The place to come to wag more and bark less...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Use it Or Lose It – My Story

No hard and fast rules exist to determine the extent to which someone may become impaired following a brain injury just as there are no guidelines defining the duration of recovery. Who can really say what recovery is anyway, beyond perhaps some clinical or textbook definition? Given the dramatic lifestyle change that head injuries bring, it's a safe bet that recovery will be lifelong. Further, the sheer ambiguity involved in just about everything after a head injury, such as the things we once took for granted, can be the most difficult to deal with at times. So what are we left with? Sometimes, very little, I know, and it's something I can both appreciate and relate to, as well.

At the time of my TBI, I had a wife of four years and a two-year-old daughter. We weren't immersed in successful careers then, but I recall being hopeful nonetheless that our perseverance would soon change all that. Within six months after my head injury, all of that did change, though not in a way any of us would have liked. Disappeared would be a better term for what followed my head injury. Our young family unit fell apart and, with the support of her family, my wife and I split our meager possessions and were divorced. On top of that, my memory had greatly diminished, leaving me with no choice but to forego returning college for a second bachelor's degree.

Given my concerns about my own ability to take care of myself, I had no misconceptions about being able to take care of a child as well. Our daughter remained with my ex-wife and that was that. It had to be. Aside from one brief occasion, I haven't seen nor heard from either them or my ex-in-laws since that time. And, aside from one month or so in which I returned to the once-familiar background of my childhood home, hoping to recover somewhat, I have heard virtually nothing from them as well.

Inasmuch as I was unable to care for a child, I was equally unequipped to deal with past family issues of the sort that awaited me at home. As always, my childhood family was unable to offer even the slightest empathy, let alone any kind of support. Rather, I recall interacting with family, people who were blood relatives for God's sake, left me feeling like a pariah of sorts. They were awkward, wary, and watchful, as if I might up and explode and they wanted to be there to see it.

It became clear that familiar surroundings would not be enough to overcome whatever was wrong with me. After earning enough money at an hourly job in the city, I returned to Colorado to take my chances alone. The next ten or so years, i.e. prior to my fortuitous meeting with my current wife during a Christmas church service later, I can best describe my life as a very, very interesting existence.

While it is said the time flies when you're having fun, the same was true for me regarding my head injury, albeit without the fun, of course. Time flew by, as I witnessed from within my own self the outgoing person I had once been increasingly withdraw from society, nearly to the point of self-exile.

Due to my poor memory, I had few to no social contacts and I bounced from job to job; I simply couldn't remember anyone or anything. The list of jobs I'd worked had grown so large I needed to create a separate document to list them all; as far as I knew then, that list was only going to get longer. And it did. Still, after work, at night and on the weekends, alone and with no one else to talk with, I pounded away on my computer keyboard, filling the pages of my ridelog journal* with details I knew I wouldn't remember otherwise. I wanted some sort of documentation for what was going on then so that maybe, someday when it was all over, I could go back in time and make some sense of it all.

Beyond my writing, I had little to keep me going except for my bicycle, which I rode everywhere. It was the namesake for my written chronicle, which I'd dubbed the Ridelog Journal. Everything I'd written during that time has since been lost, presumably during one of my many moves from one rental unit to another. My bicycle was my only source of transportation and the only moving vehicle I had access to. After all, one can only carry so much on a bicycle, right? Even so, I remain uncertain as to whether or not I'd want to read what I'd written there anyway, given how painful that time had been for me.

Over the years, I continued to eke out an existence, working hourly jobs here and there. In retrospect, my life could have seemed quite grim, but the haze in which I lived then left me blissfully unaware of the harsh reality of my situation. The inability to remember much of the previous day made each new day seem brand-new, a pattern that was destined to never really change for me for a long, long time. Somehow, my spirits remained high enough for me to want to press on, despite my paltry earnings.

Given my inability to remember names, places, and other things so prevalent in daily life, my inward turn was not only understandable, but a requirement. The things I needed to remember, which I had once done without a second thought, were now major challenges. Some things had to go in order for me to allow other equally important (if not more important) things to remain.

I had always fought the idea, the fact that my memory was so impaired, instead of accepting my limitations outright. Sometimes, it seemed as if I'd never accept not having a memory, and my ongoing fight made conflict over just about everything the center point of my life. To me, it was either that or have a pointless life; I felt I had no choice but to choose conflict.

Literally speaking, conflict is typically considered something bad that needs resolution. But from a writing standpoint, conflict of the sort I have experienced (or that derived therefrom) has provided my fiction writing habit a tremendous wellspring of great material to write about. But my daily life would be better of without it, and minimizing conflict remains one of my top priorities.

