TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Posts tagged ‘TBI Survivor’

Sneak Peeks for Prisoners

My book, Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale, will be released to the public on November 1, 2018 by WriteLife Publishing of Boutique of Quality Books Publishing Company.  Here are pre-order links for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Excerpt 6

Chapter 15

Emotional Roller-coaster

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

nurse-clipart-2645bff0709e4cf23bcaff6690965816-1… A few days later, on January 26th, David gave his night nurse a scare, which in turn frightened me. When David’s night nurse Melody checked on David in the middle of the night, she found him sitting up in bed. That’s not so scary, except that David had no control over his body. He was unable to move, and his muscles were slack, but somehow he had found the bed controls that raise and lower the sick-clipart-sick-person-12mattress and fiddled with them enough to bring his upper mattress to a dangerously high, perpendicular position. He was seated precariously upright—nearly flopping over like a Raggedy Andy doll.

When Melody, whom I absolutely adored, told me of the incident the next morning, I detected a barely perceptible grin on David’s face. He had enjoyed his unwitting prank …

 

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Survivors SPEAK OUT! . . . Su Meck

Survivors SPEAK OUT! Su Meck

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

 

1 Su Meck 10862625_10204051895112757_5004286472948685848_o

Su Meck – Brain Injury Survivor & Author of “I Forgot to Remember”

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

My name is Su Meck.

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

I currently live in Northern Virginia (USA) outside of Washington D.C.

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

3. My brain injury occurred on Sunday, May 22, 1988. I was twenty-two years old at the time.

4. How did your brain injury occur?

A ceiling fan in my kitchen fell and hit my head, knocking me down. As I fell, my head hit the kitchen counter, and then hit the floor.ceiling-fan-clip-art-1160226

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

My husband, Jim, was sitting right there at the kitchen table reading the Fort Worth Star Telegram when the ceiling fan fell on me. He saw the whole thing.

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

Jim called 911 right away. The ambulance came and took me to the closer (smaller satellite) hospital. But it was quickly determined that I needed to be at the bigger downtown Forth Worth hospital because that hospital actually had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan machine.

7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?

Whether or not I was in a coma depends upon which pages of my (handwritten) medical records one reads. I was definitely in and out of consciousness for a few days, but I am unsure as to if I was in an actual coma.

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?

Rehab? In Texas? In 1988? LOL! The “rehab” that I had was terribly inadequate, especially by today’s standards. I was assigned a physical therapist and an occupational therapist, but it is unclear what specifically those people did with me.

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

The most significant loss for me was experiencing total retrograde amnesia, which means I lost all of my memories of roughly the first twenty-two years of my life. Initially, both short- and long-term memory were affected. I did not recognize my husband, my two children (ages 2 and 1), any other family members, or friends. I also couldn’t walk, read, count, brush my teeth or hair, feed myself, etc. My personality post accident is the opposite of my personality from before the accident.

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

My life totally changed. Better or worse? It’s way more complicated than that. I don’t personally know what my life was like before the accident. I have to rely on the memories and stories of others who knew me. Which, by the way, really kind of sucks.

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

I don’t have any memory of anything from my life pre TBI (traumatic brain injury): all of my childhood/teenage/early adulthood memories, learning how to ride a bike, birthdays, grandparents, learning how to play piano and drums, vacations, my first crush, my first kiss, pets, losing my virginity, college-looking (the first time), sorority rush/initiation/parties/friends, meeting and falling in love with my husband, my wedding, the pregnancies of my two boys and their first years, and so many, many, many more …

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

Advocating for my fellow TBI survivors. I love speaking to groups of survivors, caregivers, and anyone really about what it is like to live with a TBI.

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

Nearly everything else

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

Even though there are still some days that I feel as though I can’t do, or understand, or remember a damn thing, the process of writing my book helped me to come to terms with how far I have actually come since my accident.

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

Oh yes! I don’t feel as if I am part of my family (my parents’ and siblings’ family). I think of my kids as more like my siblings. And my husband? Well … We are still married (33 years) … But since my accident, there have been some genuinely shitty times!

