How I Turned my Trauma into Triumph
January 25 should have been a day – just like any other day. Instead it wasn’t.
The sun was just coming up when my three year old bounced into our room, onto our bed and then flung his body and his head backwards - into my face. I only remember the cracking sound. After that I don’t remember much.
I still took my kids to daycare, threw up multiple times and made it back home.
Over the next 3 days I went to a doctor and was told I had a concussion. I wasn’t able to see clearly out of my left eye and for whatever reason my left arm wasn’t working properly but I thought that was a normal side effect of getting hit in the head.
After a few days I decided to try and go to the grocery store and discovered I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t remember my address. I didn’t know where I was and the cars were so loud I couldn’t think. I started to throw up again and cry. I was 60 feet away from my house. The clerk at the convenience store across the street had to walk me back home.
At this point my husband and I were both equally worried and also annoyed. I wasn’t able to go to work, care for my kids or even do basic things. We both agreed things could not possibly get worse. They did.
Strange things started happening. I woke up on the couch with a mouth full of blood, exhausted and sweating. Next day the same thing. On the weekend my husband was in the basement and came up the stairs to see what I wanted as I had been knocking on the floor.
I wasn’t knocking. It was my head repeatedly hitting the floor – I was having a seizure.
Things moved rather quickly after that. Neurologists, MRIs, EEGs, more EEGs. During these appointments it was also confirmed something that I already knew but would never admit.
I couldn’t read.
A 33 year old woman who always had something to read tucked in her purse and would skip nights of sleep just to finish a novel was now unable to read street signs or instructions.
In one week I was told the following:
- I was not to pick up my children or carry them (my youngest was 18 months). If I had a seizure I could drop them
- I was accepted onto Long Term Disability. My neurologist did not feel like this would resolve in less than 2 years.
- I was accepted into the Acquired Brain Injury program where I was going to work with a team who would help me daily to use memory aids, learn how to go grocery shop and work to control my rage filled outbursts that often accompany traumatic brain injuries.
Often times you hear of people who at their lowest points muster up the energy to do great magical things. This was not one of those times.
I repeatedly told my husband to leave me. I cried all the time. We ended up selling our house on a major street as even with earplugs I could not stand the noise of traffic and people.
My rehab team had me make a list of things I wanted to accomplish in the next 6 months. This was my list:
- Pick up my children from school and daycare
- Do grocery shopping
- Make dinner 1x a week
- Read simple passages and phrases
And that is what I did. I worked full time at getting better. I began to learn to read again with my 4 year old (I still hate those frog and toad books); I learned how to grocery shop by just buying the exact same things all the time; I wore earplugs to control the noise outside; I went out with only one person at a time as groups of people were overwhelming. I saw specialists to help control the crippling headaches so I was not confined to my bed after 5:00pm.
After 1.5 years I had gone through my list and 3 other lists. One night after I had made dinner – all by myself – my husband said to me: “Well if you can do this, you can do anything. What do you want to do?”
I spent over a year of my life worrying that if I fell asleep I wouldn’t wake up and that I would never see my children again. I worried I would have a seizure on the street and get hit by a car. This was not a time to think small. I said I wanted to work for myself.
I had been a return to work specialist and HR professional before this and I wanted to keep using those skills to help individuals rather than only Fortune 500 companies. I decided to start my own business. Careerlove was born. I spend my time working with women who are looking to make changes, achieve leadership roles, start their own business and navigate returning to work after maternity leave as well as small business human resources. It was the best decision I ever made.
I am still not perfect. I will never enjoy loud concerts and still use computer software to read long emails to me but almost losing everything at 33 has made me a different person.
I keep this list in my purse on a scrap of paper. It is my life list:
- Never say can’t. Say I don’t want to or it is not a priority. I can do anything I want.
- This day and every day is a gift. If it was your last would you be happy?
- Slow down.
- Good things take time. Don’t be afraid to spend time building something spectacular
- Ignore outside noise. If it is important let it in. (This is for noise but also stress, unwanted advice and criticism)
- Tell them you love them. Every day. Preferably more than once ☺.
Allison Venditti is the founder of the Career Coaching firm Careerlove and Moms@Work. Allison brings over a decade of experience in career coaching, HR consulting and is an expert in return-to-work and female leadership coaching having worked with over 800 individuals to date. She also loves biking with her husband and 2 boys, and just about anything to do with Star Wars.