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February 15, 2011 / Mark Kerrigan

Okay, You’re Alive! Now What?


Some of the hardest part of recovering after sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is learning how to cope with how you have changed. Initially after my TBI, I remember that I could not stand the sight of myself. I turned away from every mirror I passed. What I saw prior to my TBI was a pretty good-looking, muscular, cocky teen who had the world by the tail, but in the weeks following, I saw just a shadow of what I had been. Wheelchair bound, unable to hold my head up, clenched left hand, broken front tooth. I didn’t want to admit what I had become.

Since I work in the same building with the Disability Coalition, I’m reminded every time I go to the restroom I see a reminder that just because I have a disability, I can still do many things in this world that others who have non-injured brains can do.

The text from the picture above says, “Believe. Achieve. In a world of disability, we find ability. We laugh, cry, live, die, work, play love and marry. We are neighbors, friends, parents, and citizens. We believe. We achieve.” Not to get all “Polly-Anna” on everyone here, it does me good to realize that although I may never be able to score in the 99th percentile on the SAT, I can schedule times to talk to schools or drivers’ education classes to keep some other 16 year-old kid from making the same mistake I did.

On one hand, you could simply let anger become your mantra, not allowing yourself to make new friends and taking your situation out on those around you. However, on the other hand, you need to acknowledge your sadness, but realize that you’re not the same person you used to be. Meet new people who understand more about some of your challenges, and you might even learn something from them.

I really don’t want to preach or get up on a soapbox, but the survivor needs to mourn the loss of  your old self. After my TBI, I suddenly found myself unable to run with the same crowd I used to run with. For one thing, I required more sleep than ever. For another, I wasn’t in school—I was in rehab.  Most importantly, I made many impulsive and inappropriate decisions and actions—I was a good kid, but I just didn’t know any better.

And for years, I lived in denial. I refused to admit that I was different from how I used to be. Whenever I looked at myself in the mirror, I was faced with the reminder of my loss. Every day when I got up, I could see the scar on my forehead as a manifestation that I truly had been in a car wreck, and it hadn’t just been a horrible nightmare from which I could awake.

If you are interested in becoming involved with your local Brain Injury Association search for them online, or for more information about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from brain injury, please visit www.BrainInjuryTN.org.

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7 Comments

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  1. Lisa / Feb 21 2011 6:42 pm

    Physically, I like the way I look–my hair grew back! I think that the hardest thing that I have had to accept is that previously working in retail for 20 years, I can no longer be on my feet like I used to be. I imagine that will take a long time to get back to. Accepting your physical limits has been the hardest thing for me to deal with. And all of the physical changes that your body goes through–your immune system is down, so you have to limit contact with people, your skin breaks out something awful, you develop canker sores ans sties–it has been just unimaginable!! The brain is as close to ‘other people normal’ as it’s going to get–and I have accepted that. If I don’t understand something, I ask the person to repeat slowly or re-phrase. The other injuries I sustained have been the hardest. But I feel in accepting my limitations, I WILL GET BETTER!!!

    • ArtP / Feb 24 2011 11:20 pm

      Lisa – You wrote, “I feel in accepting my limitations, I WILL GET BETTER!!!” I’m not a brain-injured person, but I’ve been studying the concept of mindfulness. With its strong spiritual component (I personally don’t see it as a substitute for religion), it allows one to focus on the reality of what is as it is. In other words, accepting the facts for what they are and moving on. Google “mindfulness”. You’ll see there is an ancient school of thought that follows exactly with what you have found. You are definitely on to something.

  2. Garry Prowe / Feb 25 2011 6:10 pm

    Mark,

    I enjoy your blog. I’m forming a community of writers who specialize in brain injury. Any interest?

    Garry Prowe

    Author of Successfully Surviving a Brain Injury

    • onthemarkwriting / Feb 27 2011 12:04 am

      Garry — I would certainly be interested in finding more out about the brain-injured community of writers! I work with the Brain Injury Association of Tennessee, where I have come into contact with dozens (if not hundreds) of other brain injury survivors.

      Let me hear more about what you have planned.

      Mark

  3. Stephen / Mar 21 2011 11:57 am

    Great article Mark, and I hope you don’t mind, I’ve placed a link to it form my website as I think every one needs a help lines to get as much guidance as possible. I never had any guiadnace after my injury and what to expect, or encounter…

    Thanks for addressing the field

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