'The Luckiest Day of My Life' by Rod
A day in June of 1991 was the luckiest day of my life. That was the day that I survived an almost certain death. I was working in Wyoming as a railroad trainman for Burlington Northern Railroad, when our train collided with another train. The accident claimed the life of our Engineer, and sent me to the hospital for 40 days with a head injury. Initially there were huge gains in my recovery, and then slower gains. I continued to see improvements, but I would not recover to the extent that would allow me to return to my former occupation on the railroad. I agonized over that loss, and all of the things which I had lost as a result of the accident. It was a grieving process. At the same time I felt very fortunate, because in fact I was very fortunate -- I had survived against million-to-one odds. It was six months after my injury when I first became aware of the Oklahoma City Head Injury Support Group. But I did not decide to attend a meeting until another six months had passed -- I was sure that I wouldn't have anything in common with those people -- I was not like them. That's what I thought. But eventually I did decide to give it a try. At my first meeting I felt very welcomed by the group, and I began to see that these were just regular people like me who happened to share a common bond -- life after head injury. After approximately 2 1/2 years of recovery, it was time to come to grips with the fact that I needed to make a career move, so I became a client of Oklahoma Vocational Rehabilitation. Through my Voc Rehab counselor, I enrolled in a computer programming training program offered by one of the facilities that serves persons with disabilities. This was a one-year program (40 classroom hours per week) designed to train people with disabilities for a new career in computer programming. I received a lot of encouragement and support from my friends at the OKC Head Injury Support Group -- and I would certainly need that support and understanding from those who knew about head injury. It was during my year of Voc Rehab that I learned first-hand about the fact that, unfortunately, there is such a lack of understanding by the public about brain injury. One would think that an organization that serves people with disabilities, whose very reason for existence is assisting people with disabilities, would be very knowledgeable and understanding about people with head injuries. But, in my opinion, that was not the case. Our computer classroom/lab was located in a room adjacent to an extremely noisy contracts area. Throughout our entire day, there was ongoing hammering, sawing, riveting, rolling of heavy metal barrels across concrete flooring, operation of noisy machinery, fork lift operations, sorting of nuts and bolts down long metal chutes, etc. Because of my attention and concentration deficits, I had a very difficult time maintaining my train of thought in such a noisy environment. After I complained and asked that something be done about this problem, I was perceived as a "troublemaker". It was made clear to me that those who were not considered to be "team players" (as defined by those in charge) would have a difficult time. Another glaring example of the lack of sensitivity and understanding of brain injury was when I asked for the reasonable accommodation of being allowed some extra time to take exams, and to be allowed to take them in a quiet area. This request, too, was initially met with a negative response. It took a visit from my Voc Rehab counselor to remind them of their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.). A reasonable accommodation for a disability during test-taking, is something that has been upheld time and time again by complaints under the A.D.A. I graduated from computer programming training at the end of 1994, and got a job working as a programmer at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. After our graduation ceremony, the Executive Vice President of the disability facility came up to me and said that she would like to thank me for "pointing out some things that needed to be seen." I believe and hope that I made a positive difference. I feel strongly that each of us has to be our own advocate and an advocate for our cause, and help pave the way for those who come behind us. Our cause should be the very Mission Statement of the Oklahoma Brain Injury Association: "To facilitate the receipt of services by individuals with brain injury and family members through the provision of education, referral, advocacy, and empowerment programs; to foster prevention of future head injuries through education and legislation; and to advocate for a full range of services within the state." My own experience has convinced me that we have a lot of work ahead of us if we are going to accomplish the goals of our Mission Statement. That is one reason why I feel privileged to have been recently elected to the state Board Of Directors of the Oklahoma Brain Injury Association, and I am happy to be helping with the statewide newsletter. I believe strongly that together we can make a difference! A day in June of 1991 was the luckiest day of my life. On that day I was given a second chance, and I intend to make the most of it. Life after head injury may never be the same . . . but it can still be great!
'Think First' by David P.