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

I’m sure it has changed in many ways, but one thing that comes to mind (and the thing that was most noticeable when I was in college at both Montgomery College and then at Smith College) is the fact that I feel way more comfortable around people in their 20s and 30s than I do around people my “real” age (50s).

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

Jim, my husband, is my main caregiver now. But at times, my children often took on the caregiver role because Jim traveled so much.

3 Su Meck & Jim 10835181_659603147482572_2314662174685025134_o

090518 PressKit_DonnaODonnelFigurski dmf3 091218

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

Wow! This is a tough one. I would love to continue writing (and publishing) stories, essays, lyrics, whatever. I always wanted to be part of a working/performing rock band, playing drums as well as singing. I want to become more proficient on the guitar, uke, and piano. I’d love to travel around speaking and educating people about what it is like to live in this crazy world as a TBI survivor. I’d love to move back to New England. I want to ski, and hike, and learn to swim. I’d love to have a dog (a service dog would be great to keep me from wandering). I want to take long extended vacations to Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, and even Canada.

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.

Be happy with who you are now, even if you are one hundred percent different from the person you were before. Be honest with yourself and others. It is okay to ask for help. Graduating from Smith College in 2014 was a huge accomplishment for me. In fact, Smith almost did me in physically, mentally, and emotionally. But Smith also gave me a tremendous gift: An enthusiastic love of reading and learning. Keep learning!

I forgot to Remember Book Cover20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

Please buy and read my book, I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia. (I’m shameless!) And, if you like it, please write a positive review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. (Yes, I’m truly shameless!)

 

 

Please check out Su Meck’s book. It’s a great read!

 

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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.

Heather Sivori Floyd & TJ

Brain Injury Survivor, TJ and Mom, Heather Sivori Floyd

Heather Sivori Floyd (caregiver for her son, TJ) … TJ was finally able to get out of the bath on his own! We will always celebrate the little, yet big, milestones because they matter. It matters simply because these moments are the reasons to keep going when it’s very hard. (Keep it up, buddy! You’ll hit those goals because you are determined.) So very proud of him and his never-ending drive to keep going.

Heather Sivori Floyd

Heather Sivori Floyd – Caregiver for son, TJ

 

YOU did it!

Congrats to TJ!

 

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(Photos compliments of contributor.)

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Survivors SPEAK OUT! . . . Gage Mabry

Survivors SPEAK OUT! Gage Mabry

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

Gage Mabry 1

Gage Mabry – survivor of brain injury

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

Gage Mabry

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

Missouri, USA

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

October 24, 2015  I was 20 years old.

4. How did your brain injury occur?

I was working, and a fifteen-pound scanner fell from a twelve-foot ladder overhead. It landed on top of my head.

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

Immediately. I knew that I took a good hit to the head. It was like being a cartoon character in a slow-moving cartoon.

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

There was no emergency-care immediately after the accident. I continued to work the rest of my shift. I was disoriented, my vision was blurry, and I developed a massive headache. It wasn’t until my mom tried to wake me up that we realized there was a problem.1304_Symptom_12

7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?

No

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 was sent to a company doctor, who at first diagnosed my injury as a concussion. When my symptoms continued to persist and worsen over the next few weeks, the company sent me to have a CT (“cat”; computerized tomography) scan, which showed no abnormalities. Over the next three months of “rest,” my symptoms continued, and new ones developed. So now, my brain injury was diagnosed as Post-Concussion Syndrome. I was sent for neurological testing, which showed deficiencies in brain function. I was then referred for further treatments to involve pain management, balance therapy, and counseling. But, due to the situation, I never received any treatment other than what my family could try and provide. Now after two years and an independent medical exam, I’ve been diagnosed as having “Diffuse TBI” (traumatic brain injury).

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

headacheI have severe migraines that last for days, photophobia, sensitivities to loud sounds and to certain smells, and balance issues. I also have issues with depression, anxiety, anger, and fatigue that are so bad that I can’t even function some days.

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

This is a hard one. My old life is gone, but my new one is filled with good and bad … it’s a work in progress!

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

Activities I used to do; my friends.

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

All the possibilities

Gage Mabry 2

Gage Mabry – Brain Injury Survivor

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

The headaches

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

My mom!

