My Double Life as a Brain Injury Survivor

In August, the Globe and Mail released an article by Kanika Gupta called, “The Lingering Symptoms of a Brain Injury Force Me to Lead a Double Life.” Gupta eloquently captures the complexities people with brain injuries navigate every time they step outside their homes. After reading Gupta’s article, I reflected on my own double life after brain injury, how polar opposite those lives can be and how they overlap.

Life #1: Alyson is 25 years old and has her own apartment in Toronto. She graduated from university and works full time at a job in her field. She rarely calls in sick and is generally in a good mood. Alyson is very social and often spends time with her friends. She loves to rollerblade and dance, and seems to have endless amounts of energy. She has a brain injury but has seen significant improvements.

Life #2: Alyson is 25 years old and has a traumatic brain injury. She continues to experience symptoms that impact her daily functioning. She experiences fatigue, headaches and nausea. She has black spots in her eyes daily, and her vision sometimes blurs. Alyson struggles to retrieve words, and when she’s too tired, her speech slurs. She has been told she cannot always read social situations and facial expressions, which makes her anxious.

I live my life on a continuum of brain injury symptoms; on most days, I fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Within the same day, I can be the woman who works full-time and jumps out of bed in the morning, and the woman who sits on a bench, waiting for waves of nausea and fatigue to pass. Every day is different but never symptom-free.

When I tell people I have a traumatic brain injury, they are usually shocked and say they would have never known. This doesn’t surprise me because they only see the one part of my double life; the part I let people see. I usually only discuss my good days, which include minimal symptoms, doing the activities I love while meeting the milestones of a “typical” 25-year-old. This is the part of my double life people would call a “brain injury success story.” While I do consider my situation to be a “brain injury success story,” I cannot discount the other part of my life I often keep hidden.

I have come to realize that while both versions of me exist, one of them greatly threatens the other. While my good days outnumber my bad, I know that symptoms are always lingering, and not taking care of myself could threaten everything I wasn’t “supposed to” have after a brain injury: the job, the apartment, the social life, etc.

I used to try to ignore my double life and solely focus on the improvements and good days. This year, I have made a conscious effort to speak openly about the other side of my double life and take better care of myself to preserve my good days.

My advice for people with brain injuries used to be to keep going; my advice now is to take care of yourself so you can keep going.

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