It needs to be emphasized that this is only my interpretation and perspective; don't over-generalize this. I don't want to be seen as a bad example or as an invincible super achiever in a white hat. I only want to be a participating and productive member of the community. And my way of contributing is to talk about some of the decisions that I've made and the outcomes. Empowerment is a decision based on an informed choice. I was a field engineer, a surveyor, doing mapping, layout, and design for pipeline and power line companies. My buddies and I had just gotten paid; “king for a day”. I had decided to start celebrating. I had gotten extremely drunk, and didn't buckle my seat belt (no one ever did). I was alone and had a wreck. I spent roughly 3 weeks, along with my 21st birthday (the 4th of July) in a deep coma, and comatose another 3 weeks with a brain injury to the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes. A brain stem contusion; originally being diagnosed as a mid-line lesion with a subdural hematoma, diplopia or double vision (being overlapping images that fluctuate with angle and distance) from swelling of the occipital lobe, and a compound fracture of the right arm, a compression of the T-8, partial T-9, and a T-5 fracture in the mid-back; this later posed interference to the spinal canal. Initially short and long term memory deficits with decreased attention span were a problem; now functionally being the rate of information processing and retrieval. I still have problems writing with my left hand, vision, balance, coordination, swallowing, speech, breathing, and the increased mental fatigue encountered during task completion. It took two years for me to regain power of attorney from an Administrative Law Judge. People do think I'm incompetent after having a brain injury; and I may be...in a court of law; (any lawyers out there?) Rehabilitation lasted from June 19th to September 30th, four hospitals, and two states. I would have been uninsured; but was still covered under my father's insurance. Insurance coverage has been a major problem since then with my past medical history. After sustaining a brain injury I realize that I'm at a much higher risk of encountering another injury. I was single then, now, and never have had the opportunity to get married; this has had the largest impact upon my life, other than the vision and physical effects. I was engaged before this had happened; not long after, the queen of that fantasy left; and most of my friends disappeared. My social life is completely different now; the solitude has turned into isolation; this is only compounded by the increased frustration level resulting from a very preventable accident. It was very important for someone to be there for encouragement during the acute phase, giving me a reason and desire to continue. Most of my family was there assisting me. It was very important to have assistance, while letting me do as much as I could myself; doing with me rather than for me. The rehabilitation process was ongoing with constant changes in limitations and needed adaptations; knowledge of these has always been an enormous benefit to me. Not only is it difficult to accept the reality of not being able to do the things that I once did; but these are all hidden injuries; this has been the hardest part of accepting them. Not only do I talk like Bob Dylan, and sing like Roseanne Barr, but I walk just like most other people...(after they've drunk a fifth of whiskey). For example: I had gone to a local police station to report a stolen wallet, and they mistook my brain injury deficits for intoxication and locked me in jail for public drunk. Awareness, understanding, and inclusion have been a personal concern since then; reducing fears and dislike while increasing the power of unity. I decided to continue my formal education, one year after the wreck. I graduated from Northeastern, left handed and right eyed; went to work for the Army Ammunition plant; became involved with Oklahomans for Independent Living, where I'm now chairman of the board of directors; and recently received a Masters Degree in counseling from East Central University. Little may have changed, physically; except the books I've met and the people I've read, or versa-vice. I can't say that if you always wear safety belts, helmets, and never drink and drive, that this will not happen to you; but, it will reduce the risk. If I'm with someone else, I will lead by example; maybe they will follow; why choose a permanent solution for a temporary problem. Bad things happen to good people; answers are still divided. Five seconds for a safety belt, or a few dollars for a helmet to reduce a risk that can last a lifetime. Next time. I will Think First before I choose!
'Never Give Up!' by Randy B.
I’m a brain injury survivor. In 1980 I was traveling on I-240 in Oklahoma City when a car fell out of the sky, landing through my windshield. Did I mention that I was driving a 1977 Corvette? The fiberglass caved in on my head and I suffered a severe deep subdural-hematoma on the right side of my head. Paralysis set in on my total left side. The Doctors told my parents that if I survived, I’d never walk again. After being a strong athlete in high school and working at a very physical job at the time, I wasn’t going to just give up. It was quite a shock for me finally waking up a month later realizing what had happened. I was unable to walk to the bathroom and take care of myself. It was very hard to just live day to day after a brain injury but as my dad said, YOU CAN’T GIVE UP. The first month I went to physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy every day. Some days I did not know I was there. After realizing what was going on, I wanted to walk so bad. I worked harder than ever for the next few weeks and then stood up on the parallel bars. MY FIRST STEPS UP! It was great! Every day the transporter would wheel me back to my room after PT. One day when I was walking with a walker I slowly made my way back to the room by myself. When I walked through the double doors on my floor the nurses couldn’t believe it. Two and a half months later, I got to go home to stay, only going back for therapy. It just so happened to be Christmas Eve. So, I was sitting there with my family doing our yearly Christmas event. I asked my Mom to stand in the kitchen, I stood up and took my first ten steps to her with no help for her Christmas gift. A person could not go through something like that without GOD. Many prayers were answered for me as I faced the trauma. Every experience will be different. It’s a life changing experience. All you can do is not to Give UP!!!!
