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Developing Effective Adaptive Strategies After Brain Injury

Over the years, more than a few people have said that I ought to give serious thought to a career as a photographer. While I am flattered by the kind words, I’ll never even consider it. But the reason for this might just surprise you.

While I have partially recovered from my 2010 cycling crash, there are still so many lingering challenges that I face as someone with a brain injury. My “visible” injuries have healed as they should have. My bones mended, my bruises faded, my lacerations healed.

Luckily, there are no lingering physical challenges whatsoever. In fact, if I were to hand to a physician unfamiliar with my history, I would emerge with flying colors, a specimen of fine health. This, of course, provided that I never said the three words that have forever changed me: traumatic brain injury.

Rather, it is my “invisible” injury that stubbornly won't let go. As time passes and I learn more about the medical aspects of being a someone with a brain injury, I realize that I really am simply a typical TBI survivor. Yes, every brain injury is different, but there seem to be some common threads, some shared traits that we, as survivors, have come to live with.

I tire more easily than I used to. In my case, it’s a metal fatigue that can wear me down in ways unlike anything I ever dealt with in my life “before.” My emotions are closer to the surface than ever as well. If you live with brain injury, you most likely understand that feeling.

But of all the challenges I now face, my compromised memory is, without question, the biggest challenge of this new post-TBI life. I’m not talking about the “where did I leave my keys?” type of occasional challenge that most everyone faces. If it were just that, life would be so much easier.

There are days now that my memory fails close to 100 percent of the time. Events that passed a month ago, feel like last week. Occasionally, I’ll reference something in conversation with my wife, Sarah, thinking that it was a relatively recent occurrence — only to be told that I was talking about an event from a year ago — or even longer.

It’s hard on me as it rocks my confidence and self-esteem. It’s even harder on those closest to me as it’s an “in your face” reminder that I am not as well as I look.

But like so many other challenges I face post-injury, all is not lost. Not even close.

And so we circle back to my incessant picture taking.

After a year or so as a brain injury survivor, I went through extensive neuropsychological testing. Said a trusted neuropsychologist, “move as much of your mental processing to outside your brain as possible.”

My cloud-based calendar helps keep my day-to-day schedule in order. And my picture taking helps me to find order in a past that would otherwise be jumbled and meaningless. At least once a week, I transfer images from my calendar to my external flash drive. These “digital memories” are sorted in folders based on dates.

These tools serve as my bionic memory. I can easily go back digitally through time and see what happened last week, last month, and even last year. All the guesswork is gone. Most of the frustration is gone. Sure, there can be an extra step in recalling events that have come to pass, but it’s so worth it.

And realistically, what other options do I really have? I can continue to experience frustration. That is always an option. However, I chose to listen to my doctor — to try something that is perhaps a bit non-mainstream.

But in the final analysis, it works. And isn't that all that really matters?


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