What was your life like before your brain injury?
I was an adjunct professor at Concordia University, teaching chemical dependency and addictive behaviors. I just got a loan to open up an adult care home, I was working evenings at a DUI program for Treatment Services Northwest, and I was also taking care of my mother in my home. March 13, 2013, I was rear-ended while sitting at a light on the way to Treatment Services Northwest. I was just sitting at a light and a lady that was in a funeral procession hit me going 40 mph. My whole world changed on March 13, 2013. I will never forget that day, my life was never the same.
What do you remember about the accident?
There were a bunch of people around my car that were either Russian or Ukrainian, dressed in all black and they didn’t speak English. I thought I was dying. I thought, who are these people in these black clothes speakin’ this language trying to get me out of my car? I wouldn’t get out of my car and I started praying, Creator I can’t go now! The entire procession stopped, they called a police officer because I wouldn’t get out of the car. I couldn’t figure out how to work my iPhone, I was feeling really nauseous, and I thought I was literally dying and that these people were coming to get me and take me away and I was so scared. I finally got the phone to work and I called my husband, I felt like I was yelling into the phone! Later, I’d come to find out, I was whispering. The police were there but my husband finally came and got me out of the car. I was extremely nauseous, my head was hurting really bad, and I went to my primary doctor at the Indian Health Clinic because I’m Native and she told me, “you have a concussion.” She got me to the speech pathologist and the neurologist.
What changes, if any, did you notice within yourself after the brain injury?
I was a person that was very busy and very active and I couldn’t understand why I was so tired or why I couldn’t talk right. I was an adjunct professor and I couldn’t remember words. My job, knowing I was in the accident, literally came up to me and asked me if I was on drugs. They canceled all my appointments that day and asked me to leave… I was devastated. I’ve been in recovery for 28 years, I’ve been clean. That situation made me very unsure of myself and my kids noticed that I wasn’t myself and my personality changed. This was my second brain injury by the way, In 1997 I was severely beaten by someone I was in a relationship with but I didn’t get any help then. No neurologist, no speech pathologist, nothing! After the incident, the hospital just sent me home, I had three little babies then and it was hard! This was even harder in 2013 because I was scared that this would be my new normal, not being able to walk, drive, think or speak. I couldn’t remember basic things. My confidence and my self-esteem, the brain injury took that away. Also, my smile was gone as well as the ability to stand up for myself. I started feeling like there’s something that stands up for me and it gives me the words to say and the courage.
How did you find motivation to press forward after your brain injury?
At age 21, I had an eighth grade education and when I got clean I was seven months pregnant. I’ve worked my way to this place and for this to happen to me was devastating, it seems like everything I had worked so hard; for raising three kids by myself, and the world I knew was gone. I had to have somewhere to cry about that brain injury because I was devastated. I had to go to the women in the fellowship, other women in the community, and in the AA meetings. My therapist helped me a lot. I sponsored women in recovery and they’re the ones who blew those spiritual principles back into my soul. That was my key motivator. “Don’t quit 5 min before the miracle, take one day at a time, let go and let God…” if I didn’t have those anchors I don’t know if I would’ve made it. I had to be teachable and that meant doing what the doctor said, being a good patient who stayed open minded and honest with them about what was going on. I had to be honest, open, and willing. These were all principles I learned in recovery. My kids used to take me to meetings because I couldn’t drive. I got a service position because I was feeling sorry for myself and my depression kicked in. I have a history of suicidal ideation, I would tell the neurologist or speech pathologist that I was depressed and that I wanted to die and they really wouldn’t say anything, just lead me through these exercises. I felt like I was in a hopeless dilemma.
What was the turning point from feeling hopelessness?
The people in my community and my children knew I was feeling this way so I went to a therapist who used my sage, smudge, and culture. I was at a fork in the road where I had to decide to get busy living or get busy dying. There was no in between and only I could make that decision. I think at that point was when I was closest to Creator. I would just keep plugging away at it; going to the speech pathologist, going to the chiropractor, going to mental health. Prior to my brain injury I always stayed busy. They said my brain had to rest in order to heal properly so they put me on a schedule where I had to take naps. I’d rather eat glass than take naps. During that time though, I was able to sit still long enough to just be with Creator and rely on God and he taught me how to show up for me, it taught me self-care, I discovered many gifts within myself but it was also one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
How did you handle medication while recovering from your brain injury?
I had to protect my clean date because at the end of the day I can get a new house, I can get a new BMW, I can get a new husband, but I cannot get a new ME so I had to stay true to myself every step of the way no matter what it looked like no matter what the neurologist or speech pathologist said. I would refuse medication and not take it. I wrote down and stuck to my core values: recovery, God, me, the kids.
Do you think there are any advantages to experiencing your brain injury?
Being with his brain injury board is one, the benefit is being able to advocate and know that you’re not alone. I share my stories and I know I have community. I also found out 3 things from that brain injury. I am responsible for my actions, I am not apologizing for my DNA, and I’m not asking permission to walk in my greatness no more. Those were the three things that I got through all this brain injury stuff and everything that happened. I am responsible for me no one else is.
Do you still feel like you have a brain injury?
People don’t realize how stressful it is to have a brain injury. And trying to navigate your world in finding out your limitations. It seems like my brain short circuits. I have a hard time saying words like “legislature” or “inconsequential” and understanding what they mean. I had to come to some acceptance that my vocabulary ain’t gonna be as bright or as big as it was before. I love to salsa dance. If I have my eyes open while I’m dancing, I can’t do it. If I close my eyes and let go and let God I’m able to do it. I can’t think my way through the world. I have to feel my way through the world.
What would be some advice you would give to brain injury survivors?
I had to have spiritual peace, if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t be where I am today. Seeing a mental health provider to deal with low self-esteem and low self-worth. I lost somebody when I had my brain injury. That’s grief, it was like who am I? Where am I? There were people walking up to me that I didn’t remember. There were some things I didn’t remember about my children. I had to look at pictures, I had to read letters, I was trying to find me and I didn’t know who I was. That’s the thing about brain injuries if you don’t remember your past you can wind up hurt again.