Grieving TBI

Traumatic Brain Injury changes life. It is hard to believe that my injury happened three and half years ago. My symptoms have improved a bit. However, my continuing issues have brought the dreaded change.

Recovery from a significant injury is complicated. Not only is the TBI patient working through the physical injury, there is also a component of emotional challenge as well. Sadly, some changes are long term,perhaps permanent.
There are three major parts of recovery. The first consists of the initial diagnosis and treatment. Here, the healing process starts. For the majority of people with mild brain injury, the brain heals with few, if any, ongoing problems. The next step is rehabilitation of the ongoing issues. The deficits are discovered by testing. Then, a treatment plan is formed. Someone can be working rehabilitation for months or years, depending on the severity of the injury and subsequent damage. Eventually, progress slows to infinitesimal. The third stage begins: acceptance and adaptation. We adapt to what disabilities we still have.

All the way through the process, there is grief. In many ways, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief apply: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages are not necessarily done in order and often people repeat parts of the process.

Since my injury, I have experienced every stage. At first, I didn’t understand how badly injured I was. In part, I think this was a physical part of the injury: my judgement was off. Yet, as my thoughts cleared, I continued to reach for goals the just weren’t attainable. My military career ended with the accident. I refused to believe it until my medical retirement happened. There are times I think I can still get back to who I was before.

I spent a long time in anger. At myself, at the Universe, at medical providers, at life. Periodically, I still wonder if the initial diagnosis wasn’t missed, would I still have the level of loss I do now? Letting go of anger is a journey and process.

Bargaining: Just let me heal enough to work and run. Please. I’ll never ask for anything again. This stage didn’t last long.

Depression: I look to the past and feel depressed my life as I planned it is over. At times, I think the accident left me damaged, in a strange half life where I still see who I was but I can never reach that person again. There were times I wish the accident had just killed me. I am sad for all the losses brought by injury. As time passes, the sense of hopelessness receded. I understood where I was and that I still had a purpose to living.

Acceptance does not mean quitting. When one accepts what is, not what they wish it could be, it opens up more energy and focus on improving the situation. When someone is in denial, the energy goes to hiding from themselves, and others, the truth. It prevents any movement forward, because the individual is stuck. With acceptance, one can move forward. Life may be different but it can still be rewarding.

I still slide into the anger and hopelessness of depression periodically. I practice mindfulness meditation to help me through. Mindfulness is seeing and experiencing life, in the moment, without judgement. Staying the in the moment helps me not future trip, seeing the worst possible outcome of my situation. Or to focus so much on the past that I get stuck in the anger and hopelessness of what is no longer. I still see my life as “BI” (Before Injury) and “AI” (After Injury).

Acceptance and healing are both journeys, not destinations.

Keep hope.

Riley’s Fundraiser



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