Willingness, Desire and Determination Led Me Here: Dr. Lisa
This is the final part of a 4-part story of one very brave and dedicated TBI survivor. While this story concludes here, I can assure you Lisa is not done. She has more ambition than I have ever seen in a person. She is your comeback kid in spite of so many obstacles placed in front of her over the years. These stories only scratch at the surface as to the challenges she has faced and endured throughout her life.
She still struggles with executive functions but has a wealth of knowledge and resources to help her navigate them to be successful. She is now Dr. Lisa who can help others with a wide range of mental health issues that are keeping them stuck from living to their fullest potential. She works with others now using her wealth of knowledge and personal experiences to have profound effects on many lives.
Overcoming, One Day at a Time
I went back to school with the focus of studying how mental health can impact the quality of life for mild to moderate TBI survivors. I listened to fellow TBI survivors discuss their struggles with low self-esteem, depression, and shame as these variables were reported to be the most common among the survivors. Negative encounters with people have turned me into an introvert, my desire to understand what other survivors and I experience has turned me into a researcher.
When I walked on-stage for my doctoral hooding ceremony, as a graduate with high distinction, I thought about all the obstacles, steps, motivation, and my desire to serve other people. School enabled me to mature in ways I could not believe. School was my rehabilitation process. The car accident changed my life no doubt, but school provided me with opportunities to learn.
When people said, “I can’t help you”, school taught me how to look for other resources to try to help myself.
Do not misunderstand, we all need someone, and at times, we need a professional to talk to. I need to give credit to my vocational-rehabilitation counselor because she has put up with a lot from me over the years. She met me when I slurred my words, could not form sentences easily, and I forgot so many things (even the counselor’s name at times), but the counselor also nudged me even when I wanted to be left alone.
Over the years, she has put me in touch with some great resources such as Michelle who have helped me learn in a face-to-face manner how to deal with things which I struggled and still struggle with. I do not mind sharing that Michelle has been of great help to me when I have needed to process overstimulation and processing issues.
Having someone who understands my challenges and who wants to help instead of belittling, is such a blessing. One thing among many, which I have learned is, my mind can tell me there is no one who seems to be willing and able to help me, that is just in my head.
Wonderful professionals aside, there must be a willingness, determination, and a desire to change. Some of the greatest help to change comes from within, and through faith in a power greater than myself. For me, that is God, through the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
I chose to share my story because so many people are stigmatized by circumstances beyond their control and in the end, each of us has a choice on how we deal with the cards life has dealt us.
In my case, when I hit an obstacle, it knocked me down and I had to muster the motivation to get back up and try again. Sometimes, it is people who have endured hardship in life who work the hardest to make meaningful changes in their lives. Did I prove the doubters wrong? I have no idea, and frankly, it does not matter because the biggest doubter was myself. If you would have asked me eleven years ago if I would be where I am today, I would have laughed until my ribs hurt.
Someone was watching out for me, carrying me when there was only one set of footprints, and believed in me when I did not believe in myself.
My life is not a bed of roses and I do struggle, but through all the trials, obstacles, and joys, yes joys, there has been one constant in my life and that is faith. Without faith, I would have died at my kitchen table ten years ago. Without faith, I would not have had the courage to move forward when I kept hitting negativity by others and roadblocks within my own denial. Though there have been many challenges in my life, I count my blessings and realize I would not be where I am today without the love of God and His faith in me, when I had no faith in myself.
Life is still a struggle and though I have initials after my name, I am still disrespected by those who cannot see past the blinders in front of their eyes and only choose to see me as “different”, “awkward”, or “odd”. The shunning, rejection, being passed-over for jobs I am more than qualified for, and the sense of not being good enough to fit in society, some would say it is all in my head, but when the same thing keeps happening and only the location has changed, it gives one pause. The other day, I was talking with a member of law enforcement, having a casual conversation and when he found out I have a doctorate degree, I thought he was going to fall flat to the ground. The look of shock on his face was somewhat funny, but at the same time, it was insulting.
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of discussion about inequality with most reference to race. Discrimination and presupposition are equal opportunity social bias and injustice perpetrators. People do not ask to be born a certain way, nor do people ask to be injured and disabled.
Learning to accept the difference between who they once were and who they are now is a huge challenge in and of itself. Being discriminated against because someone is different, that’s not only social unjust, it shows a lack of self-respect for the individual(s) who cannot accept difference from their own perspective.
My name is Lisa. I have many flaws and many talents. I am, different. I am, a TBI survivor. I am, TBI Survivor Strong.
