How My Brain Injury Helped Prepare Me For The Disruption of Society

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“Where Did Everybody Go?” – Downtown Somerville, NJ in March 2020

What a difference two years makes!  In my “rookie season” of being a traumatic brain injury survivor, I had so much anxiety from being around people, I locked myself in my room as much as possible. Nearly everything scared me, in fact, from bright colors to crowded restaurants. The whole world around me felt like a bad acid trip…or so I hear.

So here we are in the present day, in a time that is described by many as one of the most frightening and bleak periods in the United States in quite some time.  Yet here I am, that same person who couldn’t stand to look at a bright fire hydrant, going outside for a short stroll, enjoying the outdoors in a way that I haven’t in quite some time. The only noise are a few birds, the wind, and maybe a car here and there. I share a lot of the fears as my fellow Americans, if not all of humanity.  In terms of my senses, though, I can’t remember the last time going for a walk felt so peaceful. As bumbling middle manager and “The Office” antihero Michael Scott once said…

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While individual TBIs are almost as different as individual snowflakes, what most survivors have in common is that we have had our worlds turned upside down in an instant. (The onset of coronavirus wasn’t quite instantaneous, but close enough!)  It has been interesting to watch the reaction of people who don’t know how to take it all in, as their favorite activities- going to a club, watching sports, playing sports, even just hanging out at a fast food joint- have grounded to a halt.  For many people, this is turning into one of the most jarring experiences of their lives.  As someone who struggled horribly with my brain injury for the first 18 months, the fallout from this health crisis barely even registers.  While I can’t speak for other survivors, I suspect their experiences are similar.

None of this is to downplay the severity of the health threat itself.  Frighteningly, the infection is just working its way through America. (As of this post, “only” several hundred Americans have died.)  There is a very good chance that before it is over- whenever THAT may be- most of us will either contract the coronavirus, and/or know people who have. There’s a relatively small but distinct chance that for those who do, it could be very dangerous. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the CHANGE caused by the epidemic, as opposed to the epidemic itself. And seeing people’s worlds being instantly turned upside down, with uncertainty about the future, is really incredible to watch. I will never, EVER refer to my brain injury as a “blessing in disguise”. I will, however, recognize the unexpected benefits of working through it, seeing how much I’ve been able to overcome, how many wonderful people and activities that have entered my life, and most recently, how much it’s prepared me for the shocking change in society we are all enduring in real-time. And for that, I am truly grateful.

It’s worth understanding that everyone’s experience with this change in society will be different.  People work on different time tables with different tolerances, and we all need to be as compassionate with each other as possible.  18 months of consistently struggling with life sounds like a long time.  It sure felt like a long time.  But it would have been a lot longer for me- who knows, perhaps infinite– to pull myself together, without compassion and understanding from those around me.  Try to remember that throughout this difficult period, for those who are struggling to handle this situation.  The more compassion, understanding and effort we put into helping each other, the easier of a time we will ALL have in getting through this.

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