastic. It can rewire itself. It’s an important fact to know, but more importantly, it’s vital to believe. It’s my source of hope, and makes all those stories of people making amazing comebacks less like miracles and more like a possible reality. All I have to do is work hard and be patient.
I wish there were guarantees. I wish I had more control over my future. I don’t. But, in the meantime, I will keep identifying my weaknesses and finding ways to work on them. Like everyone who suffers a loss, I’m simply a new, less perfect version of me.
Maybe life is a little "...like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get,” as Forest Gump said, but I think it's more like a game of Snakes and Ladders. Some of those snakes are hellishly evil, but I’m facing them nonetheless. And there's always the next ladder to climb.
As it turns out, a brain injured person is just like anyone else who is trying to make the most of their life.

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