The Two Year Anniversary of My TBI: Hell of a Year
I was so lucky to have made it out from underneath that scaffolding alive.
You are so nice to me. Everything was perfect that night.
Drinking like pirates, without fear that dawn would arrive.
My right hand in your left hand and your left in my right.
May everything stay like this for a long time. Here’s to the friends that we’ve made. To the ones who have stayed by our sides through it all, through the thick of it. Here’s to the comrades we have found, who can turn a day around, and drive the gloom into the ground.
It has been a hell of a year: I have been through the wringer, as they say. But someone once told me “that which does not kill me only makes me stronger.” While that is true in a sense, I like to say “that which does not kill me makes me a whole lot less likely to do that sh*t again!”
I have lost a lot since my brain injury, but I have gained an understanding from coming to peace with my losses. One of my oldest friends (my sister from another mister) fell from a balcony during a party and broke her hip, changing her life forever. After my fall, her grandfather said, “well, there is one important thing that we have learned from both of these accidents: if you are going to party, stay on the first floor!” I have learned so much beyond that wise lesson, but the most important lesson that I have learned is acceptance.
“That’s life, that’s what people say.
You’re riding high in April,
Shot down in May.”
– Frank Sinatra
In April, 2011, I was a 28 year old bartender, anchored to a passion for music. I had an entrepreneurial disposition that carried me to develop that passion into a business. Then, abruptly, I was suddenly a 28 year old infant that was entirely dependent on his mother after falling 20 ft from a water tower on May 8th. I learned how to walk, talk, and eat all over again. I mirrored my growth from infancy through my “terrible two’s” and on to my teenage-like rebellion phase, to the point where I began to realize where I was, what had happened, and finally came to accept the reality of my situation. I am still growing to understand where I am and what my place is in this world that I remember waking to, as a completely dependent adult with brain damage, in early June of 2011.
I have heard it said that it really tests one’s friends when a friend is on his or her possible death bed, as I was. That is not entirely true. It does more than test them: it reveals them. For me, it revealed the fair-weather nature of certain friends that I hoped to be stronger by showing up when I was in the hospital. It turns out, these people could not stomach my situation or simply did not care as much as I had hoped. The ugly truth of the painful betrayal of some of my friendships was also revealed. I try to no longer be sad or mad about the disappointment that I once felt, but rather I am grateful that I see actuality: my near death experience revealed my friends. It revealed friends that I was totally unaware possessed such love and empathy. I discovered new friends as I was shown the true colors of people that I never expected to be there.
The nature of my family was also revealed after my injury. My mother has carved herself out as more of a spectacular human being than I ever knew possible. I even have fond memories of her being a good mother throughout almost all of my childhood. I have said it before, and I mean it whole heartedly: My mother is the most amazing, loving, strong, smart, and capable woman that I have ever known! She is the most important person to me. I love you so much, mama! Happy first Mother’s Day… She gets two since she got that phone call on Mother’s Day 2011, informing her that I was in a coma. ON MOTHER’S DAY OF ALL DAYS! She stayed by my side through it all, “through the thick of it.” My mom is a superhero. When she leaves to help a friend or family member (which she often does), I like to tell her: “Don’t forget your cape!”
When my mom moved to Austin from Houston two years before I fell, in October 2009, I was helping her move on my birthday. While I was carrying boxes, my mom felt guilty and said “I am so sorry that I’m making you help me move on your birthday!” With a half smile, I told her “Mom, this is a great present! I’ll actually come visit you now!” I like to joke that I said “And in a few years I’m gonna have a terrible brain injury where you will have to take care of me, and I will be SO glad that you are in Austin and not Houston!” Obviously I did not really say the last part. I cannot tell the future (although it is very creepy that I wrote “Take Me to a Doctor” BEFORE my brain injury.)
I started my first post with this quote and it is still relevant and bears repeating:
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
-Rose Kennedy (Mother of John F Kennedy, died at age 104)
Excerpt from my first post: It’s About Time
“So it is about time.
It’s about time in the sense that it is now past due for me to begin writing my story. But also, it is about time. This is a story about time and how it is a healer. It is true that time does not take away the wounds, “the wounds remain”, but “covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens.” It is also true that the mind will cover the wound to protect its sanity. So what happens when the wound is inflicted on the mind? Can the mind still protect its sanity? Can the scar tissue withstand when it is in the place where the defense is created?”
