While still in my first
year of new life after my traumatic brain injury, I was told
about a newly forming support group for people with TBI to be
held at a nearby rehab hospital. The first meeting was
scheduled for April 2011. I was also told by a hospital
staffer that I was a perfect candidate for the group.
In more than half a century that my life has spanned thus far,
I've seen amazing wonders. I've seen all four of my sons take
their first breath. I’ve watched lava flow down Kilauea at
night and roll into the sea in billows of steam. I’ve watched
sunsets spread, intensify, and melt away over the desert. I’ve
watched my wife, Sarah, as she sleeps. Suffice it to say, I
have experienced joys unimagined.
But like any other human being since the dawn of time,
hardship has also reared its head repeatedly. From the
unexpected loss of family members to a bankrupt business, some
heavy blows have fallen in my own life. Many of these losses
came to pass long before my brain injury.
This does not make me unique. It simply makes me human. I
carry no hard feelings or resentment about any of my
challenges or difficult experiences. In fact, at a much deeper
level, I can appreciate them as they strengthen me. As steel
is tempered and made stronger by fire — so have the fires of
my own life, including my brain injury — made me stronger.
Long ago I learned an important life lesson. Problems carried
alone are problems doubled while problems shared are problems
cut in half. Looking back over the most difficult challenges
in my life, those times that I was part of a peer group of
others with similar experiences were dramatically easier than
those times I tried to go it alone.
Such was my life experience and mindset when I learned of the
new TBI support group.
I am blessed as the rehab hospital is only a short ride from
our home. In fact, the hospital is under a mile away. Arriving
for the first meeting a good 10 minutes early, I found an easy
parking space, grabbed my ever-present notebook and took the
next small steps of my journey … a journey I am still walking
to this day.
A bit of a perspective check is in order. Until that first
support group meeting, I have never knowingly met someone with
a brain injury. My understanding of my brain injury was just
beginning, and my awareness of my newfound limitations was
growing. Virtually all of my knowledge up to this point in
time was presented to me by well-intentioned doctors, by books
I had read, and by information I had found online.
I can recall that first meeting like it was yesterday. Walking
into the conference room, I was both anxious and excited.
Having no idea what to expect, I was a proverbial blank slate
when I arrived. And life was about to again change.
A couple of "normal looking" folks sat at a conference table.
After poking my face through the door and seeing what appeared
to be just a couple of staffers engaged in conversation, I
mumbled something about having the wrong room. As I started to
exit stage left, one of the attendees called out to me.
"If you are looking for the brain injury group, you've just
Truthfully, I'm not sure what I was expecting. Wheelchairs?
People with visible challenges? I was completely both out of
and in my element at the same time. I can look back on it now
and smile as I "look" normal, just as my newfound friends did.
Over the next few minutes, the room slowly filled with people.
People who look just like you, just like me. Brain injury is
not called the “silent epidemic” without just cause. By the
time the meeting started, there were a dozen of us there,
brought together by a shared tragedy, and now bound together
by an unasked for life experience.
The facilitator took a couple of minutes to explain a bit
about the new group, talked about the direction the group may
go in, and started the dialogue by asking each of us to share
what had happened. And the stories that unfolded that night
were breathtaking. Stunning, life-changing events had come to
pass for everyone in that room.
One by one, we shared what happened.
From the young college student who had hit a tree while skiing
here in New England to tale after tale of auto accidents, I
sat there spellbound. There was even a cyclist like me who was
injured by an errant driver. So much for being unique!
Yes, the causes of the injuries were as different as
wildflowers in a meadow. But what shocked me were the tales of
life after tragedy. Here were a group of people who shared
challenges I had never before heard articulated by another
soul. From speech problems to memories that no longer
functioned, from incessant tinnitus to chronic mental
exhaustion and brain fog, I was among those who knew of these
things not from reading about them in books, but from people
actually living life with a brain injury.
Initially scheduled for an hour, our first meeting went over
by about 10 minutes. No one wanted to leave. There was an
immediate sense of comfort, a palpable sense of peace that
came from simply being in the presence of souls with similar
Though I only had a five-minute ride home after the meeting, I
made the decision to take a long-cut and not head straight
home. My head was spinning. I was no longer alone in my
challenges. That night I met people who have long since become
some of my closest friends.
And I cried.
The water works started before my key even found my car
ignition. I cried like I had never cried before. The pent-up
fear, frustrations, anxiety, apartness and so much more I
didn’t even have words for all came out. Red rimmed eyes met
my Sarah at the door that night. She looked at me, and not
saying a word, gave me a long and important hug.
From then on, the support group met once a month at the
hospital. There have even been get-togethers at some of the
homes of the regular members. Unless I am out of town, I never
miss a meeting.
I cannot overstate how critical, how cathartic, and how vital
to my own recovery these meetings have been. These days, we
welcome all family members as well. Sarah is often by my side
and others bring spouses, partners, and other family members.
We have grown individually and grown as a group.
We have newer members who drive — or who are driven — from
20-30 miles away to be part of this cherished group. Though I
have quite intentionally tried to forego giving any direct
advice, I am going to deviate a bit here. If you have a brain
injury, please find a group. You'll thank me for it.
Over the last year, we've had guest speakers, hours and hours
of face-to-face sharing, and a new Facebook Group which lets
us stay in touch with each other between the monthly meetings.
That meeting that I initially left in tears, I now
For the first couple of years, there was a perennial box of
tissues at our meetings, often making its way up and down the
full length of the table at every gathering. These days, there
are more smiles and hugs than tears. We know each other. We
love each other. People who have survived a brain injury are
like that; we "get it" from living it.
These days, on my short drive home from our meetings, I find
myself awash in gratitude. Grateful I am no longer alone.
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