Being a TBI Survivor is a mixed bag. On the one hand, hey, you survived. You are more than just a memory.
On the other hand, life as you knew it is likely over. This poses an unimaginably large issue for the majority of survivors, I'm sure. It did for me. I coped by denying that the injury was real (I maintained it was all a dream), then by making silly little "magical deals" with myself ("If I can do this before that happens, then I will recover all that I have lost...")
It wasn't until fully two years after my injury that acceptance settled down around my shoulders like an unwanted mantle. My family (Mom, me, two sibs) were moving from TX to WA, towing our VW Rabbit behind our Chevy Suburban. Somehow the topic of my injury and my recovery from my injury came up, and my mom said, "You know that there's a chance that you'll never get any better than you are now."
That hit me like a ton of bricks, and I cried. It wasn't the first time I had cried after my TBI, but it was the first time I had had to confront that the upward trajectory I had ridden after surviving what was a whisper-thin margin between life and death might have plateaued. Thus began my slow journey toward acceptance.
It was slow going, indeed. First, I had to accept the reality of the situation. Next, I had to accept the fact that my new reality was not going to go away. Finally, I had to begin the more arduous trek toward accepting myself as I was and not comparing myself to an idealized memory of how I had been, or what I had planned on becoming. (a little note here: I saw a neuropsychologist about 10 years ago who diagnosed me with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, based on what he saw as my love affair with my old self. I liked the guy, but, in retrospect, he was full of shit!)
I find myself today having grown more (not totally) comfortable inside my own skin. I have limitations, and when I bump up against those, I do not retreat to that insidious comparison, "I would never have done that before my injury." What's more, I realize that acceptance is not the end goal; rather, it is a stop along the way. You see, we survivors of traumatic brain-injury evolve through the life cycle, just like anyone else. Being hung up on being somehow "less" than I used to be slowed me down, and acceptance got me out of the slow lane.
What next? Having come to grips with New Me, I had to take ownership of my life. I find myself with a lot of cognitive capacity for a survivor of moderate to severe TBI, and equipped with a host of unique circumstances. It's time to double down, assess my Now and Plan for my Future. I have as much ability to shape my outcomes as anyone else. . ...I may need a little assistance in getting there, but life has offered me a gift or two to tide me over along the way!
At 16, when I suffered my injury, I was as cocksure and ignorant of anything more than 10 minutes in the future as any other American teen. I was girl-crazy and had the social skills of the average 16-year-old boy (that is, not much!). As you might expect, I didn't empathize much with others, and that, I feel, was pretty typical of a young man my age. Today, though, I have a strong sense of the thin margin that separates those who succeed in life and those who "don't" (quotes used because success is defined by society and lacks empirical validity!).
This was to prove the foundation toward the next stage of my journey: empowerment. I have completed two years of service as a Volunteer in Service to America, the older sister program to AmeriCorps. During those two years, I worked to empower marginalized middle school youth and to bring community members in to a low-income preschool to mentor at-risk preschool youth. Along the way, I discovered inner resources I didn't know I have and found that I have a knack for connecting people in need with potential solutions to the problems that beset them.
Today, I am midway through a Masters in Social Work. The road has been rocky, but I have prevailed, finding a way to stay in the program, even when the odds were long. I am finding, too, that this forum and the networking it offers with people who have been where I've been and have shared similar experiences offers strength and empowerment.
I would love it if you could reply to this with your own tale of the journey along the continuum from acceptance to empowerment.