It is indeed about time. It has always been, and will continue to be, about time and how I now know that it is more than just a healer. When I began writing my story, one year ago this month, I did not realize what I was embarking on. I only knew that people could have no idea what I had been through if I did not even grasp the extent of it. Not to mention what my friends, my family, and especially my mother had sacrificed and had all been through since my plummet.
Time is almost evasive with brain injury. Time seems to avoid self realization, or at least someone with a brain injury seems to avoid both time AND self realization (or acceptance). It is hard for one to commit to recovery when one does not accept their dependent state; nobody wants to admit dependence on another.
As Rose Kennedy wisely observed, the damage that was done from the physical, emotional, and mental wounds still remains to this day. But my damaged mind somehow found a way to accept its state, learn to heal, and to protect its sanity (though some may say that I was never sane to begin with). The spiritual wounds are healing; the scar tissue withstood; the pain has lessened. But the wound is a piece of me… “It is never gone.”
So what is the reality of my situation? Am I brain damaged? I have damage to my corpus callosum and my cerebellum. Yes, I am brain damaged. Am I slow because of it? Well, I cannot run, so I am slow in that regard. I also talk slower, and I cannot control my left hand very well, so I type slower as well. So yes, I am physically slower. I am okay with being slower because it has forced me to slow down and to think carefully about my actions. I do not rush anymore because I physically cannot. I have used this handicap to find some peace in my abilities by accepting where I was and where I am: not giving up or no longer trying to improve, but accepting each moment and knowing that I cannot change my abilities in THIS moment. My abilities in the future may change, but I cannot change my current reality.
On the one year anniversary of my fall, one year ago, I took my mom, John, my moms best friend in Austin, Kelly, and my cousin Mimi (who got the nickname that I call her, “Lambchop”, tattooed on the back of her neck after I fell) out for dinner.
My mom got a text that read “I know this is the anniversary of your son’s accident, so it’s probably a pretty hard day for you…” My mom told me that when she got that message she thought “What are you talking about? He’s doing great. This is an AWESOME day!”
I have recently begun a Traumatic Brain Injury rehabilitation program in South Austin where I have the privilege of working not only with other brain injury survivors, but counselors and teachers who come in every day to help brain injury survivors to regain some independence and to find peace, acceptance, and the strength to press on past the mental, emotional, circumstantial, and physical challenges that they are faced with.
A lot of doors closed on me in the outcome of this accident, but I feel as if I had too many doors open as it was prior. What I mean is that having so many options made choosing a path a difficult decision for me to make. I realize that having too many choices is a pretty plush problem to have… But, I can see now that, a few doors opened when several slammed shut on me, and choosing a direction with my newly limited choices paved a much clearer path for me.
I plan to study neurology and to contribute to our understanding of the brain, brain injury, brain disease, and brain health. As I have said in an earlier post:
Excerpt from “Little Neuro”
“Neurology is making progress and I would like to contribute to that progress… This toddler, that is neurology, will grow up and we will understand more as time passes. It is an exciting time for neurology and I look forward to my involvement in this field in the future.”
A saying that I have heard a lot since surrounding myself with brain injury is this: “if you have seen one brain injury… You have seen ONE brain injury.” Brains are like fingerprints in the sense that no two brains are the same, and so no two brain injuries are the same. There is precious little known about the brain and there is certainly no cookie cutter approach to brain injury treatment. I am very lucky not only to have woke from my 12 day coma, to have dodged a bullet when I almost suffocated due to a closing airway that the hospital staff was foolishly throwing anti anxiety drugs at, or for my mental state being aware enough to follow instructions; but also for my aunt steering me in a direction to truly get better, for all of the social programs that made my recovery possible, hundreds of other things, and especially for my incredible mother. I know that I am lucky – or fortunate, as my driving instructor says – and I plan to pay my fortune forward so that others get a chance to recover as I did.
If I were to do it over again, would I have stayed home on that fateful day? I cannot really answer that question, but I can look at all of the meaningful things that have happened and how my life has changed forever; and I can choose to see the good things that have happened since that day and I can be thankful rather than bitter. Instead of saying that “this damn brain injury” won’t let me play guitar the way used to, I can say that “this damn brain injury” forced me to realize my mental strength, my abilities, and has been the catalyst of my interest in the brain and brain injury. I have always seemed to have the drive, my direction was not as meaningful to me as what my clear mission now has become. “This damn brain injury” has given me a new and meaningful direction, and I am thankful for that.
“If life deals you a bag of hammers, build something.”
-Michael J Fox