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June 30, 2011 / Mark Kerrigan

Brain-Injury Survivors and Success

When a person’s head is slammed into an immovable object like a windshield or dashboard, the brain, which is about a three-pound collection of gray matter with the consistency of gelatin, is forced into the front of the head like a water-balloon dropped onto the ground. In the same manner of the water-balloon, the brain bounces from one side of the skull to the other—in this case, it’s front to back. This phenomenon is called coup and contrecoup.

Coup and Contrecoup results in damaging the brain in many various places. The damage is spread throughout the brain, and therefore the survivor sometimes has a phenomenal memory but a low anger threshold. Or it could be that the survivor has the ability to manage a large number of people in a business setting but has a difficult time walking across a room.

When the survivor or other people see themselves as a non-injured person, a disservice is being done both to the survivor and to those people who are doing the comparison. Success for all of us, and especially for the survivor, should be in relation to where we’ve come from.

We have all been told that we’ll find someone who is smarter, faster, funnier, or wittier than ourselves as we grew up, however we sometimes forget that truism. This is no more relevant than it is for the survivor. Personally, after a few months post TBI, I thought I was the worst case that ever had come through the doors at Baptist Neuro Rehab. And to beat that, I thought I had recovered better than anyone ever had.

Some 20 years later, I realize that I’m not alone. Many people come into the hospital with injuries much worse than my own. And often they leave having recovered more fully than I did.

The point to this post is that no matter how good or bad you feel, the only person you should be comparing yourself to is YOU yesterday. I’m battling depression with a good deal of success, but I have to remind myself that if I am better than I was yesterday, then it’s a good day.

I recently realized that what I consider to be “normal” is most people’s “depressed,” and even when I’m having what I consider to be a good day, most people would be considered “depressed.”

Then it came to me: What would I have to do to be 10percent happier today than I was yesterday? I realized I didn’t have to be twice or three times happier, just 10 percent. And if I’m 10 percent happier today than yesterday, I am truly a success!


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