Survivors SPEAK OUT!
1. What is your name? (last name optional)
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
London, Ontario, Canada firstname.lastname@example.org
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
My first motor vehicle accident that caused a TBI (traumatic brain injury) with memory loss was June 5, 2002. I was 28.
4. How did your brain injury occur?
I was rear-ended while I was stopped at a red light. I woke up to people around me and looking at me. They didn’t help whatsoever. My vehicle was seized, and I was very unsure of everything. At first, I didn’t even know I had had an accident. I didn’t know anything about my personals, like phone numbers, etc. All I saw when I tried to think was blackness. I was so cognitively impaired that finding the right words was very difficult. I didn’t know what my past was. I had no awareness or memories of events in my life, my child, or my child’s father.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
At work, the customers noticed. It was thought that time off would help. But I went to the doctors a few weeks later. I thought I was concussed. It wasn’t my first concussion, so I thought it would get better. But I wasn’t getting better. The concussion was responsible for humiliating incontinence at night. I incorrectly thought I could handle the headaches, the noise, not understanding the concept of time, and the daily forgetting to do my pre-TBI mom and wife duties. I had a high-volume job with a multi-million-dollar company, but I had no memory of how to conduct my managerial duties. Unfortunately, in the grief of my confusion, I resigned. To this day, I consider that to be one of the worst mistakes of my life. All because of my accident and the brain injury.
The doctor then set up MRIs (magnetic resonance images), CAT (computerized tomography) scans, and a few other appointments, and I found a lawyer as well. The lawyer set up neuropsychology testing. In the year following my accident, a diagnosis was made. I had a moderate traumatic brain injury (whiplash 3) with amnesia. I couldn’t remember how long the doctor had said it might take me to “heal” to my pre-TBI state. The neuropsychologist highly doubted I would ever return to my pre-TBI level of function. He said that, in his expert opinion, my brain injury was catastrophic and permanent.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I had no emergency treatment. I should have had first responders immediately, but I didn’t for some reason. But a legal case was set up soon after the accident. The lawyer had me take tests, and several people were involved: a nurse case manager, a rehabilitation therapist, and a physiotherapist. Therapy was scheduled for my neck and shoulder and for speech. (My stutter was pretty bad, and, when my breathing got in the way of thinking, the stutter would get worse. I would start crying when my breath stopped from the panic of having no thoughts. My neck injury meant that my tongue couldn’t lift properly to pronounce certain words.) My personal research indicated that I may have a neurological hairline fracture, which can affect several parts of the brain. If so, it could explain my symptoms. Also, I had already had a pre-existing severe frontal lobe concussion when I was a child. I and others thought that this may have been responsible for my learning difficulties – not the learning disability I was diagnosed with. But my new injuries in 2002 stopped my learning dramatically. My TBI made a mess of my life. Like many other survivors, I had to do combat with my insurance company.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
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)? How long were you in rehab?
I had occupational therapy, a rehabilitation therapist, speech therapy, counselling, physio, massage, chiro, and gym. I had a team of about ten individuals. I feel to this day my therapy was very well organized.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I had many difficulties with balance and my gait at first. I had throbbing headaches.
Smells would make me vomit. My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. I had no sense of direction, and I was completely unorganized. I couldn’t lift my right leg fully to get into the tub or to walk, so I had assistants for the first few years. I slept in a chair for almost three years because I couldn’t sit up or roll out of bed.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
From 2002 to 2005, I had an additional three accidents, with a pregnancy loss in one of them. My marriage broke up. (I was married for ten years, but I had no memories of this marriage.) I was diagnosed as having clinical depression, and I was extremely suicidal. The medications helped neither. So, needless to say, my life got worse.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I don’t know. I have no clear memories.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I started having a better view of life with in-depth yoga. I also used my free time from being unable to work to see if maybe in the future I could become a teacher and be an inspiration to others in the brain injury and mental health communities. Yoga has the ability to calm the autonomic nervous-response system; calm the vagus nerve, which transmits information from the surface of the brain to tissues and organs elsewhere in the body; and chill out PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and anxiety. (My anxiety was always heightened, but with my rehabilitation therapy of thought process, yoga, and meditation, my anxiety is now probably 50% controllable most days.)
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I dislike the grief. The grief of all my losses is still pretty hard for me.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
Not really, but I am doing work to try and accept my brain injury. My child is super-supportive and has been guiding me to be independent and to try a new way of life. I do yoga. I am going to neurology school. I now see that I am worthy of something in life. I work on acceptance multiple times a day.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Yes! My daughter and I still have struggles. She was under 10 when I was injured, and she had no true support other than her dad. I am thankful he was a good dad for her. Looking at her with no memory is a heartbreaking lens to deal with. As for romance, I haven’t had a real relationship since my divorce. I haven’t been in the right frame of mind. One day I hope the universe will align with my life and help me find true love.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
I don’t do much socially, mostly because of my PTSD and my financial situation. I’m integrating my yoga life into volunteer work.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My daughter helps me and assists me with the big decisions. I also have about five other family members who keep regular contact. Even though it’s difficult, they will help if needed. But it’s important for me to be in charge of my own care and to live independently. This helps with my depression.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I’m trying to see how this yoga business will work out for me. I want to do workshops and classes. Maybe I could work alongside a rehabilitation therapist for TBI patients. I am writing an autobiography. I’d like to better my financial situation so my child will be set just in case. And I hope to be in a loving forever relationship as well.
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.
Talk! No matter the dark thoughts, talk! I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t been honest about my thoughts of suicide. Keep negative friends away. Participate, even when your mood doesn’t want to! Know that one day, things will click, and your life will begin to change for the better. Your responsibilities for daily living may seem overwhelming at times, but never stop planning. It can be a time saver. (I plan all my meals in advance and make them on the weekend. I save at least eight hours a week by having my meals already made.)
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Do yoga and meditate! Seriously, they’re life-changing.
Be educated on what depression medication does with TBI. (I plan to give a workshop on this topic.)
Stop repetitive thinking. (You can do this by smelling essential oils, having positive thoughts, or by doing deliberate simple actions, like moving a limb or picking up a picture.)
Learn how to breathe. (Proper breathing is so important to brain injury problems, like PTSD and anxiety.) I have a saying: “Once we own our breath, no one can steal our peace.”
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Donna O’Donnell Figurski
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