91: Living a Life of Purpose after Brain Injury

91: Living a Life of Purpose after Brain Injury

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

Living a Life of Purpose after Brain Injury

I slept and dreamt that life was service. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.

~Rabindranath Tagore

As I lay sprawled out on Main Street, my body broken from being struck by a car, the last thing I envisioned was that this would be a turning point in my life.

“Call 911! Call 911!” screamed a voice as I drifted in and out of consciousness on the roadside. As I was unable to move, a passerby entered my field of vision, tears streaming down her face. I thought of my wife Sarah. Minutes earlier I had said, “Goodbye” and, “I love you,” as I hopped on my bike. If I was about to die, I wanted to hear her voice one last time.

I called out her phone number, over and over. A passerby used his cell phone to call her. “Your husband has been in a bad cycling accident and the ambulance is taking him to a trauma center.” Like me, only a few miles away, she wondered if I was going to die. As I lay there surrounded by first responders and other emergency personnel, pain coursing through my body, I thought that my life was truly about to end.

Though not in the way I envisioned, my life did indeed end that day. For it was on November 11, 2010 that a teenage driver broadsided me while I was out on my daily cycle ride. I was catapulted into the new and so often unpredictable world of traumatic brain injury.

I walk through life looking normal. Indeed, TBI is called “a silent epidemic.” But just under the surface, I live with a hidden disability. Like other brain injury survivors, my day-to-day challenges seemed at first overwhelming. As time has passed, however, I have learned to embrace the new world that I live in.

Like so many others who share my brain-injured fate, challenges abound. My memory is a fraction of what it was in my pre-injury life. A brain injury-induced speech impediment means that I now stutter and stammer when I’m tired. My ability to discern the passage of time, as I once knew it, is gone.

So much of the “old David” did indeed die on that cold November day.

If the story ended there, nothing but tragedy would have come from my accident. But so often, from death springs new life. Fate had other plans for me. My first year as a brain injury survivor was the most difficult year of my life. Small tasks required Herculean effort. As my broken bones healed, my secret hope was that my brain injury would heal as well. I mourned the loss of my old life. Nothing made sense anymore and a new person was living in my old body.

Out of this season of suffering, new life lessons were learned. And ever so slowly, I started to regain my footing as a true survivor. From deep within the wellspring of my soul, a new strength and sense of purpose began to become clear.

Unlike so many others who had lost much of their voice, my voice became clear. Disinhibition, so common among brain injury survivors, became my friend. I had a story to tell and it was time to let the world know that life after a brain injury was possible. And I did what many over-achievers do: I set my sights high. How high? Most of my second year was spent writing a book about my experience as a survivor. Driven by some inner need to chronicle my experience, I set pen to paper and wrote.

Writing a book is a colossal undertaking in and of itself. As a brain injury survivor, to see it through to completion and successful publication let me know that almost anything is possible and that the biggest limits I have in my ongoing recovery are those limits that I put on myself.

Survivors from around the world have reached out to me and said thank you. Almost weekly, I read comments like, “you have said what I am unable to say.” My experience as a brain injury survivor has made me uniquely helpful, as I understand the struggles others face, not because I read about them, but because I live them daily. I have been blessed with a circle of other survivors as I now co-facilitate a local brain injury support group. Having been a part of this group for several years, it has been such a gift to watch new members come in, to see them feel the love and acceptance of other survivors, and to move forward with a level of courage that so often inspires me.

And life goes on, as it inevitably does. Regularly, I ask myself what I can do to continue to help others. The circle grows wider still as so many family members have shared that my words have helped them to better understand what their loved ones, as brain injury survivors, are facing.

Someone much wiser than me once said that the world would be an amazing place if everyone who overcame a hardship spent time helping others who have the same hardship. Though I will never have my old life back, helping others has added a sense of real purpose to my life. During that extraordinarily painful first year, I am glad that suicide was not my fate, though I pondered it. I am grateful that God has given me the strength to persevere, as there really is a meaningful life that can be achieved after a brain injury.

One of my favorite prayers is the Prayer of Saint Francis. In this powerful prayer, Saint Francis says it is “better to forgive than to be forgiven . . . it is in giving that we receive.” I have adapted one line of this prayer since my injury.

“It is in healing that we are healed.”

And so my life has become. I do my best to help others affected by brain injury. I do all I can to help them heal. And somewhere in this miraculous process, I am healed.

For that, I am forever grateful.

~David A. Grant

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