Memoirs of No Memory: Inside the Mind of a Journalist Who Can't Remember
Written by Chrissy Bongiorni '11, a Gordon alumna who experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in high school. This essay was intended for her Writing for the Media class and explains the challenges, victories, and aspirations of a student with TBI.
Morning came, as it did every day, and I made my way to school. I had a million things to remember to do that day: a meeting in the morning, a group project to work on, research for the article I was writing and the usual cheerleading practice I had later that evening. As I arrived in the parking lot, I was right on time and needed only to cross the street. Despite the heedful glances I made before crossing the street, after my fourth step inside the crosswalk, I was hit by a fast-moving, oncoming car. In this moment, my life changed forever.
By God's grace, I am still alive today, despite the traumatic brain injury I suffered. My brain sustained severe swelling after the impact of my head hitting hard against the pagement. The injury kept me in a coma for months. Finally, one sunny morning, I woke up and the road to rehabilitation began. My above-mentioned, everyday obligations were indefinitely put on hold.
Everything was different now. I had to re-learn how to do simple things like moving, eating without a food tube and breathing without a tracheostomy. Because the injury had altered my sense of balance, I had to re-learn how to walk. Plastic braces were made for my feet, helping me gain stability. My therapists rescued me, teaching me and encouraging me.
My brain injury also caused a substantial tightening of one of the upper ligaments in my left arm. Doctors used Botox injections to loosen the muscles. Despite the stretching that I do every day, I am now unable to easily raise my left arm straight up over my head. My left arm will always be tighter and slower to move—Botox is only a temporary aid to relieving the tightness. I regularly exercise to stretch it out and keep the circulation moving.
Because of the extent of my injury, I relied on a lot of support and love from my family and friends. My parents continuously brought me to therapy. Those few hours a day were not enough, so they reinforced the therapy exercises and techniques by doing other things at home. They helped me bridge the rehabilitation hospital life with the normal life that I desired to live. My parents never lost hope.
Life with a traumatic brain injury is challenging in other ways too. I struggle to maintain relationships with family and friends. It's also hard to keep up with schoolwork and basic responsibilities. Because of the section of brain injured, everything that happened to me before the accident was untouched. All the relationships I had with my mother, sister, best friend, and neighbor down the street remain the same as they were before—although it's more work to keep up with these relationships now. But, my short term memory has suffered the most with my injury, making meeting new people especially challenging. It takes longer to recognize them and create a basis of a relationship.
Along with the problem of new relationships, retaining new information is also difficult, making schoolwork extremely hard to manage and absorb. It takes me longer to complete assignments and I have to study longer and harder to learn and retain new information. The injured part of my brain that deals with entry and retrieval of this kind of information is now much harder to access.
As an effect of the brain injury and my short-term memory lapses, a lot more planning goes into my day. My planner hasbecome my new right hand. If a meeting/assignment/plan/occasion is not put in my planner, there is no guarantee that I will do it or even remember it. This is my new way of scheduling my life. I always refer back to it.
Living life today with a traumatic brain injury is constant work. The obvious disadvantage of this injury is the extra effort it requires to remember something or recognize someone. If someone tells me about the traffic downtown, I might forget it by the time I am in the car and on my way. This is a realistic challenge for me. But on the up side, I am able to forget emotions or moments that may not be worth remembering anyway. In some ways, my faulty memory may be saving me from discontent and discouragement with my life and with the world.
Right now—at this very moment—I sit focused and awake at my desk in my dorm room. It is a calm Sunday morning. With everyone still on their way home from church, I hear just an occasional slam of a door being shut or water running. My roommate is not here, so my room is quiet. It is a beautiful day outside and the sun is shining bright. I feel at ease, enthralled in my work with minimal distraction.
I may not remember this moment tomorrow, because my memory of a day or occasion is never guaranteed. The importance of an event makes it easier to remember, as does a connection to my past, to relationships, to something that I enjoy. From this moment, I will be able to remember that I got a good chunk of work done—I have a stronger chance of remembering this time because it relates to what is due this coming week. But I probably won't remember the quiet activity and beauty outside.
I have asked myself the all-famous question a million times, but I view it differently now with my injury: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" My career goals have varied, from wanting to be a teacher, to a nutritionist, and now a communications writer of some sort. I have always had a knack for writing. It's one of the qualities I didn't lose after my injury, and because of that, I hope to find work within this field. I'd be great at writing articles that involve in-depth research. My short term memory loss wouldn't interfere with this kind of work since research takes more time. I am thorough, focused and good at taking my time to research a story, allowing me to craft something clever, yet informative.
Because I want to pursue a career as a communications journalist, I have prepared some strategies for covering stories. For example, if I was assigned to go to an event to help cover a story, I would research before going, helping me better understand the subject. This would then help fuel the creation of further investigation or come up with themes for the story itself. I know my faults and how to make up for them. I believe focusing on a theme of a story will bring a fresh voice to the coverage of an event. My dream of working in communications is both my way of spreading the story of what happened yesterday, and to create my own story at the same time.