My Job after Brain Injury

Brain Injury Blog by Alyson Vega

March 7, 2013

My Job after Brain Injury

I have a Great Job!

Record your progress each day.

Record your progress each day.

I have flexible hours, a great boss, and the satisfaction that I am making a difference in someone’s life. It sounds like the perfect job description, doesn’t it? It’s been a couple of years now, but when I started I hated it. It felt pointless. With little supervision, I tended to slack off. I complained to anyone who would listen that I was overqualified and that I had been so good at my old job. The truth is I only started to enjoy my work recently. It might be because I didn’t come into this position willingly. Let me explain.

My Accident

In 2007, while teaching sixth grade math, I suddenly had a terrible headache. I joked with my students, as I had in the past. In my best Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation, I said, “I have a headache. It’s not a tumor! It’s not a tumor!” It turned out that it was. Fortunately, it was benign and by the time my insurance company authorized an MRI, the bleeding had stopped. For a week, I walked around with a terrible headache, numbness spreading down my left side, tripping and bumping into things.

After the MRI, my neurologist diagnosed me with a cavernous angioma, a benign blood vessel tumor, and told me I had two choices. I could have a craniotomy to remove it or I could wait and hope any subsequent bleeds would not have catastrophic results. The angioma was partially embedded in my brain stem, near the pons and cerebellum. There was evidence that it had bled before and was likely to bleed again. I chose brain surgery.

A Brain Injury?

I listened to all the risks, death, paralysis, blindness, etc. but all I heard was death so I signed the consent form. When I woke up, I was glad to be alive. I worked hard to regain my strength and regain some basic abilities like staying awake, walking, and swallowing food without choking. I lost most of the hearing in my left ear and I got used to hearing the sounds of my own chewing, breathing, or voice unbearably amplified inside my own head. I still get bad headaches and have weak peripheral vision. The worst side effect by far was the cognitive change I experienced. I didn’t notice at first and often I could only tell something was wrong because of the reactions I got from other people. When I struggled, I felt angry because I couldn’t explain why I was unable to pack a suitcase.

My Old Job

I went back to teaching six months after my surgery and it was apparent that I was not the same. My responsibilities were reduced and many supports were put in place but eventually it became clear that I could not continue. In February 2011, I stopped working. It was the most depressing time in my life. I was a teacher for 22 years. It was my whole world. I didn’t want to live.

At home on disability, I resisted doing what I needed to do. It seemed beneath me to think I needed an alarm to tell me to take a shower. I hated the fact that I got lost any time I had to go somewhere new. I refused to write stuff down that I was “sure” I would remember. Who needs a note to remember to eat something besides yogurt? Well, it turns out that I do.

My Life Today

So here I am at age 50 and my full time job is taking care of me. It is a lot of work making sure my basic needs are met. It is my job to take my medicine, eat healthy food, exercise, and get enough rest. It is my job to go to cognitive therapy and to arrive on time. It is my job to work on my social skills and to avoid conflict with strangers. Do I miss my old job? Sure. Why do I feel good about my new job? I love my job because I am getting better at it every day. Today, I showered and got to cognitive therapy on time. Today, I ate a healthy lunch. Today, I took a nap when I felt tired and did not over-react and scream at my pharmacist. A few years ago these tasks just did not get done and I didn’t care. Today, I am successful at being alive.

To read more by Alyson, check out: http://countdown2brainsurgery.blogspot.com/

23 responses to “My Job after Brain Injury”

  1. Deana Chiavola says:

    Hi Alyson, I see it has been awhile since this was posted so i hope my note finds you. I taught with you at Columbia Grammar way back in 1989! I somehow ended up searching about you and Sachi to find out about your incredible art work and about your brain injury. I wish you peace , love and success at being you. I am amazed at your strength and resilience. Imam going to follow you on Pinterest as I love your work so much. I too have been changed permanently by health conditions and your story is an inspiration to me . Deana Chiavola

  2. Nice blog!!!!. we are also providing best services for all type injury in UK. see in detail open this link: Personal injury in Sussex

