To Infinity..and Beyond. Tales of a TBI Traveler
Brain Injury Blog by David A. Grant
December 20, 2012
To Infinity..and Beyond. Tales of a TBI Traveler
So much has changed since the day of my accident. I still struggle to live the life I used to live. As more time passes the reality that there is no going back settles even deeper into the very core of my being.
As I put my thoughts on paper today I am at 30,000 feet heading back North to New Hampshire, both Sarah and I are foot weary from a few days walking around Disney World. Though now well into year three of my post-TBI life, I still marvel at my naiveté.
How innocent I feel looking back on last week’s simple request.
“Sarah, can we take a short vacation from all things TBI?” I asked as we packed for our trip. “I just want to forget about it all for a few days.”
“Of course we can,” she chimed in with an enthusiasm that let me know she needed a break as well.
Time is showing that we both are still learning to walk this new path. Some things you learn the hard way. And I learned what I already knew… there is no vacation from a brain injury.
Doubly diagnosed with both a TBI as well as PTSD, I am ever so slowly relearning how to live. The pace is slower than I would like and often it feels like I am moving more backwards than forward. But I steadfastly refuse to let this beat me.
In the familiar routine of home, I do pretty well. But taking away that familiar routine is a game-changer and this new end game was not part of my plan.
Over the last few days, daytimes were spent with thousands of other like-minded Disney Park goers taking in all that Disney has to offer. Nighttimes were spent watching fireworks and walking, her hand in mine, like a couple of wide-eyed children.
To anyone watching us, we “look” normal. But as we all know, looks can be so deceiving for I am now one of the invisibly disabled.
Before I delve into some of my traveling TBI tales, it’s important for me to share that our trip was a blast. Sarah and I have been very frequent Disney goers since long before my accident. Though no where as familiar as home, we know the parks intimately. In fact, less than a year before my brain injury, we honeymooned there. As you’ll see, I pay a new price for traveling.
My injury has robbed me of so much… but I am never going to let it steal this piece of my pre-accident life.
New and old challenges visit
The first challenge to rear its head was my newfound speech impediment. It hits especially hard when exhaustion strikes. Tongue tied and and tongue twisted, words fail me. From aphasia to stammering and stuttering, this outward manifestation of my inward damage leaves me frustrated and embarrassed. As Sarah knows me like no other, she often completes my sentences. I am both relieved and angry at the same time. Relieved in that she has spared me further embarrassment and angry at my injury for robbing me the ability to speak fluidly.
In my book, Metamorphosis, Surviving Brain Injury, I detail my ongoing battle with memory challenges. To this day, I still have bouts of waking blackouts. Akin to a digital camera with no memory card, by all outward appearances, all looks to be well. But there are times, more pronounced when I am overly tired that I simply lose the ability to lay down new memories.
What does this mean? Wrap your mind around this: Sarah and I were strolling through a gift shop. Ever-present by my side, I watched her shop. Then I did something I do thousands of times a day- I blinked.
And she was gone.
Now you see her, now you don’t. Somewhere along our trek down Main Street USA, my mind simply stopped recording. As this is an occasional occurrence, I immediately saw it for what it was, stopped dead in my tracks and scoped out my surroundings in an effort to figure out how long I was “gone.”
Spying out Sarah thirty feet in front of me, I quietly caught up to her and smiled my million dollar smile like nothing happened. There is no hidden deceit in this approach. Somewhere along the road over the last couple years I learned that not every challenge need be noted and discussed. If that was the case, that’s all we would talk about.
Chronic exhaustion exacerbates some of the other new kids in my playground. Vertigo makes a most triumphant return indeed and my ability to mentally process slows to DOS levels. I stumble on occasion, grab stationary objects to stop swaying, and take a few seconds longer to answer simple questions like, “how are you feeling?”
But there are a few silver linings to all this. As so many new challenges abound, I reach deep to pull as much positive out of all of my new life as humanly possible.
As I am essentially unable to process the passage of time, three hour plane flights feel like ten minutes. Never one to like sitting for long, I really love this part of my new reality. Oh, and get this… since my TBI, I now like to eat fish. Those who have known me through both lives know that I would rather starve than eat fish ‘n chips. Not anymore. Such is the surrealism that so often defines my new life.
My newfound disinhibitionism means that I laugh more deeply than I ever knew I was capable of and Disney dance parties are now a source of adrenaline-pumping, heart racing fun.
The post poignant moment happened at the Magic Kingdom. A young girl, looking “normal” by all outward appearances, wore a neon orange shirt with an unexpected message.
“I have Autism. Please be understanding.”
Some souls are born with unseen disabilities. Others are thrust into this strange new world by circumstance. She was a child of the former, I live the life of the latter.
And I thought about the millions of like-fated souls who walk in shoes that I wear every day.
“I have a brain injury. Please be understanding.”
Tell me that you are from New England and I know a bit about you. Let me know that you grew up in the seventies and I know a bit more about you.
But tell me that you have a traumatic brain injury, and I know more about your life than most likely your own mother does.
I feel a connection to those who have similar fates that I have never experienced.
No, it does not make life with a traumatic brain injury easier.
But it does help in knowing that I don’t walk alone.
The price for vacationing is higher than it’s ever been. If past history tells me anything, I’ll be mentally exhausted for days to come. If the brain fog lifts before the end of the week, I’ll be happy indeed.
Was it worth it?
In a Disney Heartbeat!
About the Author
David A. Grant is a writer based in New Hampshire and the author of Metamorphosis, Surviving Brain Injury. A survivor of a harrowing cycling accident in 2010, David openly shares his experience, strength and hope as a brain injury survivor.
For more information, please visit www.metamorphosisbook.com/