Learning to Reeducate a Damaged Brain

No one really likes to think about brain damage.

Sure, those of us familiar with traumatic brain injury speak a lot in initials. TBI, ABI, MTBI, EEG, PTSD, MRI… the list goes on.

But the reality in my world is that when I sustained a traumatic brain injury, I experienced brain damage. There is no way to candy coat this harsh reality of what happened back in 2010. I was struck while cycling, broke bones, torn tendons and ligaments, bruises in places I never knew possible, and I sustained brain damage.

My disinhibition these days means that I am far more likely to be more candid than ever. I try hard to temper my comments and to never inflict harm or pain.

There is an immense freedom in this soul-level honesty.

A couple of years ago, a leading neurologist was part of my continuing education about TBI. While I have read many books, browsed volumous of web-content, and become a bit of a sponge as I learn about TBI, most of my real-life knowledge about life with a traumatic brain injury comes from living it. If you have a TBI, you know exactly what I mean.

This same neurologist shared a fact that didn’t sit well at the time. In fact, it scared me witless.

“Your IQ has dropped since your accident. It is very common among brain injury survivors to see a degradation in intelligence.”

At 14 months after my injury, I was still in fact-finding mode, still trying to figure things out. I was trying to make sense of something so overwhelmingly surreal that it felt like a bad dream – one that I was unable to wake up from.

And thus this trusted doctor became yet another actor in the screenplay of my life.

Like most new news that hits me hard, I took it in, held my head high at his office… and cried all the way home.

Degradation of intelligence?

As this fact settled in, my first reaction was purely self-pity. Oh, how I would love to say I embraced this news and carried on. But that was not the case. I stewed about it for a while.

And somewhere, from deep within, the fighter began to emerge.

Before my accident, I had a long history of beating things. It was clear that I was not going to be a victim of his diagnosis.

I remain as committed to cycling and wellness today as I was before I was hit. Daily I still cycle twenty-five or more miles. But I made a decision. Rather than listening to two hours of music on my MP3 player, it was time to try something new.

I shared with Sarah that I was going back to school for a Liberal Arts degree… and that I was going to pay no tuition.

From that day on, my two hours a day on my bike with my ear buds in became a bit different. While I occasionally choose music on the weekends, my new Monday through Friday audio track is now vastly different.

My daily playlist now includes regular current events podcasts from NPR. I have listened to hundreds of hours of American Academy of Sciences “Science Podcasts.” Simply put, we become what we are exposed to. I am pumping new information into my brain at a speed unlike anything I have encounter since college.

So how is this informal education working?

As my memory is not what it used to be (a vast understatement) some of what I hear is quickly forgotten.

But much of it sticks. In fact, I am often shocked at how much I do remember. I’ve developed a bit of a fascination for astro physics. Of course, anything related to neurology captures my interest in a heartbeat. I’ve listened to hours of Grammar Girl podcasts that have helped me with my writing. The list goes on.

The take-away is this: I was made aware of a new deficiency that resulted from my brain injury. Rather than simply accept that “it is what it is,” I opted to try something new.

And it paid off.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I don’t have “stuff.” Living with a TBI is the hardest thing I have walked through, ever. It is unending, uncomfortable, terrifying, unpredictable… the list goes on.

But this is my only life. And I am doing the best I can to deal with this. And a few hundred hours of podcasts later, I can tell you about amazing things like exoplanets.

I will continue to push myself hard. Harder perhaps than I probably should.

But I owe it to myself and those close to me to get as well as I can.

The old David is gone and the new David is still a bit unknown to me.

But so far, he seems alright.

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David A. Grant
About David A. Grant 7 Articles
David A. Grant is a freelance writer and traumatic brain injury survivor based out of southern New Hampshire. He is the author of Metamorphosis, Surviving Brain Injury, a book that chronicles in exquisite detail the first year-and-a-half of his new life as a brain injury survivor. David is also a contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Soul, Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries. As a survivor of a cycling accident in 2010, he shares his experience and hope though advocacy work including a public speaking as well as his weekly brain injury blog. David is a regular contributing writer to Brainline.org, a PBS sponsored website. He is also regular contributing writer to Brain Injury Journey Magazine as well as a columnist in HEADWAY, the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire's periodic newsletter. David is the founder of TBI Hope and Inspiration, a Facebook community with over 10,000 members including survivors, family members, caregivers as well as members of the medical and professional community.