Strategies to Rebuild Your Life after TBI by David Grant
My life changed forever after my brain injury
When we are younger, so much of life is centered around the process of learning. We learn to speak. We take those cumbersome first steps as we become toddlers. Fast forward a few years as we learn life skills, like reading and writing, that enable us to become a productive part of society.
Once a specific skill set is learned, most people move on through life. But a brain injury is a veritable game-changer. Like an eraser on a super-sized pencil, a brain injury can virtually erase so much of what took for granted.
This I can share from a personal perspective, for it was on November 11, 2010, that a brain injury “erased” much of my life when a teenage driver broadsided me while I was out on my daily 30-mile cycle ride.
In two ticks of a clock, my life was forever changed. But I didn’t know the full extent of it.
Symptoms slow to emerge
While many folks who have sustained a brain injury know immediately that “something was different,” such was not the case for me. Symptoms of my brain injury started to surface slowly over the first couple of months after my accident.
In the second month after my brain injury, my ability to speak was abruptly compromised. For someone who communicates for a living, this was a devastating blow. Unending vertigo struck with equal force making the simple act of walking an unexpected challenge. As memory issues surfaced, my ability to remember the day of the week, or even the current month, began to evaporate.
Like a giant eraser cutting a swath through the middle of my life, my injury was removing, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, the skills I needed for daily life.
If the story ended there, this would be a tragic tale indeed. But such was not the case. Long before my injury, I was known to be quite tenacious. Sometimes even called “stubborn.” Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, it was my stubbornness that saved my life.
Being stubborn helped
I simply was not going to let my brain injury beat me. We only get one shot at this life. If my fate was to live with a brain injury, I was going to make the most of it. From my strong-willed standpoint, there were no other options.
Slowly, over the months that followed, I did my best to try to understand what my specific new deficiencies were. It was only after they were both identified and understood that I could start to develop new compensatory strategies to again live my life.
A few of my symptoms self-resolved over time. Gradually, at what felt like a snail’s pace, I watched vertigo drift further into the background of my life. As I was also diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, symptoms well beyond my brain injury haunted me as well. It was well over two years after my accident that my persistent PTSD nightmares started to abate.
But many of my new found challenges simply would not go away. The passage of time proved to not always be my friend.
For example, when it became clear that my ability to be certain of the day of the week was not coming back, and that my recall of the current month was not getting better, it became time to look at an alternative method for enhancing my compromised ability to recall.
This took the form of a multifunction wrist watch with the day, date, month and year within arm’s reach. Though this may sound like a natural solution to my chronological challenges, brain injury sometimes hides such simple solutions from me.
“It can’t be as easy as just wearing a different watch,” my mind shouted out when my wife Sarah suggested this solution.
My mind was wrong and Sarah was right!
To this day, when I have the need to quickly pull the day of the week out of my hat, I no longer rely on my brain. My instinctive reaction now is to look at my watch. I did not relearn how to pull this information from a damaged brain, but found a new way to achieve the same result, thanks to Sarah.
My compromised ability to speak was more challenging to resolve. In fact, I had to learn a new way to talk. Long gone was my ability to speak fluidly without much forethought. I began the tedious process of “pre-thinking” every word before I spoke it aloud.
For months, the speed of my speech was painfully slow. But like an athlete in training, my speed picked up. Today, years after my brain injury, I still use this adaptive strategy. Longer conversations wear me down like never before. But there is a huge sense of satisfaction when a conversation closes—and no one present can detect my speech challenges!
New solutions rebuild life
About a year into my life as a traumatic brain injury survivor, a neuropsychologist made what I now know to be a life-changing suggestion: “Move as much mental processing out of your brain as possible.” He went on to share that this would free up my remaining internal resources for the tasks of day-to-day living. Suffice to say, he was correct.
From moving my ability to tell time to the outside of my brain, to using a web-based calendar to schedule the day-to-day events that defined my life, slowly, over many months, I slowly migrated into a new way of living.
Yes, that eraser wiped away so much of my life. At first, I thought this to be a bad thing. But now I see it for what it was. By cleaning the slate, I was able to begin much of my life anew.
I read a while ago that traumatic brain injury is the last thing you thing about, until it’s the only thing you think about. While this is true, I have found that a new life, one very much worth living, can be rebuilt.
Developing a new way to live my life has become close to second nature to me. While it does not take away the fact that much of my life is more challenging than it’s ever been, it does leave me open to trying new solutions to unexpected brain injury related challenges – suggestions that now have a proven track record of improving the quality of my life.
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. Recently recognized by the Brain Injury Association of America, David’s book offers real-world insight into life as a brain injury survivor. For more information, please visit www.metamorphosisbook.com.
This article is posted with permission from Brain Injury Journey – Hope, Help, Healing, Vol 1, 2014.