What I Need Others to Realize About My Life After Traumatic Brain Injury

I have struggled with traumatic brain injury since my first concussion in 2009. It was my first semester of college, and I was playing pick-up soccer at a Young Life leadership weekend retreat in the Adirondacks. I was playing goalie when I was kicked in the face going after the ball. Fast forward to today and 10 concussions later: I have met some of the best physicians in the country, and yet I still struggle daily with persistent post-concussion symptoms (a la persistent post-concussion syndrome). General anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), migraines, headaches, vision impairment…the list goes on and on.

What I wish people would realize about traumatic brain injury (and every other invisible disability) is that just because you cannot see a disability does not mean it does not exist. You can’t see a brain injury like you can see a broken leg, in a cast. You also can’t see depression or anxiety or migraines; you just see the way people cope with it. I have felt alone, isolated, contaminated, wounded, illegitimate and worthless. No medication or therapy can completely eliminate these feelings, although they do help. I have great expectations for the promise that neuroplasticity holds, but I still struggle daily with the symptoms of my brain injury.

One sentiment that every human can identify with is the need to be understood. This is the same for those who have an “invisible” disability, but on a grander scale. I want my family to understand that when I lose control and burst out in anger, I am not upset with them. I want my friends to understand that when I decline invitations to parties or going out after work, it’s not that I don’t want to spend time with them. I want my employer to know that when I call in to say I am too ill to come to work, I’m not just shirking my responsibilities. My symptoms can make it seem impossible to move, to get up and to do what is expected of me.

For those who are struggling with traumatic brain injury and other “invisible” illnesses, I would like to tell you that you are never alone. You are worthy of love and compassion simply for being what you are: a human being. Don’t ever let other people tell you what you can or cannot do. Don’t ever tell yourself that you can’t do something. Be the greatest self-advocate you can be, and remember that you deserve the same degree of advocacy that you would do for others. There is hope. You are resilient, and you will persevere.

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