Monday, January 26, 2015

A Brain, A Legacy, And The Ticking Bomb

Traumatic brain injuries are no joke. We know. We've seen it in the news, in headlines, in pictures and even in tragedy as another athlete or trauma victim is claimed by damaged tissue and emotional outbursts. We're inundated with new research, new helmet technology and new information about the consequences every day. We know.

As a survivor of 28 medically recorded head injuries, I've suffered my fair share of TBIs -- a brain bleed a few years back, a severe stem injury a few years before that and, most recently, another traumatic injury that did further damage to my prefrontal cortex. In the words of every single neurologist who has ever looked at my medical records, I'm "lucky to be alive" and "totally fucked for the future" (that's my own editorial phrasing, by the way).

After the latest injury and especially in the last few weeks, I've noticed certain parts of my personality that seem to have simply gotten up and wandered away, only to be replaced by angry little asshole sections that infect everything around them. I'm more aware of this and notice subtle improvement as time passes; my immediate circle of contact is not. From crying in the bathroom about a mild reprimand at work to blowing up on my best friend when he suggested that our Christmas star was a bit crooked to an inability to control thoughts and idea flow, my brain has experienced a unique and terrifying change. More importantly than the impact it has on me, however, is the impact my injury has on my family, friends and coworkers. It can't be easy to watch a cellphone hurled into a wall or a grown woman stomp out of a room before she dissolves into tears. I'm sure it's not simple for anyone, wondering if I'll be rational and generous or if my brain will get fed up and decide that today is for the asshole Amanda. I know it's not easy or fair. I'm living it all.

For most of my life I've lived under the assumption that there will always be a tomorrow. There will always be another day to call someone back, do something better or apologize for being an ass. I am, quite honestly, a complete procrastinating disaster. If there's one thing I do really, really well, it's procrastination. I'm master of the delay.

A doctor recently informed me that losing my cognitive faculties before 40 is a good probability. This is not good. But this doctor also told me that he understood my desperate balancing act of the quality of my life and the length of my life; he said he was quite familiar with the struggle and left me with a few questions that have kept me examining my choices between length and quality... Whichever I choose, I have a responsibility to my family and those around me to not only refrain from becoming a burden, but to leave behind such an impossibly strong legacy that my efforts do not crumble in vain.

Hence the #ProvingPossible project. And Athletes For Clean Air. And the writing, and the activism, and everything else. Is it about ego? Is it about sport? Is it about passion? Is it about forming a connection with whomever I can while I'm still able? I can honestly say that it's probably all of the above and a whole lot more. I know that there's a small part of me that wishes for so much... To go back. To change actions. To create more understanding and fairness and kindness instead of damage and wreckage. But what I also know is that moving forward I have a ticking clock. Like sand in an hourglass, time waits for no soul, and certainly not one that's trying to create something tangible that will counteract the destruction taking place inside of my mind. I want to leave something behind that holds value for those who come after us and that reflects the internal goodness of those who pushed boundaries... I want to reflect the care and curiosity that drives me, and the kindness and passion that hide behind the faces of a broken brain. There are limits, yes, but those limits give me direction and opportunity. Those limits have unlocked the potential that lurked underneath a passive surface for so long and the passion and drive to create and build and work and hope and thrive, even if only for a short while. The limits and the bad things have even become the okay things: no speech filter, trouble with self-control, depth perception, attention span. They add up to a crazy mix of beautiful consequences that I've simply had to accept and just move forward.

So I've resolved to stop delaying, stop saying no, stop telling myself that there's always another chance, another day, another time. Because there's not. There may never come another chance to grab life by the hand and walk into a bright future.