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If People Could See My Traumatic Brain Injury

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March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. This year I will be supporting BIAA by joining the #ChangeYourMind campaign by exposing the invisible truths of traumatic brain injury. There are many things that can be assumed about brain injury, but the reality is you have no idea what it’s like unless you are forced to tragically walk that path. I know I am typically known for my advocacy through writing however, this year I wanted to visually show you the skeletons that hide in my closet: the scars you can’t see with the naked eye.

I made a promise to myself years ago that I would bring awareness and expose the truths of TBI. This year, there is no holding back and the pieces of me that are invisible become visible. I teamed up with Adele Campbell, a dear friend and amazing professional makeup artist, to physically show you what many survivors experience on a daily basis. Because there are many social stigmas and ideas of what brain injury should be, I thought I would show you what I would look like on the outside if my injuries and symptoms were visible. I imagine people would not be so quick to judge and have a lot more patience with me if I looked like this and they could “see” my TBI.

Nikki Stang wearing makeup to simulate her brain injury visually.

There were many times throughout my journey when I felt like I was walking around with a deep secret no one else understood. By looking at me in everyday life or having a conversation with me, you may never know there was a dark shadow affecting my quality of life. My blonde curly hair may distract you from the fact my brain doesn’t function the same as it once did, or that I have an extreme case of lordosis (curving inward of the lower back) from being headbutted in the mouth years ago. Just because I look fine on the surface doesn’t mean there isn’t something else going on. This is what so many survivors and other invisible disease warriors experience on a daily basis. Battling to function on a daily basis while fighting off social stigmas is one of the heart-wrenching things I have experienced. It has cost me relationships with friends, family members and it almost cost me the ultimate price — my life.

Nikki with brain injury awareness ribbon.

According to the website No Bullying, “Social stigma is defined by scientists as the disapproval of, or discontent with, a person on the grounds of characteristics that distinguish them from other members of society. Stigma can be attached to a person who differs from social or cultural norms. Social scientist Erving Goffman defined stigma as “the process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity.” Since my brain injury I have learned to love myself regardless of my strengths, weaknesses or what anyone said to me. My whole life has changed dramatically since my traumatic brain injury. Not only has it affected my life, but it has impacted everyone’s life that was close to me. My 20s are almost gone and I have few memories of them without a TBI. I will never get the “what could have been” back, and neither will my loved ones.

Nikki with a hat that looks like a brain, simulating brain injury.

I have created a video for you that exposes more of my truth about my journey than any article I have ever written. No holding back, no regrets! I hope this will help Change Your Mind!

Originally published: March 22, 2018
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