  3. I like your motto If you don’t try, then you have already failed. Life is not for bystanders!

  4. Kajomo says:

    Alyson
    Thanks for sharing! In my TBI support group, when we meet we all introduce ourselves and I start with “My born again life was July 29, 2010. I say born again not in a religious way, but in fact one is born again. Everything must be relearned and practiced. I just saw my Neurologist and he told me that I have had a lot of positive progress. Every morning I play Luminosity for an hour and a half, make an all veggie and fruit drink for breakfast and lunch. Ride my bike 25 miles. I also tell my group that before in my life if you have something to do, you will do it and at times very fast. Now I have to proceed with what I call ‘Baby Steps’ because I am not as quick as I was before. If you don’t try, then you already failed.

  5. William Vogel says:

    My TBI in 1984 was the result of a car going through a stop sign into me on my motorcycle without a helmet. My head hit the pavement and I was in coma for six weeks. I spent a year hospitalized, the last seven months in a rehab facility — The Greenery — and another year after discharge in a program for out-patient rehab. I didn’t know if I would be able to work again, let alone drive. I was lucky. I got work, was driving, met the woman I am still married to. I know it could have come out different in so many ways. Anyone who has been through this and come though it still capable of as many things as me must consider themselves very blessed.

  6. I *love* this because I relate so very well, taking care of myself is my full-time job too.

    Success is certainly a differently defined post-injury, but those successes are far sweeter and more appreciated than pre-injury.

    Thanks for sharing your story! I believe something sacred happens when we share our personal stories.

    “Acceptance is a process” – that’s what our Occupational Therapist told us at TBI rehab, I think it’s a keeper! Good for you for finding workarounds and strategies that work, that’s huge!!! 🙂

    Wishing you all the best – today & always.

  7. Liz says:

    Thank you for being so tenacious! You are always improving. I’m amazed at how much you get done in your day- and how many creative projects you complete- with exceptional detail. I’ve learned so much from you, sister. Although, I still have a cheat sheet by the shower, because at times I just don’t know what I’m doing in there. I’ve stood in the shower, with the water on, bewildered! Good thing I have a TBI, or I’d be worried.

    You are so generous with the TBI community. You give your time, your knowledge, your funny self, and your enthusiasm! (And you’ll give the shirt off your back to some people!) If I could be proud of you, I am. But you do all the work, so YOU be proud!

    Thank you for being my family when it counts. On cue, Jesse is at my knee, wondering why I’m crying. You mean so much to me, Alyson, and just think, we wouldn’t have met if we didn’t both have a brain injury.

  8. Brianna Jonson says:

    Found out about your amazing story through Suzanne! I would just like to say that I found it very inspirational and much needed. I’m going through an episode depression myself and hearing how you were able to turn your life around for the better, well it really touched me. Best of luck to you!

  9. JLS says:

    Thank you for telling your story. Stories are the fabric of our humaness. I love your sister’s work as well.

  10. Jan Sarah Fellenbaum says:

    Hello Alyson,

    It was an honor to read your story.

    Jan

  11. Jeffery E says:

    Good to hear you are back. Hang in there. Little by little you’ll get all the way back.

  12. Stephanie says:

    Hey Alyson,

    Yes, keep sticking with it and you’ll be amazed at your own recovery over time. I had a brain injury back in 1994. I wad told, essentially, that I would never have a meaningful life and that I should stop trying to chase the impossible. At the time, I had an abundance of issues ranging from trouble walking to language processing issues and confusion. I would get into the shower fully dressed because I would forget to take my clothes off first. I would call for “MOM!”, but the words came out sounding like, “DAD!” Other people noticed before I did as well, but there were some obvious tells (e.g. finding myself fully dressed in a shower).

    Really, it did take a long time to recover to my fullest extent. I’d say about 10 years or so. Doctors often said to me that after a year or two, recovery is complete. Based on my own experience, I believe this simply isn’t true. Some of my hardest recovery happened 6 years after my accident.

    All told, my life is spectacular. I wouldn’t change anything about it. Here I was told to drop out of college, and now I have a Master’s degree. I was told I would never amount to anything, and now I am making well over $100K a year in the perfect career. Sure, I still have issues. You never FULLY recover from something this big. I have learned to work with what I have, and I have made the absolute most of it. From what I am seeing here, it looks like you are doing the same.

