March is brain injury awareness month. The goal this month is to make people more aware of the causes, symptoms and prevention of traumatic brain injuries.
I recently read that over 3.5 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury each year.
My wife Shelly just surpassed the 6-year anniversary of her injury. Her life has been forever changed by this. I can’t stress enough how life changing a TBI can be for the survivor and their family.
People like to focus on freakish nature of how Shelly received her injury. A bottle of homemade ginger ale fermented and became a bomb that exploded in her face, knocking her out for over twenty minutes. The cognitive symptoms were slow to develop but within two weeks she was unable to walk or talk. The recovery since has been a slow road of patience, determination and hard work. She has come so far, but she still has so far to go.
We constantly find that people want to focus on how crazy the circumstances were that led to her injury. It’s almost as if they are trivializing and finding humor in how rare and freakish a story this accident was. The focus is on the novelty of the story. Whereas I wish the focus could be on her and how difficult her daily life has become.
The Unmasking Brain Injury project is an amazing international project that Shelly was recently asked to become involved in. Its objective is to have each person living with a brain injury create a mask depicting the hidden feelings behind their brain injury, in an effort to raise awareness throughout the world and to give survivors a voice. The goal of the project is to identify the feelings associated with the survivor’s brain injury, using the mask to help develop and describe their story. Translating these feelings into shapes, colors, images and words to develop and create their particular mask.
This project is increasing awareness and educating our communities about the impact and prevalence of brain injury.
I was really excited for Shelly to become involved in this project because she is unbelievably artistic and creative. I knew that for her to be able to express her new reality through art would be very powerful, therapeutic and helpful for others.
But I was not prepared to be as impacted by what I saw once her mask was complete. The tears rolled down my face as I saw her perfectly express the description of her life since the injury. It’s such a poignant presentation of her journey.
Inside vs. outside.
The thoughts she has, but forgetting the words before she can say them.
The many forgotten memories of her past.
Once great at math, now unable to multiply in her head.
Very few friends coming around anymore, which has led her to feel frustrated and alone.
The brick wall is a symbol of the barrier she feels between what is inside her brain and what she can actually do. She tries to push through the barrier, but it is strong and won’t budge.
She feels disconnected from her emotions and feels dumb because she can’t do the things she once could. The way the world around her makes her feel stupid at times is like a dark cloud hanging over her head.
The cross symbolizes how she has continued to stand strong in her faith.
At times she feels empty and sad on the inside because people don’t understand.
They say, “You look fine, you’re 100% better”.
She wants to scream “I am NOT!”
She is not who she was before. She struggles each day to do things. She puts on a smile and looks ok, but she is not. She is broken.
She wants to tell people to please shut up and quit whining about the trivial stuff.
She doesn’t believe she’s strong, she’s just made the choice to stay positive and keep moving forward.
I have said it before, and I am going to say it many times again; Shelly is truly my hero.