TBI: Part 1


This post is the first in a multi-part series. I’ll be writing more about my journey with Traumatic Brain Injury, its impact on my life, how I’ve learned to cope, and how I hope to thrive despite (or maybe because) of it.

April, 2016. Paris. I woke up in a hospital, the intermittent beeping of machines somehow calming amidst a rush and flurry of voices, all of them seeming to hover around me in a cloud of foreign confusion. I had been living in the city for eight months, only just beginning to feel a sense of comfort in navigating the metro lines, the language, and building a group of some of the loveliest friends I’ve known.

Suddenly, I began to realize that some of the voices directed at me. Confused and looking for a point of orientation to grasp onto, I tried to communicate:

Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé ?

The response was a flutter of information I couldn’t put together. I learned quickly that the last moment I could remember had happened hours prior. A sudden and slight pain in my left hip called it back: Flying over the hood of a faceless stranger’s car. I couldn’t remember making contact with the ground.

I’ve never been more aware of my lonesome, the isolation that pulled me into myself, but somehow not even feeling the barriers of my body as protection. Blinking my eyes open, the reality around me became a blurry fuzz of disbelief.

I soon realized that no one knew where I was. Not my host mother nor my university, neither my friends nor family. When handed a phone to make a call, only a 603 number came to mind. I called my dad in New Hampshire.

He picked up. A voice, frantic and hurried, spoke before I could. Hello? Do you know where my daughter is? What’s going on.

“Daddy,” I choked out. The tears came. They wouldn’t stop.

“Honey, where are you? What’s going on?” Questions whose answers I wished for as well.

The pieces began to come together. It had been seven hours since a crowd had gathered around my unconscious body on the sidewalk of a busy Paris street. A woman had called an ambulance and stood next to where I lay until I was dropped off at the hospital. The car had driven off. No one had followed.

It was both literal and figurative, a metaphorical nod to something I’d suspected my whole life, a suspicion that had developed with growing clarity as I found elements of its definition in psychology textbooks and anecdotal proof in the literature I loved. In this body, in this world, I found myself profoundly alone.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my anonymity. A lack of outstanding or unusual features, my near-universal commonalities a disguise. I love the ease with which this allows me to move through the world, but sometimes, and with varying degrees of intensity, loneliness creeps in. But with a slew of wellness sites touting human connection as the most important thing we can do for our health, it sometimes feels like my state of essential being is out to kill me.

It’s funny, I’ll spend hours by myself, taking comfort in quiet walks around a city I love or am just beginning to discover, devouring books with a hunger satiated only by words, or simply sitting down to nothing other than the comfort of my own thoughts. And despite loving this, and reveling in all of this, I wonder if they each serve as a deterrent to being seen, thinking it impossible that someone else could take interest in me to a degree that feels meaningful.

Why am I so scared of being known? And why does it feel like I want it more than anything else?

I think even immediately after I woke up, I’ve always known that the car accident was a test, a lesson in something I still don’t yet fully know. It’s a process, moving through questions of forgiveness and eclipsing hate. But more than that, it’s a journey. I no longer dwell on the event, but rather reflect on it, returning to what it can teach me, asking what the universe wants to reveal, and the person it’s helping me to become.

More to come.

Isabelle EymanComment