'NEW LIFE' by Cathryn L. C
My new life began on 07-01-95, when I was involved in a MVA on I-35 just south of the Main Street exit in Norman, OK. I spent a month at Norman Regional Hospital, 2 days at University Hospital, and 5 months at Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Hospital. I am a survivor of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). My injury was severe, but my recovery was a miracle due to my faith in Jesus Christ. I did not see the difficulties of my injury until I got out into the "real world". Even greater than my daily struggles of dressing myself or remembering my plans for the day, was the daily struggle to maintain the friendships that I cared so much about. It was hard always being the one who had to be picked up because I was unable to drive due to seizures or the only one who could not ride the roller coaster because I had a brain injury. Even my friends would baby me at times by saying "Are you sure you can do this"? I know they were only looking out for me, but it always made me feel like I didn't belong anymore. Another problem I dealt with was with my memory. I have come a long way from rehab. I couldn't even name a fruit when asked by my speech therapist. I look back on that and laugh... because a couple of weeks later she asked me this same question again and after a few minutes of silence I said "kiwi". Kiwi? I had to relearn so much. You learn a lot of compensating when you go through something like this. In the hospital I was wheeled to the chapel where I would pray to God for healing and strength to fight this trial. God was all I had. God was my refuge. One night I went to one of Dennis Jernigan's "Night of Praise" and I began to sob when Matthew Ward sang Psalm 61. David wrote: "O God, listen to my cry! From the ends of the earth I call to you whe my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge under the shelter of your wings." This was like my cry to the Lord. I really feel God let this happen to me. Before my car accident I had become a very wild rebellious child. I did a lot that I so very much regret. The day before my accident I got down on my knees and asked God (who I had not prayed a word to in probably a year) to forgive me for what all I had done to displease Him and to please help me find a way out of this pit I had fallen into. We see that my prayer was answered. My "true heart" was slowly dying to the temptations of this world and I was letting the adversary take control of my heart. It had to come to an end. I have many scars that are a burden that I have to wear to remind me of that pit in which I had dwelled. I endure so much ridicule about my scars. I cannot begin to explain to you how it is to live a life with such scars. The hardest part is when it comes to "guys" and "dating". I plan on being single for quite some time. With Jesus as a guide of living the perfect single life serving His Father, I am learning to deal with it. Anyways, as a really good friend of mine says, "God is the only man I need". This Easter Sunday I heard something that really touched me, loud and clear over the microphone, "JESUS HAD SCARS"!!! He does understand! No wonder he is my refuge and the giver of my peace through this hardship. Then I found out I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and the beginning stages of endometriosis in the fall of 1999. This was an answer to prayers as well, because I had been trying to find out why I had only 3 periods in my whole life. This is harder to deal with because I am more capable of understanding and feeling the syndrome than I was with my TBI. I really feel it is playing games with my "womanhood". Really, Satan is playing games with me and I am not giving in! He will not win me over anymore. Sure his enticements look nice, but I know where that will get me. The fact that my machinery does not function at 100% does not take the "mother" out of me. We all have it and it can't be removed. Motherhood is a gift given to us by our creator. He loves us all, so why would he play favorites with the gift of fertility? When you feel God is holding out on you, you have to ask yourself what you are holding back from Him. God may grant easy ovulations to some so that may serve Him with the gift of motherhood, but then he allows some to have problems ovulating so that they may serve Him by sharing God's love for children who wind up in this world alone and who are in need of two loving hearts and a warm home. God has given us all the maternal qualities- loving, caring, nurturing, disciplining, teaching, motivating, influencing, and encouraging. These do not come from an ovary, they come from God! He gives these qualities to all women for this purpose. When my sister became pregnant with my nephew, God pushed these qualities to the top of my stack. He led me into volunteering for Extended Session ("Diaper Duty") at church and he led me to go through a Biblical Mothering class with my sister. Most importantly, He has led me to be the most godly aunt that ever lived. Who would of thought that a person who may not ever have a child of her own would have a life revolving so much around children? God! His plans are so not known by us. Nothing is impossible with God. I feel God has allowed me to go through these trials and tribulations so that I can be an advocate and a witness to those who are going through what I have went through. I was chosen! I find a lot of comfort by knowing that God wants ME to do this job. I feel the pain and abuse I go through daily is for something and someday it will hopefully be for someone. All I want to do is serve God. I fell into Satan's big trap. Oh, how I regret that, but I don't think I would change any of it.
