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Michael S’s Amazing Story of Recovery From Brain Injury , Age: 26

How did it all start? When did you first start experiencing symptoms or using?

I have always been a sensitive, introspective child, but a pivotal moment was my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) at 4 years old. I fractured my skull and broke my jaw, losing the ability of most of my motor skills and speech. I was hospitalized for over 2 months, the first memorable experience of what would be almost 2 decades of doctor visits.

At adolescence, I started experiencing mood swings and severe, crippling anxiety and depression, which derailed my educational progress. I could not function in public, with PTSD symptoms and extreme fear and worthlessness. I was bullied and did not have the social skills to make friends – I could barely look at my own family in the eye.

I remember many evenings of looking into a mirror and despising what I saw, and who I was. I would sit, curled up and cry, not wanting to live. My mind hurled thoughts crueler than any bully could ever say. The frustration and guilt of seeing myself deteriorating at an age when others were expanding and thriving was too much to bear.

What kind of help did you get at first? Did it work?

I was brought to a few therapists and psychiatrists before I found a good match. It was difficult at first, because I couldn’t express myself authentically and did not have the awareness or motivation. But my recovery has (as always) been a step by step process. I was put on a few different medications, some with major side effects that were almost as bad as my symptoms.

I was hospitalized twice for depression when I was in high school, and fought hard to handle everything to avoid going back. I eventually came across a wonderful therapist who I worked with for a handful of years. I felt safe, and grew to looking forward to our sessions. Therapy helped me correct my negative thoughts and patterns, and was a source of hope and healing. The change was not always instant, but everyone has those moments where someone can say something that moves you. Quite a few have been from therapists!

Were there any turning points where things really started to change for the better?

I believe one of my biggest breakthroughs came after a devastating breakup a few years ago. I was broken and my entire reality was shattered. At first, I was hurt and lonely, but then I realized it was an unexpected gift. Looking back, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship that had left me void of all identity and power. The loss caused me to look inward for the first time and take responsibility. I forgave myself, and people in my life who have hurt me. Having that happen was an amazing experience that I am grateful for.

I quickly started reading about anything that would help me. From healthy nutrition based books, to relationship and communication, I surrounded myself with only positive and beautiful things. I would draw and use my creative outlet to imagine amazing pictures and stories. I was using my abilities in a positive way, and staying busy helping others. I left no room for the old way of living.

What’s your life like now? What have you been able to accomplish, and what are you working towards?

My life is amazing right now! I smile as I think about it. Each day is not perfect, and there are times when I feel low. However, I can quickly snap out of it and not stay there!

I have been in a loving, healthy relationship for almost 2 years. I have an amazing job that utilizes my creativity and love of supporting others. I am working towards my degree, and on my art that inspires me.

I look forward to the endless opportunities that life has to offer!

What would you say to people who are having a tough time? What’s helped you that you wish you had known earlier

I would tell anyone who is struggling to stop, slow down, and be present in this very moment – and be still enough to look inward. Practice acceptance for where you are, and know that every person, place, situation and struggle has helped shape who you are. When you look back, you can see each isolated thread has woven you into a stronger and more powerful person. And above all, I would tell anyone that is struggling that you are loved and worthy of life, with unique and special gifts that are meant to be shared

I wish I had known the mind/body connection when I was younger. I believe the traditional route for mental health is focused solely on medication, shame and blame. In my case, solely medicating was like slapping paint on rotting wood. When I started approaching recovery from a holistic aspect, in addition to taking responsibility for myself, my life starting to change.

Whatever you focus on, becomes real. Find the joy around you, and keep it your prominent thought. You are where your life starts and stops – It is not selfish to take care of yourself. You have full permission to live a happy, joyful life.

I have always been a sensitive, introspective child, but a pivotal moment was my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) at 4 years old.

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