Navigating Brain Injury…

Introduction:

                As a 19-year survivor of severe Traumatic Brain Injury, I understand the difficulties navigating this horrible injury. However, being the ultra-competitor that I am I usually accept all challenges. I’m sure if you knew me, the pre-accident athlete, I was known to accept a good challenge that would push me physically. And if you met me post-accident, I would not turn down a challenge that would push me mentally or would give me the opportunity to gain experience I could add to my toolkit. One of my main goals post-injury was to return to ‘normal.’  I did not know what that would look like with my changes physically and mentally. But my main focus was to ‘restore’ the life I lived previously. As an undergraduate, I was a Business Administration/Marketing double major and 15 years later, I attained my MBA.  However, the majority of my work life centered around supporting and installing ERP applications (IT guy).

                I am proud to say that in July 2021, I released my personal memoir, “Like a Snowflake: My experience and recovery from TBI.” My story details my accident, early struggles with friends & family, along with the restoration of my work life. The book covers my first 12 years after TBI. While I am very aware that all brain injuries are different, the outcome of my injury was different than others because of the pressure I put on myself to be better. What did being better include? Practice, practice, and more practice! I’m sure you’re wondering what that looks like for me… I had to make a conscience effort to get better. I got back into reading and I tried to get back into working out. I even returned to my bowling league. I did not want brain injury to be my excuse for not achieving goals.

                We all hit a plateau in Brain Injury recovery. It could be mentally or physically. When I began my recovery, I was not walking and I navigated life from a wheelchair. In my book, I talk about the difficulties of using a wheelchair, and if you’ve had this experience, you may understand the motivation to walk again. When I started walking, I had to use an assistive device. First, it was a quad cane, followed by a straight cane, and finally I was able to make it with just an AFO (Ankle Foot Orthotic). Today, I’m still practicing on my gait pattern. Somedays I work on speed, control, or working on my arm swing, but most times it is all about comfort!

                When I look at my mental side, I think about how fast it takes to feel comfortable with new things. While I can soak up information and regurgitate it back out to you, it takes longer to learn brand new things without proper exposure and application. What does that mean? When learning a new software application, it is essential that I receive good instruction along with time to play with the software. When supporting or installing an application I need to know all its functionality, so I am able to troubleshoot errors, provide verbal instruction, and provide documentation.

                In all of my post-accident work experiences, I was successful because I knew the application and I was able to work without assistance. Recently I learned that becoming comfortable with software functions in a new industry requires elementary training. However, in the fast-moving world of Information technology, lofty expectations are expected.

                What should you do when you are overwhelmed, and feel pressure to meet a high expectation? In my pre-accident life, I saw this as a part of the challenge, so I would gladly accept it and look forward to making the person who challenged me, eat their words.  Most recently, I faced this exact situation.  I was challenged to learn something brand new, but it had to be done on my own.  I did not have an opportunity to sit down and work with the professor until I got it.  Plus, with having previous expertise with the application, the employer’s expectation, I guess, was that I just needed time to work through it. This might have worked for me pre-accident, but post-accident my learning and retaining methods are different and require different triggers.

Conclusion:

                Navigating brain injury has been a constant game of trial and error. I like to try everything that’s not physically challenging or mentally uncomfortable. But, when I’m overmatched and not getting the assistance I expect. I’ve learned to stop making failed attempts and cut my losses, because going through frustration for 8 hours plus daily is not good. My wife tells me I should advocate more for myself when I am in demanding situations or need additional help. If your employer sees you struggling and does not reach out, is that their fault?  They say the squeaky wheel gets the oil.  But I also believe trying to address an issue without talking to the survivor about it, does not work. When is the best time to be upfront with your limitations after you were hired?  Is it fair for a new employer to expect you to know everything about your job and how they are using software you know?  I know I am not perfect, but will your employer be accepting of your shortcomings even if you’ve told them about your brain injury? I’m sure many people have heard of brain injury, but many know each injury is different.  This means that you can’t look at one brain injury and expect another to be just like it.  This also means that what one doesn’t know or perform currently does not mean it can’t be done in the future.  In my experience, it’s all about how the survivor is stimulated or trained along with their desire to learn.

2 thoughts on “Navigating Brain Injury…”

  1. Great post and read Rod! Especially as it pertains to the job front. There are many challenges in the current environment even when career changing (aptitude vs. previous experience). I definitely believe we are and only can be our best advocate. Chin up always and soldier on! Thank you for sharing your journey with the world 😉

    1. Thanks for reading and replying to my blog! Advocating for ourselves is the best and probably the only way to be heard. It’s sad but true, but as a disabled American, I do more watching than speaking but there are times when not saying anything goes a lot further than speaking. I keep quiet to prevent the back and forth with people who believe they know best…

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