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

This has been a roller-coaster ride. It has devastated my family financially, but it has brought us together – with more love and support for each other that we had before. My friends and girlfriend have their lives to live, and I just wasn’t part of their plans anymore.

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

This difference has been the hardest for me to accept. I went from being a popular, outgoing, and athletic person to a withdrawn, angry, and depressed person overnight. Social anxiety has been the hardest things to try and overcome, but I’m doing it day by day. Finding humor in that anxious setting has been the best medicine ever! I explain it to people as an “EMP” … electrical magnetic pulse … when I can’t remember my left from my right or forget how to speak. It eases the tension.

Mabry, Darlene Watson Caregiver

Darlene Watson Mabry – Caregiver

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

My MOM! And, yes, it has been so hard for her. I don’t know how she does it. She’s a

superhero to me!

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

I still have my dreams that I will fulfill. They have just been altered. Instead of a “Game Designer” … it’s a “Game Broadcaster”; my physical-fitness regimens have been modified to walking instead of running. “Compromise” is what my mom calls it!

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.

You may have setbacks, but that doesn’t mean the game is over!

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

Never give up – regardless of how bad it gets – because you belong to a special group now … you are a Survivor!

 

Gage’s mother wrote a moving “Faces of Brain Injury”  Click to read

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Sneak Peeks for Prisoners

My book, Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale, will be released to the public on November 1, 2018 by WriteLife Publishing of Boutique of Quality Books Publishing Company. Here are pre-order links for Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Excerpt 4

Chapter 4

Unthinkable Odds

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Crazed Woman

… I must have looked like a zombie. I stood mute, wringing my hands, breathing out and in and out again. I didn’t know what to do. I felt paralyzed. Brain SurgeonMy permission was needed to operate on my husband’s brain. How could I give it? How could I allow Dr. Hulda to ­work on my husband’s beautiful, smart brain? …

 

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As I say after each post: Please leave a comment by clicking the blue words “Leave a Commentanim0014-1_e0-1 below this post.

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Past Blast . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Guest Blogger: Stages of Forgiveness – Melissa Cronin

“Guest Blogger: Stages of Forgiveness ”

by Melissa Cronin

(originally published January 14, 2015)

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Girl Blogger cartoon_picture_of_girl_writing

 

More than eleven years ago, eighty-six-year-old George Russell Weller confused the gas pedal for the brake and sped through the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. He struck seventy-three pedestrians. Ten people died.

I sustained life-threatening injuries, including a ruptured spleen and multiple fractures. Due to the nature of my traumatic brain injury, it wouldn’t be until three years after the accident when a neuropsychiatrist diagnosed me with a TBI.

During the early days and weeks of my recovery, weighed down by pain and the unthinkable – that others died while I survived – my brain lacked space for anything heady like the notion of forgiveness. Years later, when I possessed enough emotional fortitude to unearth the new articles I had collected about the accident, I decided I needed to find a way to forgive Russell Weller. I’ve been told that forgiveness is overrated, that you don’t have to forgive to heal. While that might very well be true, my want to forgive others for any wrong committed is part of my constitution. So I had to at least make an attempt to forgive Russell Weller. Otherwise, I’d be infected with a case of chronic bitterness and cynicism and worried I’d be contagious. Who wants to hang out with someone with a transmittable illness she has the capacity to heal?

To forgive, one must first assign blame. But, as in Russell Weller’s case, if there is no act of intentional harm, where do you place blame and, therefore, how do you forgive? To add an additional elusive layer, how do you forgive someone you’ve never met? Is it even possible to forgive someone you don’t know? I reached out to Russell Weller’s family years after the accident, but they refused my request to visit him. In 2010 he died.

