Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The end for now

Until my next book comes out, until I am done with publisher negotiations, I will be putting no content on this blog. Thank you for understanding, and I hope to be back at it in around four months.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Glory days and TBI

Everybody brags about their youth, but in the end it is hollow self -congratulation. Nobody is going to like you based solely on who you were. You certainly know you're not going to improve your self-image by focusing on who you were before your accident, why would anyone else?
And yet this is one of the most common themes when talking to a person with a brain injury. I've done it myself. I talk about how high my IQ was before my accident, I talk about lettering in football, I talk about how popular I was, but it doesn't impress anyone. All it does is show that I'm not comfortable with who I am now.
Nobody has a good memory except for someone who subsequently receives a brain injury. In twenty years I've never met anyone who has a good memory. I have met many people who had excellent memories, but then they became brain injured. These people will tell me how amazing their memory was before their accident. They will tell me it was legendary and that zoo keepers would ask them to leave the zoo because they were even making the elephants feel inadequate about their memories in comparison.;-) What these people are really saying is that it feels like they lost a huge amount of their ability to remember. That is certainly true for me.
It is hard for anyone to accept what they've lost as they get older. That's like with brain injury, except that brain injury happens in an instant. How can we feel any way but inadequate? We can't. We can't until we start building and growing, being and doing, with our brain injuries. Brain injury leaves us with a new identity. I could write that it gives us a new identity, but that implies a gift, and gift is a loaded word. It took me twenty-five years to get to where I was at the time I got a brain injury, it's going to take even longer for me to recover. Also, and this is something I didn't count on when I was starting my long road back, I'm getting older. I'm almost fifty now, no matter how hard I work at it, I'm never going to be like I was the day before my accident.

Friday, December 3, 2010



            My friend Carlos had a period during his adolescence when he didn’t have much to do. You know that age, to old for all the stuff you used to do, but not old enough to do all the things you wanted to do. Well, he came across a whole pile of rubber bands, an almost limitless supply. So he rolled one into a little ball and then he grabbed another one and wrapped it around the first one. That was so much fun and so rewarding that he selected one more rubber band and repeated the process. He did this whenever he had some spare time and wasn’t going anywhere for awhile. By the end of the summer he had a rubber band ball about the size of a basketball. He called his creation “Boredom.” Boredom became an institution to us. We took it wherever we went. That was over thirty years ago, the last place I remember boredom was at college, in the Student Governing Board offices, where it was our constant companion.
            Even before I had left the hospital boredom had found me again. In my opinion, one of the hardest things about brain injury is the boredom. Everyone finds being infirm to be boring, but brain injury last forever! If not forever, for an uncomfortably long time. Everyone with brain injury has memory problems, but everyone can still remember how much fun they used to have and how interesting their life was before their brain injury.
            It’s like the football player who is injured and told he will never play football again, except you were playing life and now it appears you will never play life again. What do you tell those well-meaning people who want to give you a kind word of support when they ask what’s wrong? Do you look at them straight on and say, “I’m bored.” In the work-a-day world where people are longing for some peace and quiet how do you convey the utter futility of your predicament? It’s like your waiting to get better, but that’s years away if even then.
            I do remember the first year after my accident, not in detail, but in general. I remember how bored I was. I still get bored, I think I will spend my life running from boredom. The difference between now and then is that now I’m not bored all the time. I have discovered a secret. The opposite of boredom is purpose. If you find a purpose to your life you will have a way to alleviate boredom. Purpose fills each day with opportunity and each moment with wonder. I actually find myself lamenting that there aren’t enough hours in the day!
            The tough part is actually finding a purpose. In my experience it is rarely found by sitting back and wondering what it might be, wishing upon a star. Usually, people are going through their life and this purpose just bites them on the nose. This isn’t much solace for those who are bored now, so what can a person do?
            I would look at volunteer opportunities. This is not to say that this is the best way to find your passion and purpose in life, but it does give you something to do until you find your place in the world.
            Remember to look inward. Before I was of much use to anyone I spent time improving myself. “Invest in yourself first” a sage once told me. That is my mantra now, whenever I talk about brain injury to survivors I talk about ways that I found to improve myself after my accident, many of these techniques I will write about, but everyone is different and we all must chart our own course.

My Traumatic Brain Injury

On January 26th 1989 I was on my way home from work and I pulled out in front of a semi-truck and that was my accident. I had only one serious injury, a traumatic brain injury. No broken bones or massive tissue damage, but my TBI was serious. It was ten days before I started drifting out of my coma and eight weeks before I was able to leave the hospital. Six months later I got married and returned to work. Like most people with a brain injury as serious as mine I had to relearn how to walk and talk, read and write, tie my shoes, everything. My recovery, like all brain injury recoveries, was slow, hard, and at times, all but hopeless.

If you are thinking that for a writer I'm not being very colorful, that's because no matter what I write about my hospitalization and early recovery, it is not going to be that different from what anyone who has been through it would say. There are many accounts that are published about one person or another's brain injury accident and recovery. Some of these are very good, but few are sustantially different from my own experience.

About ten years after my accident I submitted a little essay on what brain injury was like for me to the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota to put in their newsletter. It was so well received that they asked for another and soon they gave me a column of my own in the paper and that was how it all began. At first I thought that after my first couple of articles I would have nothing more to write about. eventually I found that I could always find something to write about and I have written over a hundred essays about all aspects of brain injury.

I published my first book, a collection of my most popular essays, in 2003. I will put a link up for it to Amazon.com as soon as I figure out how to do that. Sometime in 2011 I intend to publish another book of essays, but these will be accompanied by notes for clinicians as well as guidelines for people with a brain injury as to how to use the essays in their own recovery. I am very lucky to have Dr. Robert Karol, a prominent Neuropsychologist and author co-writing this book with me.

I am new to this blogging thing and I want to try it out. My intention at this point is to post some of my essays and then we will see how it goes from there.