“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.”
“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”
-Laurell K. Hamilton
I wrote Chapter 7, “The Outsider,” with intense emotion. Recovery is a long, grueling, and lonely road. Looking at what I had been through, getting whatever parts of my life back is dearer than winning an Olympic gold medal. In fact, to get to where I am today would have been to win a medal decathlon while setting world records at each of the 10 events itself.
But at least Olympic medalists have his or her moment of fame and glory. What did I get? As an unfortunate nobody, perhaps people will look at me and say, “Oh well, this is your own fault you became this way?” or, “Oh, you poor thing.” Well, I have never dared to ask people for anything or talk about myself. I may not like the sympathies a person has to offer and I most definitely cannot withhold the derision that might be readily given.
What I realize, in my journey to recovery could be attributed to my relative unimportance and that people have the least bit of a clue with TBI’s. Former multiple Formula 1® world champion Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident should still be fresh in your mind. It was an unfortunate accident for him and he was injured while protecting his child from danger. People remain interested enough to ask about him and his recovery. Even the recently deceased heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali was well remembered despite his continual deterioration from Parkinson’s disease.
But no one batted an eyelash about me and my, “kind.” It is not hard to see why, like most of us, handicapped in our own ways, we are neither important nor influential. Just ask yourself, if you were the CEO of some nutritional foods company, would you rather have Serena Williams endorser your product or Trischa Zorn or Erin Popovich? I probably do not have to say much about Ms. Williams but I might need to tell you who the latter two ladies. Ms. Zorn was born blind but that had not stopped her from doing anything. Between 1980 and 2004, this woman won an unprecedented 46 Paralympic medals in swimming; 32 which were gold (http://www.totalprosports.com/2012/08/28/the-13-greatest-paralympic-athletes-of-all-time/#14). For Ms. Popovich, she was born with achondroplasia, one of the common causes of Dwarfism. She has won a whopping 14 golds and five silvers since the 2000 games, and she will probably win more (http://www.totalprosports.com/2012/08/28/the-13-greatest-paralympic-athletes-of-all-time/#14). Why is there a difference?
Look at Facebook or Twitter and the inspirational posts on it. On what basis did these individuals use to dispense advice? Just maybe, these people have had some hardships (e.g., poverty, high suicide rate, or alcoholism and drug addiction) that are more prevalent for my kind. Why does that person think this is being creative? How can that person be sure that the, “inspirational quote,” post on a social networking site will have meaning or reverence? Many of them might not have the minute idea of hard work or how he or she takes things for granted.
Pardon me if I sound bitchy but care, concern, respect, and sympathies might have been provided excessively by the right givers but to the wrong recipients. Why are our efforts at trying to normalize our lives ignored by society at large? Did we do too little? Why are we seen as second or third or even fourth class people, not worthy to inhale the oxygen in the same atmosphere as you? Do we not all bleed red?
If I got you angry by now, I am sorry. If I had turned you off, I apologize too, particularly if I had tugged at the guilt chain. But if I have not even managed to make you even think about the unfairness from my eyes, then I have failed and should live in a cave for the rest of my life.
I hate to say this but I must be on honest and draw some comparisons to other sample sizes to give an overall appreciation for us handicapped individuals. The news, for example, on transgendered men and women. The Boy Scouts of America says it will begin accepting members based on their gender identity, opening the door for transgender boys to join (http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/30/us/boy-scouts-transgender-membership/) to a New York toymaker will sell the first transgender doll based on a transgendered teen (http://www.breitbart.com/big-hollywood/2017/02/13/new-york-toymaker-sell-first-transgender-doll-based-transgender-teen/). If I have not even started to get the gears turning in your head, maybe this one will, let us say we have a transgendered young adult who is mentally unstable. The person gets excited or aroused with viewing little boys or girls in his or her appropriate bathroom. How can a loving parent be all right with these actions? According to a study published in 2014 from the Williams Institute, estimates that there are approximately 1.4 million transgendered individuals. Considering the whole population that is 0.6 percent of the United States (http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/How-Many-Adults-Identify-as-Transgender-in-the-United-States.pdf). To bring it back around to TBI we see just in 2010, about 2.5 million emergency department visits, hospitalizations, or deaths were associated with TBI either alone or in combination with other injuries in the United States (https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html).
