41: I Am Not My Brain Injury

41: I Am Not My Brain Injury

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

I Am Not My Brain Injury

If you must doubt something, doubt your limits.

~Price Pritchett

In the fall of 2009, while making my way home from a conference, I was rear-ended on a major interstate. A brain injury was one of the many things I was left to deal with in the aftermath of my accident.

It might seem like an obvious statement, but there’s nothing quite like your brain. Personally, I took mine for granted until I lost its full functionality. Since that time, I’ve learned that in good health my brain keeps everything running in good order. When the brain is broken, however, it operates more like a cruel time machine. After mine was injured, I found myself stuck in some memories, while unable to retain new ones for more than a few days. My emotions were scrambled and I would flip-flop back and forth between wanting to laugh and wanting to cry. More often than not, I felt like I’d been transported back to my childhood brain.

As you can imagine, an experience like this is quite frightening. Prior to my accident, I had performed at a high level. I had always been an outstanding student throughout school. I worked at a well-paying advertising executive position, enjoyed freelance writing and served in several leadership roles through my church and community. But now, it felt like all was lost. I had entered the twilight zone of life without a proper brain. I could barely speak a straight sentence. My brain seemed to move like an old computer that you have to wait for after every command because of its slow processing speed. The doctors told me I couldn’t drive and that I would likely never work again. “You should just go ahead and file for disability,” they encouraged. The list of “You Can’t Do’s” and “You’ll Never’s” went on and on.

Initially, it was easy to succumb to their disheartening prognoses for my life. I felt so abnormal and completely unlike myself. I felt like the victim of a horrible crime. Someone recklessly hit me and I would never be the same. I spiraled into a long grieving process, but when I came out on the other side of it, I was at ground zero. I had a fresh place to build from. In fact, there was nowhere for me to go in life other than forward.

The only way I could manage to restart was to take life in little bite-sized chunks. I was easily fatigued and overwhelmed, which if allowed to go too far, always resulted in a tear-filled meltdown. “Oh, Mom didn’t get her nap today,” I recall my kids saying when witnessing one of my weary, brain injury-induced tantrums. The only way I could manage was to take small steps. Like the old cliché says, “One step forward, two steps back,” and this was true for me much of the time. I would begin easy workouts to regain my strength and balance, for example, only to discover that I had grossly irritated my neck injury, which I had also sustained in the accident. This would end in an excruciating migraine. It was a painful and frustrating cycle that often seemed pointless.

It would have been much easier to just give up and give in. Instead, as I succeeded in one area, I found the courage to hobble another inch forward. As the rubble was gradually cleared away, more light began to permeate the situation. Something inside me changed. It was as though I had an inner cheerleader, an advocate of some sort, rallying me to continue on. At times, it literally felt like death was encroaching upon me. Not that I was dying, but that little by little, surgeries, doctors’ appointments, and words of doom and gloom were constantly trying to overshadow me.

It was at my darkest point that the voice inside me seemed to become the loudest. “Hey, you are not your brain injury,” I swore I heard one day. It was like an epiphany that motivated me to new heights. “I am not my brain injury. I’m not!” I repeated to myself, as the full power of its meaning soaked in. I was still a person, with a heart, a soul and emotions. While they might have been long shots for someone in my condition, I had new dreams and goals, too.

I had been blaming the other driver in the accident for robbing me of my life and he had been held accountable for his actions. However, I was the one who had been allowing my brain injury to define me. I came to see that when tragedy strikes, whether it’s a car accident, divorce or grief, there is a tendency for these things to take over our lives. The pain can be so debilitating that it’s only natural for anyone to become absorbed in the situation for a time. But, if left unattended, these things will eventually stake their claim on our identity.

This revelation helped me to understand that I still needed validation and support about the reality of my health situation, but if I wanted to truly move on, I would have to change my perspective. I then decided to see myself as a survivor. I had to acknowledge that I had experienced something and been changed by it. But going forward, it would need to just be another slice of the pie of my life. My brain injury would be one ingredient in the recipe, not the whole pie itself.

My paradigm shift thrust me onward through many obstacles. It’s taken several years of ratcheting up my goals, but I am back at work full-time now. I drive and write again. I’m also probably in the best physical shape of my life, due to my dedication to regaining my health. I try to live each day to the fullest, being cautious not to take things, like my brain, for granted.

~Stephanie Davenport

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