84: Writing

84: Writing

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


Write injuries in dust, benefits in marble.

~Benjamin Franklin

My husband and I had been married for three months. It was 1990 and life was good. I was working at a shopping mall in Southern California. One evening after work, as I pulled out of the mall parking lot, my car stalled in the middle of the road. A city bus hit me, leaving me near death.

I was in a coma and had brain surgery. My brain was injured so badly that the doctors thought I would be paralyzed; they also said I would never be the same, never think clearly again. But I surprised them when I moved my hands and then eventually stood up and with help, began to walk. In a few months I was able to walk on my own. However, the struggle to regain my mental health as well as my balance and coordination took another ten years. Speech was also a major difficulty for me at first. My words slurred. I had trouble finding words at all.

As I recovered, I began to write. The act itself helped me to sort out the scattered words in my mind. Putting my thoughts on paper also helped me deal with the severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that seemed to get worse with the years.

Recovery from traumatic brain injury has been unbelievably intense, but also incredibly deepening and spiritual. At the beginning, recovery focused on my physical limitations. I still have extensive trouble with memory, speech and PTSD. The emotional toll my limitations took on me was a major obstacle. But even at my worst, I kept writing. It helped me to face my trauma and work through it. Nurturing these positives, which I needed more than life itself, healed my mind and eased my PTSD.

My husband and I eventually had seven children. Their love gave me courage and perseverance to live and recover. And writing—regardless of the story—was therapeutic for my heart and mind. Journaling finally grew into novels, leading to my return to college thirteen years after my accident. The more I studied, the clearer and more organized my thoughts became. The research I did for my novels helped me in my coursework, but my recovery while in college has become more defined. My thinking has grown sharper than it would have ever been before I had the brain injury and recovery. I am grateful to have gained the strength and courage to recover from such an insurmountable injury. Now I have the courage to share what I’ve written with others, and though my memory still suffers, it’s a small price to pay for the bounty I have received.

~Justine Johnston Hemmestad

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