AN INTRO: To Me and Traumatic Brain Injury
If you've never met me in my house, been my student, been my teacher, been backstage with me on a day when my brain was glitching, then you'd never know by watching my dance videos. Even if you have met me in those scenarios and laughed with me as I glitched, if you've never experienced when the stage face comes down--along with the adrenaline, then you'd think my glitches were nothing in comparison.
If you've never lived with me...then you just can't know.
They call Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) the "Hidden Injury" for a reason. Most of us who live with it don't possess the wherewithal to do that from a first-person perspective. The injuries can make that difficult in a myriad ways. And then, even if we have healed or rerouted enough or were left with the capacity, there are only so many of us who are storytellers or teachers. And of those of us who are, many are too busy trying to scratch for the barest bones of survival to contemplate sharing what it's truly like.
For the past 2 decades, I have been one of those. Between the support system that took me 13 years to acquire, and the extraordinary healing I've experienced in these past 6 years since moving to Arkansas to be closer to my parents, I'm finally in a space to begin painting the picture from a rarely glimpsed viewpoint: inside the head of the traumatically injured.
More often, people tell stories ABOUT us. Our care-givers, news crews interviewing vets or football players, documentary makers, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologist and neuroscientists. And of those, Severe Traumatic Brain Injury seems to get the most notice.
I have Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. It means my skull wasn't cracked open. It means my brain was "only" bashed around and swirled like shaken-baby syndrome. It means it was "only" torn, stretched, bruised, cut up by the nodules inside my skull, and compressed by the resultant swelling.
During my career as a dancer, people loved hearing the Hollywood ending of how I "healed all better and became this star, traveling the world and..."
And collapsing under the weight of everything I was trying to build.
I didn't encounter a great many who wanted to know about the reality of living with it. In fact, brain injury makes a lot of people squirmy. It's just too easy to incur, and the changes to someone's abilities, life circumstances, even their very personality - that's scary. And it can happen to anybody in a snap. The symptoms manifest like a host of other ailments - scatterbrained, asshole, aggressive, vulgar, self-sabotaging, lazy, and my favorite: crazy.
If you don't understand what you're looking at, watching me simply try to speak my mind--heaven forbid if my heart is in there too, stirring up emotional chemicals inside my brain--it conjures all sorts of labels and judgments. Most of them are highly inaccurate. Or if they are accurate, often it's not at all for the reasons people think.
Here is an example, up close and personal, of me on an average, slightly problematic day. Shortly before the retreat, they had created a private FB group and asked us to post introductory videos. To be specific, they'd asked us to do a FB Live. *insert anxiety expressions here*
After procrastinating and avoiding and hemming and hawing, I finally decided to say "fuck it" and just introduce myself to these women I was about to live with for a week. An intense week where we'd be cracking open our greatest vulnerabilities. After international travel. On jet lag. (And after horking my guts out for 4 hours upon landing.)
With my particular brain injuries, speaking coherently and concisely can be difficult for me on a good brain day. This day was not a good day. I was in the final packing frenzy for an unexpected trip out of the country on a knee I could barely stand on, up to my eyeballs in the summer Creator Challenge for Teachable, my online course platform, and working hard with rehab.
But I guess it was only fitting that I introduce myself this way. I mean, it certainly wasn't my most shiny, in-command, headliner self who so desperately needed this retreat. *I* needed it. So that's who they got.
So there we go. There's the state I was in when I launched off to this retreat in Spain. Perhaps now it'll make a little more sense why this was such a miraculous adventure! Enjoy!
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--UP NEXT: UP IS DOWN- Escaping the World of NO
--OR BLAM: How I wound up with TBI in the first place