'It Really Wasn't a Dream' by Trent
When I left for Seattle, WA in Jan 95 for a week-long business meeting with Boeing, I gave no thought to the idea of not returning. It was just another business trip, just like the dozens before. I had turned 29 the previous month. I had been married for a little over 2 years and had a son who had turned a year old at Thanksgiving. I had a good job with the Air Force as Lead Engineer for the Air Launched Cruise Missile. I was in good health. I had no signs of a tumor growing in my brain; no headaches, no blurred vision, no loss of balance, nothing. At the end of the first day of meetings in the Boeing office, just before heading back to the hotel room, then on to dinner, I started seizing. The first medical people to arrive were the Boeing EMT's. They quickly assessed that the situation was not good. A Medivac helicopter was called in to transport me to the hospital. After the helicopter arrived, it could not immediately lift-off because they could not stop me from seizing. At some point, prior to take-off, the EMT's had to resuscitate me. After getting me to a point where they could take-off, I was flown to Harbor View Medical Center. After arriving at the hospital, the doctors quickly ran their tests, looked at the MRI results and diagnosed a tumor the size of a small lime growing in my right temporal lobe. The answer was to remove part of my skull and cut out the tumor. As far as the neurosurgeon was concerned, this was a relatively straight-forward 8 hour procedure. I was blessed to have one of the world's premiere neurosurgeons, Dr David Newell, operating on me. The first thing I remember upon waking in the hospital was believing that I was having the most intense, longest dream of my life. I had so convinced myself it was all a dream that even when my wife and parents were telling me it was not a dream, I believed they were just in my dream telling me it was not a dream. The combination of the trauma to my brain plus the pain and anti-seizure medications left me very confused. I underwent some in-patient rehabilitation while in Seattle. The most important rehab was the memory therapy I received from the Speech Pathologist. My short-term memory was practically non-existent. I would go from one moment to the next forgetting what had just happened to me. I would forget who had come to visit me. I would forget what I had said less than an hour earlier. My Speech Pathologist worked with me to provide compensatory techniques to augment my memory. After only 18 days in the hospital, I was released to the care of my wife, and we flew home. When we got home, physically I was all right, but my memory was still deficient. My HMO was not willing to pay for any memory therapy. The HMO was unconvinced that memory therapy provided any results. After much research by my wife, helped by the Speech Pathologists both in OKC and Seattle, and after a bunch of arguing, the HMO finally agreed to pay for some memory therapy sessions. This therapy provided me with compensatory tools and did help my memory just as the literature said it would. Another area related to my memory deficit was the loss of my pathfinding ability. Before the surgery, I could travel all across the country and not get lost. I could recognize landmarks after passing by only once or twice. For example, when traveling on business, I could follow a map from my hotel out to a location where I had never been before. Then, without looking at the map, I could return to the hotel by just "knowing" the route. I could then come back several months later and remember how to get to the location without using the map. That was before the surgery. A couple of months after the surgery, my wife, her family and I went to eat at a Western Sizzlin'. I went to get something to eat at the salad bar and when I turned to go back to my seat, I was lost. I had no idea where our table was. I just stood there looking for them. I have never been so scared in my life. I felt like a child separated from his parents. I became very anxious; my heart was racing. Luckily, my wife saw me from our table and knew something was wrong because of the way I looked. She stood up and waved to me. The table was not that far away, but until she waved, I had no idea which direction to even begin walking. Even today, I avoid going to the salad bar unless someone else is going. I still do not like to go to the restroom in restaurants because I am afraid I cannot find my way back to the table. About three months after the surgery, I developed an allergic reaction to my anti-seizure medication (Dilantin). I itched all over and it felt as though I had severe arthritis in my joints. I visited my primary care physician, who consulted with a local neurosurgeon and took me off Dilantin cold turkey. My wife questioned this because we had heard that I needed to be weaned from the medication and not just suddenly removed from medication. However, the doctors assured us that with no tumor there would be no seizures. This was both good and bad. Almost immediately after quitting Dilantin, the confusion I was fighting abated. That was the good. The bad was the fact I still had a seizure disorder because of the scar tissue in my brain left by the surgery. I would be going through the day and would have a sudden, funny feeling that would come and go in the blink of an eye. I could describe it only as "that was weird". This was later attributed to "sparking" caused by the scar tissue. Then, prior to my return to work, while I was out at work visiting my friends, I had a full fledge seizure. After this, I was placed on a different anti-seizure medication. I also went through what the majority of traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients go through. At first, I believed that I was more capable than I really was; that I had lost no mental capacity. When I discovered that I was not as capable as I believed, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. I believed that I was less