Surviving With a New Reality

 Joe’s Story: How does

an accomplished police officer end up feeling like a homeless person?

Two years have passed since Joe’s accident.  One day, Joe unexpectedly discovers his uniform, the one he wore dutifully for 15 years, as a proud and accomplished member of the New York Police force. Without giving it too much thought, Joe slips into his uniform.  He discards the dark sheet that has been covering the full-length mirror behind his bedroom door and stares at the reflection of the police officer in front of him.

“The person staring at me in the mirror is a stranger….  I’m seeing a different person- a whole different Joe…. Since my accident, I don’t know who I am anymore?”

If you or I were meeting Joe on the street, in uniform, we would undoubtedly presume that Joe is just fine. We cannot visibly see or grasp the emotional turmoil and cognitive deficits that Joe lives with every waking moment of his day.

Joe’s entire world changed in one split second.  Like Joe, there are so many individuals who find themselves in this situation. Whether it is a police officer who tragically caught a bullet, a construction worker who fell off a bridge, a dancer who was brutally attacked, a football player or a successful business CEO that suffered a stroke.  Each of these individuals above was fulfilling his/her lifelong dreams. Regardless of their background, they all struggle with the same losses, frustrations and isolation.

Joe has lived the past 2 years in denial. Denial is an emotional defense that can spare a person the pain of recognizing difficulties and losses.   As Joe removes the sheet covering the mirror and “sees” himself, he is flooded with feelings that he has not dealt with until now. The experience of putting on the uniform unleashed all these buried feelings.

“I’m angry inside. I feel stuck. I’ve lost everything…. I’m rusty. I don’t know what to do? I want to have somebody in my life.  I’m terrified. I’m lost.  I don’t belong anywhere….  I have no job, no car, no fiancé, no identity, no goals and no aspirations… I’m no different than the homeless person down the street….”

The particular circumstances might fluctuate a bit from one to another, but each individual feels like their life was gone in an instant. Each person has to mourn his/her losses and start living with a new reality.

“My life now is focused on just surviving another day…”

Joe has a long and difficult road in the process of rehabilitation for his brain injury. Each brain injury is different, and each person’s circumstances are unique.

Do you watch the show survivor? It is a popular reality television game show in which contestants are isolated in the wilderness and compete for cash and other prizes. Contestants face endurance challenges that challenge their reality and survival. Through my eyes, every person who suffers a brain injury is a survivor.  Every single day they face inconceivable challenges testing their endurance, strength, problem solving, and/or willpower.  Their flight is real and does not end like a reality show. They are the real survivors!
Lets Move A Head

4 thoughts on “Surviving With a New Reality

  1. This is the story of John.

    I am grateful everyday that I encounter extraordinary individuals like john…

    Here is John’s story in his own words….

    I can relate to Joe. My name is John. I am 41 years old. I was injured in a car accident 4 years ago.

    Before my injury, I was well on my path to fulfilling my lifetime goals. I loved my job in law enforcement and was engaged to a wonderful partner. I felt confident, respected and ?????

    After my accident, I became fearful, anxious and

    responsibilities that came with the law enforcement environment where no longer second nature. All the training and police courses, certification and law classes where all forgotten. I became aware and fearful that I could not protect myself or any of my fellow officers, and the risk involved increased the headaches and the anxiety. I could not even remember even wearing a similar uniform that represented authority.

    As the years went I seem to get worse, loss of motivation and no longer inspired by anything, just constant headaches and neuro fatigue that up to date I am a prisoner of. I would describe myself as a 100 hour a week mime where I am just making the motions and no one hears me.

    Imagine receiving an Honorable Discharge as a Military Police Officer without even remembering such an accomplishment or being affliated with the Armed Forces.

    Like Joe, I look normal and can laugh with you even up lift you only to turn around an find myself off balance, disoriented and overwhelmed. I hide it well after all I am not a child and I can overlook the pain so that concerns and worries do not arise.

    Today two individuals I spoke to where both wearing glasses,( I forgot where I put mine). I asked one “why your hiding behind your glasses?” and he said “The light bothers me ever since he himself suffered an event” How did you know; well I have been in your shoes and I have done all these tactics to hide from the sensitivity of the light and to hide from feeling ashamed and weak after all I was an independent man once.

    I believe Joe will find his path in hiding; sadly the isolation seems to be what is driving him to building up anger and depression. This tragic event is a double edge sword I can try to analyze it or seek therapy but the pain will be inflicted either way. May Joe find rest and not give up. One day his injury will be acknowledged.

    Until then just like Joe ,I walk as a stranger amongst my friend and family with this invisible head injury as if I am able to stand on my own, this denial has a life span of about 2 hours followed by a cold hearted retreat to isolate, recharge and recover.

    Joe take my advice- above all priorities keep moving ahead. The day you stop is the day you will truely fall, fall out of family, fall out of civilization, fall out of loving a significant other fall out of humanity.

    No medication can help at this point only forced fed adviced by licensed Doctors whether you can swallow it or not can bring back the hope that you can still be a productive member of this society. I am listening and following the best I can while lacking strength. I am a person and I am here living in a shell which is better than being under it.

    • John,

      Thank you for your prompt response to Joe’s story. Your empathy, openness and encouragement are powerful and inspirational. Your personal story will help others realize they are not alone in this world so that they can Move A Head.

  2. thanks for sharing this story its comforting to know im not alone and there is understanding n help out there thanku for this great website love it

  3. Joe’s story is another, like all TBI survivors … the lives all change in less than a fraction of a second. TBI is not something anyone signs up for … it happens! You can look in the mirror and not recognize the person. The “denial” that is referred to so often, may actually be “hope” we hold onto from our inner self that remains alive. In spite of the brain injury, our former self is not completely dead … maybe partially! That’s the most difficult struggle … comparisons of before and after injury.

    This same struggle can also give strength to improve and know possibilities, albeit we may not ever reach those goals … but we need to have “hope”. It seems like we can get close, but just can’t reach it. That keeps us reaching and moving in the right direction.

    Police officers are respected and authority figures. With a TBI, survivors need to have self-respect, self-discipline, selfishness … to reach an optimal level of functioning. How do police officers treat their peers that are injured? Are they helpful? What do they do that is helpful? Least helpful?

    Joe is in an excellent position to educate about TBI. I totally get the idea of Joe looking into the mirror with his uniform on. I still have my lab coats 21 years later. It’s just something that I continue to strive for, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Of course, I don’t ever expect to return to that exact type of nursing … but if I can help I will. I think that holds true with anyone in the helping professions. They all seem to find a different way to help and I’m sure Joe is on his way.

    How does Joe think we can educate law enforcement regarding brain injuries? We definitely need much more support in our society. I look forward to hearing how Joe is doing. Take care and stay safe. Edie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *