Jennifer Callaghan’s story shares how she put herself back together after suffering a severe brain injury sustained as a passenger in a car crash. She recounts how her life felt -- from within (“lost and panic-stricken inside your head”), using up "the all-to-sparse energy" she had in the most mundane tasks (making lunch, handling money, returning phone calls, managing sleep).
Ms. Callaghan uses self-honesty to capture how "lacking in empathy" she was during the process of relearning activities of daily life skills. Her ongoing struggles with out-of-control anger, feelings of inadequacy and loss of meaning are vivid. Relearning how to read and write, walking a straight line, re-engaging in social activities without a chaperone, and the biggest adventure of all – crossing a road, capture the reader. The “new identity” imposed by her brain injury, which then created emotional upheaval for her – changing her self-image to “slow, dependent, forgetful, unable to function like the people around,” her is riveting. In one example of coping, Jennifer recounts the challenges of traveling by train after her TBI; a time when eating out at a restaurant and got angry ("lost my temper, then escalated verbally"); when taking driving lessons in order to regain driving privileges; discovering how stress relieving it was to join and participate in a brain injury support group. As you read, you will find yourself walking through her life with her.
The TBI journey and story of Jennifer Callaghan is unique to her, and yet it allows others to make comparisons to their own struggles, progress, and years of recovery. Overcoming TBI related setbacks, she discovers her capacity expands to become a volunteer literacy teacher. She realizes a sense of accomplishment and gains self-identity as she helps others. The limitations of her TBI required increased awareness for engaging in self-care practices. Jennifer Callaghan has learned of the kindness of others (ex. her student). She has and is learning how to make a place for herself again.
Chapter 1 Crash
Chapter 2 Taking My Brain Home
Chapter 3 A is for Apple Pie: Learning to Live My New Life
Chapter 4 How to Cross a Road, and Other Great Adventures in Travelling and Independence
Chapter 5 And Then There’s Other People
Chapter 6 Learning to Drive Again
Chapter 7 Will I Ever Sleep Again?
Chapter 8 Finding Support
Chapter 9 Making Progress
Chapter 10 So Who am I Now?
At the beginning I used to say, "I have a head injury." It sounded less catastrophic, gentler, more ordinary. “Head injury” sounded like something I had heard of, that other people might have. “I banged my head. I have a bit of a head injury.” I didn't want to say “brain injury.” I didn’t want to use words which made it sound as if I had some kind of permanent, serious injury. To even think like that frightened me.
I didn’t want to use words that suggested I might be distinctly different from everyone else. I didn’t want to even suggest that I wasn’t coping. Of course, the truth was that I wasn’t coping at all, not without enormous amounts of support, but I wasn’t going to admit that, even to myself.
In the last few years, the media has been full of accounts of sports figures – boxers, hockey players, football players – seriously harmed by repeated concussions or assaults to the brain from falls or blows. Their brains, when examined after death, show signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a close relative of Alzheimer’s disease. We didn’t used to hear any of that. It was “concussions” and they were supposed to recover and get back in the game. The thinking on this is changing. We know more than we used to know.
We are learning about sports players whose injuries have interrupted or shortened their careers and then seriously affected them for the rest of their lives. There are boxers who spent their later years with dementia. Then there are the suicides. These get attention. Who knows the real causes of those suicides? Brain injury often brings depression which may be the cause. But could it not be that years of struggling to carry on professional “normal” lives without anyone recognizing the huge obstacles they were facing, their own consciousness of their loss of abilities, and the awful feeling of loss of identity were too much to bear?
Calling “concussion” brain injury is the first step. Recognizing the damage is the beginning of rehabilitation and treating the feelings that go along with brain injury. Traumatic brain injuries do not only happen to sports figures. They occur in industrial accidents: a piece of machinery falls on someone, or a person falls off a roof or scaffolding. They happen to cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers of cars, trucks and motorcycles. They happen to their passengers. Over 50% of injuries happen to men younger than 25 years old because they are more likely to be involved in high-risk activities: speeding in cars or on motorbikes; playing aggressive sports such as boxing and hockey; serving in wars.