The following year, I enrolled in an MFA program. During my third semester, still befuddled as to how to forgive Russell Weller, I wrote my critical thesis on the topic: The Face of Forgiveness. I examined how a particular writer, who had sustained life-threatening injuries after a car struck him, navigated the indeterminate nature of forgiveness on the page. Because each circumstance varies, forgiveness cannot be defined in absolute terms. *Since forgiveness is a process, I arrived at the conclusion that it can be charted in stages:

1) Understanding of the accident/incident

2) Transference of anger and other emotions

3) Self-pity

4) Awareness of others’ suffering

5) Avoidance

6) Surrender

Melissa Cronin leaves

These stages don’t necessarily occur sequentially. Like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief – denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – the stages of forgiveness may overlap, or one may become stuck in a particular stage. For me, I became stuck in one or two and skipped another one or two altogether. It’s also worth noting that the stages of forgiveness may not occur in a defined timeframe.

Stage 1: Understanding of the accident/incident

I dedicated months to reading news articles and investigative reports, parsing out the details of the accident: What Russell Weller was doing in the moments before he sped through the market, his medical history, his driving history, what bystanders witnessed at the scene of the crash. Somehow, I believed by reading those articles I would get to know Russell Weller and, therefore, be able to forgive him, or not. But written words weren’t enough – they seemed static on the page. Even though some articles included his apology – “I’m deeply sorry for any pain that everyone went through” – I could not hear his voice, hear his remorse, anger, or fear. And with all the contradicting statements about Russell Weller’s character and what people saw or didn’t see, I only became more confused. I felt like a pendulum – swaying dizzily between sadness and anger.

Stage 2: Transference of anger

As I read articles about the role the local entities had to play in running the market, any anger I harbored for Russell Weller quickly transferred to city officials who were responsible for ensuring the safety of pedestrians. I wondered why they didn’t have sturdy barriers in place, rather than wooden sawhorses. But, similar to my confusion regarding how to feel about Russell Weller, my feelings and emotions swayed – from judgment to understanding, from contempt to submission.

Stages 3 and 5: Self-pity and Avoidance

I did not become victim to self-pity – perhaps the perpetual warring dialogue in my head thrust self-pity aside. For the same reason, I skipped avoidance.

Stage 4: Awareness of others’ suffering

As I continued my dogged search to find meaning within the chaos, I could not help but be lured into an awareness of others’ suffering.  I imagined the physical and emotional pain the other injured pedestrians endured and the rage and anguish that tore into the families of the deceased. I viewed Russell Weller as injured, too – emotionally, mentally, psychically. I imagined Russell Weller’s grief: plagued by nightmares, isolated behind drawn window shades, sallow from regret.

The judge who presided over Russell Weller’s trial said he “lacked remorse” Because he didn’t cry? Why is it that we have a tendency to forgive others only if they exhibit unequivocal remorse: falling to their knees, drooping, sobbing? But a display, or physical showing, of remorse is not necessarily what matters to those harmed. Of course, a sincere apology does not negate the harm done, but sincerely spoken words of remorse are what matter. The quality of the voice matters: is it harsh, tense, creaky?

Melissa Cronin desert

In 2011, I finally obtained and viewed a copy of the videotape of Russell Weller speaking with police officers soon after the accident. I slid the video into the CD player, inched close to the television screen, so close I felt as if he and I were together in the same room. Though he did not cry, his full-toned voice quivered as he said, “I’m in trouble with my heart and soul.” His voice then quieted to a whisper, as if he were in church mourning over the dead: “God almighty, those poor, poor people.”

That’s when I forgave Russell Weller. That’s when I surrendered – to Russell Weller’s remorse.

*Stages of forgiveness conceived by Melissa Cronin

 

To learn more about Melissa, please visit her website/blog at Melissa Cronin.

Thank you, Melissa Cronin.

Disclaimer:
Any views and opinions of the Guest Blogger are purely her own.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photos compliments of Melissa Cronin)

 

Survivors SPEAK OUT! . . . . . . Deb Brandon Ph.D., Author

Survivors SPEAK OUT! Deb Brandon Ph.D. and Author

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

Deb Brandon 1

Deb Brandon, Ph.D. Brain Injury Survivor Author of “But My Brain Had Other Ideas”

 

 

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

Deb Brandon

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

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA     deb@debbrandon.com

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

March, August 2007     I was 47.

