Jessica Peters is a reporter at the Chilliwack Progress.

COLUMN: Bouncing back from a brain injury isn’t easy

‘We didn’t know how bad it was until I tried to return to work’

On Nov. 6, 2015, I suffered a traumatic brain injury during a car crash on the Lickman overpass.

I was pretty banged up.

But we didn’t know how bad it was until I tried to return to work, where I weave words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into stories to be read (and criticized) by the public.

After a few short weeks it was obvious I couldn’t do that yet, and I was sent home with a whole new diagnosis that explained why sometimes I couldn’t speak or think, why my head still hurt so much, and why I felt so … dumb.

I had an acquired brain injury from the intense force of air bags – post concussion syndrome.

And I still do.

A few months later, upon release from the intensive, daily WorkSafe therapy program, I was scoring in the highest percentile for brain function. And not just the highest percentile for people with brain injuries, but for the general population.

But I still didn’t feel myself. I still forgot words. I still was angry. I still had times I couldn’t speak.

I still felt … dumb.

Their psychiatrist admitted that yes, I was probably used to being smarter, wittier, faster. As a successful and highly-motivated newspaper reporter, I am what she considers an information synthesizer. That means I can easily write an email while listening to the scanner and the chatter in the newsroom, while keeping an eye on the street and screening incoming messages on all social media channels, and picking up the phone.

And most days, I still can. I’ve healed well.

Most days I am the old Jessica, and I can have these days for weeks on end and really get a handle on things at work, at home, with friends, with family.

But there are days where I can’t remember words like “coffee table,” and others where I’ll totally forget how to pronounce a word.

Some days I’m in pain, and other days I feel really slow. Some days it angers me. Other days I laugh.

This is life with a head injury. It’s nothing at all compared to what others deal with and I know this. So I’m thankful that I am fully functioning, enough to get my own groceries, do my own chores, drive, work, study, read, and learn new things.

But there are days when I’m that woman back in therapy, working quietly at home on brain exercises because I can feel myself falling back in progress. There are days when I have to wear sunglasses around town, to lessen the brain stimulation.

I use a dictionary more. I lean on my colleagues more. I cannot for the life of me remember how to spell “receive,” but my spell checker rarely lets me down.

But none of this has made me less of a reporter.

Being a reporter is about knowing what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s about holding people in power accountable for their actions and words. It’s about reflecting what’s going on in the community, and creating a public record. It’s about shining a light on what’s going on in a community, both good and bad.

It’s about ethics.

It’s about truth, and seeking it out, and reporting it.

It’s about using the right words to relay information.

It’s considering the source, and even facing personal biases.

But more than anything, I think, it’s about sharing the human experience. There are countless people who are hurt this week by the use of a derogatory slang, the repugnant R-word. I could be one of them but I’m used to criticism; it comes with the job and I have decades of armour.

And my job is to wield that mightier sword and continue writing.


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

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