19: Unexpected Blessings

19: Unexpected Blessings

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

Unexpected Blessings

The unthankful heart . . . discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!

~Henry Ward Beecher

In half an hour I had a diagnosis—post-concussive syndrome—a “mild” traumatic brain injury. When this happens to you, it feels anything but mild. I had fallen headfirst over my bicycle handlebars eighteen months earlier, but since I was wearing a helmet the emergency room doctor never suspected a concussion. Finally, after complaining about cognitive issues for eighteen months, I was at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital for diagnosis and care. In conjunction with my brain injury, I had chronic pain and was unable to work; I was on long-term disability and social security.

I had learned the value of hard work, perseverance, and being thankful for the blessings in life from my late mother. I took these values and pursued volunteer work to fill some of the hours that were left empty from not working. And where best to offer my volunteer time and commitment than the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts (BIA-MA)? I felt that they would understand my cognitive issues and would offer me volunteer projects that would value my strengths versus my weaknesses, weaknesses I felt every day from my brain injury. This volunteer work provided me the opportunity to leave my house and socialize, stay up-to-date on computer applications, feel self-confident again, and succeed, even if the victories were small.

In 2011 I had another fall, tripping over a garden hose and falling face first onto the driveway. This fall exacerbated my pain, and my cognitive issues continued. But with three years of volunteering under my belt, I felt confident in my ability to work again, and began my quest to return to work full-time. The staff at BIA-MA made me feel valued and appreciated for any and all help that I gave to them, no matter the project. The manager of volunteers, Patty Carlson, was tremendous in offering me support and mentoring.

Volunteering helped me learn that I could still perform tasks I had done prior to my brain injury and that despite my pain, work was possible. Work was actually a great distraction from my pain and from one big side effect of my brain injury, “brain chatter,” when I hear my voice talking and singing and I have weird thoughts as if I am dreaming.

In October of 2012 I was offered a paid position at the BIA-MA. I continue to successfully work there today because I value the importance of having a job and working hard every day. I enjoy the relationships with my supportive colleagues, and my self-esteem and confidence grow every day I go to the office. I have no doubt that these experiences are helping my brain to heal.

I have been able to end my reliance on social security through the Ticket to Work program and no longer receive checks. I am thrilled and proud every time I get my paycheck from BIA-MA.

Traumatic brain injury, for me, became a valuable learning experience and an unexpected gift. I never look back at my accidents in anger and I see the many blessings I have received because of them, as many wonderful people, places, and experiences have graced my life since that first fall.

~Sandra A. Madden

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