Get a Group, Get a Life after Brain Injury

Brain Injury Blog

Get a Group, Get a Life!

by David A. Grant

While still in my first year of life after my brain injury, I was told about a newly forming support group for brain injury survivors at a nearby rehab hospital.  The first meeting was to be held in April of 2011. And I was a perfect candidate for the group.

In over the half-century that my life has spanned thus far, I’ve seen amazing wonders. I’ve seen all four of my own sons take their first breath.

Nothing can hold a candle to watching lava flow down Kilauea at night and roll into the sea in billows of steam. From sunsets over the desert to simply watching my wife Sarah as she sleeps, I have experienced joys unimagined.

But like any other human being since the dawn of time, hardship has reared its head repeatedly. From the unexpected loss of family members to a bankrupt business, some heavy blows have fallen. This does not make me unique. It simply makes me human. I carry no hard feelings or resentment about any of my challenges or difficult experiences. In fact, at a deeper level, I can appreciate them as they strengthen me.  As steel is tempered and made stronger by fire, so have the fires of my own life, including my brain injury, made me stronger.

And long ago I learned an important life lesson. Problems carried alone are problems doubled while problems shared are problems cut in half. Looking back over the most difficult challenges in my life, those times that I was part of a peer group of others with similar experiences were dramatically easier than those times I tried to go it alone.

Such was my life experience and mindset when I learned of the new MTBI Support Group.

I am blessed in that the rehab hospital is only a short ride from our home. In fact, the ride over is under five minutes. Arriving for the first meeting ten minutes early, I found an easy parking space, grabbed my notebook and started a new part of my journey I am walking to this day.

A bit of a perspective check is in order. Until that first meeting, I have never knowingly met someone with a brain injury. My understanding of my injury was just beginning, and my awareness of my newfound limitations was growing. Virtually all of my knowledge up to this point in time was presented to me by well-intentioned doctors, by books I had read, and by information I had found online.

I can recall that first meeting like it was yesterday. Walking into the conference room, I was both anxious and excited. Having no idea what to expect, I was a proverbial blank slate when I arrived. And life was about to again change.

A couple of folks sat at a conference table. After poking my face through the door, and seeing what appeared to be just a couple of staffers engaged in conversation, I mumbled something about having the wrong room. As I started to exist stage left, one of the attendees called to me.

“If you are looking for the brain injury group, you’ve found it.”

Truthfully, I’m not sure what I was expecting. Wheelchairs? People with visible challenges? I was completely both out of, and in my element at the same time. I can look back on it now and smile as I “look” normal. Just as my newfound friends did.

Over the next few minutes, the room slowly filled with people. People who look just like you, just like me. It’s not called America’s Silent Epidemic without just cause. By the time the meeting started, there were a dozen of us there, brought together by a shared tragedy, and now bound together by an unasked for life experience.

The facilitator took a couple of minutes to explain a bit about the group, talked about the direction the group may go in, and started the dialogue by asking each of us to share what had happened. And the stories that unfolded that night were breathtaking. Stunning events had come to pass for everyone there that night.

One by one, we shared what happened.

From the young college student who had hit a tree while skiing to tale after tale of auto accidents, I sat there spellbound. There was even a cyclist like me who was injured by an errant driver. So much for being unique.

Yes, the causes of the injuries were as different as wildflowers in a meadow. But what shocked me were the tales of life after tragedy. Here were a group of people who shared challenges I had never before heard articulated by another soul.  From speech problems to memories that no longer functioned, from incessant tinnitus to chronic exhaustion, I was among those who knew of these things not from reading about them in books, but from actually living life with a brain injury.

Initially scheduled for an hour, our first meeting went over by about ten minutes. Simply put, no one wanted to leave. There was an immediate sense of comfort, a palpable sense of peace that came from simply being in the presence of souls with similar fates.

Though I only had a five minute ride home after the meeting, I made the decision to take a long-cut and not head straight home. My head was spinning. I was no longer alone in my challenges. That night I met people who have long since become my friends.

And I cried.

The water works started before my key even found my car ignition. I cried like I had never cried before. The pent up fear, frustrations, anxiety, apartness and more all came out.  Red rimmed eyes met Sarah at the door that night. She looked at me, said not a word, and embraced me.

We meet once a month at the hospital. There have even been get togethers at some of the homes of the regular members.  And I’ve never missed a meeting.

I cannot overstate how critical, how cathartic and how vital to my own recovery this meeting has been. And it’s grown. We have newer members who drive (or are driven) from 20 – 30 miles away to be part of this cherished group. Though I have quite intentionally tried to forego giving any direct advice, I am going to deviate a bit here. If you are a brain injury survivor, please find a group. You’ll thank me for it.

Over the last year, we’ve had guest speakers, hours and hours of face-to-face sharing and a new Facebook Group has started letting us stay in touch between the monthly meeting.

And yes, there is a perennial box of tissues at our meeting, often making its way up and down the full length of the table at every meeting.

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/

2 responses to “Get a Group, Get a Life after Brain Injury”

  1. Susan says:

    So glad you have found cohorts David. I think I need them too.

  2. Marilyn Lash says:

    I wish every survivor who questioned the meaning of a support group could read David’s story. It is powerfully told and can change not only attitudes but lives as well.

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