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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image by m-gucci

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Traumatic Brain Injury

Colleen with her husband Terry in his uniform.

Our Long Road to Recovery After My Military Warrior's Traumatic Brain Injury

In 2004, when my husband Terry returned home from war wounded from an IED explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, I had no idea how long his recovery would take and to what extent his rehabilitation was going to be. When Terry was injured, no one was talking about brain injuries or anything of the like, so [...]
painting by an artist with synesthesia

When Others Automatically React With Pity to My Disability

There was a time I would have not known what to say to a person living with chronic illness. I was a high-powered business strategist, living my life on airplanes, traversing jetways in four-inch stilettos and giving keynote presentations across the country. I had no idea what it would be like to live a life [...]

How I Learned to Stop Judging Myself After My Traumatic Brain Injury

In 2011 I sustained a traumatic brain injury while playing basketball. At the time I was a P.E. teacher for high risk youth while I was pursuing my massage degree. My dream was to travel to third world countries and set up centers for people to become certified massage therapists. That way they could help people [...]
A red art piece titled, "Ancient Phoenix Rising."

Why I Shouldn't Pull My Health Up by Its 'Bootstraps'

I am notorious for pulling myself up by my bootstraps. In fact, I have bootstraps that could rival the best of them! By definition, bootstrapping literally means, “Improve one’s position by one’s own efforts.” Yep, that is a very good description of how I lived my life prior to 2011, when I was rocked by [...]