4. How did your brain injury occur?

Brain bleeds and subsequent brain surgeries

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

In the spring of 2006, I had some fleeting symptoms (dizziness, poor balance, vertigo, tingling in my arm). In September 2006, I mentioned them to my doctor at my annual check-up. She sent me for tests, including a brain MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). I was diagnosed with bleeds from cavernous angiomas (tangles of thin-walled blood vessels in my brain). The following spring (March 2007), I suffered from loss of hearing and experienced a seizure. That night, I came down with the worst headache you could imagine, which was when I realized I’d suffered another bleed (confirmed in the Emergency Room).

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

I had a CT (computerized tomography) scan, which was followed by an MRI in the Emergency Room. I was then hospitalized for a couple of days, during which time they did routine tests.

7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?

I was not in a coma.

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?

Deb Brandon Surgery

Deb Brandon, Ph.D. Brain Injury Survivor Author of “But My Brain Had Other Ideas”

After the acute bleeds in the spring of 2007, I underwent outpatient physical therapy to help me with my pathetic balance. After the two brain surgeries to remove the bleeders (the only known treatment for cavernous angiomas), I spent a week in inpatient rehab, at which time they worked on my balance, problems with my eyes [nystagmus (rapid, involuntary movements of the eye), double vision, and weakness of muscles in my left eye], and I had occupational therapy. At the end of that week, I suffered a seizure, which led to a third (emergency) brain surgery. I never underwent rehab after that, except for stuff I was doing at home (video games for the brain, exercise).

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

I have problems with balance, memory, attention span, sequential thinking, vocabulary access, and task initiation. I also suffer from vertigo, paranoia, debilitating fatigue (which exacerbates all the other symptoms), crippling headaches, sensory overload, seizures, anxiety, severe depression, and (occasional) suicidal ideation. There’s probably more, but I can’t remember right now. 🙂Droopy Flower

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

My life is harder, but much better.

I divorced my husband. My relationship with my daughter (13 at the time) suffered (although over the last couple of years, we’ve gotten closer), but my son (15 at the time) and I got closer. I am a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and I went back to work full-time two years after the surgeries. I am a mathematician. Afraid to mess-up in the classroom, I stuck to teaching the lowest level classes we teach – calculus for the humanities students (which I came to love and now teach on a regular basis). But, several years later, I found that between fatigue and headaches, I had to cut back on my teaching load.

On the other hand, in addition to the losses I suffered, the “bloody brain” (as I refer to it) led to some wonderful gains. From a socially awkward mathematician, I became better able to connect with people and formed deeper bonds. I am much more outgoing. I now have a supportive and caring community around me. I became a much better teacher, and, whereas I liked teaching math in the past, now I am passionate about it. I also discovered a new passion – writing. To better understand my experience, I started writing an account, which later grew into a book (“But My Brain Had Other Ideas: A Memoir of Recovery from Brain Injury”) that I hope will reach as many people as possible to raise awareness of brain injury. From a journal writer, I became a published author of a book I am proud of. I figured out that I was a lesbian, a realization that filled a hole I hadn’t been aware existed.

Deb Brandon Book, But My Brain Had Other Ideas

“But My Brain Had Other Ideas”

I’m more aware and self-aware. I’m a more authentic version of myself, more me. I’m more comfortable in my own skin. I am a better person. I’m more empathetic – more willing to reach out to anyone who could use a shoulder or a hand. I’m a much better listener.

I feel that the gains far outweigh the losses. I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience, but I don’t regret it. It brought me to where I am now.

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

I miss my daughter’s uncomplicated love, though we are heading for a closeness. I miss being able to multitask and being more productive. I miss having no issues with sensory overload, seizures (though those are mostly under control now), and horrific headaches. I really and truly don’t miss them, though. I like my life now much better than my past life.

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

(See my answer to question 10.) I enjoy my environment, teaching, deeper connections with people, forming and reforming new connections, and writing. I also travel a lot (much more than I used to) – both inside the US and abroad – despite the fatigue it causes. I refuse to give in too much to the bloody brain. I want to LIVE.

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

I don’t like my fears of repeat bleeds (from my remaining angiomas) and subsequent surgeries, anxiety, and depression.

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

My life is fuller now – my relationships, my closest friends, i.e., our interactions no longer revolve around the bloody brain. My depression and seizures are pretty much under control.

