An Essay on the Struggles of Life with an Acquired Brain Injury
To say everything has been a struggle until now would be putting it lightly. But that’s how it is when you have a brain injury. I just call it “me"; being this way, the way I’ve always known myself to be, is the only thing I’ve ever truly understood.
I was born a healthy baby boy, described as the happiest, brightest child, who filled rooms with laughter and joy, everywhere I went. I was perfect, they said. But I was just a baby, and that's what everyone says about newborns.
At nine months old I developed a powerful case of Pneumococcal Meningitis. That was when my life… stopped making much sense. Since then, thanks to my Acquired Brain Injury, I’ve lost proper functionality of my frontal lobe, which in turn severely limits my control over my emotional expression, problem solving and execution of proper judgement, alongside a myriad of other issues. I’ve lost the keys to the car, and I’m driving down the highway, at speeds I can’t always control. More often than not, I feel trapped within the confines of my own mental capacities.
I’m now 22 years old, and I’ve fought harder in the past few years to try and come to a better understanding of the challenges and limitations that come with having an Acquired Brain Injury, a learning disability, and the hormones, emotions, and expectations of being an adult. There are things I cannot do, there are things I will NEVER be able to do; and while I know this simple truth, I still struggle with it on a near daily basis. I still have to catch myself and attempt to circumvent my emotional outbursts; I still have to remind myself to do the basic things that others have down pat; every single day is different.
There are days where I wake up and feel absolutely useless, resolving to sit in front of the TV and become a vegetable, shooting alien monsters in the face and having laughs with my friends; days when I neglect eating because I simply don’t feel hungry. Whereas other days, I wake up ready to take on the world, invincible, and unfailing at all I accomplish. Both of these instances are still me, and somehow, I get by. Where others will be taught things, I need to experience them in order to truly understand how they affect me, and how I must adapt from them. That means I often have to mess up in order to find the wrong path first, which spurs a great deal of frustration in my life while trying to find the correct path.
I ramble for hours about the things that make me happy, to the point where I lose focus and lose my audience. I struggle most importantly with self-governance, yet fight so hard against those who try to help me, because my injured brain cannot tell when someone is genuinely trying to help me. “Let me handle it.” I say, or “Don’t worry about it.” These are things I say in order to avoid situations, because I feel ashamed that others have to step in and help me. I’m an adult who should be able to manage himself by now, right?
Right. I am right to a degree but, because of my challenges, I need the help. Some say helping me may be detrimental, that it will only instill a lack of self-esteem in me, (Which I already have thanks to years of bullying) I agree with these points, and on my good days I can see the benefits of having a team around me to help make sense of the mess in my head. I have tried, failed, and tried again to make sense of the mass confusion that I have been stuck with as a result of my injury; and while I have come leaps and bounds from where I have been in the past, there is always work to be done, another challenge to face, and a life to live.
I try my hardest to figure myself out as best I can, but there are some days I resolve to sit and give myself a break, because let's be honest here, trying to make sense of myself every day is… exhausting. I recede and push forward on the daily, like a wave. Any little thing can set me off, and I'm no longer allowed to simply say “it’s okay that I don’t make sense of this” because of my age, and I struggle mightily to tell myself it’s still okay that I don’t comprehend; despite my age, I have to understand and fight to remind myself that I am who I am. I see things differently from others, not just because I’m a unique individual, but because I genuinely can’t see the world any other way, as a result of my injury. It’s a part of who I am, and I can't change that.
There are countless things in my life that I wish could have gone better, there are situations that make my blood boil, no matter which way I’m presented it. I immediately assume I’m being talked down to, and I can’t turn that off; I try to keep that contained and I often feel I fail most of the time. Couple all this with my… less than stellar mental health, and you can probably guess why I feel like a ticking time bomb, and why I feel futile in most of my endeavours.
Needless to say, I’m tired. I am thankful for the life I have and despite my challenges, I’ve managed to the majority of my struggles under some form of control. There are probably some who think I'm complaining; there is always someone who has it worse than I do. And while they're right, that sort of thinking is harmful and insensitive. This is my life, and this is my hardship, and it is no less valid than others.
This is who I am. When you come into my life, this is what you sign up for: the kindest, most loyal person you’ll have in your life. I promise that. Treat me as I deserve. Respect the challenges I face. Be my friend, I'll respect you more than words can describe. Show me that at least in some capacity, you are trying to understand the struggles I face on a daily basis.
I have many tactics to fight against… well, myself. A quote I find refuge in is "And now we fight on two fronts my child... the war without and the war within." Which is from one of my favourite games, Warframe. As I've grown, I've come to realize that I also fight on two fronts. A war within, to attempt to learn how to accept my challenges and limitations, and the war without: the life I was given a chance to live, which was taken from me by something I couldn’t control. A “normal” life, free from my brain injury, my learning disability, and my years of bullying and crippling self-doubt. These are the things I wish I could be blessed with; but this is who I am.
This is me. Take me as I am, or leave me be.