Hand holding.

If someone you love is dealing with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), you may want to offer support, but not know how. As a survivor of TBI, these are my thoughts on how to support a friend or family member going through this difficult experience.

Understanding traumatic brain injury begins by thinking about basic things we take for granted each day. You probably take for granted that when you wake up, you will go to sleep that night as the same person you were when you began your day. You thought the same thoughts, had the same feelings, dreams, goals and abilities as you did the day before. You expect that the next day you will still look at yourself in the mirror and recognize your face, body and voice as yours. You know yourself. Whether or not you like yourself, you have full recognition of your body, mind and spirit. You may not be content or satisfied with who you’ve become, but you understand how you got that way, and you think about what you need to do to change, grow and progress.

Now, imagine waking up one day and within the course of your normal activities, a blow to the head removes all that. Imagine your sense of self disappearing like a document in your computer that you forgot to save. You remember it, mostly, kinda. You search for it; you know it’s there, somewhere, but no matter how hard you search, you just can’t find it. So you try to make a new one, as close to the old one as possible, but all the subtle nuances and specific details are gone. All you can do is try to make copy of the “you” that used to be.

You may feel like an impostor. You may feel like you’re living someone else’s life, but it’s your life. You’re lonely for yourself. You feel lost.

Things that were so important before may have no meaning. Relationships that you once treasured can be difficult to connect with. You understand the meaning of the lyrics in Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “If You Could Read My Mind” because you walk around like a ghost in your own life “with chains around your feet,” agonizing because “the feeling’s gone and you just can’t get it back.”

Picture yourself getting into your car that only you drive, and suddenly, the seat is in the wrong position. You try the adjust it back to where you’ve always had it, but your most comfortable setting is gone. The steering wheel won’t tilt into place, and the HVAC system no longer has your temperature of choice. The radio has been reprogrammed without any station you recognize. The wipers stick and squeak. The defrost only works on one side of the window. The gas tank is on the other side. You try to drive it anyway, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get the speed up. You can’t see, your back hurts, it’s too cold/hot, the music is too loud, the wipers are driving you crazy, and you are so frustrated by everyone honking at you that you just pull over, put your head in your hands and cry.

Now imagine that car is your brain. That’s TBI.

7 Ways to Support a Loved One With Traumatic Brain Injury

1. Believe them. The pain is real. The fatigue is real. The confusion and mood changes aren’t their fault. It’s an injury. Treat it that way. Talk about depression and suicidal thoughts and feelings. I started a Facebook page that contains articles about TBI depression and other mental health issues.

2. Rehabilitation is vital. And it’s not all the same. Get your loved one into the best program you can find as soon as possible. If you’re in the USA, the Brain Injury Association of America has many resources on their website. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Have your friends and family look for resources and do research for you. My friend Trina Chambers-Bradlee and I started a page to help others find financial help because I had a difficult time finding resources.

3. Not all concussion doctors are equal. Regardless of their status in the medical community, if you feel that the care is unsatisfactory for your situation, find another doctor.

4. An anti-inflammatory diet may be crucial. Fish oil shows evidence of being extremely helpful after brain injury. J.J. Virgin wrote a an e-book about her son’s recovery called “Walking Hope” in which she outlines how they used fish oil in his care. There are many functional medicine doctors and books online with more information about diet.

5. Join support groups. Whether they are in your rehabilitation center, online or at the hospital, support groups are vital to understanding TBI. Don’t try to get through this alone. Support groups will help you deal with all the things that the doctor doesn’t know or doesn’t have time to tell you.

6. Don’t give up. The more tools you put in your toolbox, the better you’ll be able to handle what’s happened. The more help you get for yourself, the more you’ll be able to help your loved one.

7. This is a life-changing event. However, there is life after TBI. The more you understand that you now have to put in extra effort for your loved one, the more enrichment you’ll both receive. Learning about TBI and experiencing it is like learning a new language for both of you. Think of yourselves as if you have suddenly been thrust into a new, strange country. The more you learn and adapt, the more opportunities you’ll have to rebuild a successful life together.

Editor’s note: This is based on one person’s experiences and should not be taken as medical advice. Consult a doctor or medical professional for any questions or concerns you have.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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I was in a serious car accident 11 days after my 18th birthday in 2006. I had a brain injury, and spent six weeks in rehabilitation. I’m fine now.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about this for a while, so I figured I would start with the facts.

