After Sustaining a Traumatic Brain Injury and Feeling Stupid

Tanya Smith, TBI Survivor

I was at work yesterday, and I heard the most outrageous statement from one of the residents there.  I heard a woman call herself “stupid” because she forgot this or that.  I jerked my head back in complete astonishment and said to her in a commanding voice, ‘You are not STUPID!!  You are different, but you are not STUPID!!’  Fellow staff members stood back and clapped with their eyes.  I could not believe in a million years that that was what I looked like and sounded like when I made that same statement about myself.

This is a major hurdle for brain injury survivors.  We are not stupid, because we are all here for a purpose.  This is something I needed to hear over and over for numerous years from loved ones and family.  We have to pull from our dungeons to find our True Selves.  I had to really dig.  I thought the stuff I am good at, doing activities at centers, was too much like fun.  I imagined jobs had to be stressful.  I recall Dad coming home from work in the evenings and doing nothing but change his clothes, eat a good meal and then kicking his feet up in his recliner and pulling out his book to read before it was bedtime.  I never imagined that Dad really enjoyed his job.  He’s done it for over 40 years and this was his mode of relaxation in the evenings.

It doesn’t matter what you like to do, it just has to be something you enjoy.  Don’t listen to others about what their definition of work is.  If you do this, like I did, it will lead you down a much further path of discovering yourself.  I listened to others tell me that work had to create sweat and soreness to make you sleep well at night.  So, I worked as a janitor.  Yes, I do this work well, but it was not the definition of me.  This is something that you have to tell others; what you like to do and don’t like to do.  After I did the work as a janitor at the center, got too sore, I tried the other occupation they were offering…secretary work.  O.K., so I started to learn to type, but this again wasn’t me.  I could not stand sitting in front of a computer doing nothing but answering phones, taking messages, and typing.  I dropped out of this program.

Since I love to play games, Mom suggested that I try work at nursing homes doing activities.  I tried this, and seeing the joy I brought to the residents’ eyes, and hearing them say, ‘when you coming back?’ was payment enough for me!!  I have residents from other wards, and staff, get involved with my activities.  It is SO MUCH FUN!!  Granted, after I was “broke in,” staff cannot get involved like they did in the beginning.  They have work to do, but the approval I get from the residents is a complete pleasure. I go to bed with a big old smile on my face.

Sometimes when I get frustrated, I forget and have to remind myself that I am not stupid. I remember that I do have a purpose and helping others is the biggest part of it. Seeing others smile because I made a difference in their life makes my day!


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