Twelve years ago I met regularly with a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Vermont because of behavioral issues I was having as a result of my Traumatic Brian Injuries. I had just came off a trail of destruction where I had lost 13 jobs over the previous four years while trying to work with multiple cognitive, behavioral and physical problems. I still had the mindset that I was going to go back to work while my counselor did everything she could to tell me the truth about my deficits.
I remember her saying, “Look on the bright side! You’re way ahead of your peers when it comes to retirement!”
I looked at her as if she was crazy! There was no way I was going to retire at the age of 35, because retirement was for old people! I wondered what could be so great about being retired 35 years earlier than when I planned on retiring?
I was so agitated when I left her office that the VA Chaplin stopped me in the hallway. He wanted to know why I was so upset and I let loose on him by yelling, “I just want to go back to being the old me! I want to go back home to New Hampshire! I want my old job back with the group of guys I had worked many years with!”
The Chaplin kindly and calmly asked me to step out of the hallway and into his chapel. When we got inside the chapel he closed the door behind him and proceeded to let loose on me by yelling, “You’ve been living your life the way you’ve wanted to and I’ve got news for you! You’re now living your life the way HE wants you to!”
The Chaplin had an arm raised in the air with a finger pointed to the sky and an angry look on his face. I knew that he knew I was in the process of educating VA employees and Veterans and their family members about Traumatic Brain Injuries and that he knew that I knew that it was because I was being called to serve in this capacity by a higher power.
Over the past 12 years, I’ve tried to stay on this mission of helping others, but just like when I refused to tell anyone I had a sports concussion and suffered the consequences for continuing to play with it—the more I refused to move on from being my old self and turned away from my mission—the more I suffered the consequences!
Up until a few months ago, I still refused to believe I had come to the end of the line with my brain injury rehabilitation. I asked my VA Neurologist for a referral to see a Speech Therapist and he put in a consult.
I began a six-week stint of Speech Therapy to address some longstanding issues which have prevented me from going back to work. My therapist gave me some great information about my deficits, shared some great ideas on how to overcome some of those deficits, and provided me with some great phone apps to help me. It was as if the second we hit the ground running with therapy, she knew the problems and difficulties I’ve been experiencing better than anyone who had known me my entire life!
BUT . . . I still felt I hadn’t made any progress in therapy because my brain wasn’t functioning normally without the use of aids and apps. My brain still wasn’t healed and it still glitched all the time.
At the end of the sixth session, my therapist began bidding me farewell and told me to keep going to the Krempels Center—a post-rehabilitation Brain Injury Program in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where I am a member—for three days per week. Her words startled me so much that I begged her to see me one more time so she could “really test my brain” with cognitive activities and tasks to see at what capacity my brain was functioning. I thought she could have me do a task which would miraculously reboot or fix my brain so I could go back to work again. She agreed to do so and I was excited and glad she was going to do so.
The following week I walked into her office and immediately she started giving me verbal instructions and commands, put a piece of paper down on the table in front of me with a detailed map drawn on it, placed another piece of paper that was loaded from top to bottom with written instructions beside it, directed my attention to another piece of paper she had already begun writing numbers and instructions on as she continued to give me even more verbal instructions.
Within 60 seconds I was going into meltdown just like I had done 12 years earlier when I couldn’t hold a job. My eyes were full of tears, my heart was pounding, my skin was sweating, my vision had gone double, my attention was gone, I became mentally overloaded and fatigued, I was crying like a baby and we had only just begun! I persevered through the tasks with tears in my eyes like I’d done in the past and everything she and other therapists had taught me for brain injury strategies went right out the window! I was reaching fight or flight mode when time ran out.
I was a complete mess and my Speech Therapist looked straight into my tear filled eyes and asked me, “What VALUE do you get out of doing this to yourself?”
I never had anyone ask me that question before. All I knew from when I was a child was that when I fell down I got back up and kept moving forward. With my Traumatic Brain Injury, moving forward for me was like continuously running into a brick wall, picking myself up and then running into the same brick wall again and everyone knew it.
I began to think about the word VALUE and what it meant to me.
— Money has VALUE and that’s why I needed so desperately to get back to work. Living off of Social Security Disability is just as bad as living paycheck to paycheck!
— Goods and Services have VALUE and I knew that because I’ve had to sell a lot of personal possessions over the years in order to support myself and family while the Services I’ve provided over the years to help others hasn’t made me any Monetary Value.
— My Principles and Qualities that make me who I am have tremendous VALUE, but just like the Services I’ve provided to help others over the years, it’s provided me with much Karma and no Monetary Value.
I realized I needed to once and for all accept the New Me and continue on with my mission regardless of worrying about and solely focusing on the monetary value of things and the judgment of others.
• I could write about and share with others my lifelong experiences of living with Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries instead of continuously running into a brick wall trying to go back to jobs that I couldn’t do anymore.
• I could stop beating myself up for thinking I was worthless since I didn’t have a full-time job that gave me a paycheck I could deposit in the bank every Thursday.
• I could stop feeling ashamed every time I had joy in my life because I wasn’t working.
• I could once again live in peace knowing I wasn’t a burden on society for being disabled because people still needed me just as much as I needed them.
• I could free myself from the chains put upon me by a society which collectively accumulates three million Traumatic Brain Injuries per year and still has no clue about the devastation it brings to one’s life and their family members lives because our society values the money a person earns from working and the possessions a person accumulates more than a person’s brain, the quality of their life, the things they do for others and the content of their character!
For over a decade I’ve been living within my monetary means, haven’t been on a vacation, drive vehicles that are 12 and 13 years old which mark the time when I stopped working. I don’t gamble, drink or smoke and spend what extra money I may have left over to help others in need. I have nothing in the bank to show for all the hard work I’ve done in my life, a wife who has stayed with me and supported me, two wonderful children that everyone loves, clothes on our backs, food to eat, a roof over our heads and someone from above who is looking over us and protecting us as I keep moving forward with the mission I’ve been given of helping others with Traumatic Brain Injuries.
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In The Dark, and
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