Lisa Marie Ansell, EdD, LPC, NCC, CBIS Licensed Professional Counselor National Certified Counselor Certified Brain Injury Specialist Adjunct Professor at a Private University
If you missed the previous parts of this story you can find them here: part 1, part 2, part 3.
A Damaged Spirit, Cognitive Struggles and The Determination To Overcome
A 4-part story of adversity, courage, hope and success for one TBI survivor
Lisa, with a damaged spirit and facing many cognitive struggles, embraces her disabilities in the midst of healing with the will and determination to overcome her challenges.
This is part two of a four-part series of how one traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor overcame obstacles to improve her quality of life when appropriate resources seemed out of reach. We learned how Lisa’s life changed after a terrible accident in Part I: Overcome Obstacles Instead of Being Overcome by Them. These obstacles and challenges associated with TBI survivors include many skills associated with execution functions of the brain. These skilled functions can be thought of as the command center of the brain that controls the cognitive processes such as decision-making, impulse control, attention, emotional regulation, and working memory.
Here is part two of her story.
Change Takes Time
Have you ever heard the term, “doing a geographical”? Many times, geographicals do not work but in my case, it saved my life; literally. Somehow, I was able to get a good job in another county. I got good references from people in the other community, I think mostly so I would leave. If people think they fooled me, they did not but I needed to go somewhere else to pick up the pieces before my pieces were so broken, they could not be repaired. The job did not work out even though I told the employer about the head injury and how it may take longer for me to get the information into my long-term memory, but once I got the information into my long-term memory, I was good.
The trainer grew so impatient with me, she snapped pencils in frustration.
I knew my time was done then.
So began my employment woes.
Headaches after the accident were brutal and constant. One day, after moving to the new community, I had the worst headache, my speech was worse than it had been since the accident (four years prior), and I thought I was having a stroke. To the Emergency Room I headed only to be diagnosed with a migraine and sent on my way. The clinic connected me with a kind patient navigator who turned out to understand my circumstances better than most, being a TBI survivor as well. This kind soul connected me with resources that assisted with getting services and referrals to people who deal with TBI.
I felt like the thunderstorms were heading east and finally, sunny weather was in my forecast.
The new community had their own ideas about my “strange” behavior and I again faced judgement and incorrect opinions. Employment opportunity labeled me “a liability” and spread the word through the county of my ineptness, which spread like a wildfire. There is nothing better in the world than being judged, tried, and convicted of being an indecent person by people who have no willingness to understand someone who is different, and in their opinions, insignificant. What if it had been them in the accident, how would they feel?
During my recovery, I have seen the kind side of people for the first encounter, then the (not so) subtle body language telling me to stay away from them. Talk about a self-esteem killer! It has been my experience that people push away what they do not understand, and rebuke what is different than their interpretation of normal. So, is their version of normal the norm for the rest of us? Why are they so special?
Just saying. Is anyone relating to any of this?
Aside from doctors and becoming a subject within a sample population for a research study to receive free treatment for my TBI in exchange for data for the researchers, I found another form of rehabilitation. Having been dealt more rejection after the accident than I had previously experienced in life, I found acceptance, in school.
Remember the words from the Junior Associate lawyer who pretty much told me I would not amount to much in life? If you do not, I did. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I applied to a university expecting to be laughed at (behind my back of course) but instead, I got accepted. Let me repeat the word, accepted.
Between the words of the Junior Associate lawyer and reading the word, accepted, I was motivated to prove all the doubters wrong.
School was tough. I did not retain the information within the reading assignments the first time, the second time, or even the fifth time. I had to reread the material repeatedly to comprehend enough to answer one question. I do not believe any of my professors knew how hard I had to work, they just commented on my being a good student.
While the rest of the world (it seemed) thought this “different, awkward, and strange” woman would not amount to much, I trusted God’s plan for my life, whatever that was, and each time I got a good grade, I felt accepted and more than my brain injury, I was learning how to process information, formulate sentences, and re-learn critical thinking skills.
I began to have belief in myself again.
Someone within the community who knew I was living out of my pick-up truck or a motel when I had money, told me about a job possibility they knew I had experience with. I was upfront and honest with the potential employer regarding my injury and after going through some hoops, I was offered a job and have been with the employer for nearly eight years.
The job schedule worked with my academic studies and eventually, I was able to move into my own apartment after seven months of living in my truck or in a motel. I still get people who judge me and think they have the right to draw erroneous conclusions as to why I am the way I am, but I really don’t care anymore as I trust my abilities and know my job. If I cannot do my job due to having a tough day with overstimulation, I have an agreement with my boss that I will call and take the day off.
