Interview with Jennifer Chambers
Please tell me about yourself! You may start wherever you’d like to.
I’m a 44-year-old writer and a podcaster. I’m a mom of three kids, and I live in western Oregon.
My last two books that I’ve written have been nonfiction. They were about women’s history. Right now, I’m writing another nonfiction novel and a fictional book right now. When I first started writing, I wrote horror books. The main reason is that those would sell really well. I’ve written almost everything. From children’s books to recipe books to magazine articles to fiction. All kinds of stuff
and I just really like it, it’s fun.
Please share as much information as you feel comfortable about the nature of your injury and how it caused. What was your biggest thought regarding this period of time?
This event happened when I was fifteen years old. I was in a car accident, which caused my brain injury. There were two cars with us and we were all coming home from a football game. I lived in a very rural area, at the time. We didn’t know, but the two drivers of the cars decided to race home. In the car I was in, I was sitting in the middle of the back seat. The girl who was driving decided to choose to drive on a gravel road as a shortcut to get home. They don’t know exactly, but they estimated we were going between 60-80 mph on the gravel road. While this was happening, our car rolled over three times. It landed on a fence post and the car landed around sideways. I was underneath the fence post. Since I lived in a rural area, it’s only interesting to the story because there was an ambulance that came for all five of us in the car and they had all known us from our entire lives. I imagine the trauma for them must be so significant.
I was the worst injured. I was brought into the hospital and I had a brain injury, a separated shoulder, and a broken hip. I was in a coma for about a week to ten days. I had to relearn everything. From walking and speaking to tying my shoes. I was in the hospital for about six to eight weeks. Then, I did outpatient therapy for another year after that. I ended up graduating from high school and going to college.
Now, here’s something that’s interesting to me and I mentioned this in one of my new books. At the end of my recovery, my doctors came to my parents and gave them a list of things I would never be able to do in my life because of my brain injury. They have had a talk about it and I wasn’t supposed to overhear it, but I did because I was a sixteen-year-old kid. Of course, I was going to hear their conversation out of curiosity. The list had that I was never getting married, I wouldn’t have a job, I wouldn’t live independently, I wouldn’t drive a car, I would never find my way to the grocery store on my own, and never have anything significant of those types of life goals. I made it my mission to check every single one of them off. I’ve done all of those things that were on that list and lots more. I just felt like it’s something I had to do. I’ve been very lucky. I had lots of help, and I’ve got a very rewarding life because of that.
Are you living with your family or alone?
I live with my family. There are my husband and my three kids. My oldest son is 19, my middle son is 15, and my daughter is nine. With my family, it’s pretty interesting all the time. In the pandemic, it just feels like there’s so much going on all around.
What are some of the routines which help you cope with your symptoms?
Before the pandemic, everything was really great. I space my kids far apart on purpose because I need to take care of my kids one at a time. It’s a lot easier for me to do things with a schedule. I write with a schedule and I like when my kids go to school. When they’re at school, that’s my writing time. In the middle of writing a book, I’d get up at four in the morning and write from four to six.
However, I can’t do that anymore. Everyone’s home all the time. I still try to keep as many routines as I can, that’s very helpful. I try to let go of the minor stuff, such as everything being tidy. It used to be really important for me and it made me feel really good. If my outside wasn’t cluttered, my inside wasn’t cluttered. My brain can make sense of things better if there wasn’t stuff everywhere. However, that isn’t possible all the time at home, so I just learn to kind of let it go. That’s actually helped a lot. Plus, I exercise a lot and that helps too.
Do you find external pressure from society? Describe your impact on social life.
Oh, absolutely. It was a lot more so before. The biggest thing for me was learning to drive. I didn’t learn how to drive until I was 40. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have a brain injury. It felt like that’s the one symbol of being an independent person. It’s just a thing, that’s what you do. Your right to drive a car to go wherever you wanted. It means nothing, but that was the one huge thing for me. That sense of independence and having to accomplish that makes things so much easier for me. However, there’s still pressure. Sometimes, you feel you can’t do things that other people can do. There’s nothing you can do about it because there’s nothing you can change about the way that you are. That can be frustrating sometimes. Mostly in handling lots of stuff, it’s hard. I see lots of people multitask and I’m sort of a monotask kind of person. There’s a lot of pressure that way.
What do you think changes the most after your injury and how have you been coping with it?
People say that my personality is completely different. I know that happens a lot with brain injury. Of course, I wouldn’t know any different because I don’t have any memories since my brain injury. It erased everything from beforehand; I had no recollection of anything at all. The hardest thing for me and the biggest difference is that I get fatigued easily. I get overwhelmed easily with things, such as crowds. Not being able to do things like other people, I sometimes feel like I miss out because of that.
What’s the first thing you want to do after the pandemic cools down?
I mostly want to go on a vacation since I love to travel. I would love to stay at a hotel and go out to a fancy dinner.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years in the future?
I think that the book that I’m writing right now, the nonfiction book, is going to be a big thing. I’m hoping that I achieve my goals. In the next ten years from now, I feel like I will. I’ve had some success with my writing, but I feel like this book is going to be the book that pushes it over the edge.
Besides your love of writing, what other hobbies do you have? Do you have other interests as well?
I play a lot of instruments. Before my accident, I was trained as an opera singer from age 12 to 15. I don’t love it, so afterward I didn’t continue that. I have sung in a lot of different venues from band to musicals. As I said before, I play a ton of instruments and I want to keep playing more with those. My kids and my husband play as well. I’ve been really enjoying that during the pandemic and I want to keep up with it. I want to do more musically. It’s really fun, and it’s great because you don’t have to be good at it, you could just go with the flow. My oldest son and I wrote part of a song today. That just made me feel normal, I guess. Like stuff’s going to come back, it made me have hope.
Interviewed and transcribed by Brianna Paulino