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

Because of issues with fatigue, in many ways I live like a hermit. I very rarely have a friend over, and I rarely attend social occasions. I often have to hide in my bedroom to avoid sensory overload. As a result, my casual relationships are more virtual much of the time. My closer friends understand, and, if we do get together, we choose quieter settings. They know that, when fatigue strikes, I have to leave (or they have to leave). A couple of close friends are always there for me. My bonds with those friends are very strong – stronger than they were before. (See above for more details.)Fatigue

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

Though I have firmer connections with people, my social life is fairly minimal because of issues with fatigue. I have to pick and choose. However, I make more of an effort to accept invitations – mostly by past and current students. I have no interest in socializing with colleagues. Most don’t really understand my issues. And life is too short.

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

A good friend, Joyce, is very important to me. She helps me clean, cook, and do laundry. She also provides better judgment – for example, insisting I rest when I’m falling off my feet or making sure I have everything when I travel. When I wasn’t allowed to drive, she acted as my chauffeur. When she goes away, I flounder after a month – I’m too tired to work and maintain a normal household.

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

Even after the reduction in my teaching load, working is rough, though I enjoy it very much and love the challenge. In the distant future, I expect to spend time writing and (public) speaking about brain injury.

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.

  1. There is one issue that took me a few months to understand and a few years to effectively address it. Even now, I sometimes slip-up. I have trouble dealing with high volumes of incoming data, whether sensory, emotional, or cognitive.

When it comes to sensory input (noise, crowds, bright colors), I try to avoid difficult situations (parties, sports events). Also, if I find a focus, an anchor (which can be the voice or touch of a person I trust), I regain my faculties. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible.

Emotional stuff is tougher. My damaged filters have mended to a large degree. I manage, but ultimately, you feel what you feel.

Cognitive input (when reading and listening): I have learnt to chunk it down – for example, work to absorb one line at a time. This has been useful in my teaching. When students have trouble with word problems, I show them how to address each chunk separately, and only then do I ask them to connect the dots and fill in the gaps to solve the problem as a whole.

Until I learned how to manage overload, I often ended up having a meltdown.

  1. Another issue that I didn’t identify as a symptom of brain injury for the longest time was task initiation. Though the end-result is the same, task-initiation difficulties are very different from procrastination. They feel different. Before my neuropsychologist explained it to me, I assumed I was managing life inadequately.

I explain it as follows: When you’ve just finished a long and involved project, it feels impossible to start the next project. In the case of brain-injury-related task initiation, there is nothing obvious that seems to be the reason behind it. It can strike randomly, and it can last anywhere from days to years. But, once you get started on the task, life is good, and you’re off and running, as if there never was a problem.

  1. A sometimes-effective strategy is as follows: When you identify a problematic task, put it on a daily task list (which has no more than two items; otherwise you’ll become overwhelmed and freeze). Then block off time for each of the two tasks on your calendar.

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

I found that neurosurgeons consider brain surgery a success, i.e., if you’re not dead or in a coma, life is good. Neurologists only seem to care about the physical symptoms (balance, vertigo, seizures, headaches).

neurologistOnly neuropsychologists seem to care about the invisible side of your disability. I found my neuropsychologist very helpful. He labeled issues I didn’t understand (task initiation, sensory overload) and suggested coping mechanisms and compensation techniques – extremely useful information that improved my life, both practically and psychologically.

I did not have the opportunity to undergo rehab/therapy (physical, speech, etc.) after my third surgery. I did everything myself. I played brain-games on the computer, went for walks (later hikes), and exercised every day. I’m sure I would have healed faster and more effectively with professional help. I didn’t have the wherewithal to fight for it myself, nor did I have anyone to fight for me.

Deb Brandon 2

Deb Brandon, Ph.D.

There is no full recovery from severe brain injury. There are always residual deficits that are exacerbated by fatigue. Pace yourselves carefully. Rest, rest, rest. But, don’t forget to live as fully as you can. Push yourselves as much as you can, but be aware of your limitations. Often it is a fine balance.

It’s an amazing journey of discovery and rediscovery.

Carpe diem within your limitations.

Life is good.

 

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