They say that the good about hitting rock bottom is that there is only one way left to go, and that’s up. You can’t possibly go any lower than that. So, with a 30% chance of survival after my severe traumatic brain injury at 16 and an unfavorable prognosis of death or life in a vegetative state, I had to choose whether to stay at the bottom or launch myself up.
Obviously, I chose the latter. Instead of letting my condition and all the negativities consume me, I learned to manage my expectations and used failure as a powerful motivator to propel myself forward. Although the way up was very rocky and thorny, I knew I needed to take charge of my life to create the life I wanted.
The Challenging Journey to Healing
When you go from speaking and communicating easily to struggling to say a certain word right, it can make you very reluctant to socialize. You’ll also find people distancing themselves from you, including your friends, because they don’t know how to cope. My brain injury changed my life forever, and it still has a massive impact on my daily life.
Medical opinions didn’t offer much hope, as they weren’t convinced I could rise above my condition. I do understand where they’re coming from, though, considering my situation at that time. The hit-and-run accident left me for dead on the road. I was resuscitated and ended up in a coma for a few weeks and semiconscious for another couple of weeks. I woke up not being able to talk, walk, or control my bodily functions.
From wanting to be relegated to a sheltered workshop to working full-time
I still have a report from a Neuropsychologist stating that if I ever did get back to any work, it would need to be in a highly supervised environment, and it would not be meaningful work, meaning a sheltered workshop. I also heard it all; people were saying that I wouldn’t be able to finish high school or that I couldn’t go to university.
It seemed like they have already planned my life. But that was not the life I wanted for myself, so I worked extremely hard to make sure it wasn’t the life I got.
Indeed, mental exhaustion is more pronounced for me than for those who did not have a brain injury. It takes a lot of energy for my brain to think and recall information, which is why it can be challenging to work or study, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I was determined to get back on my feet and stubborn enough not to let their opinions stop me from trying.
I believe that healing from brain injury is a lot more than about anatomy and physiology. I also know that I am a lot more than my condition, and such perspective allowed me to push myself up from the bottom and create the life I designed for myself. Not only did I graduated from Griffith University, studying Rehabilitation Counselling, but I also work full-time in the occupational rehabilitation industry. I am also an accredited Mediator and best-selling author.
Using Failure and Low Expectations of Myself as Powerful Motivators
During those painful moments of despair, the negativities and my frustrations became so great that I decided that enough is enough. I needed to accept my circumstances and break the blame cycle and move towards accountability. Instead of being angry and bitter, I used those dark moments to become more motivated to move forward.
Gaining fresh perspective
What used to be second nature to me, like riding a bike, tying my shoes, walking, or even speaking, suddenly became a task that required a lot of physical and mental resources. Saying that it was difficult is an understatement. You can imagine my frustration, disappointment, and even anger.
However, I needed to shift my focus and lower my expectations of myself. Otherwise, I would end up feeling sorry for myself or being resentful. Since my world was turned upside down, I needed to re-examine my motives and beliefs and reset my goals. From that point, I could rebuild myself from the ground up, with a new perspective and a renewed sense of clarity of what I want and why I do things.
Learning the art of pacing
When you used to do so many things and have to relearn virtually all of them, it can be easy to push yourself too much to maximize your productivity and quickly get to where you want to be. However, this attitude can result in burnout, and burning out will halt your productivity.
As I was working towards my goals, I also learned the importance of pacing myself to ensure I had the power to get things done. I had to monitor my workload constantly to ensure that I am not overdoing it.
When new deadlines arise, I carefully consider how many days I have to accomplish them and break the task down into segments of reasonable length. I maintain a sensible pace. Often, it may require maximizing the resources available, especially when I face my mental and physical limitations.
It can be hard to be grateful when you’re faced between death and life in a vegetative state. But thinking about what happened to me 33 years ago, I am grateful that I survived and have a survivor's attitude. Had I listened to the unfavorable prognosis and stopped trying, I couldn’t even think what life I would have right now. Even today, I keep a gratitude journal to remind me of the positive things around me.
Throughout my journey after severe traumatic brain injury, I realized that there are gems that can be mined in even the darkest moments of life. My version of rock bottom may be different from yours, but if you’ve been there and managed to bounce back, the challenges you’ve had as you make your way up will provide you much-needed courage and determination to continue to press forward.
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