TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Posts tagged ‘anxiety’

SPEAK OUT! Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps

SPEAK OUT! Itty-Bitty GIANT Steps

Itty-Bitty GIant Steps for Blog



SPEAK OUT! Itty-Bitty Giant Steps will provide a venue for brain-injury survivors and caregivers to shout out their accomplishments of the week.

If you have an Itty-Bitty Giant Step and you would like to share it, just send an email to me at donnaodonnellfigurski@gmail.com.

If you are on Facebook, you can simply send a Private Message to me. It need only be a sentence or two. I’ll gather the accomplishments and post them with your name on my blog approximately once a week. (If you do not want your last name to be posted, please tell me in your email or Private Message.)

I hope we have millions of Itty-Bitty Giant Steps.



Jennifer Stokley – Survivor of Brain Injury

Jennifer Stokley (survivor) … I met a stranger at my door who was sent to do “bug home care” (no notice). I let him in to do his work. I asked questions and had him explain things I needed to misc_welcome2know. I have Severe Anxiety Disorder and huge panic attacks.  Strangers are a HUGE trigger; letting them into my home is even bigger! I handled it all – no anxiety; no nothing!


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(Photos compliments of contributor.)

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Survivors SPEAK OUT! Sandra Williams

Survivors SPEAK OUT! Sandra Williams



Donna O’Donnell Figurski

12200687_895719387130278_18176772_n1. What is your name? (last name optional)

Sandra Williams

2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)

Athol, Idaho, USA

3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?

My injury was on May 28th, 2012, at 10:00 am. I was 38.

4. How did your brain injury occur?

A drunk driver crossed the center lane as we were turning a corner in our Ford F250 Power Stroke. We were pulling a 26-foot travel trailer. There was a cliff on the other side of us. We should have gone over the cliff, but instead we crossed all lanes of traffic and ended up in a ditch. We should have jackknifed, but we didn’t. The truck that hit us also went through the length of our travel trailer. He ended up in the lane opposite to the one he was traveling in and facing in the opposite direction. We all should have died. The details of the accident are many. It sounds like a made-for-TV movie. We are all alive, but we’re not OK.

5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?

I first learned of my son’s brain injury when I took him to a neurologist. His primary care physician wanted a follow-up because my son was sleeping so much and his balance was off a bit. We made him rest all summer. When he went back to school, he went from an A-B student to one who got Ds and Fs. I was really focused on my son, but the neurologist diagnosed me too. The diagnosis shocked my primary care provider and me. I didn’t really believe her until I lost my job as a Special Education teacher.

6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?

I lost consciousness. I was taken to the Emergency Room. I don’t remember babbling to the sky, but that is what my kids said. They told me this several weeks after the accident. They didn’t know I didn’t know. That’s when my husband knew something wasn’t right. But he thought I would get over it. We all rested that summer. I seemed to be doing well – no headaches, etc. – until I went back to work.

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 have been to two ten-day sessions of speech therapy, vestibular therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exposure therapy. I also attended Carrick Brain Injury Center, a multidisciplinary brain rehab center.

9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury
(e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?

I am still struggling to work. My memory is still affected to the point of frustration for my family members. I struggle with headaches, dizziness, and confusion when people speak to me. I have given up being a youth group-leader. I tried to go back to work, but, due to the fact that educational systems do not accommodate, I cannot work as a teacher – not even online. I really want to run and work out like I used to, but I don’t. That is the biggest change. I never used to drink coffee or alcohol. I don’t abuse either, but now I drink both. I never used to eat chips or anything unhealthy, but I eat those things now. I used to garden, but now I don’t. I do want to return to the way it was with those things, but it is hard while I’m keeping up with my kids and their needs since the accident.

10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?

I think my life is worse, but can get better. It is worse because I can’t work in a job where I can get full-time benefits. My health care needs have increased, and my income has decreased. I am trying to help my husband start a new business in construction. He is being patient with me, but it is not easy. Our kids are different, and we really struggled with their behavior until we went to Carrick Brain Injury Center. We still struggle with one kiddo, but I think it is a grief process that he is going through.

11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?

I miss running. (I ran a half marathon and was training for a full marathon when we were hit.) I miss having the energy to do anything I wanted. I miss remembering everything. I miss being able to find a job whenever I wanted. (I have been working since I was eight. I started working for my dad and got my first out-of-family job at the age of fourteen. I paid for the first four years of college by working, and I sent myself to Europe – some people in my church helped me to play basketball internationally.)