There have not been many days I have had to call off work for overstimulation reasons. But the words of people who have tarnished my reputation have created a disrespect of me within the employment that no matter how much I recover, to them, I am just the pain in the butt who shows up for work and does her job.
Gossip kills not only a reputation, but it also does damage to a spirit.
As I sign-off for this post, I am going to share with you that this “awkward” and “different” TBI survivor graduated with honors and received a bachelor’s degree five years after the accident without using accommodations.
My determination wanted to do the work without crutches; I needed to prove to myself that I could do it.
Walking across the stage to shake the hand of the university’s president with one hand and grasp my diploma holder with the other hand did so much for my self-esteem and belief of becoming more than my brain injury.
To the doubters, it almost felt like I was giving them the bird, though I knew there may be nothing I can do to prove them wrong in their own minds. But to myself, I found a part of me that I did not know existed before the accident. Maybe there was a blessing in disguise within a terrible experience.
Overcome Obstacles Instead of Being Overcome by Them
A 4-part story of adversity, courage, hope and success for one TBI survivor
This is one of a four-part series of how one traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor overcame obstacles to improve her quality of life when appropriate resources seemed out of reach. These obstacles and challenges associated with TBI survivors include many skills associated with execution functions of the brain. These skilled functions can be thought of as the command center of the brain that controls the cognitive processes such as decision-making, impulse control, attention, emotional regulation, and working memory.
Here is the first part of her story.
Healing is a continual process, but for this TBI Survivor, I made a choice to overcome obstacles instead of being overcome by them. Do not get me wrong, there have been, and still are some tough days, but with determination and a willingness to change, anything is possible.
Over eleven years ago, my life drastically changed on a fall day as I was driving to Steamboat Springs, Colorado in a snowstorm for a class. We all know how Colorado weather can be; sunny one minute, a few miles down the road and a few minutes later, a complete whiteout has greeted you with full force. As I was making the final turn toward the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass, I noticed a vehicle fish-tailing on their side of the road and decided to pull as far right on the shoulder as I could hoping the car would pass, I could make a sarcastic comment about their driving, then be back on the way to class.
I did not make it to class but, I did survive a head-on collision with the side of the other driver’s vehicle. Not only was life as I knew it changed but my ambitions for my career were crushed as well.
Well, I went from being a semi-respected member of the community to the town joke.
Memory, balance, speech, processing, and cognitive issues made me different; insignificant in the minds of many who, instead of trying to understand the abrupt challenges in my life, people chose to judge and diagnose me to be someone I was not. I lost friends, family members had no idea how to deal with me or communicate with me so, it was just easier for them to write me off as a “freak”. People I called friends called me, “different, odd, awkward, and consistently inconsistent”. Great on the self-esteem, I tell you (sarcastically speaking).
There were limited resources within the community I lived and the husband at the time, scared the crap out of me when he drove me to and from doctor appointments and surgeries. It took me over a year to get behind the wheel again.The marriage did not survive, but my mild traumatic brain injury was not the only reason.
Do you know what it is like to walk into the store or post office and see people whisper into one another’s ear while looking at you from the corner of their eye? Nah, they were definitely not talking about me, and they were so secretive, I had not noticed. Right…
I apparently hired a lawyer to represent my best interests but I don’t recall signing the paperwork, but when it was all said and done, I was hurt in the accident so they could benefit from my pain and suffering. On one of the few encounters I remember with the lawyer’s Junior Associate (my mood swings and emotional dysregulation were too much for the real lawyer), it was mentioned that I should lose my home, be broke, and accept that I would never have worth-while employment for the rest of my life.
I guess if I had bought into what they were selling, they would have gotten more of my settlement, and they got most of it. That was just enough motivation for me to realize I did not want to be the person they decided I was going to be. Boy, did I make a few sharks angry. Who cares about what their words did to my self-esteem?
Oh yeah, being different means being insignificant, right? Wrong!
One afternoon a year-and-a-half after my accident, I sat at my kitchen table in despair, crying, and thought I could not live the way I had being living anymore. I was afraid to drive, the help I was getting was minimal, and the then husband was about as available as a live operator in a computer-operated call center. I was ready to give up and had grown resigned to the idea of my disappointing new life, trying to find acceptance of my circumstances even though I struggled to accept the new me.
It was tough because I could still remember how I use to be, I just did not know how to reach that person. We had been permanently disconnected. I sat at that kitchen table and surrendered and prayed. Something had to give. Does anyone reading this understand where I am coming from or what I am talking about?
Within my next post, I will share about healing; Lisa style.