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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.

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