…honestly, it wasn’t nearly as close of a call as the title of this blog post would indicate. However, as the guy who lived through it, there were times where it sure felt that way, especially early on.
Before looking at the “highlights” of 2018, it’s worth taking inventory of two snapshots in time- the middle of 2017 (weeks before my accident), and the end of 2017, just to get a sense of my rise, fall, and partial rise again-
June 30th, 2017
Living large in southern California, I was getting ready to prove that life does, in fact, begin at 40. Generally blending in the background at my job throughout A-Rod’s entire tenure with the Yankees, I suddenly and unexpectedly found my profile increasing. I had become more confident in my abilities, even giving my first public presentation, something that went over far better than I could have imagined. I’d also expanded outside of the software area altogether, helping to conduct interviews, and host recruitment events on college campuses. Whereas most people loathe going to their daily jobs, I relished it.
There was plenty going on outside of the office, too. I was going to see Iron Maiden in a few days, and had Metallica tickets for a few weeks later. And speaking of loud music, I had started getting serious about my guitar playing, for the first time since I was a teenager, with much better results this time around. (Forty year olds tend to have more discipline than fourteen year olds.) I had also, somewhat ironically, enrolled in an “Under 40” tennis league designed for socialization among the “younger” crowd, proving I could enter a new phase in life, while still mingling with those who hadn’t quite gotten there yet. (In other words- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98k05_bM2e4). Running 5Ks was a regular occurrence. I had started doing more hiking and sightseeing. (Click here for proof.) I was getting ready to attempt a second career as a voice actor. I’d also recently become a member of AMA Los Angeles, a great way to network with others. Friendly but introverted and somewhat misanthropic throughout most of my life, I had gradually learned to be more outgoing. Much to my surprise, I was kind of enjoying it!
Last but not least, my sister and her family had just come into town for a visit. It was only the second time they’d done so, and first in six years, when my niece was just a toddler, and my nephew hadn’t even been born yet. But I assumed this could potentially be the start of a regular occurrence, now that the kids were older- still very young, but old enough to travel and appreciate it. We ended up going to several enjoyable tourist traps throughout LA, and spent a fair amount of time jumping maniacally on a trampoline. (To this day, I haven’t seen the pictures of that.) I assumed this trip would be the beginning of a somewhat regular occurrence.
Oh, one more thing…I was looking for a new, less expensive place to live, so I could eventually save up enough for a condo in Malibu, or some other equally nice place, to live in for the bulk of my life. Whatever money I had leftover would be saved for my sister’s kids. (Selling my condo a few months earlier was, IMO, indirectly but largely responsible for my TBI in the first place, but that’s for another post, another time.) The point is, I had it all planned out.
December 31st, 2017
After two brief but tumultuous stints living with family members in the NY/NJ area, and an equal number of trips to psychiatric hospitals, I found myself in an assisted living facility, primarily intended for developmentally challenged adults. While a few symptoms from my brain injury had started to subside ever so slightly, most had not, and the constant swirl, tremors and sensory overload in my head were unbearable. Although I had met some people who were sympathetic, along with a few others who I’d briefly connected with to a limited degree, I hadn’t really made a single friend since my accident, as I had almost no desire to socialize. On a related note, I intentionally stayed out of touch with all my old friends, as I was ashamed of myself and disgusted with the situation. My cousin was about to have a baby, and I specifically told my mother I didn’t want to hear a word about it, as I was totally detached from my family. I even- especially, in fact- wanted nothing to do with my niece and nephew, as time that I spent with them since the accident had been a disaster, likely responsible for accelerating my first trip to the psychiatric hospital. (Although honestly, I would have ended up there, anyway.)
I never made it to the Metallica concert. In fact, I could barely handle my living facility’s Christmas music show, which I sat way in the back for, wearing earplugs. And forget about my career, let alone a second one! Although I still officially had my job, it was, essentially, on paper only. I had been thousands of miles away from the office for months, with seemingly no realistic prospect of returning.
I could no longer drive. Walking briskly was too much for me, let alone running or playing tennis. I had tried playing guitar a few times since the accident and I hated it, so I just gave it up altogether. The only regular structure in my life was an outpatient program for depressed people in Princeton, NJ. Many, if not most, of these people had very serious problems, but I can say with certainty that I was the only one whose problems had all developed just a few months earlier, completely out of the blue. Even some of the other patients, dealing with the trauma of their own lives, were horrified at the abruptness of my situation.
