5 steps forward, 2 back, 3 forward, 1 back, where the heck am I?
It's always darkest before the dawn...
This blog has always been about my riding which is such a huge part of my life. However, dealing with a traumatic brain injury has taken center stage for so much since PBP that I scarcely feel like I see myself in the mirror. Many people say they have had concussions and healed but the details of how that process works are so hard to describe. And every head injury is completely different with all sorts of different impacts. The one thing I'm thinking all have in common: it's a long, hard road.
When I was first injured, no one could give me a good idea of how long it would take to heal. 3-12 months, 6-24 months, a few weeks, never - all were either mentioned or at least considered. To make matters worse, TBI is frequently known as an invisible injury; if someone snaps their leg in half, everyone understands and doesn't expect them to run up the stairs. Injure your brain and people just don't quite understand that being in a fully lit room or in a room with 5 people talking is just as difficult as doing the stair master with a trashed knee. Even worse, the victim of TBI is often incapable of perceiving their own symptoms! Symptoms can come and go with fatigue for a long time; it's a rollercoaster ride after a 32 oz sour milkshake.
Significant depression frequently follows in the wake of a brain injury. My first venture back onto a bike back in November was almost immediately interrupted by a woman running a stop sign and causing me to crash. The PTSD effect was considerable and the next day, I had my first partial seizure at work. For those that haven't had them, they can be marked by all sorts of bizarre behavior, shaking, tongue biting, and hyperventilation along with forgetting how to speak and an INCREDIBLE headache. Mine was no different - bizarre doesn't BEGIN to explain what it is like to have one. The rest of November was a dark, horrible resurgence of all the symptoms and the stress on me and everyone around me was intense.
At this point, I switched doctors and went to the Comprehensive Brain Rehabilitation Program at the Mayo Clinic. They did several things immediately, First, the double vision associated with the TBI was NOT going away and I saw a neuro-opthalmologist who specialized in treating vision difficulty with TBI. I found out that I have both convergence and divergence insufficiency - my eyes just can't move together right. He prescribed new glasses with prisms in them to correct the blurry, doubled images that my already stressed out brain had been trying to negotiate for months. I have different glasses for near and far, but by the beginning of December, my vision was finally clear. The second thing they did was send me to a neuro-psychologist who ordered a barrage of neuro-psychiatric testing. These tests last for hours and are designed to measure cognition and evaluate damage to everything in the brain from perception to memory to processing. He also evaluated the emotional impact of the injury and how it was effecting my life. Healing this injury would not be a sprint, it was a marathon of epic proportions and I was stuck in going in circles somewhere in the middle. Finally, the vocational coordinator helped me go over how to deal with workplace issues and how to deal with a return. Reintroduction is a very difficult endeavor - how would I do that?
By mid December, enough symptoms had lifted that I could not only speak clearly again, but I could start considering where I was and what I was doing. Clearly, what I had been doing was not working at all and I had decisions to make. What did I want my life to really be like? The testing came back very positive, though there are some things that are shifted, I still have the same memory and cognition that I did before and the degree of damage elsewhere was far less than it could have been: I will recover fully given time and a correct approach with moderation. Though it really had felt like it, this had not been the end of the world.
After much apprehension, I decided to go see Lisa in San Diego. I hadn't seen her since France and I suspect we both had some unfinished business. We walked for many miles on the beach and watched the sun set. I always considered her a great riding partner, but I think I finally saw a different side of her without a bicycle or sleep deprivation or miles and miles of road; I saw her as a friend just as fallible and fragile as I am (who can also count playing cards faster than anyone else I have met). There are people well worth knowing in the world - she is one of them.
In the end, I came back from San Diego with the calmest mind I had had in a long time. The path before me was very clear. There was no way my brain could heal completely where I was: the job had to go. There are some things that we know instinctively and the time had come. And just like clockwork, a new position in a new company far more suited to both me and my personality simply emerged from nowhere with the same pay and all the same benefits as my previous one. A place full of happy people excited by what they were doing. I am thrilled beyond belief to be going to a new place with new people and new challenges - the very thought makes me feel as though lights are coming on, some of which I suspect had dimmed even before the accident. I'm excited by the prospects of life in general - I spent Christmas in Arizona and am happily back on my bike again once more, a healing and hopefully wiser person.
My emotions and feelings are quite different about many things; I tend to pay far greater attention to things close by and the small touches of color that are painted in the world around me, but I am in many ways less tolerant that I used to be. I've always said that we are the sum of our experiences. This one was breathtaking in magnitude, so many have had it so much worse, but it also doesn't change the fact that I'll never be exactly the same person as I was. As a high-functioning person, the temporary loss of abilities was humiliating, humbling and horrible. The fear that they would never come back was even greater when faced with the unpleasantness of work and the realization of how botched my first return to work had been by my original doctor who failed to follow up and communicate accommodations that should have been mandatory, the people I had trusted who were uninformed about what to do, myself who was brain injured and wasn't always aware of what was going on, and the unscrupulous who don't bear mentioning. More intensive speech therapy and the correction of my vision in the last 7 weeks have had a huge impact as has the decision to leave a stressful job. I feel free at last. I'm on the healing path as a stronger and, hopefully, happier person.