TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Archive for January, 2020

TBI Tales . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . They Meant Well, But I Knew Better

They Meant Well, But I Knew Better


David Figurski

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski


David Figurski, PhD Brain Injury Survivor



Close friends of Donna and me, with whom we have a deep mutual affection, thought I needed some advice on my ongoing recovery from my traumatic brain injury (TBI). I know our friends care about me, so their words were well-meaning – but I have to admit their comments stung quite a bit. I’m sure they didn’t want to upset me. They think they know me, but, in ignoring my nearly compulsive commitment to getting better, they got me totally wrong. They also had no idea that what they thought to be helpful advice was completely unwarranted because it was based on my own deliberately artificial impression. Let me explain.

Our friends’ advice did not come from an ignorance of brain injury, as their daughter had a nearly lethal brain-bleed eight years ago. The daughter and I are both fortunate to have fully retained our cognitive functions, but we both exhibit physical disabilities. Some of her problems are similar to mine. The advice actually began with the daughter describing some positive experiences that led to a lessening of her disabilities – but then the discussion turned into advice for me.

One piece of advice that disturbed me was that our friends and their daughter think I don’t challenge myself enough. I don’t regard myself as a slacker, nor has anyone ever referred to me as one. Here’s where they got me wrong: I always try to do better at whatever I’m doing. In fact, it was my challenging myself that caused my brain hemorrhage in the first place. Every morning, I did tai chi and chin-ups. I had worked up to twelve chin-ups. The next day, my attempt to do thirteen caused my cerebellum to bleed and put me into a coma.

After surviving my TBI fifteen years ago, I continued to push myself as hard as I did before my TBI to improve in the shortest possible time. I currently do exercises to improve my balance, build strength, and help my eye muscles (I see double) six days a week. Three of those days, I also ride my recumbent trike (15 miles each time I ride – about two hours). On two of the non-riding days, I use the treadmill for 45 minutes. (I was riding 25 miles a day and using the treadmill for 60 minutes, but Donna worried I was pushing too hard and talked me down.) By the time I get ready, do my workout, and then shower and get dressed, six or seven hours have elapsed. My normal day begins after 2:00, sometimes after 3:00.


David exercising on his Catrike recumbent trike (and showing off my book, Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale)

I keep my weight down, and I work constantly to improve my posture because I know that both weight and posture affect balance. Also, to improve my brain’s ability to control my balance, I try not to brace myself with my hands. Even when I appear to be sitting calmly, I’m likely to be working. The brain hemorrhage affected the tendons in my neck, and my head tilts. To keep it straight, I have to work against my tendons. Hopefully, this will get easier, but it will take more years.

Our friends don’t really know any of this about me.


David Alinker IMG_4470

David exercising on his Alinker



When the father assists me outside, he deliberately increases the challenge to me. I do it, and would never say I can’t (My self-esteem has already taken a big hit), but I know I couldn’t maintain that effort indefinitely. (On the other hand, Donna is an incredible help to me. She knows when to assist me to make my life possible and when to challenge me.)

I think the father assumes that I can improve my balance like his daughter did. What he doesn’t realize is that my hemorrhage began in my cerebellum, which controls my balance. So, my brain’s mechanism for controlling balance has been disrupted. His daughter doesn’t have my severe balance problem, so her brain’s mechanism for controlling balance appears to be functioning. Her problem may have been a signaling issue.

It was surprising to hear that kind of advice from the daughter. We are fond of each other, and we have mutual empathy. It’s clear that the differences in our disabilities indicate an obvious fact: that different parts of our brains are affected. Thankfully, she doesn’t have all the problems I have. (For example, her vision is fine, and she is able to drive.) Her balance was affected, but fortunately, she can walk outside, including on grass, dirt, sand, or gravel. In contrast, my balance issue makes it impossible for me to walk unassisted anywhere outside, even on sidewalks because of their slight irregularities.

I am immensely thankful that that the daughter has none of the other problems that I have – double vision (which I mentioned), less feeling in my right leg, a swallow problem, a less coordinated tongue that makes chewing hazardous, a urinary frequency problem, extreme difficulty standing after sitting a while, an ataxic right arm, left hand and fingers that aren’t as good as they used to be, and paralysis on the right side of my face. I used to race cars, but now I can’t drive at all.

