SPEAK OUT! . . . . . . . . . . . . . Guest Blogger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Karen Dickerson
Never Give Up!
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
On 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.
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.
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.”
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.
As 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.
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!