Grieving the Person I Used to Be Before My Traumatic Brain Injury
Flash back to three years ago when my doctors realized I didn’t just sustain a concussion, but a TBI. I remember so clearly the long list of symptoms they said I may experience. These ranged from nausea, loss of thirst, loss of taste, extreme fatigue, headaches, short term memory loss, poor attention/concentration, slow processing, dizziness, loss of balance and sleep disturbance. They even mentioned feelings of confusion, depression, anxiety, mood changes and irritability that commonly occur as a result of brain damage. But no one ever told me or my loved ones that I would be likely to go through a period of grieving my old self. That would’ve been nice to know.
Imagine waking up one day in a body that looks the same, but isn’t. Your life seems the same, but everything on the inside has changed. Simple tasks that were once mindless are exhausting. Every single thing you try to do as you used to is near impossible. Even when you know what you want to say, for some reason you can not find the words. When people talk to you, you can no longer follow them and get confused. If more than one person would talk at once it literally sounded like the teacher from Charlie Brown! “Whah, whah, whahhh.” It’s like being trapped in my body, but someone hijacked the part of me that made me “me.”
When I was going through it I could not find the words and didn’t know how to tell my family and friends all that had changed within me. I knew I was forever changed. A part of me died that day. That is when the unconscious grieving processes started, and because I didn’t realize what was going on I didn’t have the support from friends or family. It was awful!
I denied it for a long time, probably about a year. I desperately clung on to all the things I used to do, but I would send myself into setback after setback, lasting weeks at a time. The exhaustion was unreal, and the pain in my head was nothing I had ever experienced before. But as soon as I felt a tiny bit of energy I got back up and ran myself to the ground again. I kept thinking, “I can just push through. I can beat this. This is not going to change me. This isn’t going to stop me from living my life and doing all the things I used to do.”
Wrong! After finally being placed in a brain rehabilitation center, I learned you can’t just push through, and if you do, you are just hurting yourself more and prolonging your healing. I was extremely angry to learn that essentially, my life had stopped. I now needed to relearn everything. I had to create new pathways in my brain to work around those that were damaged from my injury. All of this so I could process faster, gather info easier, and start rebuilding all that had been lost.
That is when things got really hard for me. I became depressed, longing for what was and what was meant to be. Since no one explained this to my family and friends, they would stand in front of me telling me that I was the same, and not to worry. They would even say things like, “oh, but you look great!” Knowing they meant well and didn’t understand, I turned inward more, because I couldn’t show them how much had changed, how much was lost, and they couldn’t see it from the outside. I never felt so alone and misunderstood in my life, and it made the grieving process so much harder than it needed to be.
It baffles me that nobody talked about the possibility I may experience grief about my old self before the accident. This might have allowed me to have a safe space to grieve the loss of myself, instead of facing this incredibly scary thing on my own inside the darkest parts of my mind. It would’ve given my loved ones a chance to understand, so they could’ve supported me correctly.
That is why I wanted to bring to light the darkness I felt while grieving my old self, and seeing the person I no longer knew staring back at me. I want to give the space needed for those who may be feeling the same as I did. For those who may be lost right now and trying to find their way. I want to remind you that it’s OK. It’s OK to grieve that person you remember so well. It is OK to be sad, angry, scared or whatever feelings you feel. But I also want to let you know that I believe you will find your way.
Although there is nothing easy about grieving the loss of yourself, knowing you may go through this process and many others have too is half the battle. So honor where you are, where you’ve been and where you are going. I know you didn’t ask for this hard stop, this complete divide between before and after, nor did you deserve the hand you were dealt. But it’s not the end.
It wasn’t until I sat with myself and let go of what wasn’t that I finally accepted what was, and I was able to start healing through the emotional trauma of it all. Most importantly, it allowed me to tune inward and become more spiritually connected. I figured out that even though I may work differently now with limitations, I’m still me! And eventually I was guided down a new path.
There is still light here! You still have breath in your lungs, and the sun still shines on your face. I may not completely recognize the person behind my eyes the way I used to, but I’m still me. I am just reborn. Have faith, because there is hope, my friend, and you will rise above this all and shine once again!