The daughter said her balance was improved rapidly by allowing herself to fall and learning the point at which that would happen. I do that when I’m near the bed, where I know I can fall safely. I’m reminded of race drivers who learned the limit of a turn by driving so fast that they would go off the course. That is one strategy for learning, but I chose another: to drive to the point I was scared I wouldn’t keep the car on the track. I learned that, even though it was scary, I was able to drive through the turn faster than I used to. (Incidentally, I was rarely passed by a driver from the other group.) Falling worked for the daughter, but it’s not the only way to improve. I use another, equally effective, method.

My second point illustrates another reason why our friends’ advice was incorrect: What I allow our friends to see does not reflect my life at all. Their error was to assume that it does.

Donna constantly offers to help me, and she doesn’t like to see me struggle. We discussed how I need to do things myself. My efforts take much longer than they did before my TBI, but doing them myself is good for my recovery and my self-esteem. Donna has since achieved a nice balance. She reluctantly lets me struggle and only assists when I ask for help.

At home, I do whatever I can physically, including making the bed every morning, doing the laundry, cleaning up after dinner every night, and loading and unloading the dishwasher. In fact, every movement I make is excellent therapy.

When we visit friends or when we go to parties, people see a very different version of me. I use a cane and take small steps to ensure I walk in a straight line and don’t bump the walls. Our friends would freak out if I they saw me pushing the envelope like I do at home! I let Donna help me or do things for me, not because I want her to wait on me, but because my instability would upset people and make them feel uncomfortable. Our friends are concerned because they constantly see me accepting Donna’s help.

They feel I’m not where I should be. They have erroneously assumed that I don’t work hard enough to improve myself. Their advice, while well-intentioned, is totally wrong. Given that I spend several hours each day working out, given that I believe everything I do is therapy and helps my recovery, and given that I accept Donna’s help to protect our friends from seeing my instability whenever I’m in their presence, “insufficient challenge” is an entirely misguided and utterly inappropriate concept to apply to me.

I would argue that, with all my disabilities, I’m actually doing much better than expected.

David Figurski, Ph.D.           Brain Injury Survivor of 15 years

David & Donna Dec 2019 Lupitas

Donna O’Donnell Figurski and David Figurski – 15 years post-Brain Injury for David

(Photos compliments of contributor.)

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Brain Injury Resources “I Give Up” Composed and Played by Elijah Bossenbroek

Brain Injury Resources …

“I Give Up”

Composed and Played by Elijah Bossenbroek

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

This is an amazing piece of piano music composed and played with breathtaking emotion by the young and upcoming (some say “genius”) pianist Elijah Bossenbroek. It’s Pianoa very moving piece, about which commenters have written “sad,” “uplifting,” and “inspiring.”  I can only assume that Bossenbroek has “triumphed” over an extremely sad part of his own life.

It is an appropriate piece for survivors of brain injury, who usually experience these emotions at one time or another. Listening to this piece gave me chills.

Never Give Up




Never Give Up!
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Move on…

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

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Past Blast – “Guest Blogger … Ken Collins – 38 Tips for Living with a Brain Injury”

Past Blast  (originally published December 29, 2014)

SPEAK OUT! Guest Blogger: Ken Collins

(Host on the Brain Injury Radio Network)


38 Tips for Living With a Brain Injury


Boy Blogger thOn December 31st, I will have lived with a traumatic brain injury for 38 years. I have used several strategies for co-existing with and minimizing the effects of my TBI. I know now that the brain-injury recovery process is ongoing and that there are four major areas to work on during recovery: (1) Getting Organized, (2) Being Responsible, (3) Following Through, and (4) Moving On. I learned a lot over the years, and I want to share my experiences. I have listed 38 tips (one for each year) that could be helpful to you.


1. Regain trust in yourself and in others.

2. Try not to be critical of mistakes you make. In the early years of your recovery, there will be too many of them to count. Learn from these mistakes and move on.

3. Find purpose and meaning in your life again. This will make it easier to get out of bed in the morning. Having a sense of purpose and meaning will give you something to live for and will help you feel worthwhile, help motivate you, and improve your recovery process. You will start feeling better about yourself.

4. Keep stress and anxiety to a minimum every day. Reducing stress and anxiety will Stress free zoneincrease your self-esteem and make life easier. Stress and anxiety trigger the fight-or-flight response in the mid-brain. You don’t have any control over this response because it is part of the Emotional Nervous System. When the fight-or-flight response is activated, it increases confusion and makes it harder to process information.

5. Regain your self-confidence and self-respect.

6.Be proactive.

7. Stay focused, calm, and relaxed as much as possible. This will make it easier to think, and you become less dependent on others to remind you. Becoming more responsible for yourself will build good habits on your part and will improve your self-esteem and self-confidence in the long run.

