An Ode To My Injury
Synonyms for the word disabled: confined, lame, broken-down, helpless, incapable
As many of you may not know, March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. To spread some awareness, I wanted to take a moment to share how my traumatic brain injury changed my life. An ode to my injury if you will.
Four years ago I crashed my motorbike while living in Hawaii. I fractured my skull in three places, my neck in one, and my spine in seven. My traumatic brain injury caused complete paralysis of the entire left side of my body. Doctors told me I would likely never walk again.
In the months that followed, I endured three brain surgeries, a brain infection, months of hospital stays, and thousands of hours of physical therapy to learn how to walk. Again.
Having a traumatic brain injury is like losing a loved one. I had to mourn the loss of my old self. My family and friends had to mourn the loss of the old Blake. The Blake that loved to show off his dance moves at parties and test how far he could jump from rock to rock on the beaches of Hawaii was gone. In the months following my injury, my personality had taken a 180. I transitioned from an adventurous, happy, rambunctious wanderluster into an incredibly depressed, irritable, severely disabled 21-year-old limited to a bed most hours of the day.
When I looked in the mirror I hated the person looking back. A real ‘Mulan staring into the pond’ moment *queue Reflection from the Mulan soundtrack*. I felt like a burden to my family. My friends didn’t want to be around me. I didn’t want to be around me. I thought about suicide a lot. I felt incapable of connecting with anyone because they couldn’t understand what I had gone through. It took a long time to learn who the new Blake was, but to be honest, I like new Blake a lot more than old Blake *queue Go The Distance from Hercules*.
Meeting new people and dating especially was terrifying for the new Blake. For so long, I tried my best to hide my disability. I avoided bringing it up. I limited my movements to decrease the chance of someone seeing my limp or my atrophied arm. I had just got back into dating and was seeing someone I thought that I really liked. We had been on several dates and he invited me to a friend’s birthday party. The day of the party I asked what time to come over. No response. I messaged him the next day. No response. A few days later. No response. I had soon come to find out that he ghosted me because my disability made him uncomfortable. This wasn’t the first the first time this had happened to me and it likely won’t be the last.
After about a week of crying and feeling sorry for myself it finally just clicked. I thought to myself, “Why am I crying over someone who very obviously doesn’t have a single care about me or my feelings?” Since then I have learned that what anyone else thinks of me is none of my business. I know my value and what I have to offer and if someone else can’t see that then they’re not worth my time. When I meet new people, I still must explain the origin of my injury. The theme of that story, however, is now pride instead of sorrow. I’ve turned my disability into an opportunity. An opportunity to educate. To inspire. To learn. To grow. I’ve achieved more in the 4 years following my brain injury than I had in the 21 years prior to it.
When I think of myself, I think of the words resilient, empowered, bright, strong, adaptive, and confident. Societal labels have a tendency for us to formulate preconceived notions of others. Disabled, Republican, Asian, Gay, poor…. whatever those labels may be, please don’t let them influence your perceptions of those you meet. More importantly, don’t let those labels shape the way you think of yourself.
Every brain is unique and so is every brain injury. Some are much more visible than mine. Others not visible at all. Please keep these things in mind when you engage with all persons with disabilities. Be patient, empathetic, and open minded. Don’t be afraid to ask me questions about my disability. To those with disabilities, do not be afraid to talk about your disability. Do not be ashamed. It is our responsibility to educate those without disabilities and create a positive dialogue about our differences. Encourage them to ask questions. This is the only way to end the stigma that we are broken, incapable, or any of those words you’ll find on the page of a thesaurus.
This month and for every month ever, I will always be proud to be not only a survivor, but a thriver of a traumatic brain injury.
An Ode To My Injury
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