A brain injury is not a static being. One’s relationship with the damage changes overtime. I am no exception. It is also hard at times to determine how much is the injury and how much is rooted in one’s emotional configuration.
There was a time after the injury in which I could work 50 to 60 hours a week. That ended some years back as fatigue is an issue now. Keep in mind that a damaged brain is physically working harder than a non-damaged brain. It’s as if a six-cylinder engine is now running on five cylinders. It still runs, but it has to work harder to run.
I also deal with PTSD. So do many others with brain injury. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is essentially a disorder that results from a trauma out of the norm. In my case it was being held up and shot in the head. I imagine the combination of living on the streets, being held under gunpoint for several hours before escaping, and being held up at gunpoint only months after the shooting also contributed to the presence of the PTSD. The damage in my frontal lobe as a result of the bullet does not help. Of late, my isolating has spiked. It is rare I leave the house. I’ll put off shopping or going to the library until the last minute.
I do manage to get to the support groups I facilitate for people with brain injuries and I do manage to get to leadership team meetings for the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition. I also get to meetings of New York State’s Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council. I suppose I am able to break out of seclusion for the aforementioned reasons because lives are at stake, people’s equal rights are at stake, and spending time with fellow survivors of brain injury means a great deal to me.
I can tell you that the day-in day-out struggle with the PTSD-isolation is exhausting and upsetting. Those who know this terrain like I do, and there are many who do, will understand when I say it is not a matter of not wanting to go out. I do. It is a matter of breaking through what I call the fear wall. Today I succeeded in returning a book to the library. It was beautiful weather and my plan was to park and walk about the town. I couldn’t do it. I drove about the town for a short time and managed to stop at the market for a bit of food. There was a moment in the market when I was frozen still with terror. Part of me wanted to drop my shopping basket and run for the exit. Instead I finished my task and hustled back home.
Once home I realize that in that terror moment I was worried that the internal trembling would become so pronounced and debilitating that I would fall down. It then dawned on me that I need to be willing to fall down, push the edge of the terror envelope in other words and if it makes me fall down, so be it.
I will not give up, of that you can be sure. Why do I write a piece like this? In part I write it because there are many who face the same things I do and if they read this they’ll be reminded and reassured they’re not alone. And if there is anything I have learned in life it is this; the challenges we face become more manageable when we realize we are not facing them alone.