I cannot flog the dead horse enough but I need to find my balance. I need to regain my self-worth. I need to feel whole again. And all that is integral to recovery. But where am I to find this? Are there other TBI survivors that are a celebrity? Do we have an ideal person to aspire to be like in life? Us, TBI survivors, barely have our shirts on our backs to keep us sane even then we need to be under constant scrutiny from the ones who we love.
Why am I not asked for an autograph by a person? Why am I not welcomed wholeheartedly by other individuals? Why do I have principals, superintendents, and some teachers asking for my help in giving students in inclusive education? Why do I not have parents coming up to say, “I hope my child has the resilience, determination, and strength similar to you Chad.” Why am I the one whom is supposed to change in life? Why am I not given the respect that I so rightfully deserve from people? All these questions are constantly being asked everyday in my head.
Of course, a person cannot understand what it feels like to have a TBI. No person can truly comprehend what it feels like to have a brain injury not even someone who has a TBI! Every brain, let alone every brain injury, has so many profound and totally different effects on every individual that understanding let alone appreciating the magnitude of the injury would be a never ending task to come to some sort of respect. In other words, because every brain is not the same that means every brain injury has its own distinct effects.
Looking back in a previous chapter that my brother wrote, you see that he has no idea of what I go through everyday. Yes I was appreciative and grateful for the six months after my accident can be common for anyone, but then to say, “You expect more of me,” is absolutely ignorant.
If a person looks up to individuals because of his or her uniqueness then why am I not glorified the same way? I am the only person in the entire WORLD with my unique symptoms. Like I stated earlier chapters, every brain injury may have some similarities but there will always be a large majority of differences. If we look at some examples of brain injuries that have been well documented we can identify those differences. If an individual who suffers a frontal lobe injury the projective symptomatology might be drastic changes in emotional stability. The patient may be crying one moment and in the next be laughing. Likewise, if we have a person who suffers the same frontal lobe injury the suspected symptoms might be severe impulsivity or irritability.
I have a hard time understanding why am I not look up to like an important or famous (e.g., Jesse Eisenberg) person. Just a few of Mr. Eisenberg’s work entails, “The Social Network,” and, “Now You See Me,” one and two. I am the only person in this entire world with my specific symptoms.
Do you not see that I am, “one of a kind,” or, “unique,” but try to come to one iota of appreciation of the fact that I have a traumatic brain injury. I would like or love to be treated like everyone else; I have the same BASIC NEEDS as every human in this world. When will I develop that close circle of friends and that romantic relationship?
I have to be the person to make a conscious effort that most individuals, families, or communities do not bother to take because I am the one whom is seen as different or has a TBI I am the one who is one of a kind, does that seem right to you? I must be the one to reach out to friends, family, and/or a significant other. It is as if I was the only one who spoke my language; making every facet of my life that much more difficult because it is my new job to teach everyone my language. My work does not end there; because I am now the one whom has to learn everyone else’s language. For example, I have to learn all the new social pragmatic skills that everyone has already learned through modeling or other’s behaviors.
A research study conducted by Bergland and Thomas found that a 92% of family members and persons with TBI reported that the person with TBI had changes in his/ her friendships; while 75% reported that the person with TBI had difficulties in making new friends (Bergland & Thomas, 1991). Who is the one who had the life altering event?
I do not want a person who associate with me because he or she feels obligated too, that is why I have my dogs, therapists, and doctors. I want a person to be my friend because that is what he or she wants most from me. Of course, I have only met a few of these people but from the ones I am still in contact with I often show them the utmost respect and love.
