My New Brain

By Lori Williams
 

While in the US Army in Germany, Lori Williams sustained a severe traumatic brain injury that forced her medical retirement from the military. Not only did she have to adjust to the physical and cognitive changes caused by her injury, she also had to adjust to civilian life back in the states again. Her memoir takes the reader through her cognitive, physical, emotional, and spiritual recovery.

The chapter titles reveal her wit and sense of humor.

Chapter 1 Getting into a Pickle in a Pickle Suit “…absolutely everything about me changed that day; however, it would take me a long time to not only realize that but to remember it, too.”

Chapter 2 Cognitive Changes, describes herself as “A Little Dippy with That New Brain”

Chapter 3 Physical Changes or “Strange Gait” that led to her army discharge.

Chapter 4 delves into the Emotional Changes or How Does it Feeeeeeel to Get a New Brain? sharing shame, social cues and responses, depression, and social isolation versus solitude.

Chapter 5 “Mourning a Brain Change – What Do You Mean, This is Work?” covering the loss of a brain through the lenses of the four tasks of mourning.

Chapter 6 “Spiritual Recovery – it’ll Never Be Perfect, but it does Get Better” exploring layers and nuances leader to spiritual reconciliation and acceptance.

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2 responses to “My New Brain”

  1. Lori Williams was in the Army’s active duty military when she sustained a traumatic brain injury. We often talk about losses after brain injury but she reminds us in her commentary below that veterans also mourn the loss of being a soldier.

    Mourning the Uniform
    By Lori Williams
    Grief refers to the feelings we have because of a loss. Mourning refers to actions we either consciously or unconsciously carry out because of said loss.

    Now, if we want to ease our feelings of grief, we have to work though our pain, allow our mourning, and hopefully get safely to the other side. The other side being—to paraphrase the author of the concept of the tasks of mourning, J. William Worden— to emotionally relocate what was lost and move on with life. [I talk about this more fully in chapter five of my memoir My New Brain.]

    Here I’ll address another aspect of mourning. In the scenario I’ll describe, I was at the place where the pain of grief was still there, but I was beginning to move on—to Plan B, so to speak. Again I’ll summarize a bit from my memoir.

    Work through the Pain of Grief
    During my college days, I worked at the Veteran’s Hospital in Minneapolis as an Escort. The kind that pushes wheelchairs to and from a destination—escorting patients. After three years, I was still adjusting to my brain injury and was still in severe emotional and physical distress. This affected my behavior. Pushing veterans to their destinations, I could get into an entire thesis of self-disclosure. There was the fact I had been in the Army.

    “Not the WACs?” (Women Army Corps), a World War II vet would ask.

    “No”, I would correct, proud that I served in the same Army he did. “There isn’t a WACs anymore; everyone is just in the Regular Army.”

    When I answered that I was a truck driver to their inquiry about what I did, they were surprised and impressed that a woman would—or even could—do that. I would feel an O.D. green tickle in my heart. And when I received compassion for the news of my car accident, I soaked the affirmation into my soul. The new variation of me was somehow realized a little more.

    What’s my Point?
    In college I studied social work. One hard-learned lesson I picked up during one of my internships was that, self-disclosure is seldom appropriate in a helping profession. However, in that particular scenario I don’t think anyone was offended by the assertions of this former soldier. The hint for us here is to find a safe place to resolve our mourning—a support group of peers, a loved one, a therapist, and/or anyone you feel free to hurt with.

  2. Lori Williams says:

    When I sustained my traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 1985, the scope of my healing was affected not only by the injury itself, but by other factors as well, such as what was known and available at the time in terms of rehabilitation, and the limited information and support accessible for the patient. Thankfully, accepted treatments have improved.

    When I was hurt in a motor vehicle accident, the medical community did not have a descriptive term such as traumatic brain injury—at least a consistent descriptor was not used in my medical records. The phrases I have seen include closed head injury and my favorite—traumatic brain disease. Furthermore, today there are agencies that specialize in the rehabilitation of TBI, whereas in 1985 my rehabilitation focused on my physicality. As a result, life has been my remedy.

    A feature lacking in my early years was the available information for people with traumatic brain disease—information for the patient, so to speak. Additionally, I don’t recall availability of a support program of peers—others in the same proverbial boat. One of the benefits of peer support is rediscovering a feeling of normalcy—it can be reassuring to see someone else in your proverbial boat. I don’t remember even meeting someone else with a TBI for a number of years after my injury, let alone an actual support group. Today you find not only groups for persons with a TBI, but programs and Internet sites dedicated to this cause as well.

    That is one of the sentiments I had in mind when writing my memoir: to help the survivor feel that s/he is not quite so alone in what can be a lonely, empty place. I also wrote it for the loved ones of a survivor, to help them glean insight into a profound change that is a mix of both injury and experience, and how an approach of understanding and grace can be the best remedy.

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