Financially, everything was also going down the drain. All that had happened was costing me and my family tens of thousands of dollars in a matter of MONTHS, with no end in sight. Nearly two decades of saving for an enjoyable life, which I had carefully planned for, had seemingly been destroyed, along with everything else, in a freak accident that occurred in a few SECONDS! Even though I’d done a pretty good job of saving money, I had done so on the assumption I’d be working fulltime until at least age 60, not 40!
It all seemed so unfair. It all was so unfair! I mean, life is unfair for most of us, to one extent or another. But this was something like three standard deviations of unfair. Put this on top of what had happened to my niece barely more than two years earlier, and it was about SIX standard deviations of unfair!
This Isn’t Hollywood
The whole thing felt like a Tom Cruise movie on steroids. You know, the one that opens with him-
1) …enjoying his devil-may-care life, with a cockiness that has the audience just KNOWING he’s about to get his comeuppance.
2) He gets his comeuppance.
3) He emerges as a better man for it.
4) The credits roll.
Unfortunately, life is not a movie. For one thing, I didn’t really need my comeuppance- I had already dealt with plenty throughout my life, and appreciated how good I had it, while I did have it. The only thing I was really smug about was the weather- and pretty much EVERYONE in California is smug about the weather! But why shouldn’t we be, with the prices we pay to enjoy it?? (Most New Yorkers do have roughly the same cost of living, though. Don’t ask me why.)
I will say that the experience has, in certain respects, made me a better man. I no longer get nearly as worked up about trivial things. In fact, I kind of laugh at my old self, for freaking out about the smallest amount of male patterned baldness that I noticed when I was 27 years old. How’s this for “karmic justice”- that’s the spot where I sustained my head injury! Maybe it was a real issue, as I sure could’ve used some extra padding. But anyway…here’s where I’m at now…
December 31st, 2018
Although life is still considerably closer in quality to December 31st, 2017 than to June 30th, 2017, it’s also come along much further than I ever could have imagined a year earlier. Enough of my symptoms subsided early on, which eventually contributed to helping me to move forward, although it took a few extra months for me to see it.
Along the way, I ended up making a fair amount of new friends, while reconnecting with old ones through Facebook. (Cutting down on social media, which I had largely done for nearly a year, is often a good thing, but not in this case.) I opened up to my family again, and although it isn’t the same, I am slowly doing my best to reconnect under the new circumstances. I even met my cousin’s baby, after shunning the thought of her existence to protect my own sanity, not more than a year earlier. I don’t see my niece and nephew very often, and when I do, it increases my anxiety. But with help, I’m learning to cope with it, and it also helps immensely to have a friend there, to help facilitate the interaction. And hey- so far, no new trips to a mental hospital! *knock on wood*
There’s no cure for brain injury, and there probably never will be. What there are, though, are networks and organizations designed to help survivors deal with the myriad of challenges they face. I have capitalized on this, and plan on becoming an advocate, to the extent that I can be. I had proven to be an effective public speaker at my job, so I figure I can still be. Plus, I need to fill my day with activities that I can handle. And speaking of things that I can handle, there were some pleasant surprises throughout the year, as I learned that I was more capable of doing certain things than I thought. (Read the “I Could Be Wrong” section of my other end-of-year blog post for more details. https://tbi-online.com/2019/01/02/right-or-wrong/)
So that’s where I’m at now, and if I had been typing any longer, I’d probably have to start putting together a review for 2019. But all I can say looking forward is that this isn’t a linear process- there will be a period of time where I feel like I’m going in the wrong direction. It could be any given week, or day, or even hour. And while that’s true for anyone, it’s a particularly scary thought for me, given where I’ve been. But seeing how much better my life was at the end of 2018 than I ever imagined it would be at the beginning of 2018, I’m a little bit more open-minded- dare I say optimistic– on the prospects of a better year ahead. I’m not expecting it, but I’m allowing for the possibility of it. And just being open to the possibility of an improvement, when just a year earlier I swore that there never could be, is an improvement in and of itself.