A little side story may be necessary to really appreciate Brady’s and my bromance. It was the spring of my fourth year at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay where I decided to move apartment complexes because of my horrendous roommates. After coming from the community center I was ready to move into the newer apartment. I most likely would still be there today if it was not for the help of Brady. Brady’s physical stature is an athletic build so lifting things was not a problem. The fact that he helped move a large majority of my belongings to the other apartment still blows me away because of his generosity. We are outgoing, headstrong, and charismatic gentleman realized that we shared many interests (e.g., love sports or the outdoors). After a few weeks in our apartment we developed a very unique system. I love to cook but I do not like to clean up after breakfast, lunch, or dinner. So one can assume that I would prepare the meals and Brady would clean the dishes. I’m still amazed and appreciative that Brady is a very good friend of mine. I truly think that Brady likes me for who I am.
One of the activities Brady and I joy is fishing. My grandparents have a cabin or Brady and I went on a weekend during the spring. We proved to be not the best fishermen that weekend but I have a YouTube video the reader can see somewhat the relationship Brady and I had while I was saving a chickadee that flew into the cabin while we were filling the feeders ( insert video link).
The other gentlemen that I developed a bromance with is named Travis. Travis was my roommate for one year during my third year at college. Travis who is younger than myself spent most of his time with his girlfriend or in class. In other words, Travis and I did not get along too well for that year. It was not until a semester after he moved out that he really matured into the good friend that he is today.
One day I was riding my scooter to class where he stopped me and asked if I would like to possibly hang out or do lunch. I responded with a yes and went to class. When we ate lunch he said that he was mature and just wanted to apologize for the way that he behaved. He also said, “I really admire how you live with your disability and how you do not seem to let that hinder your ability to succeed in life.” I thought why thank you Travis that really means a lot to me. Thus forming our bromance.
You know how you want to do something that you will remember till the day you die? Travis and I would do numerous activities (e.g., workout at the Kress Center, lunch, or events on campus, like Wheel of Fortune) together. One night in our last semester together Travis and I rode our bicycles very late at night in a parking lot on campus. I was thinking about riding naked around campus. It is important to note that Travis had nothing to do with this idea. It was about halfway through the parking lot of the Kress where I undressed myself and rode my bicycle 10 yards until I thought I saw the campus police and got scared then put on my clothes.
This is sometimes hard to focus on. My primary goal is to find friends because I need them. However, if that is the attitude that I hold most prominent in my mind I will push every possible friend away from me. A person who did not suffer from a similar tragedy as mine can easily detect needy possessive types; and he or she will right out haphazardly avoid me in every situation. I am the one with the traumatic brain injury; I am the one who lost everything; I am the one who has a physical disability; I am the one who has been cognitively slowed; I am the one who has a difficult time in certain social situations. I am the one who whole life now is turned upside down.
NO, WHAT I NEED TO DO FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE IS JUST SMILE AND ASK HOW THAT OTHER PERSON IS DOING TODAY; WHAT IS HIS OR HER PROBLEM. NEVER DO I LEAD OUT AND SAY YOU WILL NEVER RELATE WITH ME. NEVER DO I SAY I WISH I COULD FIND SOMEONE WHO WILL LOVE ME LIKE I LOVE HER. DOES THAT NOT BOTHER ANYONE THAT I FEEL SUCH A DISCONNECT WITH MY LIFE?
I hope to find a female that I really can love. I feel that I am a very suitable partner. I realize the importance building a relationship, exploring each other’s interests, and saying I am sorry if I hurt her feelings. I would realize that misunderstandings are inevitable. I would let ourselves miss each other. I say being away from one another because having a chance to miss each other, and it helps a person really understand the value of his or her relationship. Missing someone is great because getting to see her or him after that period of time will make that individual so happy and so sure of the relationship. I would love to encourage growth and change while admitting my weaknesses. I would love to show my skills to be able to compromise to solve a solution. I would appreciate anything about a lady. How can I find someone that will be honest with me the first place?
In this already complex world today there are a lot of memes, quotes, and moral platitudes or clichés about how friendship is about being there, and offering a person’s unconditional acceptance and love. It is, after all, what comes after the first part of friendships, is the part where a person enjoys the company of other individuals. It is enjoyable to be around a person(s) that genuinely like you.
If I focus on liking a person and invest a lot of my time and energy getting to know that person’s habits, interests, likes and dislikes, family, and friends I am then perceived as being too clingy of a friend. If that person is a quality individual he or she will respond back without being asked; thus forming a new friendship.
