Survivors SPEAK OUT! Rogan Grant
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
1. What is your name? (last name optional)
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
Edinburgh, Scotland email@example.com
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
I acquired my brain injury in 2006. I was 35.
4. How did your brain injury occur?
I was attacked outside a nightclub by some customers I had thrown out of my pub the previous week.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
I knew something was wrong when I woke up the next day. I was admitted to the hospital and then released the next morning. A friend found me unconscious and in a pool of blood and vomit. I was rushed back to the hospital. A few weeks later when I was released, I thought I was OK, but I kept forgetting things. I set the kitchen on fire three times in one week because I forgot I was cooking. Once I even went to bed and left a full meal cooking. I knew then I needed to be around family “for a week or two, until I cleared my head.”
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
In the first hospital, I theoretically had a CT (computerized tomography) scan. After I was released from that hospital and went to stay with family, I had an X-ray. That’s when I was told of the multiple fractures of my skull and around my face. So I don’t think I had a scan done.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
I was lucky – I didn’t go into a coma. I just went in and out of consciousness for a few hours.
8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., inpatient or outpatient and occupational and/or physical and/or speech and/or other)?
I went to a head-injury service and to the Neurology Department at a hospital. Rehab just seemed to be a social event. But it became more useful as time went on and I struggled more and more.
How long were you in rehab?
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I had no sense of smell or taste for two-three years. For about three years, I dreamt every night that I died. My balance went all to hell. My vision had a problem with focus. My hearing became strange. (I hear everything at once and can’t isolate specifics, so I struggle to hear people with a lot of noise around.) I lost family contact and friends because I was emotional and aggressive, I couldn’t focus mentally, and my memory was erratic. I still have no concept of time in regards to the memory of anything since the injury. Facial recognition is gone, unless the person speaks or is where I would expect that person to be. I have to work every day to keep calm and controlled. My panic attacks and anxiety are now under control (my agoraphobia was the result of anxiety). My self-confidence was shot – I doubted everything I said and what I remembered, and I wondered whether or not I had done things I shouldn’t have. My personality went from being the life and soul and centre of every party (and there were a few) to sitting on a sofa with a blanket trying to avoid anybody and everybody. Self-loathing and a feeling of hopelessness and loss were incredibly strong. I felt people would be better off without me around. My mood was so low that I had very, very dark thoughts. Now I work on my mood. I use my techniques to stay “normal.”
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
I was happy with work, I was back at University doing a double degree (I had completed three years in two), I was working full-time, I had great friends, and I was always busy. Now, after a lot of work, I realize I can’t work for other people because I can’t keep their schedules. So I am trying to work for myself. I also have a new partner; we have a baby and a nice home.
My life’s not “better” or “worse,” but it is different. I always try to remember it is important not to compare my current life to what it was before. Life changes day to day, and, yes, my brain injury caused a major change with massive problems. But I am here, and I have things I didn’t before.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I miss the self-confidence and the feeling of self-assurance I had. I knew what I was doing, what I had done, and where I wanted to go. People could come along for the ride or not. I was me, and I did well.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I learned from mistakes I didn’t know I was making. I am much more aware of others, and I can now help them because I trained as a therapist to do just that. I have a new family, and we are happy.
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I dislike the loss of memory and recognition. I hate having to fake that I remember someone or that I remember things he or she told me. But, if I say I had a head injury, people often treat me like I lost 80 points off my IQ. And the headache … the constant headache … never left; it just eased a bit. At least the sudden “brain-freeze” attacks are down to every couple of months and only last a day. They used to be three days long and twice a week.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
Yes. I was helped by hypnotherapy. After years of being pumped full of drugs, I got more results in six weeks with hypnotherapy. It made a massive difference. I can now focus, stay calm, recall information, and even read books again.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
I lost a lot of my old friends. Family are only just now coming around to understanding that I have a problem. It took a decade, but at least it has started. Of course, they are there now that I no longer need their help or their understanding. It has been very hard not to throw that back at them, but it is their issue, not mine. I got through my problems; they still have theirs.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
I was always out. I was the one people called when they wanted things to get lively and fun. I ran pubs. It was my job to make people enjoy themselves, and I enjoyed doing it. I loved being in a crowd – laughing, singing, music pumping – everything busy. Now I don’t like going into a supermarket at peak times. Although I am generally better, I still have my moments. I don’t get anxious, but I am wary of how I could react.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My main caregiver is my partner, Jane. She understands a lot, but not everything. We try to have a “normal” relationship, but she knows I can react differently – and quickly. Now, instead of getting angry with myself and blowing things out of proportion, I can take a moment, calm down, apologize for acting out, and start again. She reminds me of pretty much everything. She also has to keep pushing me on those days when it all gets to be too much.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I hope that in ten years’ time, I will have a business running that pays the bills. Jane and I will have moved to a bigger house because there will be another baby or two. I will have found a way to fix my remaining problems and will have shared the solutions with those who are trying to regain control of their own lives.
19. Are you able to provide a helpful hint that may have taken you a long time to learn, but which you wished you had known earlier? If so, please state what it is to potentially help other survivors with your specific kind of brain injury.
Sudden change is very hard to deal with or understand, but, if you spend your time comparing yourself to who you were or to what you could do, you will never move forward. We ALWAYS change; it is the only constant. Look back before your injury – were you the same person every year then? No, of course not. So look forward; find what you want to do with who you are now and go ahead. All human beings compare themselves to others, and we hate ourselves for it! Why do we do it? If someone has wavy hair, he or she looks at someone with straight hair and feels jealous. If we are big, we want to be smaller; those who are small want to be bigger. It is never ending! With a head injury – no matter how you got it or how it affected you – look forward and stay away from comparing yourself to the past.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
As I said before, look forward, stay away from comparisons, and be honest to those around you. No one will ever understand your feelings, unless that person has been there. (I know none of us would wish that knowledge on anyone.) When it gets too much, say so, and when you feel that frustration and anger build, find a way to let it out sensibly. Let it out any way you can, but let it out before you hurt those whom you care for and love.
If you would like to be a part of the SPEAK OUT! project, please go to TBI Survivor Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.
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(Photos compliments of contributor.)
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