March is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Month.
My TBI story begins on a perfectly beautiful, bluebird-sky day in early February 2013. While driving my son’s acting friends to their drama class, I decided to stop on a yellow light. The driver behind me decided that he didn’t want to stop and slammed into our minivan going approximately 40 mph.
The crash pushed us into the middle of a very busy intersection and caused all sorts of mayhem for the morning commute. The first sign that something was wrong was that I couldn’t dial 911. Yes….9-1-1. I couldn’t tell the operator where I was located and I couldn’t figure out what to do.
After several doctor visits, chiropractor visits, and endless insurance calls, I was able to rest and I felt less “off”. After the doctor deemed me okay, he jokingly quipped as I headed out the door, “Just don’t get into another accident.”
Just 19 days later, I was coming home in my “new” car from a recall appointment when a company pickup slid over the center line and hit my car head on. I don’t remember much of this accident. Smelling smoke and feeling the inability to escape, death felt eminent.
Ambulance came. Jaws of life opened my car and my long 6-foot frame was gently extracted from the shell of my “new” car. Physically I was banged up badly but mentally I was a mess.
This was the birth of Dawn 2.0. My life would never be the same.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
A traumatic brain injury is defined by the CDC (Center of Disease Control) as “a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury.” As a major cause of disability and death world wide, TBI can include impairments related to thinking or memory, movement (balance and motion), sensation (e.g., vision or hearing), or emotional functioning (e.g., personality changes, depression). Language and communication skills can also be affected.
With rest and patience, most people with a TBI recover well from symptoms experienced at the time of the injury. Most TBIs that occur each year are mild, commonly called concussions. But for some people, symptoms can last for days, weeks, or longer. In general, recovery may be slower among older adults, young children, and teens. Those who have had a TBI in the past are also at risk of having another one. Some people may also find that it takes longer to recover if they have another TBI. Sequential TBIs can cause permanent damage. For more information, click here for the CDC website on TBIs.
Recovery and the birth of a new life.
I honestly don’t remember the next few months after my crashes. I could no longer cook, form a decent sentence, or stay awake for more than 4 hours at a time. Driving was scary but necessary. My doctor insisted I wear an ID bracelet so that if when I went running and lost my way I could be rescued. The only advise I got from doctors was to wait and see.
I suddenly hated the blue in one bathroom and I took down all the wall hangings and rearranged them. Light bothered me. Noise bothered me. Heck, thinking bothered me.
I had constant headaches. I couldn’t focus on anything. And I cried a lot…I just cried. I felt frustrated, overwhelmed, in constant pain, and a shell of my former self.
No one could understand me because I could not clearly state what I needed or what I wanted. Each day I was living in a fog.
My bruised brain changed my life radically.
After a couple years of surviving day-to-day with the confusion, deep depression, and pain, a fantastic doctor finally got me to see the unneeded misery that I was causing myself and my family by not addressing my condition. With the tremendous support of my husband, I obtained a staff of doctors who fully evaluated my situation and listened to me.
With medication prescribed to regulate my brain chemistry, brain and speech therapy started to work on my aphasia (word search problem) and general life skills. To help my balance and stress issues, I discovered the beauty of yoga.
I had to give up homeschooling and any semblance of perfection. I had to relearn how to manage daily life and make friends with my limitations. Developing new skills to search for words and express myself was my pursuit. I got an amateur emotional support dog to soothe me. Here’s that puppy love story.
I had to make peace with the new me. The very broken, yet mended me. And with that I re-introduced myself to myself and others. Some friends didn’t make the cut. Too much of the old me was gone. I had to grieve her passing.
I still do some days.
The New Me
As of this month, it’s been 8 long years and the new me is really just me now. I still have trouble with words, but I write. My balance is off, but I teach yoga. I have learned to not take myself so seriously. Cooking still makes me flustered, especially meal planning. I have definite energy limits that I must monitor. Daily naps and breaks still call to me.
Although I despise easy morals and the cheapening of pain, I have learned the importance of compassion and tenderness. I appreciate the beauty and intricacy of my brain. Embracing the treasure that is vulnerability and failure is a hard-won lesson.
Month of Remembrance
In this month of TBI awareness, I would ask my readers to be aware of the preciousness of the grand organ between your ears. Wear your seatbelt, wear your helmet, know the signs of a stroke, and take time to de-stress and sit in peace. Any injury to the head is serious and can be life-changing.
For more information on traumatic brain injuries, contact the Brain Alliance of Colorado.