What are your conflicts? How are you handling them? Who do you talk with at such times? When do you find the time to talk about it? Please feel free to send your own comments here, as there are many others who can benefit from them, too.

* My ridelog journal as I called it then was so named because much of what I wrote within it reflected thoughts and inspirations that came to me when I was on my bike, usually on my way to work or back home again. Here, the extrovert I had once been could safely reemerge and express itself in a safe environment. The downside to this kind of self-expression was that, over time, it became all I knew, and it even replaced actual, genuine human interaction.

TBI Recovery Blog: Blog Overview

TBI Recovery Blog: Blog Overview: "Head Injuries occur regardless of age, color, gender, or nationality. Anyone stands a chance of incurring a brain injury, with an even great..."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TBI Blog Introduction

A head injury can be defined as any of a vast number of situations in which a person suffers head trauma. The term Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, is a synonym for head injury and, for the sake of consistency on this blog, I will try to use the term TBI whenever possible. The causes of TBI are too numerous to mention here, as are the long- and short-term effects of TBI. As such, the TBI survivor personally is the sole starting point for this blog.

The Important Balance Between Education and Hope:
Despite my diagnosis as being the survivor of a “mild” TBI, my life would never again be what it had been prior to my injury. I didn't have access to many resources concerning my TBI. Even if information had been available, my poor memory and near complete isolation from family or close friends who may have been familiar with my injury would likely have been useless.

So, for many years following my own TBI, hope was all I had: Hope that I might remember things once again, and how it would improve my quality of life. Hope that, one day, I might once again have a life that more closely resembled that which I had prior to my injury. Ten years following my injury, hope truly was sometimes all I had. It's understandable if you find yourself feeling this way at times, too. But though it is difficult, don't ever lose hope.

Visit this blog, read the entries, and post an entry of your own if it helps - do whatever you can to empower yourself through the dark times. Tomorrow will be another day, one you'll be ready to face with the confidence of knowing you overcame the TBI - if only briefly - instead of the other way around. One small victory can build atop another, then another, and so on.

Perhaps I was unaware of it then, but it's become clear that my hopefulness has been worthwhile. Over the past several months, for no apparent reason, a fair amount of my ability to remember has returned. Regaining this memory has dramatically improved my ability to function well socially again which, in turn, increases my confidence to further expand my social horizons once again. I can again remember names, places, and so on, that allow me more effective participation in everyday social activities. It appears to be safe for me to once again re-emerge from my self-exile.

While I realize this recovery could have happened much sooner (and I certainly wish it had), I also appreciate how fortunate I am that any recovery occurred at all. The reality is that there are many who will not recover to the extent I have, and that many may never recover at all. Having been fortunate in this sense, I feel a responsibility to others who have also suffered a head injury, as well as to those who stand by them - from family and friends to all other concerned parties – to lend my perspective however and wherever I may.

It is in this spirit of tribute to everyone involved with a head injury survivor, directly or indirectly, that this blog is intended to serve. Comments you may have that can further this blog's intended goal are always welcome, too.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Blog Overview

Head Injuries occur regardless of age, color, gender, or nationality. Anyone stands a chance of incurring a brain injury, with an even greater chance of knowing someone who has. Brain injuries occur unexpectedly, changing entire lives in the blink of an eye with no preparation whatsoever. For the purposes of this blog, the abbreviation TBI is used to denote a head injury that allows the survivor a more limited, possibly even severely decreased degree of previously known functionality. In other words, from the outside you may seem like the same person you've always been. Inside, however, your life has drastically changed.

Whether you know it or not, statistics indicate you may often encounter more TBI survivors than you realize. According to statistics, TBI occurs at a rate of “1.4 million per year in the U.S.A.” alone. To break that down even more, TBI happens at a rate of “3,835 per day, 159 per hour, 2 per minute...”1

Some fortunate survivors may never outwardly show signs of their symptoms, though they most certainly are there. Others, however, find their entire lives changed completely and suddenly for long periods - if not forever.

I am a mild TBI survivor, and I have dealt with the repercussions of my head injury for the past fifteen years. I continue to deal with symptoms of my injury, though I have recovered enough brain power to begin a regular forum on the subject. Creating this blog will add other voices – like yours – to the discussion on the topic. It is perhaps the single, most important purpose this blog serves.

However, another critical purpose of this blog exists: To provide a sense of community and support among TBI survivors and for those whose lives are also affected by TBI. The exhausting parade of random symptoms and sometimes downright crazy behaviors can likely frighten off all but the strongest of supporters.

So, if any of the anecdotal information within – yours or mine – is helpful to someone else, then this blog has been successful. EVERYBODY is invited and welcomed to contribute, and to share their stories After all, sometimes it is from each other we can learn best.