2: I Have a Secret

2: I Have a Secret

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

I Have a Secret

Not all those who wander are lost.

~J.R.R. Tolkien

I have a secret. Not all is as it appears. Most anyone living with a traumatic brain injury already knows this. We’ve all heard someone say “but you look normal,” and we know that person doesn’t get it.

I live in the new “Frontier Land” that is life with a brain injury. We can even spot each other. About a year after my brain injury, a new man appeared strolling in my neighborhood. He was a bit older than me. He walked with a cane and his wife ever present by his side.

As I still cycle twenty-five miles a day through our neighborhood streets, I know most of the local regulars by sight. I have given most of them oddball nicknames like “Dog-walking Lady” and “The Power Walking Couple.”

My wife Sarah and I drove past this new neighbor regularly. Month by month, we could see his pace increasing and his stability improving. “I bet he had a brain injury,” Sarah guessed.

Quite unexpectedly, I found myself stopped at a corner on my bike as the man and his wife walked by one day. The dis-inhibition that comes with brain injury can be so freeing. My first words brought huge smiles to them both.

“You are doing so well. It’s great to see the progress you’ve made.” Introductions were shared, though his name, like so many others, is forever lost to me. And the conversation flowed like water. He fell on ice the year after my TBI and joined our exclusive brain injury club, the one that no one really wants to join. Brain injury is indeed the last thing you ever think about—until it’s the only thing you think about.

“The doctors said I would never get any better, but I decided not to listen to them,” he chuckled. I listened intently to his tale and smiled.

Then I dropped my own verbal bomb. “My brain injury was a year before yours and like you, my own doctor said I was permanently disabled and to not expect much. I didn’t listen either!” We shared a hale and hearty laugh and went our respective ways.

And my secret? My TBI has taught me that all is not as it appears. That old man fumbling with his wallet in front of me at the checkout counter no longer makes me impatient. He might be someone affected by traumatic brain injury. That driver cruising along at ten miles per hour under the posted speed limit no longer makes me tap my foot. She might be one of the 5.3 million people in the U.S. living with a disability from a traumatic brain injury. The person at the supermarket with his shopping cart parked dead center in the aisle as he stares at all the soups? You know where I am going with this. We are everywhere.

My TBI continues to teach me a level of patience, understanding and compassion I never had before my accident. When someone passes by you and does something you didn’t quite expect, remember that they might just be one of us. After all, we look normal.

~David A. Grant

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