2020 SDBIF Scholarship Recipient Madeline Garrett

I don’t even know how I hurt my brain. That is hard to believe, I know, but I don’t know how it happened in the first place. I was a really normal little kid. I played softball, maybe I injured my brain when I was covering third base and another girl slid into me? Maybe I missed a pop fly and it bonked me on the head? I did karate for a long time. Was my headgear on wrong when I took a kick? I rode my bike a lot. I crashed a lot. One time I slid on loose gravel and crashed hard and I don’t remember the walk back to our family tent. I rode roller coasters. I snowboarded. I hiked. I rolled around with my brother. Did any of these things cause my brain injury? I don’t know and I probably never will. The fact is I could have lived my whole life and not even known I had a brain lesion. It is a fluke that I ever even found out I had one, but once I did, it explained a lot about my life.

When I was small I was a really happy little girl but all of a sudden when I was about thirteen years old something changed very drastically for me. I suddenly could no longer concentrate. I had really bad headaches. I used to love to read but now it gave me a headache and I had trouble paying attention to the plot. In school I went from being the kid who knew the answers to the one who forgot she had homework due at all and never did it. I remember my 8th grade math teacher yelling at me and tearing up my notes because I was not paying attention to her. I was trying to but it all just seemed to slip away from me. By 9th grade I was convinced I was stupid and that my life was pointless. I went to a psychologist and they found that I was off the charts in suicidal thinking and ideation. I could not remember what happened in class and only turned in enough work to get by after my mom would go through my book bag and look at my online work and nag me about it to help me keep it straight. She lent me her executive function to help me stay on top of things in school.

I had my first seizure later that year. When we went to see the neurologist he told my mom that I was faking it for attention and they were pseudo seizures because of my depression. I was not faking them. I kept having them. I had several and got to take several ambulance rides that I don’t remember. I took medications for seizures and depression and I still had them and still felt like I wanted to die. One day I took the whole bottle of seizure medication to just get it over with. I found myself in a locked psych ward but it was the best thing that could have happened because it got me new medication and a new medical team. I got to see a new neurologist and she ordered a series of MRIs and CAT scans. That is when they found my lesion from an undiagnosed TBI.

This was the biggest weight in the world off my shoulders. I learned that there is a very high correlation between brain injury and suicidal thinking. The more I read the more I saw myself. I finally had appropriate medication and therapy. I changed schools to a much smaller school where I knew my teachers better. I started taking college courses and they were so much better- all of a sudden all the little busy work assignments were gone and I could focus on learning at my own pace and studying for fewer larger tests. My grades went up. My confidence returned. I learned how to ask for accommodations and rest when I get tired.

So my brain injury and associated mood disorder did almost stop me, but I am lucky. I got help and treatment and support from a solid family to help me progress. I don’t know what fall semester will bring. I may need to take a smaller course load because the cognitive fatigue can be killer when I am taking too many classes at once. But that is ok because my path is my own and it doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as I keep walking. I am now seizure free and am learning to drive. I have a job and have earned a whole year of college credit already. I am lucky.

I know that this is not the case for everyone with a TBI. I read a statistic that as many as half of all chronically homeless people may be suffering from the effects of brain injury. I am hopeful that I can continue to educate the world about brain injury and hopefully help other people to see how prevalent it is in our society. I have several friends who have severe depression and all of them have played sports with high risk of contact to their heads. None of their parents have ever had them evaluated though. I suspect this is a problem that is enormous if we could bring the resources to focus on it. I hope that this is a cause I can be a part of in the future.

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