My name is Claire Michelle Graham. I am a 20-year-old woman with a traumatic brain injury. I made this blog to address the young women who think they are alone. To speak to the women who think that their struggles are “inappropriate” or “embarrassing.”
I am writing to tell you that you are not alone. That will be in my posts to come. But today, I am going to take my first post to give you some background on my life as a Christian woman who has come to realize her limits. Bear with me as I share my background, because it has a lot to do with who I am today.
I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana into a loving Christian family. My dad was in the Army so we moved around a lot. My parents are still married, and I have an older sister (Audrey, 24) and a younger brother (Will, 17). I moved to southern Indiana halfway through kindergarten and stayed there until the end of 3rd grade when I moved back to Indianapolis. I stayed there until the end of my freshman year of high school. After that I moved to Belleair, Florida where I stayed until the summer after my sophomore year. It was then that I moved back to Indianapolis where I lived until college.
I have always been a very active person. I have played volleyball, soccer, and softball (I said played, not excelled). I pushed my body to limits that I probably shouldn’t have, given my head injury. The first day of summer after 7th grade, I was climbing a tree at my best friend Brianna’s house and got up to where I was eye-level with her second story bedroom window. I saw this really beautiful leaf and decided to turn it over to see what the other side looked like. To my horror, there were little black bugs all over the leaf that began to jump on me.
Fun fact about me: I love nature, but I hate bugs. So I stepped backwards to get away from this death leaf, and to my surprise, I heard a snap. And then I was falling. I hit branch after branch of this beautiful tree that apparently wanted to kill me. Then I landed in a bruised heap on the grass. It felt like there was no air left in the world, let alone my lungs. It felt like a dementor from Harry Potter had sucked out my soul. That was my first run-in with concussions.
Concussions numbers 2-7 are very long stories, but concussion number 3 was what began the slow descent into darkness. During my sophomore year of high school, I started having personality changes. I wasn’t the teenage girl that my parents had raised me to be. Instead, I was a reckless, attention seeking, depressed, and a suicidal 16-year-old. In Florida, I was put under a 72-hour psychiatric hold in a mental hospital for children. It was there that I discovered some of the worst things that go on in people’s minds. My parents no longer had the option to take me home once I was put in that hospital. My situation went on to a social worker and a psychologist who would evaluate my mental/emotional state at the end of the 72 hours and determine whether I was a danger to myself/others around me. I went home on that third day and thought that I would never have to deal with that kind of issue again. I was wrong.
I continued acting out. So much so that my father retired from the military to move the whole family back home to Indiana in hopes that I would regain control over myself. I did not. My junior year of high school, I spent 6 weeks in a rehab facility in Chicago. That was probably the biggest waste of time I have ever spent. Even my parents would agree. They focused on fixing eating disorders and self-harm, neither of which were symptoms of whatever was wrong with me. So after 6 weeks of faking my way through it, they said “You’re cured!” and sent me home. But I was not cured. I had issues that would not be properly addressed until a year later when I was facing my senior year of high school.
After a series of unfortunate events (pun very much intended) that consisted of me getting a tattoo without my parents’ permission (while underage), getting kicked out of my Christian high school, being subjected to the worst in two men, and several house calls to the local police force, my parents had had enough. They knew there was something more that was wrong with me. I was not the girl that they had raised. I was acting out, talking to strangers online, and distancing myself from my family to try to hide it all. Looking back, the worst part of it was seeing all the hurt I was causing my mother…and not caring at all. It was like a switch had been flipped off. I remember every time I would make a poor decision, I would know that I was about to do something wrong, but I would ignore that feeling and do it anyway. I was living in my own body but I had no control over what was happening. A part of my brain wanted to make the right decision and fix every relationship that I had ruined. I remember my two best friends telling me that they couldn’t be my friends anymore if I continued making these choices, but I just kept going.
So on November 20, 2014, I was admitted to a neurological facility in Texas. This was no ordinary hospital with ugly green gowns that were a little too breezy or white walls that went on and on forever. This was a place that worked on both your brain and your behavior. At the time, I was a stubborn kid, and I didn’t actually start trying to correct my behavior until I had been there for two whole months. But after a couple months of being there, the doctors made a discovery.
There was a part of my brain that had been damaged. A test done on my frontal lobe showed that there was a dysrhythmia and that it apparently explained everything, all my behavioral and emotional problems. Now, I am no doctor, so I really can’t explain to you all the fine print, but long story short, each time I would make a decision, my brain would have a little, tiny seizure, and the neurons in my brain would misfire, causing me to do something stupid. Finding this out was both a relief and a huge burden. Was there anything we could do? Was there a medicine that could correct brain damage? Was I just stuck making bad decisions for the rest of my life? Well, the doctors and therapists helped me get my life back on track over a span of 6 months in the hospital. I was put on 4 different medications to help me keep my life on track, and they helped me retrain my decision-making skills so that my brain would function properly.
So keep in mind, I hadn’t seen freedom in 6 months. I was surrounded by a tall wooden fence and a whole cadre of staff members to make sure I was safe and healthy. But on March 27, 2015, I was discharged–I was home, and I was free. And yet, life was still difficult. I made my fair share of mistakes over the next couple of weeks while readjusting to a normal lifestyle, but I did adjust.
The side effects of my brain injury are memory loss (which sucks because I am basically an old lady), insane headaches that don’t even let me get out of bed sometimes, and unending frustration stemming from everyday-life’s problems.
So now I am about to finish out my final semester at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and I am working to support myself as a young adult. That is my life in an oversized nutshell. So now you know where I am coming from when I tell you my directed audience is young women who think they are struggling alone.
This is a blog about my life and struggles, but God’s story.
If you ever have any questions for me, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will reply as soon as I can.