12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?

Nothing really. I wish I could say something different. But, my life is so limited from what it once was, and I look so normal. People expect me “to do better,” “to not give up,” or “to stop making excuses.”

13. What do you like least about your brain injury?

I dislike that I cannot be independent and that people expect more from me than I can do. If a person had a broken leg, that person would receive accommodations until it healed. Accommodations are not given when one has an invisible traumatic brain injury (TBI). It doesn’t work that way. But I will not give up.

14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?

I was actually helped by the fact that I can’t work no matter how hard I try. Working came easily to me, just like sports. Now, working and sports are the hardest things for me to do. I will keep trying though. I can’t do them now, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to do them forever. I won’t give up. I will do them someday.

15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?

Yes, immensely. My kids get really frustrated with me, and so does my husband. I used to be unorganized and forget things, but now it is ten times worse. I really have to rely on notebooks and repeat myself several times. That is what is so frustrating for my family. They also don’t understand my need for rest or my light-sensitivity to the TV. There are many things to list, but I will keep it short!

16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?

I don’t visit with anyone anymore. I used to go to bible studies, but they scare me now. (I am afraid I will say the wrong thing.) I can’t go see my mom because I can’t drive that long at one time (it takes two days for me to get there), and it’s just too long to be gone. Plus, I have a huge family, which is hard to be around. My sisters don’t understand my brain injury. I just stay away. It’s better for all of us.

17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?12202566_895719670463583_794991146_n

Me. I am my own caregiver. My husband tries, but he is focused on the business. I submit insurance claims and speak to the doctors. I am even filing claims with Disability Rights of Idaho, so I know I can be organized and I can do something!

18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?

I plan to be working in construction until I put myself through college again to finish my counseling degree and/or get a certification in TBI so I can educate teachers about it. There is the need for special education to have a different evaluation process. I also plan to use online settings to sell lessons that target students with TBI in the secondary school classroom.

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.

I wish I knew more about Disability Rights of Idaho and more about the complaint process for educators. (Parents are at such a loss!) The biggest tip I can give other survivors is not to listen to negative comments or to employers who tell you that you can’t do the job. Listen to your heart and your soul. Fight for yourself and others. It will keep you going.

20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

Never, ever give up! If you can’t realize your dream one way, find another way to do it. It may take you longer, but do it. Henry Winkler (the Fonz) applied to sixty-eight different colleges before one accepted him. He was not diagnosed with dyslexia until his son was. He never gave up. We can’t either!

(Disclaimer: The views or opinions in this post are solely that of the interviewee.)

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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SPEAK OUT! Faces of Brain Injury Dale Christianson

SPEAK OUT! Faces of Brain Injury Dale Christianson

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Brain Injury is NOT Discriminating!

bigstock-cartoon-face-vector-people-25671746-e1348136261718It can happen to anyone, anytime, . . . and anywhere. The Brain Trauma Foundation states that there are 5.3 million people in the United States living with some form of brain injury. On “Faces of Brain Injury,” you will meet survivors living with brain injury. I hope that their stories will help you to understand the serious implications and complications of brain injury. The stories on SPEAK OUT! Faces of Brain Injury are published with the permission of the survivor or designated caregiver. If you would like your story to be published, please send a short account and two photos to me at neelyf@aol.com. I’d love to publish your story and raise awareness for Brain Injury – one view at a time.

Dale Christianson (survivor) Christianson, Dale 1 050815Thirty years ago, my family was hit by a carload of drunken teens. My life slowly fell apart after that. I nearly gave up. For a long time, I thought that the guy who hit my car was the lucky one. He died in the accident, along with my stepdaughter. The only compensation that I got was $7,000. I have had a hard time holding a job or maintaining a relationship since then. My most successful relationship just ended. My fiancée of five years just gave up on me. She said it was too hard to live with me. My sisters and other family members won’t talk to me. They treat me like I don’t exist, or they wish that I didn’t. I am at another breach in my relationships, and I don’t have a job. I have anxiety and panic attacks. I take Paxil, and it helps tremendously. I understand that I’m difficult, but I haven’t given up on myself.

Disclaimer: Any views and opinions of the Contributor are purely his/her own.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of contributor.)

As I say after each post: Please leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to follow my blog. Click on “Follow” on the upper right sidebar.

If you like my blog, share it with your friends. It’s easy! Click the “Share” buttons below.