capable than I truly was. During this time, I received some counseling for depression resulting from my loss of self-esteem. It was also during this time, that my wife and I attended our first support group meeting. The support group really helped. It was helpful knowing that others had and were still living with the after-effects of a traumatic brain injury. It was helpful knowing that there could be a good life with a TBI. In addition, the education my wife and I received from the professionals who volunteered their personal time was invaluable. Because I spent so little time in the hospital, where the primary focus had been on getting me well physically and assessing my mental condition rather than performing long-term rehab, and with no help from my HMO, the support group was where my wife and I learned the most about the effects of a traumatic brain injury. About four months after the surgery, I slowly started back to work by working a couple of half days a week, moving to a couple of full days a week, then adding a day a week until about six months after the surgery, when I was back to full time. By then I was back to traveling on business as if nothing had ever happened. In October 95, I had another seizure. This was very disappointing because I was looking forward to being able to drive again in January. The loss of my driving privileges had been one of the toughest things. It was hard on my wife because she was having to do all the driving and I could no longer run out to get something from the store or to eat. It was also hard on me because I had to swallow my pride and be dependent on others for a ride to work, to go out to eat for lunch or to go to the doctor. After waiting another year, my driving privileges were returned to me. It is like being 16 all over again and getting a driver's license for the first time! People who did not know me before the surgery probably do not know I am struggling with a TBI. I have no visual indications of suffering a TBI. Also, I have learned to hide my deficits. I tend to hang back and follow people instead of admitting I do not know which way to go. I talk in generalities when I have forgotten the specifics and hope that others will fill in the blanks. These are just a couple of examples of how I cover my deficits. People who knew me before the surgery notice my deficits. My deficits, especially in pathfinding, have become a joke at work. I was the one who started the jokes as a defense mechanism. It was easier to poke fun at myself and laugh with others than to be embarrassed when I could not find my way back to my desk from the restroom. Even as I laughed with the others, I was still hurting. I was a grown man who could not find my desk, the restroom, or the copier and fax machine which were right around the corner. I was a grown man who would have someone give me instructions then turn right around and forget everything that was said to me. It was very embarrassing. This is an ongoing struggle which I face on a daily basis. The feelings of embarrassment have been a self-inflicted punishment. My co-workers couldn't care less about my pathfinding deficits. They were happy just to have me back at work even if I could not find my desk. Today, despite my deficits, I have all the responsibilities at work as I had before the surgery. I am grateful to my boss and my boss's boss. Both, but especially my immediate boss, showed confidence in me when I returned to work after the surgery. My boss allowed me to return to work at my pace. He allowed me to fail without retribution and learn from my mistakes, as I discovered my true mental capacity and as I experimented with varying compensatory tools. Even now, I am not completely back to my pre-surgery self. I now have to take many more notes than before the surgery. I have to be reminded to do things more often now than before the surgery. I cannot "multi-task". That is, I cannot do different tasks at the same time, such as talk on the phone and type a letter at the same time. Before the surgery, I could do more than one task at the same time. Now, I have to focus on a single task and finish it before starting another. On the personal side, I have continued on with my life. Since returning from Seattle, my wife and I have traveled to Arkansas, California, Colorado and Texas for vacations. We now teach a 12th grade Sunday School class. In Oct 96, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. We have come to accept my deficits as just being a part of me. We have not, and do not, let the chance of tumor re-growth dominate our lives. We have lots of living yet to do. If you had asked me before the surgery about the odds of surviving a brain tumor, I would have replied zero. There was no way the words "tumor", "brain", and "still alive" could be said in the same sentence. I now know that medical advances have not only allowed for survival from a brain tumor but have also provided for a good quality of life after a TBI. The efforts of the Brain Injury Association of Oklahoma have gone a long way in improving the quality of life for survivors of a TBI. My wife and I attended the 1997 Winter Symposium and medical conference hosted by the Brain Injury Association of Oklahoma. We were impressed to see the number of professionals coming together and sharing information about head injuries in order to better serve TBI survivors and their families. At the symposium, I got to see, for the first time since leaving the hospital, the neurosurgeon who performed my surgery. I had been back to Seattle a number of times on business since leaving the hospital, but had not been able to meet with Dr Newell. When my wife and I saw that Dr Newell was one of the lecturers for the symposium, we knew we had to attend. I had been wanting to see him in order to thank him and let him know that I was enjoying a good life because of his surgical abilities. When we finally got the chance to talk to him, it was a great feeling to see again the man who had saved my life.