That is to say, if I find out that this person is not of quality then I simply could move on with my life. No emotional investment is needed or no final foreclosure. I just let her or him slip away as I meet other individuals. Easier said than done I always say. I cannot simply push that person aside because I am the one who is open to other individuals. Likewise, I do not want to be brushed off so I feel that I could not push a person away.
Meeting friends is a the numbers game. Hang out in a public place, be friendly warm and open. I say these things like we live in a perfect world. For most of us, it is hard to be open with a person who really has no clue what I am going through in my life. I may write well, but when it comes to extemporaneous speech (e.g., small talk); I find it very wearisome to open up and say what I really am feeling. More times than not, I will say, “alright” or “yes,” in hopes that I will not burn or terminate the said friendship. Through all my drawbacks and anxiety I am the one who has to keep in contact and maintain all my good friends. I ONLY have a few friends that I can count on in there for me.
I am writing this book not because, “I am saying I behaved this way because of my brain injury,” into every sentence. If it still makes more sense to you to think that because I have a brain injury, go right ahead and think that is the reason. I find that as much as my brain injury separates me from others, it does not separate me as much as I feel it does. When I say I have difficulty remembering miniscule things in my short-term memory, everyone responds back with a solution for my problem. If I were to snap back with a response and tell him or her that she or he has NO IDEA what it really means to have a bad memory I would be ridiculed by my family or peers. I usually just say thank you and conserve my energy elsewhere. I often offer sympathy, usually with showing concern for the other individual’s problems never asking other individuals to feel sorry for me.
Many readers might wonder how come I have not wrote anything about relationships. First of all, EVERY relationship for EVERY person is different. You are probably thinking, “of course Chad,” how come he does not realize that all interactions are different. The way that I see things about relationships are in four separate categories. The first is an acquaintance. An acquaintance is someone that you do not have other interactions outside of the event or if you do it is a rare occasion. The emotional attachment to this person is not very strong. The second relationship category is family. The person is your own flesh and blood or maybe due to divorce. The emotional attachment with this person may be very strong or indifferent. In other words, you may love this individual but you do not like this person. The third group is friends. A friend is someone you do activities with or communicate with him or her. The emotional attachment to this friend may be strong or weak depending on a numerous (e.g., hobbies, interests, extracurricular, and age just to name a few) amount of factors. The final classification is a significant/romantic partner. The emotional attachment to this person is strong. A person would typically spend a large amount of time and effort in the relationship with this other person. If a reader does not put forth the time and after into a relationship then really truly think about why you are in the relationship and to communicate those feelings.
After my accident everything changed in my life. I lost all of those friends and a girlfriend that I thought I could count on to be there when times got hard. I think that I had a lot of individuals saying he or she was my friend or girlfriend just to fit in with the social crowd. Yeah I realize that some truly meant what he or she said but then why did I on most nights sit at my computer by myself. I like to have some faith in other individuals and think that my supposed friends excluded me from activities because he or she was looking out for my best interest on how I would react to a said event. I bring this up so that you would not feel sorry for me because what has been done is done but what I would hope for is that you will change your behavior towards other individuals in one’s life with differences.
Whether you are an acquaintance, friend, family, or a significant other I value every relationship. I see the importance of having that relationship that I cherish every single one because my view on life has changed because of my brain injury.
Finally, I want to address the statement, “I love you.” Many individuals keep saying this and I feel that he or she is not understanding what is meant by, “I love you.” I feel and I am sure that many others think that when a person says, “I love you,” that individual who is saying that statement wants of the best physical, cognitive, spiritual, and social experience for you. If this is true then why do I still experience social isolation and still continue having problems in the dating world? Does he or she love the fact that I am different?
In conclusion, I hope a person receives a feeling of gratefulness and humility for all that she or he has been given in life. I also know that a reader might think that I have no clue about hardships. That may be true but all I am saying is to be grateful for every experience you or I had the opportunity to partake in this complex life…
Bergland MM, Thomas KR. Psychosocial issues following severe head injury in adolescence: Individual and family perceptions. Rehabil Counsel Bull 1991; 35: 5-22.