I’m not strong or brave, I didn’t choose this brain injury

Often when there isn’t really an answer to a subject, many of us have a habit of referring to well used phrases. (And yes I admit I have done the same all too often as well.) I’ve often taken issue with how people can describe children with cancer for example as brave. Why are they brave? They are just getting on with life, what else are they supposed to do?Just like them, I haven’t chosen this situation, but you only live once. Or would it be “normal” to give up once you sustain a brain injury and just wait to die?

Not sure I fit the definition of brave.

Possessing or displaying courage; able to face and deal with danger or fear without flinching.

I mean if anyone believes I don’t flinch, they are kidding themselves. Whilst it has improved, I still get startled  extremely easily. So embarrassing! If I’m not looking at you and you go to start a conversation when I’m concentrating on something else, boom, I almost hit the ceiling.

Just because I have a brain injury, it doesn't make me brave.

Not matter which definition of strong you choose, I’m not it.

Having strength or power greater than average or expected.

Well I’m no different than any other brain injury survivor. We all have extremely difficult days, and during that time there can be a lot of self doubt. So believe me, I am only average. It’s just that those who haven’t faced a brain injury don’t know what “average” is for us.

Of good quality and condition; solidly built.

I’m physically weak, and totally out of shape. I know people might mean mentally I’m strong, but they’re wrong. At this stage I doubt my mental health will ever be perfect. Just that currently I’ve just not got a date set with the self destruct button.

Not faint or feeble.

You only see what I allow you to see. If you saw me trying my best to be “brave” when entering the jungle (otherwise known as the supermarket) you’d think differently. As I struggle to contain my anxiousness about all the people, I rarely manage to complete the visit unscathed. I need to calm down with a cup of tea and deep breathing once it’s over. I imagine one might have a similar expression when they have been walking through scorpion infested tunnels. You can read why it’s so traumatic for me in 7 Executive dysfunction challenges after brain injury.

If being brave is the absence of fear, then I’m not a good example.

I have been frightened of everything. I’ve even been frightened of that there is something I have forgot to worry about!  Sustaining a brain injury for me, has meant living in survival mode. At times I have tunnel vision and can’t begin to look to the future. I just have to live in the here and now.

Am I brave for discussing my experience of brain injury?

Not really. It would only be brave if there was something to be ashamed of. But seeing as I was just the casualty of an unfortunate accident, why should I be ashamed?  But even if it was because I had been in a fight, should I be ashamed of the result? No. The cause would not be something to be proud of, but having any disability is never something to be ashamed of.

I don’t want your pity.

I don’t write about my experience of brain injury because I want everyone to say “Oh poor you.” If I stopped any random person, I’m sure when asked they would be able to name at least one ailment they have to manage. So if having to cope with not being perfect is brave, that means we all are. Those of us who are trying to raise awareness of a condition don’t need to be patronised. You don’t have to hear what I have to say, but if you choose to listen, have an open mind.

I'm not brave for talking about my brain injury.

So I’m sorry if this comes across as ungrateful, as I know people use the words brave and strong in a well meaning manner. But when good intentions are approached the wrong way, they rarely end in a positive result. Actually sometimes I would rather people acknowledge how fragile I can be. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you struggle with something. Often that’s the first step to finding a solution. So in my opinion we should stop reacting like it’s unusual to talk about these things. All that does is add to the feeling that we need to bottle it up and pretend we are OK.

Other related articles:

How would you like to be described after your brain injury? Do you feel understood when you’re called brave?

Calling me brave doesn't cut it with this brain injury survivor.

 


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16 Replies to “I’m not strong or brave, I didn’t choose this brain injury”

  1. Oh Michelle, you’ve set a tough one this time. To me someone who is brave disregards their own safety to help others in danger, for example fire fighters, police officers and military personnel etc.
    I don’t see myself as brave, lucky maybe, in the fact that I survived my hemorrhage and ABI. I like to regard myself as tough, because I haven’t given up, I worked hard at rehabilitation celebrating every little achievement. There were setbacks, as there is in everyone’s life. My employer wouldn’t allow me back, but I just knuckled down and found another job. I think like you said sometimes we are just getting on with life.
    I won’t give up because I feel I owe it to the many people who helped me get this far. The surgeon, the doctors, the nurses, the therapists and of course my loving family all gave me 100% of their time, effort, love and knowledge. To me that is a debt that I can pay back a little at a time by keeping moving forward and carrying on with life.

  2. Nope, I don’t consider myself brave….fearless maybe, but not brave…..but that’s ok, it is what it is, and at this stage of my recovery I just keep trying to do everything I can to maintain my health, keep moving forward, and every day, I do my best to reach out and do what I can to help another….thank you for sharing your thoughts through your writings, you continue to make a difference for so many!

    1. Fearless is is much closer to bravery than I can do. But it’s good that you are focusing on your health.

  3. The fact my brain injured friend keeps pushing through into situations that she knows are tough for her and continues to fight to get her life back tells me she IS in fact strong and brave! Going to the store when you know what to expect with the overstimulation and anxiousness that is sure to join you is indeed brave! Sometimes t takes others around us to call out those traits that we can no longer see in ourselves. I know those traits are there. Whether she feels them or not. She could sit home and refuse to try, knowing how dearly she will pay after she attempts to drive or go to the store or even church….but she keeps trying. She keeps trying to find ways to cope and manage. She rests when she has to. And I know she cries plenty too and feels defeated …. just like any warrior does from time to time. She is amazing and so are you for putting yourself out there.

    1. You sound like an amazing friend. I’m sure many other survivors wish that they had someone as understanding and supportive as you in their lives.

  4. I can relate to you. I fainted without notice ,fell backwards,hitting floor; come to bleeding. Had 7 staples in head ;remember nothing after fall, Hospital 10 day and brain was bleeding. Noone understands about brain damage.

  5. When people called me brave, I didn’t like it. They didn’t know what was going on inside me. All they knew was what they saw. I hid a lot of my thoughts and feelings, so I knew they didn’t “get” it. I hid behind a façade because I feared what they’d think if they knew how ugly I was on the inside. Isolation was safer than being vulnerable, but it left me feeling alone too. It felt like a “no win” situation.

    1. Isn’t it sad that we think people will think badly of us if we let them in. Even if they do, they are not the people we thought they were.

    1. Yes that’s more like it I think. It better describes a response to it, rather than a planned action.

  6. At 25 years post coma, I have finally written my first draft of the book I wanted to write so badly through the semi-literate years. In writing workshops, other participants often called me brave and I have a mixed response. It is brave indeed, to admit I am mentally handicapped (to use older, more direct language) but lamentable that we would feel such profound shame when revealing it. It takes considerable courage to face the pity and exclusion of others and there are many who cannot.

    1. Congratulations Heather, putting a book together is an incredible achievement! I wish you every success for when it is published 🙂

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