'Does Recovery Ever End?' by Gary and Elaine
We used to think recovery was a more tangible object with a beginning and an end. Our way of thinking has been changed. GARY: Seventeen years ago I had a brain hemorrhage. It was an AVM (Artery Vein Malformation) which was removed via two brain surgeries. The physical aspect of my recovery went well, all things considered. ELAINE: I remember receiving the "dreaded phone call" at lunchtime. My mind went blank and my body went numb. The doctors initially said there was nothing they could do for Gary--that he was on his own. These were not the words I wanted to hear. Two and a half months passed from the time of Gary's hemorrhage to his release from the hospital after his surgeries. Not only had my emotions been taxed, but so had our finances. When I left the hospital with Gary, it was finally over and things would return to normal. In essence, it was only the beginning. GARY: After the first surgery, I was paralyzed on my left side. Following two weeks of intense physical therapy I was able to walk with a limp, using a cane. They did another angiogram and it indicated the necessity for a second surgery. I was physically OK after that one; however, later tests indicated some visual field loss. I was released from the hospital in Canada, where the surgeries took place, and we all went home. The six week stay certainly granted me life, but substantially altered it as well. ELAINE: The neurosurgeon checked Gary's incision to make sure it was healing properly and was very pleased that the AVM had been successfully removed. Gary was physically fit as a fiddle. The doctor couldn't understand why we both weren't as optimistic as he was, and instead complained at each visit about seeing something different. Eventually he recommended that we see a neuropsychologist. This doctor was the first one to acknowledge the memory deficit Gary had received as a result of the hemorrhage and surgeries. We saw him and felt that our prayers were answered. GARY: My wife explained how I literally got lost in our own home and was afraid to go anywhere for fear of losing my way. Also how I would simply forget every thought from one moment to the next. The combination of home study exercise and six months of sessions, one to two per week, helped immensely. My recovery, though, went only to a point and hit a brick wall. My wife and I grew to be masters on how to cover-up our problems. We thought life was to be the same as before--nobody told us otherwise. ELAINE: All our personal affairs were up to me now. Gary offered little support in our finances, housekeeping, or socializing. Gary didn't want to be around anyone, and our friends weren't sure what to say or do around him. I felt myself close down. Fights weren't finished as Gary would forget what we were fighting about and I simply didn't have enough energy to bring it back up and still continue on with all of the family responsibilities. All of my efforts went in to trying to minimize the mounting frustrations Gary kept experiencing on a daily basis. GARY: A futile attempt at college, frequent job hopping, relocating several times, and the birth of two children occurred over the next seven years. Shortly after my second child's birth, which was two years after the first one was born, I plummeted into a deep depression with strong suicidal thoughts. I went back to the neuro-psychologist very confused and embarrassed. I thought I was cured and felt to be a failure because I just couldn't cope with life's obstacles. The visits with him lasted for about two months and another aspect of my recovery began to take place. He explained that a natural human response to a very personal loss (i.e., memory and some brain function) was the grieving process. I wasn't aware of the mental calm and cleansing this process resulted in. Consequently, I cried all the way home since I was alone in my car, and found several other opportunities afterwards to do so as well. Was my recovery now complete? No, it's just that we were able to overlook it for another ten years. Now we find ourselves visiting with a neuropsychologist again. The memory problems seem to manifest themselves as different levels and intensities. So seventeen years later, we find ourselves reminded that head injury is an issue that has to be continuously dealt with in order to cope and achieve piece of mind. An important aspect of recovery is to realize that families also have issues to deal with. This is the first time my wife has ever been in on the sessions with the neuropsychologist as more than just an observer or one to fill in the blanks. This time her recovery can really begin too. Each day my wife, family and I learn a little more about how to effectively live with head injury. Our recovery is a continuous evolution of change and adaptation with the ever-present tug to slip into the denial mode of expecting life to be as it used to be. However, we have found that with time, life after head injury is great!