On the one hand, my accident has absolutely nothing to do with my life now. It almost feels like it happened to another person. On the other hand, it has everything to do with my life now.

Because of my accident, a few things happened:

1) I got a brief taste of what it was like to live as somebody else.

2) It helped me be myself more fully, or it turned me into myself.

3) I decided there was no way I could continue to live in the town where I had grown up.

After my accident, I was unconscious in the hospital for 10 days. The doctors told my family that in addition to a broken collarbone, tailbone and pelvis, I had a moderate brain injury. When I woke up, the injury was downgraded to mild, but I still had to spend the next month in rehab to relearn some physical and mental skills.

In rehab in Atlanta, I met people with stories of trauma that had a major impact on me. There was my roommate in the inpatient facility who had been a college freshman until she was thrown from a car that her friend was driving. She lost the ability to walk, eat on her own, or communicate verbally. There was another girl who had escaped Hurricane Katrina only to have a serious brain injury a few months later.

This was my first encounter with people whose injuries were more serious than mine, and most of them had a long road ahead of them. I felt like we didn’t really belong in the same facility — as in, I didn’t belong. It was here that I understood the true meaning of empathy for the first time.

The accident also affected my personality in subtle ways. When I came back home after the accident, I acted older. More serious. Probably less fun. Less tolerant of large, loud crowds of people. Are these characteristics, most of which I have today, a result of the effects of the accident on my brain, a result of experiencing a trauma, a natural consequence of growing up, or a little of all three? I’m not sure, but I know that when I came back from the accident I was different.

Finally, my accident made me 100 percent certain that as soon as I could get out of my hometown, I was gone.

Jackson, Tenn. is the kind of place where everyone pretty much knows everyone else. My father was a professor at a local college and a columnist at the local newspaper. My siblings and I had gone to multiple schools and participated in different activities. We were well-known in town.

After my accident, news spread quickly in the way that it only does in a small town. All of our family friends showed up at the hospital, prayed, sent flowers and gifts, gave money, and were generally amazing.

But the result of so many people knowing about the accident is that my life came to be defined by it. Not by people who knew me personally, but by friends of friends and old classmates and acquaintances and random people in the grocery store. Because of my accident, I didn’t go away to college like I had planned. Instead I went to the local college, and this of course meant that it was even harder to get away from what had happened.

The first couple of years after my accident, people I didn’t know would routinely try to talk to me about it, against my will. A memorable example: In the college dining hall, an acquaintance asked me if I had any “effects” (as in mentally) from the accident. What do you say to that?

People’s responses to my accident show some of the best things about living in a town where everyone knows everyone else. In a small town, you are known. You are cared for. But because of the accident, I decided I needed to live someplace where I could choose to be anonymous.

I was back in Jackson last year for two weddings. One stranger at each of these weddings brought up the accident to me. “Weren’t you the girl..?” Remember this is 10 years after it happened. “Yes,” I said, and smiled.

So this is my story. I don’t talk about it much. I doubt most people who know me now have ever heard me mention it, and you probably won’t. It’s not that important, but in a way, it is.

I have a scar from the accident on my left temple, where broken glass had to be removed. Though I always cover the scar with makeup, I’m proud of it, too. It shows where I’ve been. I earned it.

Follow this journey on Lovely Introspection.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


“First time drive-thru user?” he yelled. He burst into laughter, and I saw the rest of the crew laughing behind him.

I had just pulled away from the drive-thru after paying, and noticed I had only one of the two items I had ordered. When I realized my mistake, I backed up to retrieve the rest of my order. That was the response I got.

No big deal, right?

No, it wouldn’t be a big deal if I wasn’t a brain injury survivor who doesn’t venture out to get a latte and breakfast treat more than once a month. It’s actually a very big deal for me to drive up and use an intercom to order. But it’s better than the alternative of going into the store and trying to withstand all the noise.

As a consequence of my brain injury, I have the typical reduced cognitive function. I also have hyperacusis, which is an abnormal sensitivity to everyday sound. The injury also exacerbated the auditory processing disorder I have lived with all my life. Together these things leave me with an oppositional relationship with sound. I have great difficulty understanding speech in environments with background noise. Even the effort it takes to extract meaning from speech in quiet environments leaves me fatigued and confused. I only use the phone for emergencies, as gathering meaning without the benefit of visual context clues is almost impossible for me. I can’t enter a business that plays music without wearing noise canceling headphones, and even then sound seeps through and I can become overwhelmed and have to leave before I have completed my shopping. Get-togethers with more than a couple of people are a thing of the past. I can’t sort out multiple voices speaking.

Like lots of people with invisible disabilities, I am sometimes regarded as a source of humor. At other times, I’m a source of pity. Most often I’m a source of disdain for people who label me a faker or scammer, especially in doctor’s offices when they see a young-looking, able-bodied woman pull out a Medicare card.

All of this hurts.

I am trying the best I can to move forward with my life. I have a husband whom I love very much. I have friends I love, who love me in return, even if I can’t talk to them on the phone. I am not an unhappy person. I have rescue animals that mean the world to me. I have my writing and my quilt making. I have worked very hard to salvage a life after this setback. Why on earth would a thoughtless person try to take away the joy I have done so much to cultivate?

Because people think thoughtless equals harmless. But it doesn’t.

I smiled at the man at in the drive-through who had shouted the insult. He didn’t mean any harm, I knew that. He was just having fun at work. But my smile had a hint of shame, and it turned to small tears as I drove on to my doctor’s appointment. To that young man and all of the others who have caused hurt without thinking: I forgive you. And I implore you to please give more thought to the impact your words may have.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


The utility company. We’ve all had our bad experiences with rudeness, long holding times, waiting for them to show up to turn the service on or off. Perhaps there was a dispute over a bill. We take our utility services for granted, and we fall completely apart and start complaining when we lose them. We are the public consumer, ungrateful, impatient and irate. Based upon the news, at least, this is how I think we must look to the utility company.

But I have a different story to tell. It is about the water company and a man named Tony. This summer, the water company decided it was time the neighborhood had its water lines replaced. This meant ripping up the street with huge, extremely loud machines. It was going to take the spring and all summer. For most of my neighbors, this was an annoyance. For me, it was agony.

Your see, I have a brain injury and I suffer from constant migraine pain. I have a sensitivity to sound. No, let me correct that. Sound, like that from construction equipment, is nothing short of torture. I go into spasms, and my head feels like it is going to explode. I have had to endure noise in my neighborhood that actually made me feel I was going to die from the pain-inducing sound of motors.

I’ve hidden in closets, cowered in the basement, and huddled in the bathtub. I’ve used all manner of earplugs and headphones and taped pillows around my head. When I knew it was coming, I left and went to my mother’s house. But once there, it offered no guarantee I would escape the professional lawnmower service.

So, when the water company showed up, my husband and I become greatly concerned. “What were we going to do?” My husband decided to call the water company to find out what their schedule was, and more importantly, how to deal with the noise.

We were prepared to get little concern or help. But that was not the response we received.

My husband talked to a man named Tony, who immediately got on board with our situation. Not only did he have sympathy, he was empathic. He made arrangements to call my husband every step of the way to keep him informed as to where they would be and when and for how long. He also called all the contractor’s involved in the project and told them they were to keep us informed. They did.

When he went on vacation, he had his replacement call. Whenever they pulled off the job to go work somewhere else, Tony called. When they had problems, Tony called. Whenever there was any news of any kind, Tony called. We have a water treatment system in our house, so when they flushed the lines, we had to put in all new filters. He knew this, so when the time came, Tony called.

They started work at 7 a.m., so this required us to get up at 5 a.m., get me packed and ready with everything I need for the long, 14-hour day until my husband could pick me up and take me home, where I would collapse into bed, to do it all over again the next day. Every day, my husband would call from his job site and say, “Tony called,” and give me the update.

I spent most of the time lying on my mother’s couch with ice bags on my head. Sometimes, I would sit in the chair. And since I am also sensitive to light, she had the curtains closed and blankets over them. She had to awaken at 7 a.m., so this required much adjustment on her part as well. We have great love between us, so she was happy to help.

It took a long time, and tomorrow it comes to an end. And Tony will stop calling.

How do you thank a man for going to such great lengths? Had he not called, we never would have known when or if they were coming and our life would have been well beyond the threshold of how much I could endure. Even with all the calls, I had many trips to the headache doctor. It was no easy task for any of us. And yet, I ask myself, “How many Tonys are there in the world who would take so much of their time and go out of their way just to ease the suffering of one individual?”

He was always professional, he never complained, and was always ready to go above and beyond the call of duty. Just one brain-injured woman, no one important to warrant such celebrity-status treatment. And yet, even so, Tony called.


All families have stories. Our little man, Christian, gave us a story that redefined our family and me as a mother. Or so it seemed.

