Tina: Can you please tell me about yourself? You can start wherever you like.
The big thing in my life obviously is that I'm a severe TBI survivor. However, I think bigger than that, I'm a mom of two- I have a six-year-old and a three-year-old. My life revolves around them and their activities and my hobbies are their hobbies right now: basketball, soccer, baseball, and dance. Luckily, they're very active kids so my active lifestyle fits well with them. That helps a lot because fitness is a huge thing for me. I'm trying to get that rubbed off on them. And I think it's working so far! [chuckles]
I've had a brain injury for 14 years… I’ve been in the brain injury life for a little bit. I will be the first to admit it — I look great on my Instagram and it looks really easy what I do. Because I've been doing it for 14 years! Right away, I did not look like that. I promise I was a hot mess. It was not as easy as it looks. I want to get that across because it did NOT always look this way. It took time to get there and there are steps you have to take to get there.
Tina: Thank you so much! Could you please share a bit about the nature of your brain injury?
TBI.Fitness: I was 20 when I was a passenger in a single-vehicle rollover. I was with a bunch of friends, drunk driving. Luckily, nobody died, but there were serious injuries and one of those was mine. I flew through the windshield. It wasn't just like in movies where they fly through the windshield and they land on the hood of the car, you know? I kept going… I went 93 feet. [jokingly] So, I go all out when I get hurt.
Because of that, I suffered a traumatic brain injury. I was in a coma for under three weeks. I did inpatient therapy for about three months, then I did outpatient for under a year, then I returned to school. I had to do an extra year, and I couldn't graduate when I was supposed to, because I failed a bunch of classes. That was a whole process of relearning myself — what worked for me and what didn't. That took another year to learn and then I was able to graduate in 2011. The fact that I was able to graduate was awesome. But, I had to use students with disabilities, which was something I never had used before.
When I woke up from my coma, I had to relearn absolutely anything you could think of I had to relearn. I had to relearn how to talk, walk, and eat again. Talking came back pretty easily. Walking was a whole other thing. I had a wheelchair for a couple of months. I only lost a month before till a month after so I still had all my long-term memories of walking, running, and everything. Except I had no idea how to do it. My therapist will be like: “stand up!” I would remember standing up, I could see myself standing up, but I had no idea because those connections weren't there yet. By the time I got out of the hospital, they were back. It still was a learning process with everything. I had to just figure out what worked for me, and what didn't.
Tina: Speaking of that, VBI hasn't had a lot of TBI survivors that got their injury in their college years. I would love to hear more about your experience going back to school with a traumatic brain injury, and career-wise, how were you able to navigate the stress of college and adulting while having a brain injury?
TBI.Fitness: Yes. I credit mostly to my support circle of people because they were my rock. They were what I leaned on for everything. I went back for senior year and everybody was the same. Nobody changed but I did. They could tell I was still injured at that point so they pitied me and they always wanted to help me. I tried to hide my issues, but my close friends knew when I was trying to hide stuff. They would do stuff for me without me having to ask, that was huge.
Between going back to the four-year university and outpatient, I also went to a junior college while I took that year off. While I was in speech therapy, I was taking these junior college classes to get ready for my university classes. They were nothing close to how intense the university classes were. When I went back, I did fail; I had to retake classes. But I never let that get me down.
The professors, my advisors, and the students with disability were amazing. They helped me so much when I was in school because they knew how much I was struggling. They would take time out of their day to help me more. I also have a whole bunch of things that helped me: I would record classes so I could read and listen to them. I had to have someone take my notes for me so I didn't have to stress out that I was missing something. I also had a special tutor for students with disability. She would help me make sure I got all the good points I needed. I would not have graduated without them.
Tina: This is so amazing that you had such a great support system.
TBI.Fitness: Yeah it was a smaller university. St. Ambrose University in Iowa — I don't know if you know that.
Tina: No I’ve never heard of it. But the benefits showed because it was a smaller university! A quick question, did you change your major at all after your brain injury?
TBI.Fitness: No. My advisors wanted me to because I was in a kinesiology major so it was not an easy major. However, that was the one thing that I could control in my life because I couldn't control anything else. I could control keeping my major the same, so I refused to change it and I love fitness. At that time, I was debating on doing occupational therapy or physical therapy. I just hadn't decided yet. After everything I went through, I would tell my therapist to stop every day because of the pain or because I felt dumb. Luckily, they didn't stop and they're really good at what they did. Because I'm fixed physically. Close to my recovery at the time I changed my career choice because if someone told me to stop I would because I knew how hard that was. I knew I would be terrible at that job because I would stop. I bowed out of that idea. I decided I'd see what happened and I wanted to get more into brain injury.
