How a brain injury added purpose to my life

BrainOnce upon a time, I fell madly in love with memoir. Not so much for the factual elements contained therein, but more for the poetry a skilled writer can bring to personal experience. I have since come to believe memoir has been hi-jacked by charlatans seeking to capitalize on the genre. Don’t get me wrong: Look at these mountains I’ve climbed! can be quite a redemptive undertaking. It’s just, for me, rhapsodizing about my personal trials and tribulations now seems entirely too self-involved. The literary equivalent of the spotlight effect. What do I really have to complain about? Besides, where would I begin? 🙂

I’ll start here…

My story

In the early morning hours of November 11, 1995, I nearly died from head injuries I sustained in a physical assault. Looking back on it, I’m certainly lucky to have come through the ordeal in one piece. Roughly five years ago, I decided to write a book about it. I went back to school. I applied myself to researching brain injuries, the nature of trauma and how memory works.

As a result of “increasing concerns regarding difficulties with attention, executive functioning and emotional functioning,” I underwent neuropsychological testing.  (In truth, I still don’t know if my cognitive rigidity was the result of a head injury, or if I was just married to the wrong person).

I even re-created the events 15 years to that fateful night in an attempt to exhume buried memories. The entire experiment was based on a scientific theory called state-dependent learning. If you’re interested, you can read some of the back story on this blog, written by my friend and writing professor, Daniel Nester.

You can also watch this video clip, where I talk about my assault and the blog I was writing at the time…

By the time I graduated with my Masters in 2010, I had a rough draft in place. I didn’t love it, but, hey, you gotta start somewhere. Since then, life and large helpings of procrastination have prevented me from finishing it. I’m confident bucketology will remedy that.

In the strangest example of a living paradox I could ever imagine, my brain injury has somehow taught me more about life than any other single event.

Brain Injury Awareness Week

Not too long ago it occurred to me how we obsess over our tummies and our biceps, but don’t take time to exercise our brains, the CPU of our human “towers,” so to speak. For some people, exercising one’s brain is a matter of life and death (see: Wounded Warriors). Whereas the net effects of my own brain injury pale in comparison to those who’ve fought on battelfields protecting the freedoms we enjoy, I believe everyone stands something to gain from stimulating their neural pathways.

So this week, in order to meet the standard of purposeful living that I’ve set for myself, I will exercise my brain in new and challenging ways. Puzzles, word games, Mozart, reading, writing (of course), brain-based TV programs and the like. I imagine I will spend a fair amount of time continuing to research all things brain injury. In doing so, I hope to bring attention to this pervasive issue. With any luck, I will improve my short- and long-term memory. And gather more fodder for what is now a collection of essays. With a lot of luck, improve my recall time so I can beat my fiancé in Jeopardy.

It’s Brain Injury Awareness Week, my friends. Use it or lose it.


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