“Welcome to the World of Traumatic Brain Injury” by Jennifer White

“TBI HOPE AND INSPIRATION MAGAZINE, 2/16 (ONLY PARTIAL BECAUSE MY COMPUTER AND I CAN’T SEEM TO GET SOME THINGS RIGHT)

Welcome to the World of Traumatic Brain Injury

By Jennifer White

As a little girl, I played with dolls and dressed them like a mother would. I would also carefully pick out a few other dolls and called them the mother’s children. I dressed the mother and her children how I thought a mother and children should look and, oh yeah –I added a puppy in the mix that I named Hershey!

As long as I can remember, I always wanted children. I dreamed of how I would dress them, where I would take them, and the hobbies I would encourage. Then, on July 28, 2000 the dream of having a child changed for both my husband and I, after I had a massive stroke, brain surgery, and a comprehensive stay in rehabilitation where I had to relearn all the rudimentary skills I learned as a child…how to walk, talk, swallow, eat, make a bed, boil water, and push things forward. In rehab, I learned how to push my own wheelchair forward, walk with the aid of a walker, nourish my frail and stick-like body with food that I struggled to eat,and perform light housework. I went from being a VP for a top nonprofit fundraising company to a permanently disabled person.

(WOMEN SHOULD NOT WORK OUTSIDE THE HOME) After the stroke, I learned to live in the world of the disabled. While you are waking up,having your first cup of coffee and remembering the things you might have forgotten over your holiday break, there is a disabled person with a traumatic brain injury who is nursing a sleep hangover, putting on his/her adaptive equipment, and trying to remember what goes first: breakfast or lunch, shoes or socks, shampoo or conditioner. While you are driving to work, a disabled person is struggling to hold his/her child without dropping the baby. Please don’t forget that there are people in the world that are not like you (EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE “LIKE YOU”): someone who might need a hand tying their shoes or just hearing the word “hello”.

Before I had an acquired brain injury (ABI), I did not understand what brain damage was like. After the brain injury I was challenged with getting dressed in the morning without falling, walking without veering to the right or left (MORE THAN 50 YEARS AFTER MY TBI, 40 DAY COMA, COMPLETE PARALYSIS…, I CANT WALK -WITH OR WITHOUT MY BRACES ON- WITHOUT DOING SO. BUT I RIDE MY BICYCLE 25-30 MILES A DAY WITH NO PROBLEMS) when my destination was straight ahead and learning that my future was in big part not completely up to me anymore. I had to let go of some of the control I so passionately struggled to get before my ABI.

Most importantly, I had to let people help me. Once thinking that asking for help was weakness, I now believe that there are people in my life that want to help me and now I let them. It feels much better to have allies  in life than going it alone. After the brain injury, I lost my mother to cancer after losing my father to the same disease only a few years prior. My world was rocked and I lost the last of two very important people in my life. I am thankful every day that I have my husband to help me through this very difficult time. I was recently diagnosed with asthma, a relatively minor lung condition that had gone undiagnosed (sic) for years. I was sad that I could not call my mother and tell her how bad I felt or how scared I was before it was diagnosed. But I did have my husband who I rely on to support me when I am sick and well. I learned after the brain injury that it is okay to rely on people and is actually pivotal to healing.

Whether it is a friend, a family member, a relative, the clergy, a physician, or someone else. Let them in, let them help you. Life is unpredictable. I never thought when I was young that I would be on Medicare at age 37 and on long term disability at 37 years old…never experience motherhood, never be a grandmother…never see my children graduate from college, get married, have their own children. It is now my reality and a reality that I have had to accept over the last 15 years. It stings! It burns! But, I am still thankful I did not  die when I was given a 4% chance of living. I have gained new skills (IT IS A DAILY CHORE TO LEARN THE NEW ONES THAT COME TO US UNBIDDEN) and have learned to appreciate things I once never noticed, and I love people more than I ever showed before the acquired brain injury.

Jennifer White is a traumatic brain injury survivor from St. Louis,Missouri. When she’s not writing about her life as a survivor, she enjoys spending time with her family and of course, quilting.

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