Lauren Vandel aka Brain Girl meticulously explains what it's like to wake up from a coma only to the chronic diagnosis of TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and how this has impacted her outlook on life
I was 35 years old when things changed for me. I'd had a good while to get into the swing of life and my routines, hobbies and friendships. Then on September 30th 2012 I had an unexpected and extremely traumatic experience that has introduced me to the world of Chronic illness.
Waking up after a coma in hospital with no idea of where I was or why was not how I expected the year to pan out to be honest. Especially once I realised I'd had half my skull sawn off and put back. I was rocking a rather fetching NHS issue Mohawk and in my dreamlike state was actually rather bemused by the whole thing. It turns out I'd had something called a Subdural Haematoma and needed a life saving Craniotomy to survive. I was now a member of the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) club.
This is where things get complicated, brain injury is not straightforward. They are not quick fixes and they do not go away. So you find me chronically, invisibly disabled in small subtle ways that myself and those around me would never have imagined. I have Anxiety, Depression, Fatigue, heightened hearing and sight, left side weakness, Post Traumatic Stress, word finding issues, Tinnitus and Emotional Lability. Not to mention the complete loss of resilience, confidence and trust. Alongside all of this I lost those things that we all take for granted - my job, my friends, my hobbies, my joy and myself.
Being almost 3 years post injury I'm still healing, still learning and still grieving and this is why I'm writing this because DESPITE all of this. I'M STILL HERE! There's times I didn't want to be, times I raged at the universe for being so cruel but I've learnt to realise that it's normal to feel this way after such an event and not only is it normal, it's perfectly ok too.
I got to a stage where after some time navel gazing and introspection I felt I needed to do something with my experience. Brain Injury is very common and yet there is a strange pervading silence around it. I existed in a bubble, I knew there were others like me out there but where in the heck WERE they? After seeing the therapeutic value of finally meeting and speaking to people who had sustained TBI I knew I had to get my voice out there, I had to reach out into the void and tap people on the shoulder and say "hey, I know how this feels, I'm here with you too". The only way I could think to do this in my reduced energy state was to write and write and write. I have a blog where I talk about all aspects of TBI; the good, the bad and the ugly. It's a place where I try to leave ideas for people to aid their healing but most importantly it's where someone with a TBI can come and read and feel less alone. Writing has been a huge therapeutic tool for myself too, it's given me confidence in myself again (there's no way I would have put my words out into the world pre injury).
The learning I've received as a result of my TBI is something I never really thought I'd get. When you're at rock bottom you can see no purpose for such events. It's a learning that comes once you move slowly through the soup, a learning that takes its own sweet time. My realisation is that life is not about working to the bone, it's not about blindly 'doing' at the expense of joy and love. It's about slowly unbudding and blossoming into your soul. It's about finding your heart again, we are so bound by appearing to 'succeed' that we've kind of forgotten the true meaning of it. Success is authentic living, it's laughing freely and it's sharing compassion. This is where embracing uncertainty comes into play. Accept some fluidity into your life, embrace change. I learnt the hard way that you can plan out things to the smallest detail as much as you like but life REALLY does have other ideas and it can be messy and heartbreaking. We, as a culture, don't prepare for traumatic growth, we think it can't possibly happen to us, I am living, breathing proof that it does.