If you don’t like my blog, “Share” it with your enemies. I don’t care! Feel free to “Like” my post.

SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . . . Changing a Negative Feeling About a Memory

Changing a Negative Feeling About a Memory

newsboy-thThis is exciting, but complicated, basic research. Here I simplify the main experiments. Neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have identified a neuronal circuit in mice that associates a positive or negative feeling with a memory. In a tour de force of molecular studies of the brain, the researchers conducted experiments that provide considerable hope for future therapy in humans with syndromes like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety, and depression. The scientists were able to turn a memory associated with a negative feeling into a memory that has a more positive feeling and vice versa.

(How relevant are studies done in mice? The mouse is an accepted animal model for humans. You might not expect it, but mice and humans are very similar genetically. The DNA sequences of the mouse and human chromosomes are known. Many mouse genes have sequences similar to human genes. They both code for proteins that have similar structures and do the same things. Because mouse and human genes are so similar, much of the underlying biology of mice and humans is also similar. Still there are differences. So until something has been shown to be true in humans, a scientist’s conclusions must be conservative. Most of the time, however, much is learned about humans from the mouse. It has become a convenient initial model for humans.)

The researchers at MIT engineered a virus that infects the mouse brain. They specifically infected either the hippocampus, the part of the brain that contains neurons that store contextual information about a memory (for example, the place), or the amygdala, the part of the brain that contains neurons that put a positive or negative emotional tag onto the memory. The engineered virus is essentially a dead-end. It doesn’t reproduce or harm the cell, but it does have an ability to cause infected neurons to make a light-sensitive protein – but only when the neuron is actively making a new memory. In this way, the researchers were able to make neurons involved in making a new memory sensitive to light. By implanting an optical fiber in the part of the brain that contained the light-sensitive neurons (i.e., in the hippocampus or in the amygdala), the scientists could use light to turn on these memory-making neurons at will. The general technique of using a light-sensitive protein to activate a cell is called “optogenetics.” When the light-sensitive neurons are activated by the researcher, the mice recall that memory with its associated positive or negative feeling. To make a memory with a positive feeling, male mice were allowed to mix with female mice. To make a memory having an associated negative feeling, mice were put into a special cage and given a mild electrical shock. For both kinds of memories, the neurons involved could be turned on by light.

The researchers then took the mice and put them into a cage with two compartments. When a mouse with a negative memory explored a particular compartment, the researchers turned on its bad-memory neurons by shining a laser into the optical fiber to activate those neurons. The mice “remembered” the bad feeling and avoided that compartment. When the experiment was done with the mice having a good memory, the mice preferred that compartment. These results were seen only when neurons of the hippocampus were activated. No change in mouse behavior was seen when amygdala neurons were activated. Whereas the amygdala is needed to add the positive or negative feeling to a memory, the researchers concluded that a memory with its associated feeling is stored in the hippocampus.

The researchers then asked if they could change a negative memory into a positive memory and vice versa. They took the male mice with the negative memory and mixed them with females to make a positive memory. When they used light to activate the bad-memory neurons, the positive feeling from mixing them with females dominated. Unexpectedly, those mice did not suddenly avoid the females when the researchers activated the bad-memory neurons. When the mice were put back into the cage with two compartments, they went randomly into both compartments, even when the researchers activated the bad-memory neurons with light. The bad memory was no longer causing them to avoid one of the compartments. The negative tag had been supplanted by the positive feeling. What happened to the first (negative) tag? Was it removed? Was it changed? This question is being investigated. When the experiment was reversed, the scientists found that the positive feeling became more negative.

This new research gives a molecular explanation for why emotion associated with a memory can be changed – the basis of current therapy. Dr. Susumu Tonegawa, who directed the research, believes that the amygdala has two kinds of neurons: neurons that can tag a memory with a positive feeling and other neurons that can tag a memory with a negative feeling. He wants to identify those two populations of cells and understand how they work at the molecular level. Such information will be valuable for the development of new therapies and drugs. (Full story)

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

Surviviors SPEAK OUT! Marie Cooney

SPEAK OUT! – Marie Cooney


Donna O’Donnell Figurski


Cooney, Marie Sailboat

Marie Cooney – 1st Sail post-TBI

1. What is your name? (last name optional)

Marie Grace Cooney

2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)

Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA

3. When did you have your TBI? At what age?

June 29, 2005, at the age of 44

4. How did your TBI occur?

I had been a professional stagehand for approximately 20 years. We were setting up for a Carlos Santana concert. Years later, I learned that it was a very unusual setup, where two diamond-shaped trusses were to be built onto the stage. But when they were flown out, they extended over the audience. A co-worker had just yelled that it was a very dangerous situation. As I crossed from the stage-left side of one truss to the other side towards center, I noticed in a flash that there wasn’t any stage below me. A friend told me that I tried to cover my head protectively as I flew off the edge. I landed head first on the cement floor of the Xcel Arena, and many people thought I was dead. Another friend jumped to my aid to slow down the profuse bleeding. When my body went into seizures, those who witnessed the injury knew I was not dead. Thank God, the paramedics arrived within minutes, and I was transported to Regions Hospital’s Trauma Center.

5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?

Apparently I yelled out a horrible cry, which got the attention of everyone within earshot. My friend Colette, who tried to warn me of the imminent danger, closed her eyes and prayed, “Please God, don’t let Marie die!” Years later, my friend Michael told me that he heard my head crack like a bowling ball being smashed on the ground and that I “danced the Mariachi without the music.” My friend Melissa jumped to my aid to slow the bleeding. Aaron assisted her when I started to come to and tried to get up. Jeff, Chip, and other stagehands told me not to move – that I was hurt. I later learned some were afraid I might have broken my neck or injured my back. Matt was the first stagehand to reach 9-1-1 on his cell phone, though I understand that many others tried simultaneously. I do NOT remember any of this, though I have been told by friends that they will never forget.

I realized there was a serious problem when I opened my eyes at the hospital and saw my friend Sherri. “What are YOU doing in a hospital?” I asked. “No, no, no!” she corrected me. “I’m here to get your keys!” “Why?” I asked. “I need to take care of Tucker….” “You’re not going anywhere!” she explained. As I touched my head, I felt tremendous pain and saw blood on my hand and myself. I realized I was the one in the hospital!

6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?

I was transported to the Regions Hospital Emergency Room. There I was stitched up; they did scans of my head; and I had X-rays taken of my neck, back, and hands. I was then transferred to their Trauma Center, where a nurse was always in my room. Unfortunately, I was only kept there for two days because I seemingly made sense, which I don’t remember, and I could go to the bathroom by myself. I also think they might have thought I lived with a person – instead of my dog, Tucker! Melissa and Sherri kept asking if they could call my Mom. I was too scared to tell them that all I could remember was the picture of the rotary-dial phone we had when I was a child and the number. I could not remember where my mother or either sister lived. I didn’t know I had such a thing as a cell phone and hoped I’d figure it out when I got home. I kept repeating over and over, “I had a previous head injury. My records are at Noran and Abbott.” Then I’d fall asleep again, only to tell the next person the same thing at the next location.

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, physical, speech, or other)?

I wish I had done rehab at Regions Hospital. But when the doctor wrote orders for physical therapy, I asked if I could go to some place closer to home – to where I could walk. I wish he had had the sense to tell me I had a serious injury and needed a hospital familiar with TBIs. I also went to counseling in the town in which I lived. I eventually went to a work hardening program, where they evaluated both my physical and my cognitive conditions. As an outpatient, I saw a neuropsychologist and speech therapist at Regions. I was also treated by a neurologist, physiatrist, migraine specialist, urologist, optometrist, psychiatrist, neuro-ophthalmologist, and various counselors who included EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) therapy techniques and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). Eventually I was a resident at Courage Center in Golden Valley, Minnesota, as part of their Chronic Pain Program. A number of months later, I also participated in the Community Reintegration Program (for people with brain injuries) for only four of the typically six-month program because of medical denials by State Fund Mutual, the workers’ compensation insurance company.

How long were you in rehab?

I am nine years post-injury. I see my neurologist and my psychiatrist   approximately every six months. I also see my neuro-ophthalmologist as needed for optic-nerve injections for eye pain.

9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your TBI (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?

I have severe sensitivity to lights, sounds, crowds, and chemical smells. A visor and dark amber, Churada-framed, protective eyewear are essential parts of my daily wardrobe. I carry various types of earplugs to dampen what is called “auditory discrimination” – the inability to filter out foreground and background noises. I’ve peed in my pants in the presence of Clorox. I have been told this and the extreme nausea could have been the results of petite seizures. I am, or have been, on various anti-seizure, anti-pain, anti-depression, and anti-anxiety medications. I have also been treated for migraines. My balance has been helped and my pain has been lessened by pool therapy. I have experienced many emotional changes throughout my recovery process. I would consider myself among those with heightened emotions post-TBI, as opposed to having dampened emotions. Greater self-awareness and an ability to deal with fluctuating emotions have come with time.

