TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Archive for October 31, 2016

SPEAK OUT! . . . . . . . . . . . . . Guest Blogger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Karen Dickerson

Never Give Up!


Karen Dickerson

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Girl Blogger cartoon_picture_of_girl_writingOn March 2nd, 2014, I was involved in a car accident that changed my life forever. My speech was slurred; I couldn’t read; I couldn’t even write my own name.


Karen Dickerson – Brain Injury Survivor

Two months after my accident, I was so proud to write my name again that I signed divorce papers I couldn’t comprehend. I also signed so that my brain injury wouldn’t be used to take my children away. For fifteen years, I was married – and in an abusive relationship. I had three children, and I was left with nothing. Not even child support. I had lived a fairly comfortable life, financially speaking. I just wanted out and couldn’t take the confusion of court proceedings, but yet I couldn’t understand why. Everyone said I looked “normal.”

I struggled to feed my children. I swallowed my pride even when I was standing in line at a food pantry. I walked dragging my left leg to my speech, physical, and occupational therapy sessions, thinking that my leg problem would just go away in a few weeks. A friend helped me buy a car with what little money I had. I spent a few cold nights sleeping in it, confused as to where I was, what I was doing, and when my next appointments were. I’d yell at anyone who crossed my path – losing friendships. Family left me all alone. I fought with my auto insurance company for my rights in a no-fault state, and, after several months, I finally received compensation for wage losses.

I’m not sure how it happened (as things are a complete blur at times), but I finally found a good doctor and a nurse case-manager to help me. I was put into a neuro rehab program an hour away from home. (I had to let my children go live with their dad.) Seven days a week, I learned basic living skills and tried to control my anger and frustrations and emotional outbursts. I had constant legal issues, as I was beginning to realize that what I had signed in my divorce was not what I thought. The settlement was not good for me. As a result, I had to fight for my children and for child support. After a few battles, I won their support! After getting through those struggles, I finally realized I needed to take this TBI (traumatic brain injury) head on and fight to get my life back.counsleing

I was angry that I couldn’t do the simple things a child could do, and I was frustrated that I had tested intellectually as lower than high-school level. As hard as it was, I learned coping skills to control my damaged frontal lobe and to try to focus. After my rehab program ended, I moved back home to be with my children. I went to all my therapies (three times a week) and to numerous tests and doctors. I got my kids to and from school every day. I learned how to cook again. After almost two years, I was finally beginning to live a somewhat normal life again. I was even able to meet a wonderful, humble, and understanding man. What were the chances that his own brother-in-law had a TBI? The new man in my life knew exactly what I was going through and accepted my flaws and deficits.

I then started to get interested in learning about this misunderstood injury. I attended the BIAMI (Brain Injury Association of Michigan) meetings in Lansing, Michigan. Using social media as a tool, I advocated and educated others. Hearing good vibes from all over the country and the world, I began to realize how many people just like me were out there. I had to do something about brain injury, as I was so misunderstood and I was tired of being called “crazy.”social-media

I began to excel in all my therapies, which moved me into vocational training. I was asked to put my résumé together. I did – I looked at it and saw that I never had the opportunity to go to college. I was a single mom at nineteen, and I married someone who wouldn’t allow me to grow. I could have gone back to real estate, but how was that helping people? I could have returned to the ophthalmology career that I had for years, but I was limited by the small area I live in. I had already worked for the one surgeon, but he told me that he didn’t trust me with his patients anymore because of my TBI.

th-1As hard as occupational therapy was for me, it was also fun. I gained friendships with my occupational and speech therapists. Even if I couldn’t do their tasks that day, they were still there for me to talk. They comforted me and encouraged me to keep on going. I looked into the OTA (occupational therapy assistant) program and thought Why not see if I can try it? With my disability, there should be some accommodations, and, after what I’ve been through with so many occupational therapy sessions, I thought I might just know a little about it!

I took the test and was accepted to Baker College! (Two years and five months post TBI.) I went to orientation yesterday and teared up as I walked on campus.

Karen Dickerson - Brain Injury Survivor & College Student at Baker College

Karen Dickerson – Brain Injury Survivor & College Student at Baker College

As I sat in a loud room with others picking their classes, I struggled to drown out the noise, as audio is still a daily struggle. The abbreviations and so much on the class schedule – even with military times, were problematic. I thought for one second I can’t do this. Then I remembered all those times I did “do it,” and I focused and got my class schedule done. At 39 years old, a TBI survivor, a domestic-abuse survivor, and a mother of three, I am a college student!

This program is offered near Grand Rapids, Michigan, over three hours away. As I checked in, I met the president of the college, and he noted where I was living. All I could say was, “I’m going to do this.” It is in my heart. God has gotten me this far. I will NOT give up!

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