36: Uncharted Waters

36: Uncharted Waters

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

Uncharted Waters

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

~T.S. Eliot

After graduating from college in May of 2006, I planned to start a promising career, get a nice car, find my future wife, buy a house, and maybe even have a kid. It seemed to be the normal path for a twenty-three-year-old college graduate from a great family with plenty of opportunity ahead.

I interviewed for multiple jobs and received a couple of offers, but I was in no hurry for my post-graduation celebratory lifestyle to end. On July 4th I drove drunk after a party. Didn’t I know it was dangerous and criminal to drink and drive? Yes.

My parents got that dreaded early morning phone call. “Your son has serious head trauma,” said the voice. Five weeks unresponsive in the ICU followed by six weeks of intensive inpatient therapy all led up to a year of a neuro-rehab program. Believe it or not, then came the hard part.

I tried so hard, and at times still do, to get back to being the kid I was before or to become the man I planned to be. I still play golf and work out, but it’s not the way it used to be. It’s been frustratingly tough to accept diminished abilities at doing things I used to do with ease. My anger and depression grew. It was at the Krempels Center, a community-based day program for brain injury survivors, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where I began a new life. New friends, additional support, and the realization that I was not alone meant the world to me. One of the new friends I met at Krempels is a retired orthopedic surgeon named Dr. Edward (Ted) King. Ted has become a great friend and always encourages me to have faith and do my best.

In the spring of 2010, Ted asked me if I’d crew for him in the Robie Pierce Regatta, a disabled sailing regatta at Larchmont Yacht Club on Long Island Sound in early September. Even though I wasn’t a sailor, having never been in a boat before, I agreed. I was always an anxious kid and after my accident my anxiety intensified. I usually can’t figure out the root cause of the constant worry and fear I feel. Maybe the impending doom that follows me around is worry about another car accident. But without memory of the traumatic event, I can’t process the ambiguous distressing thoughts I have. I had developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms by this time, one of which was to cancel plans or not follow through on commitments, thinking it would bring me relief.

The night before I was to leave for Larchmont, New York, I felt intense fear and left Ted a message saying I wasn’t going to the race. Shortly thereafter I received a phone call from Bill Sandberg, who told me not to worry and that the point of the whole regatta was to have fun. There were no expectations. Bill was the AB (able-bodied sailor) in our three-man crew. The AB is the person who takes over in the event of an emergency and completes the actions the disabled sailors can’t physically carry out. He’s a great guy and his humor put me at ease.

I went to the regatta, even winning my first-ever race, a practice race, with Bill joking, “You should quit while you’re ahead; it can only be downhill from first place.” We came in fourth out of eighteen boats that weekend. Being part of a team and involved in competitive sports again was thrilling. The confidence I gained in facing my fears, real or imagined, continues to help me as I face new challenges. Since that first race, Ted and I have competed in five additional regattas with quite a bit of success. With Bill, we even won the 2011 National Championship in the development class. In fact, just this past weekend we raced in the championship class of the 2013 US Sailing National Championship in Milwaukee with AB Dan Rugg, winning the final race and placing second overall in the championship division.

Finding a challenge that I never would have attempted prior to my TBI and completing it with unexpected success and enjoyment has built my confidence. Sailing is something I’m proud of post-brain injury. When sailing, I don’t think about the way it used to be, because I never sailed before. Racing sailboats is completely uncharted waters for me and that is one of the reasons I’ve grown to love it.

~Jim Scott

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