10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?

At first, “everything” was worse. I wanted the “old” me back, at least some of me. I didn’t ever want to be a stagehand again. Then I wanted to. Then I was afraid it could kill me. I thought the oversensitivity ruined “everything.” I used to sail competitively. I wanted to be able to sail, but I knew a knock to my head could kill me. I wanted to move back to the East Coast, where I was raised, but my medical treatment and my legal help were here. I was a ship without a rudder, lost at sea, and escalating depression was overwhelming me.

Things have gotten better, as I have learned to use compensatory strategies to live my life as it is now. I have had many supportive people who have helped me with many aspects of my life. “I have reclaimed my life!” I proclaimed one day. “Work comp no longer owns me!” I told my counselor, “I bought a sailboat!” Although I didn’t return to competitive sailing, this was an extremely important step for me. In ways I was now capable of, I was reclaiming parts of my life that I had loved before. I wasn’t afraid of denials or surveillance by workers’ compensation. I was choosing life for me! And now, I have a wonderful new partner, Nanette, who loves me just the way I am and is supportive in every way, without being “my caregiver.” We care about each other tremendously.

11. What do you miss the most from your pre-TBI life?

  1. Sailing competitively with my friend Steve and others at the Wayzata Yacht Club.
  2. Working in theater, especially running a spotlight and seeing all types of shows!
  3. Friends and family. I missed my nieces growing up. I lost touch with too many friends, until Facebook.
  4. Being “fearless,” not in the sense of being cocky, but rather in being totally comfortable and at ease.
  5. The wonderful sense of spontaneity. Also not being so tired so much of the time.
  6. My dog, Tucker!
  7. The feeling that I could do anything I wanted and go anywhere I liked.
  8. It is hard to be a high-achieving person who is really smart, but who has a TBI and feels so dumb.
  9. I started arguing with people I love. I felt so misunderstood, especially in the first few years.
  10. Writing plays and being active in the arts community, in addition to my theater career.

12. What do you enjoy most in your post-TBI life?

  1. Choosing to sail again and sharing that love with others.
  2. I didn’t know if I would ever have a partner again. Amazingly, I met Nanette! There is hope – even if relationships end.
  3. My dog, Rico, and Nanette’s cats, Shiloh and Hildy!
  4. Making new friends; getting back in touch with people I thought I’d never see again.
  5. Hugs and kisses. Forget formalities! Let me hug you tightly! So many friends have been hugged or have hugged me, now that I have returned to stagehand work in a very limited, but fulfilling, capacity.
  6. Joy in life again – even if it is simpler. (A brush with death makes simple things seem to be much more!)
  7. Renewed relationships with my family, who didn’t understand so much at first. I traveled to Ireland with my Mom recently.
  8. A spiritual awareness that we are not alone. I “experienced” my Dad during my first head injury, even though he had died years earlier. I would not admit this at first, but now I do freely.

13. What do you like least about your TBI?

Extreme hypersensitivity, fatigue, predictably unpredictable days, difficulty making plans.

14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?

Time, time, and more time. Rest, rest, and more rest. Others with TBIs. Courage Center friends and staff. A sense of humor. My lawyer, Gerry, who helped put things in perspective when “everything” seemed out of control. Writing a blog for Lash and Associates. Co-facilitating a brain injury support group. Reclaiming scripts.

15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?

I lost my housing multiple times. I didn’t know if landlords were trying to get around service animal laws, if my anger was too piqued, or if I lost my sense of diplomacy. Courage Center and HUD tried to help me, but I still had to move, which was a bigger mess each time. Now I can take partial responsibility, but it is really important to know your rights, the laws regarding reasonable accommodations, and anti-discrimination laws. Losing my housing caused extreme difficulties with my family and some close friends. I felt blamed and condemned for things that were not my fault.

Now I live with my partner, Nanette, in Saint Paul. We also have my sailboat in Duluth, where I can sail within the safety of Duluth Bay or out on Lake Superior, depending on the weather and my crew. My relationships with my family have improved with time, and I’m back in touch with various friends. However, I have also lost some friends, which is sad. As Nanette says, “Communication is key!” Try to keep the doors to communication open, no matter what part of the TBI equation you find yourself in.

16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?

