Linda Arms

Nearly 7 years ago, I was between two major milestones in my life. I had just turned 50 and was preparing to retire from my high-stress job. I was looking forward to leaving my position as an Information Technology manager and ready to venture off in new directions in my career. I felt I was at my peak professionally and mentally. I felt very healthy and strong. I had prepared myself well and was ready to reach for new challenges. I enjoyed hiking, skiing, sailing, diving, and other activities which I felt I had never been better at than when I turned 50! I felt so good and so much was going on and being planned on. It was great!

On January 15, 2006, I faced an abrupt end to what I was. I was suddenly toppled from what I thought to be my personal peak into a deep hole by a freak accident that left me a victim of traumatic brain injury. The accident took away things I can never get back. Professionally, I lost everything. I often still can't believe this really happened to me. If I were the person I used to be, had I known this was what I would be doing for the last 7 years, I would be totally crazy by now. I absolutely could not have lived this way, being at home almost all the time for many of the last years, and not doing the many different things I was expecting to do, professionally, socially, and personally.

After the accident, the person I was went away. By the morning after the accident, I was very weak. My muscles had lost so much strength it was hard getting up from sitting, going up stairs, lifting even small things. I was cold for months, even well into the first summer when I wore warm fleece clothing. It was hard for me to sit at a table with others during a meal. The motions of eating were too much for my brain to deal with. My view of the world became very simple and telescopic. I could only focus on a very small piece of what was before me.

For the first few years, it was really hard for me to think clearly. I had to work to keep thoughts in my head. I had to work hard at keeping the train of thought going to work out a problem or try to communicate something. I could describe it as cotton balls muffling everything in my brain, muffling my thinking; or as muddiness where the thick murkiness slowed everything in my head. My speech was very slow and simple. I had problems finding words. It was often difficult for me to understand what others were saying to me. People had to speak slowly and simply to me. Math and counting were almost impossible for me. I felt very fragile.

Just about everything became noise that I could not tolerate. I could not listen to music, birds, the splashing sound of cars going through puddles, talking, TV, and so much more that is all around us all the time. Bright lights and a lot of motion around me became irritating. For almost 6 years, I spent many hours each day sleeping with pillows on my head and earplugs in my ears.

After the accident, I became Mina Kitty. I became someone who was always tired, walking slowly around the house, laying down a lot in different places in the house, taking naps, rarely leaving the house. I felt like a house cat. Before the accident, my husband sometimes called me Willie (short for Wilhelmine, my middle name). But now Willie no longer fit. My nickname was transformed to Mina, and Kitty was added for the house-cat characteristics I now had. I became Mina Kitty, birthdate — January 15, 2006. I actually do "celebrate" it . . .

As a result of my TBI, I have actually been given some "gifts". Since my brain was now not cluttered with a million other thoughts, I saw the world very simply and was able to connect to the quietness and beauty of nature. I could let the beauty of what I was seeing or feeling into my relatively empty brain and really experience it. I learned who was really there for me when I needed help, which was every day. I really appreciate those people in my life. I learned what is most important to me, and it is not living in a fast-paced world seeking to accomplish everything you possibly can with as much perfection as possible. For me, it is no longer about professional accomplishments nor about acquiring material things. It is about having rich experiences for yourself and also with people you really care about.

There are so many of us who have an illness or injury where our options of doing anything are severely limited. We struggle to get better. We struggle to do the things we did before. We struggle to do things like other people. Even with limitations, there are many of us who are happy when we can do a simple thing without too many problems, even stirring a bowl of instant mashed potatoes! I've come to really appreciate the things I am able to do again. I do not take them for granted.

How our brain works and how it repairs itself is still a mystery. Medical professionals can do much to help in recovery but there is still a mystifying process that brings our brains back to a better place after a brain injury. For me, the "brain fairy" has been that elusive thing that has caused the problems and healing associated with my brain injury. I do not understand how it works but slowly things have worked better in this mysterious world of my brain.

I am fortunate in that my brain injury was not as devastating as those of some other people I have met. My recovery has been very slow but now nearly 7 years later I can say I am much, much better. In my journey back from the despairing first years after my injury, I feel I have reached the mainland of living where I can participate more fully although TBI will be part of my life forever. I want to remember where I was 7 years ago when the injury happened and the progress I've made so far. It gives me a feeling of strength that I have been able to accomplish this. I keep looking for new goals to increase my level of improvement.

After my brain injury in 2006, my husband and I looked for answers on how to recover from a brain injury. There was not a lot of good information about TBI and treatment options. As we looked for answers, even among my medical providers, we realized that TBI treatment and recovery was a challenge. Recently I decided it was time to share what I learned and have created a web site to promote awareness of brain injury, provide resources to those living with TBI and to educate about good brain health. This project is also a step in my recovery to participate in the world more fully and make a contribution. Please visit me at my website, The Brain Fairy.

No matter where you, or someone you know, are at with a brain injury — keep going. Live life, enjoy life, try new things and don't just sit around "killing time." Keep looking for new goals to increase your level of improvement. Be happy you have options in living a fulfilling life and finding joy even with limitations. Go make it happen!