used to living with a traumatic brain injury takes time — lots
of time. Years ago, I heard what so many of us have heard,
“Recovery from a brain injury is a life-long experience.” I
have to admit that that comment really didn't bother me that
much. When you really dig deep, most of us are recovering from
But the real eye-opener was how long it has taken me to
realize that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a
train. I am beginning to experience moments of life being
okay. It has taken years.
While there isn't a lot that's really comfortable about living
with a traumatic brain injury, there is an element of
predictability to it all. I've been dancing this new dance
with my brain injury for long enough to know how it feels. My
dance partner, perennially paired with me on the dance floor
of life, is predictable.
I can expect to live daily with brain fog. That's part of our
new TBI two-step. I can expect to have bouts of overwhelming
exhaustion. Occasional vertigo and speech challenges are part
of this new life as well. Word finding after a long day can be
like playing hide and seek with my vocabulary … now you see
it, now you don't.
The point I'm trying to make is that for quite a while, years
in fact, this was the only existence I knew. Where living with
a damaged brain used to be unnatural, it's now my normal
state. Somewhere that Winnie-the-Pooh voice that narrates the
timeline of my life just said to me, "David continued to grow,
sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, as he wandered the
Hundred Acre Wood of his mind."
Early on, had you or anyone shared that this degree of
acceptance would slowly permeate my being, you would have been
met with a resounding "never!" Recovery is a process, not an
event. And most every day, I proceed a bit deeper into my new
But there is a bit of an unexpected pendulum effect to all
this — one that swings from the realm of the predicable,
through its arc, into the realm of the unpredictable. Shared
before and most likely to be shared again, there are two links
in the chain that define so much of my new life as someone
with a brain injury.
The first link is my brain injury. The second link is another
newfound friend — post-traumatic stress disorder. They are
forever bound, forged as one by the hammer and anvil of my
cycling crash back in 2010.
As predictable as my brain injury is, my PTSD is equally
unpredictable. It keeps me on my toes.
My wife, Sarah, and I live in Southern New Hampshire. Our town
has three fire stations with one being only a few blocks from
our home. I can hear the wail of sirens a few times daily as
our first responders heed the call of duty. There are many
times that an ambulance can wail by our home and I don't even
give it a second thought. At other times, that same sound can
reduce me to tears, leaving me paralyzed, unable to move, my
eyes brimming over. There is no rhyme or reason. Now you cry,
now you don't. It is predictably unpredictable.
My old friends, Mr. and Mrs. Night Terror, work in much the
same way. Many nights find me sleeping, albeit haltingly, from
sunset to sunrise with no real after-dark surprises. Then,
there are the nights, where for no reason or cause, that I am
dogged by "scare your pants off"' nightmares that see me
kicking and screaming as Sarah tries yet again to call me to
where it's safe, back to a wakeful state.
Happily, there is always something to be grateful for. I have
long been a glass-half-full person, so finding gratitude is
never very far from the surface.
If I shine the searchlight back over the last few years,
daytimes are easier. Like Olympic dancers who have worked for
years on perfecting their dance routines, so have I learned to
dance with my brain injury. But unlike Olympians who spend
time apart, my dance partner and I are forever together. We
know each other — and there is a sense of comfort in the
I have to stretch a bit further with my PTSD. The
less-than-friendly nights are fewer than they were a year ago.
And a year ago, they were fewer than the year prior. Looking
back, I can see progress. So when I look forward now, I have
hope. I have real hope that next year will be easier that
this, and that the year after that easier still.
And it's largely because of that hope that I am able to get up
every day, and move, however slowly, forward in my new life.
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