It is hard to make plans with others. For the best results, they need to understand and accept that I might become extremely fatigued, need to take medications, rest, or even go to sleep. After six years, I have been able to attend some theater shows. I ask people to stay, even if I need to leave, so I can live vicariously through them. Loud music, concerts, dances, and strobe lights are all OUT! Quality time with smaller groups is better than lousy time with large groups. At family events, I plan breaks and rest periods.

17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?

I am a person with a Traumatic Brain Injury, and I am my own caregiver. Through others I know, I have learned to understand and appreciate the dedication, love, fatigue, frustration, and various emotions that caregivers also experience. Nanette is someone who cares deeply about and for me, as I also care deeply about and for her. But it is important that we each have some sense of autonomy and a shared life, without Nanette’s being in the role of “caregiver.” Having said that, I must also confirm she is the most understanding, accepting, and supportive person in my life.

18. What are your future plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?

Marie Cooney Playwright

Marie Cooney – Playwright

We laugh about this! I love Nanette, but I absolutely cannot tolerate the Minnesota winters. She has been telling me it’s okay to leave and calls me her “Wandering Pirate Girlfriend.” I finally believe her. I plan to spend as much time as possible doing things we love together, especially attending many smaller theaters and dance productions, which are not as assaulting. I enjoy traveling between Saint Paul and Duluth and will be getting away for at least some parts of the winters. I want to return to being a playwright, to participate in the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, and to travel to wherever the production of scripts might bring me. In ten years? I will be almost twenty years post-TBI. I could be doing almost anything – with rest, as needed!

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 TBI survivors with your specific kind of TBI.

Don’t be in such a rush to get back to your previous life or move on from your injury. Time, time, time! Take the time you need. Rest, rest, rest! It’s a long road to recovery. Laughter truly is the best medicine. There will be good days, and there will be bad days, and there will be good ones and bad ones again. Stay in the hospital or in rehab as long as you can, and get as much help as you can from the people who really know about brain injuries. (People who say they are “experts” aren’t always telling the truth.) Get a great QRC (Quality Rehabilitation Consultant) who is recommended by your lawyer, not by the workers’ compensation insurance company.  Don’t take it personally – you are in a system that is designed to cut you off as soon as possible. “Powerhouse” attorneys can be “slaughterhouse” attorneys. Get personal recommendations. A great TBI attorney will listen to and respect you, not treat you as someone who doesn’t know anything. Offer reasonable accommodations, as needed. If an attorney won’t work with you, he or she won’t work for your greatest good, so run the other way.

20. What advice would you offer to other TBI survivors?

Get all the help you possibly can from every source possible. A physiatrist or a PMR (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation) specialist is an important part of your team. If you don’t have one, get one. Keep a sense of humor. Admit when life’s unbearable. Believe that it will get better.

Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

Cooney, Marie Sailboat 2

Marie Cooney – Skipper – pre-TBI

In our support group, NOTHING IS OFF THE TABLE! Everything is open for discussion, no matter what. Some thing you are afraid to discuss might be the very thing others need to talk about. Take chances. Share all your feelings. Accept tears of sadness and tears of laughter. Both are welcomed and accepted, as is everything in between.


Thank you, Marie, for taking part in this interview. I hope that your experience will offer some hope, comfort, and inspiration to my readers.

(Disclaimer: The views or opinions in this post are solely that of the interviewee.)

(Photos compliments of Marie.)

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.




SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . . Research Helps to Explain Depression

Research Helps to Explain Depression


newsboy-thDepression affects many TBI survivors, but, until now, no one knew why a person became depressed. Basic research at the Wiezmann Institute of Science in Israel has resulted in revealing an important part of the pathway that regulates a key chemical (serotonin) responsible for depression and anxiety. The scientists identified a small RNA molecule (microRNA miR135) that determines whether a person becomes depressed or not.

MicroRNAs were recently discovered. In this case, microRNA miR135 regulates the level of serotonin. The regulation of serotonin by miR135 was proven in mice genetically engineered to have high or low levels of miR135. As a result, the level of serotonin was affected. Too little serotonin resulted in signs of depression and anxiety in mice. Humans who were depressed had unusually low levels of miR135. Higher miR135 levels were observed in people who were not depressed. Such people are known to have higher levels of serotonin. The ability to measure the level of miR135 in people means better diagnosis of depression. It also means it will be possible to screen for therapeutic drugs that can boost the miR135 level (and therefore serotonin level). (Full story)




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