8. Get a large calendar. Put it up on your wall and use it. Make sure it’s in a location where you will always see it. An iPad (or clone), a smart phone, or a note pad with a calendar and alarm does the same thing. A calendar will also relieve stress and anxiety by helping you stay on task and not forget.

Key rack9. Get a key-holder and put it by your door to put your keys on when you come home. Do this every night so you won’t have to look for your keys in the morning. Starting your day off on the right foot will make your day easier and help to relieve stress and anxiety.

10. Make a “To Do” list to help you stay organized. iPads, iPhones or other smart phones, and note pads work wonders with this. The list will help you and make you feel good about yourself.

11. Making a list before you go shopping will save you money by cutting down on impulse-buying. It will also help you become more responsible and less dependent on others. Being less dependent on others improves your self-esteem.

12. Get lots of rest, and slow down. Many times we try to do too many things at once, and nothing gets done. Sleeping on an issue or concern can be the best way to help you figure it out. Getting enough rest will give you valuable energy to think better and solve difficult situations. Sufficient rest will also relieve stress and anxiety.

13. Set up a routine and stick to it. A routine will make it easier for you to follow through with what you have planned for the day. By doing the same thing every day, you will start building trust in your capabilities again.

14. Eat healthy foods, and get lots of exercise. Doing these things will help you get the blood with its oxygen circulating to your brain.Healthy Foods

15. Get a dog and take it for walks. In my case, I have nine dogs, and they take me for a walk every morning and night! They also give me the unconditional love and companionship I need to feel good about myself and be happy.

16. Find ways to relax that aren’t counterproductive to your well-being. Abusing alcohol and drugs to “relax” is counterproductive. Long walks, yoga, and Tai Chi are much better for you and will make processing and problem-solving much easier. Stress and anxiety will be reduced.

17. Be patient.

18. Pay attention and become an active listener. Actively “hearing” what people have to say is more important than passively “listening” to what they say. Watch their body language. When I get distracted, sometimes it is harder to understand what a person is saying. Stay relaxed and focus. Take deep breaths – nothing works better than getting oxygen-filled blood to your brain.

19. Be around positive people and people who care about you. Nothing is more depressing than listening to someone who’s always complaining about his or her life or about what is going wrong in the world. Become active. Don’t just sit around hoping things will get better. Quit talking about a problem, and do something about it instead.

20. Don’t take criticism personally. When people don’t understand things, they criticize them. Constructive criticism can make you a better person in the long run.

21. Keep an open mind. Remember that your family and friends want to help, but sometimes they don’t know how. Many people don’t understand what you are going through, so don’t hold them responsible for this.Breathe

22. Stay calm; stay relaxed; take deep breaths; and move on!

23. Be careful of those you hang out with because they will set the stage for how you act. Friends who judge others and criticize you aren’t “friends.”

24. Grudges will only hold you back. They will be like anchors and keep you from being able to move on.

25. Lighten up on yourself, your family, and friends who want to help you.

26. Worry less and smile more.

27. Be content with what you have. Others have it much worse than you.

28. Find ways to stay active and be less isolated. Get out of your head and into the outside world.

Never Give Up29. Don’t give up – embrace adversity. Have adversity give you the resolve it will take to get better and improve your life. This will be up to you and no one else. People will be there to help you, but all of the work will be up to you. Use it or lose it!

30. Take ownership of your recovery. Remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary.

31. Life is hard for most people. Life after a brain injury will definitely be hard, but not impossible. It will get easier over time – be patient! Make the best of every day and move on.

32. Thinking too much about a problem or issue can cause depression. This will trigger the fight-or-flight response, and you will be like a dog chasing its tail.

33. Be good to yourself.

34. Don’t take life too seriously.

Ken Collins for Blog

35. Don’t let the little things get you down. When you think about them too long, they seem bigger than they really are.

36. Don’t beat yourself up over things you can’t control. This will only increase your stress and anxiety and trigger the fight-or-flight response.

37. Be happy with yourself and don’t try to live up to others’ expectations.

38. Most importantly – don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself. Be strong. Find hope – because with hope, anything is possible!

Stop by the Brain Injury Radio Network to hear Ken. His show airs every 1st Thursday of each month from 5:00p to 6:30p Pacific Time.

Thank you, Ken Collins.

Any views and opinions of the Guest Blogger are purely his/her own.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of contributor.)

As I say after each post:

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