Hilary Zayed had to reinvent herself after she fell off her horse several years ago and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She used to be an elementary school teacher, but her brain can no longer handle the sensory input — bells ringing, children walking and talking, all the hubbub that normally happens in an elementary school. So, teaching is out for Hilary, along with some other things that were an integral part of her life.
“I was a horseback rider, that’s out,” she says. “The neurologist says one more fall, it will kill me. I was a flute player and now can’t stand the sound. Gone. Everything I did is gone, so I had to reinvent myself with something I found interest in.”
Now Hilary is a painter and mosaic artist, something she wasn’t the least bit interested in before her head injury. “I wasn’t an artist before, no talent, no desire. Now I crave it, I love it. I teach it.”
Ted Brackett was also a teacher until he fell from a 10-foot ladder. “I taught school for 24 years,” Ted explains, “and all of a sudden was told I could not teach again. I went into a suicidal depression because my whole life was all over as far as I was concerned.”
His life took on new meaning when Ted joined Brain Injury Voices, an advocacy group that developed from a brain injury support group at New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland. “By becoming a member of Brain Injury Voices and attending and talking at conferences and talking with individual people, it gives me the feeling that I’m teaching again. It has changed my life back so that even though I’m doing something different, I’m still doing what I did.”
Bethany Bryan, the youngest member, had brain surgery. “I still can’t fathom that it’s been a year and a half since my surgery and I’m not able to do this or that,” she says. “I was an athlete. Some of us can partially do what we used to do, some of us will never be able to do what we used to do. From the first day, I walked into group everything changed. I had been so depressed that I still can’t work and I’m still in constant pain. This group has helped me a lot with that.”
All of the members of Brain Injury Voices have had to learn how to cope with the after effects of their injuries and find ways to move forward with their lives. The causes may be different — an accident, a stroke, surgery — but their struggles are similar. They have helped each other and learned that as a group they can accomplish great things.
“We all used to be somebody who could do certain things,” adds Rorie Lee, who was injured when she slipped on the ice and hit her head. “We’re that same person, but have some limitations in some of the areas that maybe used to be our strengths, and have to work our way around. I think we can help people figure out some of the challenges they’re facing.”