All I Can Count On as a Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor
I was hit by a car in 2003 as I was crossing the street in a crosswalk. By all rights, I should have broken my neck and died when I hit the ground.
Obviously, I didn’t.
I’m a little obstinate that way.
I was already coping with unipolar depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I was actually headed back to the health center where I was participating in an Intensive Outpatient Program to prevent me from having to be hospitalized again when the car hit me.
I then descended into another level of hell: traumatic brain injury and myalgic encephalomyelitis.
I lost 40 IQ points.
I could not stay awake to save my soul.
My entire body constantly throbbed with pain.
I had to use a wheelchair, then a walker, then a cane.
The aphasia was the most frustrating part of the TBI. I now had what was for me an incredibly rudimentary vocabulary. I couldn’t say or write the words I needed to communicate, so my behavior regressed to that of a toddler — temper tantrums and fits of sobbing that seemed like they would never end.
Medications were switched, as were a variety of doctors and therapists. But slowly, I found myself screaming and crying less and less and using the words my brain did have access to more and more. Throw in some intensive cognitive behavioral therapy and neuropsychological therapy and I regained those 40 IQ points over about two years. My psychiatrist, who has hung in there with me since I was 15 years old (I am now 42), took a risk and prescribed two types of Adderall for me so I could stay awake and function instead of sleeping 20 hours at a stretch.
I became accustomed to my “new normal.”
Believe me, I still have those dark nights of the soul when I’m awake and staring at the ceiling, furious that so much was taken from me in a fraction of a second through what was, in the end, a terrible accident. Having no one to blame, including the driver of the car who hit me, can create periods of rage and frustration that last for days. Trying to deal with a government and a society who think that because I don’t need a wheelchair, a walker, or a cane anymore that I’m no longer ill or disabled… that’s an entirely different post in its own right.
But there are the places I’ve gone, and the things I have done, and continue to do (Thank you, Dr. Seuss.):
• I traveled from New Jersey to Wyoming during the summer of 2016 by Mini Cooper with my two best friends. I will tell you, straight up, no one expected all three of us to come home in that car. But even though we hit some bumps (some literal, some metaphorical), we had more fun than should be legal in our 50 states and possibly most countries.
• I spent about three years with a paranormal investigative group. I can say I have heard and seen things that cannot be explained, some of which terrified me, and some of which left me with no doubt that there is a world beyond what our five senses perceive.
• I went through two educational programs and became a certified clinical aromatherapist. I regained heaps of confidence as I learned to heal bodies, minds, and souls with essential oils and I was even able to wrap my brain around the chemistry behind the sometimes magical effects that essential oils can have on a person who is struggling with a chronic illness.
• One of my friends dragged me to our township’s MRC-CERT Training Program in January of 2017 (MRC-CERT: Medical Reserve Corps — Community Emergency Response Team). I’ve taken courses on Disaster Preparedness, Fire Safety and Suppression, Disaster Medical Operations and Triage, Light Search and Rescue, Deployment and Command, Disaster Psychology, and Terrorism. I joined the Leadership Committee and I am now our program’s Volunteer Reception Center Coordinator. I have about 14 different certifications from various state programs and from FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute Independent Study Program.
• For three years (2014-2016), I attended an annual festival for women writers located in Hobart, Pennsylvania. It helped me find a way to express the grief over the loss of my mother in December of 2013 to cancer.
Please know: I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad about themselves. I’m not bragging. This all came gradually, over 14 long years of recuperation and recovery. And, like “Alexander,” I still have “Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad” days of my own. Days when I scream and throw things. Days when I can’t get out of bed. Days when I hide in my room because depression and grief stalk and pounce and I don’t want my father to be upset by my incessant weeping. Days when I am so exhausted and empty that I wonder if life is still worth the fight.
I’ve learned to allow myself these days, because if I fight it, things become exponentially worse. I try to breathe, and tell myself that “this, too, shall pass.” That it is temporary. I now know that self-care, as hard as it can be during these times, is essential, and I’ll blast the playlist I made that starts with the 2017 Wonder Woman theme to get me through showering and at least putting on a clean nightshirt and underpants. I’ll make myself Earl Grey Tea and lace it with French Vanilla Creamer. (I know, I know… I’m a greater barbarian than a Visigoth. Sue me.) I’ll write little bits of things in the journal I keep on my phone.
And yes, those days pass into better ones.
Right now, that is all I can count on.
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Thinkstock image by Vixterd.