When he was 11 months old, he fell into a pool and drowned. He died and came back to life a different boy from the one I gave birth to. He is now 7. His life looks very different than what I dreamed for him. But it is also full of patience and beauty and lessons beyond my what I could ever dream as well.

I was just talking to my best friend the other day, and I’ve said it before — I used to look at pictures of myself before his accident and envy the woman in those pictures. I used to want to be her again. I used to think she was so lucky to be in such oblivion of what was to come. That woman was so untouched by the magnitude of life-altering tragedy. She was so lucky. And she was so stupidly happy, yet so very far away from who I am now.

I thought.

I told my best friend I used to feel that way, but now I look at that woman and I am finally at a point where I can say I am her again. Happy and back to where I feel like I’m her again. There’s no longer a separation of before and after or who I was then and who I am now. And I was proud to say it. I am her again.

I thought.

But after thinking about it, I’m not sure that’s true because I’m not sure I want to be her anymore. I would have given anything to be her for a lot of years. But I think I like this version of me a little better. I’m as happy as she was. Maybe even happier. But I’m far more confident. I’m stronger. I’m more reasonable. And I’m more grateful. I’m more aware. I’m aware of what I could lose in a second and I’m aware of how many miracles happen every single day.

It’s a hypersensitivity. It’s an acute awareness that there is so much beauty in this world, in the little tiny moments you miss otherwise, in breathing patterns, crooked smiles, late-night stretches, pizza and brownies on Saturday nights, and the calm and silence of normalcy. It’s all so beautiful. And maybe the girl in those pictures didn’t realize that.

Christian came back a different boy, I came back a different woman.

I am not that girl in the pictures anymore.

I’m better.

Shauna and her son, Christian

Follow this journey on Christian’s Journey.


When I first saw you behind me, I smiled. We stood near each other in line for security at the airport. I had just finished loading the last of three bins onto the X-ray belt when I looked up to find you scornfully staring at my child. The blistering look you gave me didn’t go unnoticed, either. For a second, I thought maybe you were just having a bad day, but then I overheard the comments you made to your friend. I heard you tell her I’m a lazy parent. I also heard you say that people, such as me, shouldn’t have children. I heard you ramble off a list of things you would do differently. I overheard your entire conversation.

Based off what you saw, I don’t blame you for having said what you did. I understand where you were coming from. It’s nice to know you were feeling protective over my child. After all, you saw a cute 2-year-old brunette with big brown eyes, jumping, laughing and having fun with her tether strapped onto her back. I agree with you; children don’t belong on leashes, and I often feel as if I’m not good enough to raise such a beautiful child. Not that you would have cared, but I wish I could have shared with you a few things that weren’t so obvious at that moment. I wish I could have talked to you about what you couldn’t see.

Lynda Coto the mighty.2-001

The little girl you saw in the airport isn’t your “typical” child. I know she looks “normal” on the outside, but on the inside, she’s special. What you didn’t see is that my child is partially blind. As a newborn, she suffered a stroke. Her brain injury has caused her to have a very difficult time in public places. What wasn’t apparent is the noise in public places, such as an airport, can be very distressing and overwhelming for her, often causing her to run away. What wasn’t so obvious is she has difficulty seeing and listening at the same time, not because she is unruly, but because she can’t divide her attention between sight and sound. What you didn’t see is that she has difficulty walking, often tripping and falling down. What I wanted to tell you is I tried your stroller idea, but she started to lose muscle tone from lack of exercise. I really wanted to talk about the daily struggle to keep her safe, but before I could address your concerns, you walked off to catch your flight.

You see, the day I left our developmental pediatrician’s office to buy my daughter’s new accessory, I knew you and I would meet one day. I knew what you thought of me long before I heard your spoken words. I knew you would talk about me and disagree with my parenting choices. What I didn’t know is how bad your words would hurt. I didn’t know that something as silly as an opinion would pierce through my heart every time I secured the tether onto my child.

I still think about you. But now, when I recall our encounter, I am filled with gratefulness. Thank you for causing me to recognize how strong of a woman I am. Thank you for shining a light on the lengths I will go to ensure my child’s safety, even if it means taking one for the team. Thank you for helping me understanding that in moments of pain, I can find happiness in my daughter’s smile and sound of her laughter just as I did that day in the line of security.

Follow this journey on A Beautifully Messy Life.

 The Mighty is asking the following: Write a thank-you letter to someone you never expected you’d thank. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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