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Blog: Survivor Stories

Living Life After Brain Injury: How Did I Get Here?

Abstract art image with an image of a golden yellow face surrounded by varying shades of pink and red.

“How did I get here?”

I no longer find myself speculating and wondering on and on, WHY I have survived near death experiences. I used to find myself questioning life.

“If I can’t work as an RN [registered nurse], what is my purpose?”

The “How did I get here?” led to “What am I doing here?” and “What can I do now?”

Now, I have found peace in the universe. This is not the end of the world.

The image in my mind of the darkness you feel surrounded in—trying to escape and pull yourself into survival (while almost out of consciousness) and then seeing light again–doesn’t feel like an endless amount of unanswered questions anymore.

When I was much younger, I wondered why people said, “Before you die, you will see your life flash before your eyes.”

I used to imagine this as your most bold memories flashing before your eyes. Now, I take this more literally: you are looking right in the face of death and seeing the fragility of your life flashing before you—fading in and out of darkness as you feel like “this is the end.”

I felt something was very off, my instincts kicked in.

“Okay, get up. let’s go.”

Trying and failing to direct my body to get up. It was then, that I knew something was wrong.

The ICU nurse a day or two later told me it was a good thing I had called 911 when I did, if I had waited any longer, I would have been way worse, or even dead.

I tried to remember: “How did I get here?”

When I remember being in the ER, it felt like I was in the dark and out of my body, only hearing the medical staff. It was confusing listening to a team running a code.

“Why wasn’t I part of the team running the code?”

I had become the patient.

I continued to feel confused. “Why was I the patient?”

I heard numbers, vitals being taken, labs being drawn, and epinephrine being given. And then I was rushed to the ICU.

“Why am I going to the ICU?” 

The next time I woke up, it was night again.

I realized how claustrophobic it is to have all these lines and tubing connected to the inside of your body. It felt so invasive, you’re not in control of anything.

I felt trapped. My head felt trapped by a neck brace. My arms felt trapped, especially with the arterial line for continuous blood pressure monitoring and frequent drawing of blood for labs (like arterial blood gasses).

I remembered the ICU nurse mentioned my heart rate was lower than 30 beats per minute when I got to the ER.

I felt embarrassed.

“What if my coworkers saw me? What if I see any of my coworkers?” (I did)

How did I get here?

When I wake up today, about two years later, I now have reached the point where I believe every morning when you wake up, you made it to another day. It brings meaning to how growing up I would hear people say: “When you wake up, thank up.”

Sometimes life can feel so challenging that all you have is today.

It is essential to be grateful that you are alive today. Survivors’ guilt is not helpful.

Traumatic Brain Injury is part of my story but, I AM LIVING TODAY.

For the longest time, my focus was on making it through another day.

Someone who is dealing with life challenges, only has today.

Tomorrow is an entirely new set of challenges.

In the beginning of recovering from all this, it felt like there was nothing in my life that I wanted. I didn't ask for the assault or a Traumatic Brain Injury and the daily severe head pain.

“How was I going to work or function?”

I eventually was able to get my brain to paint again. That's when creating art became part of survival.

In 2020, I was isolated in my apartment alone. I was quarantining before the lockdowns had begun, and then there were lockdowns, and everyone was alone. I was new to my TBI, which was even more isolating. 

My decisions each day were to wake up, and no matter how awful I felt, get up and start a new day. I painted until I couldn't anymore. The paintings in my apartment showed proof that I was surviving another day. Each day was a new painting, or a painting had completely evolved that day. My art style had changed dramatically. When you go through trauma, of course, your brain changes.

It was hard to see on canvas how much my brain was affected. Before, if I was inspired with an idea in my mind, the idea would naturally make its way onto whatever art project I was making. Now it was a mystery how things would turn out.

It felt like nothing made sense.

Today, I have come to the radical acceptance that not everything will make sense.

Not everything HAS to make sense.

Life can have meaning outside of work. I have always felt that my calling is to help people, and now I have learned there are ways to help people beyond bedside nursing. I may not be providing direct patient care right now, but I can help people in ways I may not ever understand. I feel empowered to bring more hope into the world. I am learning how to help myself and encourage others to recover.  I'm learning to love myself and love the life that I miraculously got another chance to live.

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