I do not wear a cast. I’m not on crutches. I do not have bruises or stitches. I’m not in a wheelchair. You would never guess that there is something different about me. I look the same as I always have; I talk in the same way, my eyes are the same color, and I am the same weight. But there is a stranger living in my body that controls me.
It moves my arms and my legs, and it makes me talk to you like nothing is wrong. But there is. I can no longer run as far as I once could or read as much as I once did. I cannot watch television without getting migraines. I’m not able sleep less than ten hours without taking a nap before two o’clock. I’m not able to study as hard, nor remember as much. I may look the same, but I do not feel the same. No longer do I see the world in the way I once did.
You may think that it is me, but I am in my brain watching as someone else lives a very different life than I could have ever imagined. This stranger took my dreams away. Took the possibility of me being greater than I was before and throwing it away. My stranger is invisible. My stranger is myself.
I have a traumatic brain injury. You would never know just by looking at me. Since my concussion on November 16th, 2011, I have re-learned to walk in a straight line. I can balance again. My eyes no longer stutter when they move. I graduated high school and went to college. Everyone thought I was fine. Friends joked about me getting extensions on papers because I had a concussion. They refused to validate my feelings because I was ‘better’. I am supposed to be better. More than two years later I was not better, and the world was still as ignorant.
I had to leave school when the migraines were as constant as the anxiety attacks. I cried myself to sleep every night because I worked so hard and failed so miserably. Often, I was so nauseous with exhaustion after sleeping for ten hours. I could not read the textbook or take exams without getting sick. The feelings of falling further and further behind started to creep in. I became too depressed and angry to function properly. I could not do the things I loved anymore.
The way my brain functions is no longer the same. At nineteen, I did not know how I fit into this world. I was constantly warring between who I was and who I was becoming. And I didn’t even know who I was. I had to grieve for the person I lost… Is there anything worse than losing yourself?
Their ignorance was my pain. I am one of the fifteen percent whose head injuries do not heal in the short term. Will I ever heal? I do not know. The lack of support for people like me is absurd. That I have to spend everyday justifying to myself and others why I am the way I am. Why I deserve their compassion and understanding. If I put a bandage around my head, would you see it then? If I stumbled around campus like the way my head stumbled around my life, would you understand? Would you allow me to be different? Would you allow me to allow myself to feel like I deserve to get help?
I spent every day fighting with the stranger in my body. Trying to regain control of my life. I know I was not alone, but I felt alone.
I’m Not Invisible
There is a stigma to mental injury and illness. People with such ailments should be as comfortable to tell you what is wrong with them as the person with a broken arm; but they are not. We feel isolated and attacked by the people in our lives who refuse to allow us to be sick. Do you not think that I would pass up my extra time on my exam if I didn’t have to deal with this? That I prefer to lay for days in the dark while my brain heals itself?
Why does it have to be that if I was on crutches, a stranger would hold a door open for me, but that I have a brain injury and even my friends refused to validate my feelings. I was sick of trying to use my injury as an excuse. I shouldn’t have to. This is the way that I am, regardless of how I was before. Help me…Help us. We are not alone, but we feel like it. Help us educate the word so that we don’t have to. Why am I important? I am your sister, your cousin, your best friend, the person sitting next to you in class. We all need your help.
Regaining my Life Back
Now I can do a lot of the things I couldn’t do before. I am twenty-four and I have completely relearned how to exist in this world. The migraines are less, the anxiety is less, and the loneliness is less. Sometimes my injury rears its ugly head but I can fight it with the skills I have learned. I think to myself that I would not be the person I am today without the strength this experience has given me. But it reminds me every day of the personal struggles we all face that may be invisible to the world. Now I feel supported and loved and whole again even though it was a long journey to get here. I hope this gives you some of the love and support you need to deal with your struggles!