"I am disabled."
I spit out three simple words with about the same degree of
dignity that a cat yacks up a hairball.
It was an unexpected admission that brought about unexpected
Just about every person with a brain injury I know defines
life by "before and after." We count the days, months, and
years since both "births." We are born into this world
originally and we start lives anew as a person with a brain
I am 52 years old and 3½ as well. If you are a brain injury
survivor, you know exactly how this feels.
And so it is for Sarah and me. In our lives "before," we were
frequent travelers. But brain injury has a way of making life
smaller — much smaller.
Tough decisions had to be made during that abysmally tough
first year or so after my traumatic brain injury. As my
ability to earn a living continues to be compromised, we had
to sell my Jeep. The monthly payment, easily made before I was
hit that day by a car on my bike, soon became the cause for a
monthly panic attack.
Hello, traumatic brain injury. Goodbye, Jeep!
No longer is there a sense of sadness about this as material
"things" come and go. I've learned that pain comes from
holding onto things I'm supposed to let go of.
Like a Jeep Wrangler ... or my old life.
In our "old lives," we were more than occasional travelers.
But alas, said that Winnie-the-Pooh narrator who offers the
running monologue in my head these days, many of those
adventures remain in the past.
Which now brings us back full-circle to being disabled.
Sarah and I recently took a trip — one of the fewer we take.
While trying to set up seat assignments, the US Airways online
seat selector quickly became my nemesis. Try as I might, I was
unable to find side-by-side seats for Sarah and me. I need to
be painfully honest here ... this once confident traveler is
now more than a little frightened by the thought of sitting
alone for a couple of hours during a flight.
In fact, I was scared witless.
Over time, as life with a brain injury becomes more familiar,
I am ever so slowly getting just a bit more comfortable asking
for help. This gradual acceptance of my new limitations has
come to me at a snail's pace, but it has come.
And I made a simple decision to call the airline.
A sincere and compassionate representative named Susan took my
"I am disabled," were the first three words I spoke.
I shared my challenge of being unable to find two seats
together. And I openly shared that I have a traumatic brain
Five minutes later, with a few magical mouse clicks on her
keyboard, this angel not only has Sarah by my side for our
flights, but she has moved us closer to the front of the plane
"That will make things easier for you, Mr. Grant. Is there
anything else I can do to help you?" she asked.
Tears welled in my eyes; I humbly thanked her.
Brain injury recovery does not happen alone.
By far, the toughest part of my journey, the darkest time of
my entire life, in fact, was the time before I met other
people with brain injury ... when I walked the TBI path alone.
But I've learned that there are people along the way, some
part of the brain injury community and others who are simply
kind members of our shared human family, who are happy to help
us find our way.
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