"The battles that count aren't the ones for trophies," someone once said. "The struggles within yourself - the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us - that's where it's at."
Gold medals are much on our minds at the moment. Tennis and football competitions have just drawn to a climax, with millions around the world cheering their idols on to the ultimate prize.
The above quote comes from Jesse Owens, a noted athlete who overcame racial bigotry and recognised that anything worth attaining needed to be striven for. Every single one of us, even those of us who are not competing in international sport, will, during our life, have our own challenges to face and goals to aim for.
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This is especially true for anyone who lives with a brain injury. Our battles are constant, gruelling, and, probably, life-long. Unlike the champions standing on the podium pumping their fists at the adoring fans, however, nobody will probably even notice that we have achieved anything, for the daily steps of progress are, like the illness itself – more or less invisible.
I have lived with brain injury for 17 years. It arose from bacterial meningitis and has robbed me of most of my memories, snatched away friendships, marriage and jobs. I have never looked remotely different, however and, once I had been discharged, ongoing therapy and assessment were more or less over.
My family were thrilled that I had survived and was ‘better’ and yes, compared to the me lying unresponsive in ITU, I was doing fine. It soon became clear that I was not the same person who had sunk into the coma, however. Sudden noise startled me, stressful situations led me either to aggression or collapsing with mental exhaustion and I was no longer fun, impulsive or fearless. I had embarked on the first of the stages of grief, which come after a major trauma and the only thing which gets a person through that is time.
Oh, and music.
Without music I doubt I could have stayed sane.
My musical tastes had changed dramatically but, then, so had many things. Two artists found me and both have been phenomenally therapeutic through the various stages of my recovery. I am eternally grateful to them and mouthed my silent thanks into the darkness of the auditorium when I watched them perform live. Therapy also comes from the sea and I am lucky to live a short walk from empty stretches of beach, where I can muse and gain the strength to battle through the next 24 hours
It is a battle, make no mistake. I am one of the lucky ones, I know that. I lost much but I still have my independence, I have raised two healthy and happy daughters to the point where they are ready to fly free. I hold down a full time job and life is as happy as I think it gets.
There are times I have despaired about the lack of help for those with a brain injury, left to simply flounder in the wake of a devastating diagnosis and, if they have no support, lacking the energy to shout out for help. Help is finally coming, however. Brain injury is being recognised as a legitimate disability, with Prince Harry launching the BI card a year ago. Anyone with a brain injury can carry it and it will help if they need to explain why they are confused, angry, lost or if they are provoked into a fight. Anger issues and self-control can be tough when you have a BI.
So it’s changing. With high profile supporters like the prince, we may find that the time comes when a neurological impairment is seen as no different to a physical one.
Until then, keep that music on, play it loud and sing at the top of your voice, You are one of the survivors.
‘Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory’ - Percy Bysshe Shelley