Murray Dunlap – Don't Give Up

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture and all the things that aren’t working. So, why not just give up? Why do anything?

Because you can.

Having been very nearly killed in a ridiculous car wreck last year, I do whatever I am capable of. Spending three months in a coma, followed by a full year and a half in a wheelchair will do that to you. As you read this, I’m out of the wheelchair, but a Traumatic Brain Injury caused my brain to lose all sense of balance, so I´m still using a walker. Sadly. Over a year later. So I sat in that chair for the full recovery term just itching to get out and do something. Anything. I had gone jogging for 15 miles just an hour before the wreck. Obviously, when I was in the wheelchair, I was NOT happy. In the walker, I´m just angry.

So I go to therapy five days a week and hope like hell it will work. It is, but SO slowly. And then when Liam Neeson’s wife was all over the news for having died of exactly what I have. A Traumatic Brain Injury. But I don’t give up. I can’t imagine just giving in and being fine with paralyzation. I now have infinitely more respect for the lives of the handicapped! It is an amazing thing at 35 years of age to be faced with a whole life in front of you, but in a much, much more limited way. So now I’m planning to run marathons again. I’m not nearly there yet, but I’m determined, and anyone who knows me knows that that’s all it takes to be sure I’ll do something.

Determined, yes. Crazy, no.

And to anyone who is going through a trauma, I say to not get overwhelmed and stay the course. Do NOT give up. Miserable as you may be, do NOT give in to the comforting blanket of anger and depression. And as unclear as my future may be, I focus on what I CAN do. I may not be back yet, but I’m trying!

Daily life: Celebrate each small victory

So I get up every day –no longer able to sleep more than 4 or 5 hours, there is no need for an alarm- and do a set of 50 push-ups and 50 sit-ups. Not being able to walk causes an awful lot of unwanted body changes… And then shower, change, eat, watch TV. Sounds like a vacation, right? But with this brain injury I lack the balance to walk, the vision to drive to any job, and the memory to do anything normal. But I can write. So I am able to do this… what you are reading right now! And I’m putting an anthology together about people overcoming adversity with Press 53 called “What Doesn’t Kill You.” I wrote a non-fiction short story called “Times I Nearly Died” that will be included. When the work is done and this is finished, it will make for a giant sigh of relief and a celebration. For all of the relentless, chaotic work, this has been SO worth it.

Overall Fitness: I WILL walk again

When it feels like you can’t do anything, you can either resign yourself to doing nothing and sit around getting bored out of your skull (i.e., give up), or you can set a goal and focus your energies on working toward it. My goal is to walk again. So I was lucky enough to find the world’s best trainer, Joe Baya. Joe comes 3x a week and helps me re-teach my body to move in ways that allow for walking and balance… Sometimes we work from home, but at times we go the fitness gym where Joe works and it helps me just getting out of the house! It really is a breathtaking learning experience to be forced to admit defeat and begin again, from an infant-like point of view. Even if it’s just an hour at a time, it is more stimulating that anything else I am able to do.

Health: I want my life back.

Joe has also helped me to begin putting a healthy diet back together. And added Fish oil because he did some research and found that fish oil contains fatty acids and that omega 3 is in the fatty acids and that would help the brain recover. So as little effective information as there is available out there, we do the best we can. And while it sounds like an utter guess, we have to make this kind of discovery (fish oil) a big deal. The small things make all the difference. And make me realize that while this is a battle, a battle that CAN be won.

Brain activities: Challenge Yourself!

I write. This is a chance for me to return to my old-self and be a writer again. And writing is possibly the easiest thing I can do now, as it does not involve walking. So while my life has undergone SUCH dramatic changes, I can return to writing. And the wonderful fact is, this occupation allows my brain to get a work out and clearly is improving my memory. The brain, anyone’s brain, needs stimulation. Otherwise –get ready for boredom and depression! When I first tried to relearn writing, I had so much memory trouble that I could not remember at the end of a given sentence what the beginning had been about. No kidding. It was that bad. But I’ve kept after it, and now I’m making clear sense –I hope! And obviously it has gotten better, because if not, you would not be reading this right now.

Bring out the dogs: It’s good for the soul!

Isolating yourself from others will make things harder, and it’s important to identify the supportive individuals in your life. Not that these necessarily have to be human. So. Bring out the dogs! Silly as it may sound, it has been a fantastically rewarding part of my process to spend time with pets. Dogs in particular. It would seem that dogs are specifically designed for helping people with memory exercises. They gladly repeat fetching and other commands over and over again. So I can see where an object lands and tell the canine to fetch it up, and then as the dog remembers where to go and what to do, I can watch the dog move through the process and refresh my brain in a repetitious manner of what is going on. And they will never question you or talk back. So there is that.

Do not become discouraged: Patience!

So hang in there! The worst aspect of this entire ordeal has got to be the unavoidable fact that you have to relearn everything, as if you have started over as a 4 year old. And so, if there is one piece of advice I would give readily to anyone with a brain injury, it is this: The brain, while fairly elastic, is a complicated machine. Be patient! I, for one, have become incredibly tired of hearing this. That said, it is an essential component of this sort of recovery. So buckle in, you’ve got a long, slow road ahead of you, and shortcuts do not exist. So just call your friendly dog over and get ready to wait.

Sit!
Stay!            Good dog!


One day, pup. One day we’ll go run a marathon. You just wait. I am dead set that one day, one day I’ll run a marathon again. One day.

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