    Kudos to you.

    Stephanie

  13. Grace Cowley says:

    You are so brave and I’m happy to read that you have come to terms with the things you need to do for yourself in your recovery. Words fail me, but I think you are amazing.
    Bright blessings,

    And thanks to Suzanne for sharing the link to your blog

  14. Iris Mills Reines says:

    Dear Alyson: You may not be teaching sixth grade math, but you are still teaching. It’s nice to meet you through your blog, and to see how you have cultivated new powers. I Hope to meet you in person some day. Best — Iris

  15. Alyson-

    What an impressive summary of a life-altering experience, Alyson! Expressed very well, concisely, and more importantly, expressed in such a way that you acknowledge the huge strides you have made with pride, in spite of a brain injuy not being something you ever would would have imagined to face. I commend you for EVERYTHING!! Plus your involvement BIANYS’s NY Chapter is something else you should be very proud of!!!

  16. Brett Rogers says:

    Dear Alyson,
    well we haven’t meet, but I found your blog online. I just wanted to say that I think you write very well, I enjoyed reading your words. You’re very honest and I happy to read your optimism for life. I think you’re beautiful on the inside and the outside, and I wish you the very best for the future. 🙂
    Sending you a lot of love from Tasmania,
    Brett

  17. Ellen Dean says:

    Hey Alyson, Keep up the good work. It is hard work. Harder than most people have to face. It is obvious you are still the beautiful and funny person you always have been. Ellen

  18. Alyson Vega says:

    Thank you Miriam, Richard, Mom, and Linda.

    Linda,
    I wish I had advice. Human beings are resilient! We have strengths and abilities that we never even knew we would need! Part of what motivated me to do the work was I got so tired of my husband nagging me. I really wanted him to let me be me but I realized he wasn’t going to stop until he could relax and know I would be okay. Your situation is different since your husband is totally dependent on you. Be sure to take care of yourself first. Like they say on the airplane, put your own oxygen mask on first. Bless you too!
    Best, Alyson

  19. Miriam says:

    Dear Alyson! 🙂

    I’m touched by how you write so eloquently beautyful about your dramatic change of life.
    And I feel deeply inspired by how you have found the strength and determination to reach the peace that lies in a positive approach and to be greatful for the little things in everyday life.
    Thank you for sharing!

    I bumped into you once in NY, and remember your wonderful charisma! 🙂

    I wish you all the best, and hope for your recovery.

    Smiles,
    Miriam 🙂

  20. Richard Anderson says:

    Alyson,
    We met each other about 2 years ago at Mt. Sinai Clinical Trial and we also share the same doctor. You have come a long way, congratulations. Unfortunately many TBI’s and CVA’s are not as successful. My new life at helps someone else who needs its more. I am a Chairperson on the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey, you and anyone else can reach out to their website: bianj.org.
    Stay well.

  21. Alyson Vega says:

    I am grateful for the chance to blog here at Lash and Associates Publishing. If anyone would like to read more, check out my regular blog at:

    http://countdown2brainsurgery.blogspot.com/

  22. Linda says:

    Hi, you are an inspiration! I hope my husband can move on like you have. He suffered anoxic brain injury during complicated hospital stay in 2011. He had seizures and lost his vision, legally blind with cognitive deficits he is disabled now too at 55 yrs. At this point he refuses any therapy. Vision impairment is a double whammy because occupational & speech therapists that we have had were not trained to teach vision impaired. The blind therapist we had couldn’t teach him because of the memory & loss of fine motor skills. He was an independent person worked as supervisor in manufacturing for 31 years. Now totally dependent on me. Do you have any advice on how to motivate him? Will he just eventually progress through the acceptance phase and realize he needs more therapy to reach his goals. He hears ” it takes time”. I hear about the plasticity of the brain & it is like all other muscles & needs to be exercised. Thank you & God Bless!

  23. Pat Vega says:

    You’re doing a grand job, love. I’m proud of you. You’re a brilliant artist and writer. I appreciate everything you do.

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