Tina: It just seems like you were doing so many things, and you've done so many amazing things! How did you come to your Instagram page? Your marriage, your kids? Whatever you want to highlight! I'm sure like a lot of young TBI survivors, hearing about your story in college and beyond will find a lot of courage.
TBI.Fitness: I don't even know how long it was, maybe 10 years ago, I wrote a book of my whole story, leading up to when I got married. My ending sentence was my dad walking me down the aisle. When we were walking down the aisle, I told him not to let me fall because I wasn't healed. However, I got really scared of publishing that book because the book is my soul. It was the start of my story which was very rough... I have that written out in a Word document on my computer and I don't know if it will ever get anywhere. I was working as a brain injury specialist when I wrote it. I was working with behaviorally-based brain injuries, which was a completely different side of brain injury than what I was used to. I had behaviors, definitely, but nothing compared to the ones I worked with. That was another experience of brain injury I wasn't ready for, but I loved it because I was still helping people. I stepped away after a while because I wanted to be pregnant. I started working with health insurance, but I still wanted to help with brain injury. I just didn't know exactly how. Everybody was trying to convince me to start an Instagram, but I wasn't about it yet. I am a huge fan of TRX — Total Body Resistance Exercise. One of my friends is a personal trainer, and she told me that I needed to look into this. With that, I fell in love with it because everything was in one spot, I didn’t have to look for anything and be distracted along the way. Then I saw people on TRX that had videos on Instagram so I was like, you know, I could do that and do a fitness aspect to the brain jury. That's how the TBI fitness account came about.
Tina: Do you think fitness helped you in the rehab process?
TBI.Fitness: Oh, definitely! The health benefits definitely help. But, it works with my head so much more than my health benefits. Part of it for me because it clears my head. If I'm having a really bad day at work (I work from home), having super brain fog, or can’t concentrate, I will take a break and go down to the basement where I have the TRX at home, I will do a five-minute stretch. I posted a video recently of how stretching doesn't have to be anything difficult. Yeah, that's why I love it; it's a huge stress reliever.
Tina: Now that we are approaching the end. I want to give you time to speak on anything that I didn’t get to ask. Is there anything else you want to mention or give advice on?
TBI.Fitness: One of the biggest pieces of advice I want to share with the community is acceptance. Because brain injury sucks, just completely sucks. There's no other nice way to put it. However, accepting everything did so much for me. 14 years later, I still have my struggles and a personal belief that I'm not getting better. I've gotten better, physically. But cognitively, that's still a whole other thing. Like there are good days and bad days. I still struggle to function, daily. Then I have kids on top of that, I have to learn how to compensate and keep them going because they depend on me. But accepting is the biggest thing for me to keep moving forward. I had to first get over the fact that I wanted to be 100% better, and I needed to accept for myself that wasn't going to happen. I don't think you can get better, but what does get better is how you manage it. How I deal with my brain injury now is so much better than how I dealt with it right away. This is where understanding yourself is another huge big part of this journey. After you accept it. You need to know what works for you and what doesn't. A lot of things I say might not work for everybody. But it works for me.
Tina: Thanks for the advice! One last question that came up is in regards to your identity as a mom and having kids on top of brain injury. Can you touch on how the experience was for you and any tips and tricks for people who want to become a parent?
TBI.Fitness: I had my brain injury before kids so I don’t know the other aspect of this. I went into the pregnancy knowing what I was going into. My husband and I had many conversations about whether it is actually going to be a thing. I didn’t know at first because I struggled so much and they were going to see that struggle. We decided that it would be okay and he helps me so much so I’m not doing this alone. Right now, he is in the basement playing with the kids so I can do this! But, it was a lot of trial and error. What worked for me before… I tried it with kids, and it was just laughable! [chuckle] Totally flew out of the window. Sadly, this is an answer but not an answer. You just have to try everything and see what works!
Tina: Yeah traumatic brain injury often comes as a surprise and it is always framed like that. But your story offers a whole new perspective.
TBI.Fitness: Yeah so with my story… I have a brain injury, but I still have an awesome life! I am still married to my college crush, built a house, and have two kids! I live my life how I want to live it, but I just have to do it differently with a lot of strategies.
Email Interview (lighting rounds with TBI.Fitness):
Please tell us a little bit about yourself, start with whatever you would like. Perhaps your name, age, occupation, and hobbies?
Mom of two 6 & 3 really right now all hobbies are around them and their activities; 34; have been in the brain injury world for 14 years; fitness is and has always been my thing. I have the Instagram @tbi.fitness that emphasizes how much fitness has helped me with my brain injury