Survivors SPEAK OUT! Craig J. Phillips
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
1. What is your name? (last name optional)
Craig J, Phillips
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
My email is email@example.com.
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
August 11, 1967 at age 10
4. How did your brain injury occur?
Motor vehicle accident – We were in a Volkswagen Beetle that was hit by a woman driving a Cadillac. She lost control of her car, ran off the side of the road, hit a pole, came across her two lanes and a grass medium, and hit our car in the passing lane. I went up over my Dad’s bucket seat and hit the windshield, fracturing my left femur.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
My father, who was driving.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
Hospitalization – I was not expected to live the night of the accident. I was put into traction to set my femur. I was then placed into a full body – or Spica – cast for 5-6 months. With obvious external wounds, an invisible traumatic brain injury was not considered.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
Yes. I remained in a coma for three weeks.
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?
In 1967, there was nothing in the way of brain injury rehabilitation. Once my external wounds healed, I was on my own to navigate life with the impact of right frontal lobe damage and a severe brain bruise. I attended two physical therapy appointments, but was then on my own to teach myself how to walk.
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9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I underwent two EEGs (electroencephalograms – given to detect electrical activity in the brain) and a battery of cognitive and psychosocial tests. The results showed that I probably would not succeed academically beyond high school. That conclusion was shared with my parents, but not with me. I grew up not knowing that my life was being impacted by the traumatic brain injury that I sustained when I was 10 years old. I had difficulty reading non-verbal cues and social nuances and learning sequences of information. I had to discover how I learn best and to accept myself. I am not my traumatic brain injury.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
Better – I obtained my undergraduate degree in ten years, after attending two universities and one college and having four different majors. I obtained my graduate degree in rehabilitation counseling in three and a half years, after attending two graduate schools.
There were twenty years of getting and losing jobs. Twice, I had Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) evaluations. I was deemed to be unemployable by the DVR counselor after the second evaluation. Of my three applications for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), two were denied, but I was approved after the third application.
Nevertheless, I still wanted to contribute and use my gifts, talents, and abilities. I created Second Chance to Live on February 6, 2007 (secondchancetolive.org). I have written 1860 articles and made 413 video presentations and 10 eBooks. I have 30 slide show presentations, 33 posters, and other creations.
For details, see my article:
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I had my TBI (traumatic brain injury) at the age of 10. I don’t remember my life before then.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I enjoy using my creativity in ways that work for me. “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Theodore Roosevelt
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
It is as it is. I would like to have more of a social life. However, I accept that I do not have the skills to have more of a social life – so it is stressful for me.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
When I reached a point in my life when denying my reality became more painful than my need to deny my reality, I began to grieve my reality through the five stages that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross spoke about in her book, On Death and Dying. Once I moved through confronting my denial; experiencing anger for what I was powerless to change; trying to bargain my way out of what I could not change; and experiencing depression, I was able to increase my acceptance. As I grew in acceptance of what I could not change, I was open to discovering possibilities. Possibilities through choices. Choices that helped me to get into action. Action that helped me to create hope in my life.
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Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Yes. As I accepted my reality, I stopped needing to convince other people of my reality. People cannot give what they do not possess. For people to accept my reality would mean that they would have to feel feelings and make changes – feelings and changes that they may not know how to feel or want to feel. Changes that they may not know how to make or want to. As I stopped trying to change people, I had more peace in my life.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
I enjoy my solitude and my freedom to create through Second Chance to Live. I have a small circle of friends.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
I am my own case manager. As a rehabilitation counselor, I fully understand what a counselor does. A counselor is not in the position of having to do for another person what that person cannot do for himself or herself. As a counselor, what I seek to do is to teach and encourage the individual to fish – not provide fish, so that that individual will never go hungry again.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I am an author, advocate, keynote speaker, and a motivational coach. I created Second Chance to Live nearly fourteen years ago. I do not know what the future holds. I am preparing to be available to present at more conferences and organizational settings as a keynote speaker/workshop leader. I am doing the footwork – one day at a time. I am trusting the process, a loving God, and myself. More will be revealed with time. The pieces of the puzzle will come together at the right time and in the right order.
For details, see my article:
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.
Pursue excellence, instead of being driven by perfectionism.
I have difficulties learning sequences of information. I have written an article that explains what has helped me with this information: Neuroplasticity, Small Successes and Learning/Relearning Skills and Skill Sets.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Trust the process, a loving God, and yourself.
See that your circumstances are a way to build you up, not to keep you down.
See that you are not your traumatic brain injury or your disability.
See the disappointments and disillusionment that you experience as important parts of your process.
See how those events move you in the direction of your destiny.
Find ways to use what you can through your gifts, talents, and abilities.
Accept your inability to do some things because of your deficits and limitations. Stop berating yourself for your inability to do those things.
Live and explore outside of the box that society seeks to keep you in through dismissing, discounting, patronizing, minimization, and marginalization.
Love, accept, and celebrate who you are as an individual.
Break free from the denial system that keeps you feeling like a mistake. Stop identifying as a patient.
Accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, have the wisdom to know the difference, and then be at peace with that difference.
See life as a process – a journey.
Realize that your job is to learn “how-to” from various ingredients and then combine what “you learned” together to bake various “cakes.”
Realize that there is no such thing as failure, only an opportunity to learn.
Realize that what occurs in your life is meant to set you up, not set you back.
Begin to live the “now” in life.
Struggle makes you stronger.
Avoid the comparison trap.
Share with other traumatic brain injury survivors that there is hope.
Realize that what happened to you is not as important as what you do with what happened to you.
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