Valentine’s Day 2021: Learning to love life again after traumatic brain injury (TBI)

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Valentine’s Day 2021: Learning to love life again after traumatic brain injury (TBI)

How do you learn to love life again after it’s ravaged by brain injury?

On Valentine’s Day, please find out how one survivor refound his lust for life after a road crash that nearly killed him.

In 2015, David Wozny, then aged 45 and a highly respected IT security consultant, sustained a severe head injury in a collision between his bicycle and a car travelling 40mph.

In a coma for the following month, the Staffordshire dad-of-one regained consciousness only to experience locked-in syndrome for a further week.

As he slowly improved, he was transferred to an NHS rehabilitation centreand it was there that he first began to process what had happened to him.

Reflecting on the past six years, David is now in no doubt about how he fell in love with life again - as he explains here.

I very clearly recall placing my hands at about shoulder-width apart upon the sink in my room [at the rehabilitation centre] while looking at my reflection in the mirror.

recognised the face as my own, but I didn’t feel at all like me.

I recall looking at me in the mirror and thinking of my previous self as a different person. I was looking at someone I had once been - but I felt that that person was no longer around.

I knew that the old me had been intelligent, professionally successful and lived a good life - but all of that now appeared to be part of my past, rather than the current.

This is likely the most difficult perspective for anyone who hasn’t personally experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) to begin to comprehend.

recognise that if someone such as myself, who has experienced it directly, can’t describe it, it’s likely impossible for anyone else to ‘get it’.

 

   From this unlikely baseline of no longer feeling like myself, I want to tell you about how I was able to fall in love with life again. 

 

 

Que sera

I sat in my bed and thought deeply about how I still had the love and support of my 12-year-old daughter and my life partner.

When I viewed my life from this perspective, I genuinely appreciate how fortunate I was, rather than feel miserable because I thought I’d never been able to work again, drive a car, go on holiday, etc.

I didn’t achieve this through any Zen-like inspiration; it was simply by accepting that things would now be different than before.

The commonly used phrase which might be apt to use would be ‘it is what it is’.

 

   I knew that fighting against my new normal was futile and, more than anything else, I was determined to repay the faith my loved ones had displayed by sticking with me.   

 

The thought of appearing unhappy or miserable with my life outcome and becoming a burden on my loved ones was a path I wouldn’t entertain.

During the course of my life, the resolve I found when faced by adversity is the achievement that I’m proudest of.

I wish I could provide a formula for other people to follow; however, I recognise that brain injury is such a personal matter for every individual that I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to attempt to give guidance.

Instead, I shall reflect and give anecdotal evidence of approaches that worked for me.

 

Staple steps

An important first step was to understand that the term ‘recovery’ didn’t mean returning to how I was before my TBI.

I also didn’t set any medium (never mind long) term objectives, as my future seemed impossible to contemplate.

I'd been advised to maintain records of how I felt - keeping diaries helped me enormously on that front.

In my day-to-day life during my early post-hospitalisation period, I genuinely didn't feel that I was making any real progress.

It took the diaries for me to realise that although at any moment I may have felt lousy, it was actually only a blip because I'd felt okay for the previous two days.

I received the valuable advice that recovery is non-linear (not a straight line). This advice was something that I clung to whenever I felt myself drifting into a period of questioning my progress.

 

   Try your best to take on board any suggestions with regards to trying coping strategies, no matter how unconvinced you may feel when you receive them.   

 

I recall that some of the short-term memory coping strategies I was given turned out to be burdensome while giving me no positive outcome.

However, there were some which I latched onto which have turned out to be priceless - the best way to find out what works for you is to have an open mind.

 

The price of nice

My value system became re-oriented. More than any other attribute, it was people who I’d term as ‘nice’ that I respected the most.

Academic achievement, career success, wealth and lifestyle came to mean far less to me than simply being nice.

I see niceness as something that doesn’t need intellect or wealth, isn’t discriminatory and is, therefore, a characteristic anyone can achieve.

I think we’d all prefer to be around a nice person than a successful person.

All of the above words are my own, but, for me, the single most powerful statement I've heard from another person who suffered a brain injury is the following:

I want to share what I consider the thing that makes every pain-staking minute of recovery worthwhile.

 

   The ‘silver lining’, if you will, is all of the moments of life that I didn’t miss out on thanks to my exceptional good fortune of surviving against the odds.   

 

I agree with that statement entirely and hope that it can inspire all brain injury survivors to keep going, no matter how desperate things might appear at the moment.

I principally achieved this by learning to fully appreciate what I had, rather than wasting energy on contemplating what I’d lost.

*David is actively involved in research into traumatic injury as a member of After Trauma, a patient and public involvement group (PPI) hosted by the world-renowned Barts Centre for Trauma Sciences in London. [1] [2]

He has shared his story with brain injury survivors in the UK via Headway [3] and across ‘the pond’ via US brain injury information hub, BrainLine. [4] He’s also raised awareness of the North West Air Ambulance service that helped to save his life. [5]

 

Further Reading

 

Music Therapy for Neurological Rehabilitation

Crafts to support neurological occupational therapy and brain-injury rehabilitation

 

200 Home activities for brain injury survivors and their families

Over 30 online communities to help keep spirits high among brain injury survivors and their families during the covid19 lockdown

Twenty apps to boost brain injury rehabilitation

Waltz with us on world stroke day

How to enjoy a daily dose of exercise despite brain injury

 

References

[1] https://www.aftertrauma.org/survivors-stories/davids-story

[2] https://www.c4ts.qmul.ac.uk/main/latest-news/post/81-dave-a-the-christmas-elf-shares-his-story-as-a-traumatic-brain-injury-survivor

[3] https://www.headway.org.uk/about-brain-injury/individuals/brain-injury-and-me/david-wozny/

[4] https://www.brainline.org/story/some-things-may-always-be-%E2%80%98wrong%E2%80%99-me

[5] https://nwaa.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Skylines-April-2018.pdf

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