'Benefits from a Brain Injury Support Group' by Breneé
As life continued after experiencing a brain injury it was filled with challenges. These challenges were not only physical and cognitive, but emotional as well. It seemed I was destined to live a life of frustration because there was not a family member or friend that really understood what I was experiencing. Years passed on, my family and friends listened to stories of the challenges and frustrations that filled my life. However, as their faces saddened and they looked away, it was obvious they did not know how to relate to or understand me. Often the words they offered seemed unrealistic or uncaring. Those significant to me seemed focused on finding ways to get me back to the way I used to be before the brain injury. Many times I was told solutions to my deficits were possible if I just tried hard enough or if I quit dwelling on the problems life now presented. There were times my significant others seemed so focused on finding solutions they tended to ignore my efforts to adapt with compensatory techniques. Although I was pleased that I had found ways to do some tasks and activities I had before the brain injury, their desires made it difficult to find satisfaction with compensatory techniques I had developed. Trying to overcome life's challenges seemed an endless uphill struggle. Relationships with significant others seemed strained by the absence of shared experiences and challenges. The significant others continued to spend time with me, yet, I began to feel rejected or alienated. The love, considerations, and concerns expressed by significant others were appreciated, but I continued to feel alone and isolated. Depression and decreased motivation developed without the companionship of others who could understand and relate to life's challenges and frustrations. Counseling helped lessen the desire to give up on life. However, several years after the accident, an unplanned event lead me to discover the OKC Support Group for Head Injury Survivors. Discovering others who were experiencing challenges and using adaptive techniques similar to mine was uplifting and motivating. Suddenly I was not alone in the world, there were others like me! In 1993, I read an article written by Sharan L. Schwartzberg, an occupational therapist. She had conducted a study to discover the benefits provided by head injury support groups. Upon the completion of her research, she reported that head injury support groups provide opportunities for the fulfillment of the following needs: Telling one's own story and listening to others can help confirm that life's challenges are genuine and legitimate after a head injury. Head injury survivors often seek to develop compensatory techniques that allow them to appear free of disabilities. Often feelings of being different and inadequate develop if the survivor is unable to create or maintain a successful "disguise." Discovering a group of individuals with similar experiences can often help the survivor with accepting limitations & disabilities. Acceptance of deficits can allow one's focus to become directed toward developing and expanding remaining abilities, thus, creating opportunities for self-actualization or satisfaction with life. At times a group of survivors may become somber as a member expresses anger, frustration, or disappointment about experiences. Laughter may replace the frustration when other group members share similar situations & mishaps. Therefore, grieving & laughing about daily situations with others, who can relate, offers a stress relief. Many head injury survivors use a great deal of energy making attempts to hide deficits. Using compensatory techniques may be accompanied by a fear of failure or feelings of imperfection. Recognition of others making similar efforts may allow feelings of normality, comfort, and acceptance to replace the survivor's fears. Thus, being accepted by others with similar deficits can provide a recess from hiding one's disabilities. Each group member seems to understand the frustration and amount of energy used as one works to develop acceptance of limitations and compensatory strategies. This understanding and support can provide hope and encouragement as a survivor strives to develop satisfaction with life. The support from the group seems to promote the survival of the survivor. The reality of challenges faced by head injury survivors is often reinforced as the group members give, receive, and discuss practical solutions to problems. Frequently another member of the group who has struggled with a similar situation can offer alternate solutions. Although one member's solution may not work for another member, it may stimulate the investigation of other methods that had not been considered. Head injury survivors live in a world filled with those who have not experienced brain injuries. Sharing experiences creates opportunities for members to realize there are others with similar challenges. By listening to others with similar deficits and with the guidance from professional facilitators, survivors can distinguish problems that result from a brain injury from those that would exist without a brain injury. This ability may allow the survivor to feel more comfortable when dealing with a world filled with individuals who have not experienced a head injury. Many individuals have asked what benefits can be obtained from a head injury support group. When I read Ms. Schwartzberg's article, I felt she had provided a realistic summary of the many benefits and experiences available through head injury support groups. I hope this article will help us promote the Brain Injury Association and allow us to obtain more support from those without brain injuries. Reference: Schwartzberg, S. L. (1994). Helping factors in a peer-developed group for persons with head injury, part 1: participant observer perspective. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 48(4), pp. 297-304.