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What I Lost and Gained After My Traumatic Brain Injury

On October 15, 2016, my life was changed forever.

When I woke up the next morning, I had no idea where I was, why I was in a c-collar, what day or time it was, or why I had needles in my arm and sticky heart monitors on my chest. My mom told the nurse I was awake. She entered the room to a confused and disgruntled me, wanting to get everything off of me and go home. I was completely convinced I was fine, until I was allowed to try to stand. I then realized I had no idea what I was doing. Doctors told me it could take up to a year before I was functioning close to where I was, however it was made evident that I would never be 100 percent again. They didn’t tell me the absolutely terrifying aftermath I’d have to face. Once the doctors cleared me to do a few stairs assisted, I could go home with supervision 24/7 or go to a nursing home. Thankfully, my family made home supervision an option.

Thinking my life would automatically return to normal became only a dream, a reoccurring dream I still wish would come true. I slept nearly 22 hours a day, I couldn’t eat, my head hurt, I was dizzy, and all I wanted to do was be “normal.” The doctors will tell you the physical obstacles you will face will be immense. For me the emotional ones ended up being the hardest, and still are today. I don’t know who I am anymore. I no longer enjoy half the things I did, and the things that interested me prior are no longer interesting. I still say almost daily, I’m so different from who I was that I don’t even know myself. I don’t know my likes or dislikes.

In my experience, after you start to develop the “post-injury you,” your friends start to diminish. Your attention span is shorter, you get upset more easily, conversations can be draining, and you focus your daily schedule around when you can sneak in a nap. The mental exhaustion of a casual conversation is equivalent to running a 10 K. The doctors tell you that you will be tired, but tired is an understatement. You are exhausted, mentally and physically after being awake for an hour.

Wanting to be my hardworking self right away, I went back to work too soon and ended up leaving early multiple times. This hurt me more in the long run of my healing process. I found myself saying “my head hurts” daily. I was no longer  “OK” or “fine,” I was sick. I was diagnosed with severe chronic daily migraines. This is where my level of destruction grew. I became willing to try anything to feel decent. Medication after medication, acupuncture, chiropractic care, injections, Cefaly, yoga and meditation.

This battle for my health made me focus on everything I had lost.

I lost my sense of smell and taste. Sometimes I miss it, sometimes I don’t!

I lost a lot of my hair. Medications for migraines made me lose chunks of my hair in the shower.

I lost myself.

I lost my job.

I lost being a firefighter.

After dwelling on all of these losses, I stepped back. What have I gained?

I gained friends that I know will stick by me through it all, even my bad days.

I gained a new lifestyle, a lot more cautious of a lifestyle but I learned it’s OK to not work 20 hours every day.

I gained a new career path; examining my own CT scans intrigued me. I chose to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Radiologic Technology.

I gained new friends through college, ones that didn’t have an “old me” to draw from.

I gained a sense that God wanted me here for a reason, which helped me gain trust to join a new church.

I gained a bond with my fiancé that is indescribable. Knowing he will stick by me through the tears, the frustration and the anger was so life-changing.

I gained a new me.

A traumatic brain injury can be incredibly hard, but you’ve already beat the hard part, surviving. Focus on what you’ve gained because of it, let it change you, and let it help guide you.

Getty image by Popartic.