December 10th, 2003, my life changed in an instant because of an AVM bursting in the back of my head. The doctors had to remove part of my cerebellum and my brain, and left a hole in my skull near my brainstem. The damage to my brain erased most of my life’s memories and I still have memory impairment and a learning disability to this day. I could barely walk or turn my head and I was afraid to go out in public because of how I looked and felt. No longer could I do the things I loved to do. Being outside and being physically active were important parts of my life. I did not do physical activities as often as I wanted, but I always knew that if I wanted to, I could. There was nothing really holding me back. If I wanted to go snow skiing, I could. If I wanted to go water skiing, I could. My daughter was a year old when it happened. I spent a month and a half in the hospital, and when I got home I realized that I couldn’t even play with her. I couldn’t bounce her on my knee, I couldn’t take her for a walk, nothing like that. Every aspect of my life had changed.
The most difficult aspects of my injury are adapting, adjusting, and acceptance. The years of being a guinea pig were extremely difficult and challenging. Trying new therapies and medicines to give me the best quality of life was sometimes an excruciating process. There was a lot of pain involved. Recovering/healing was the best medicine as most of my therapies simply did not work. Occupational and physical therapy only helped a little bit in the beginning. It took much longer to find the right combination of medicines to mitigate my symptoms. Once this happened and the therapies ceased to be helpful, I accepted my life the way it was/is. Acceptance is the best medicine.
Acceptance gave me the opportunity to find other interests in my life. I couldn’t return to the career I had, but I still liked to work with my hands and being outside. Being disabled does have perks. I lived in Southern California so I went to the beach a lot. I tried making surfboards. I wasn’t very good at it and it took me months to make one surfboard. I took the shell of an old boat and completely restored it. That took over two years. It brought me enjoyment to accomplish those things even though it was extremely difficult.
Completing tasks brought enjoyment, but also the awareness of what I can’t do on a regular basis. If I did too much, I would become dizzy and nauseous and want to throw up. I had fainting spells and if I turned my head a certain way, my head would start spinning. That still happens 20 years later. I overcame these obstacles simply by changing how I do things. I don’t turn my head in ways that make my head spin. I don’t do things that make me dizzy and nauseous. Everything I did, I learned from. This made life easier, being able to adapt and adjust.
It was/is extremely difficult to learn because of my memory problems. But I became interested in international affairs. Learning about the world and keeping up with the news in other parts of the world. How the world operates and interacts is very interesting to me. Slowly I became more interested, and I was slowly being able to remember small bits of information. This told me that my brain was healing somewhat. Because of the damage to my cerebellum, learning is hit and miss. I never know what will get through to my memory banks. This was extremely difficult to overcome. After my divorce in 2018, I made the decision to go back to college and get my degree. My degree is in international relations. College was extremely difficult. I had to find new ways to learn. Time was my enemy, it takes me a lot longer to learn than someone without a learning disability. The university was helpful and accommodating for my disability. All I had to do was ask. I graduated Magna cum Laude in 2022.
My accomplishments make me proud of myself and show me what I’m capable of despite everything working against me. Sacrifices had to be made, adjustments to my lifestyle had to change, all because I had to work so hard to accomplish my goals. But I did it with the help and encouragement of my loved ones.