Tuesday, May 12, 2015

After 5 Years, It's Time for a New Identity

     Exactly 5 years ago today, right around this time, absolutely everything changed for me. I was a junior in high school, about to finish up the year with dazzling colors. I loved people – regardless of any race, gender, height, orientation, disability, religion, even regardless of how awful someone would treat me. As you can imagine with someone like that, I had friends on my right and my left, wherever I went. I was excellent at math, currently taking AP Calculus. In fact, I was pretty dang good at every scholarly subject – and always had to have an A to prove it. I was very spiritually strong although it was kept mostly to myself. I loved the fact that I could get ready – and look stinking cute! – in less than 15 minutes in the morning.  By this time, I had worked myself up to one of the most valued debaters on Lone Peak State Champion Debate Team. From debate, I also met this cute kid I called my boyfriend. We had been “dating” for over a year and he knew everything about me. He was such a sweet kid and was absolutely okay to be with me and all sorts of my other friends – even when my other friends were all guys. If I wasn’t at school, debating, or hanging out with friends, I was most likely rollerblading. My favorite thing to do on my rollerblades was begin at the top of my very steep driveway, go all the way down very fast, and jump off the curb. Then I would go right back to the top and do it again… and again. And now that state had finished for debate, I had just gotten a job at Snoasis – the best job ever! I loved taking orders, making and serving snow cones.
     With all of the varieties of friends I had, coming from so many different backgrounds, I helped a LOT of people with a LOT of HARD stuff. I prayed multiple times for God to send some angels to a friend in need. Even after someone would accuse me of terrible, awful things; after someone would treat me like trash; and after someone would not give me the time of day – ignore or even avoid me, I just continued to treat them with love. Yes, times obviously would be hard, and I’d feel very hurt; I know that I had all sorts of challenges, but I was constantly working through them because I knew that eventually, I’d be able to come out on top.
     But it only took one motorcycle with a broken throttle and one backhoe parked in an odd spot to take my entire life and throw it all away. Initially, people – family, friends, doctors, EMTs were concerned if I still had any life left in me at all. As the next 2 weeks went by, I was on life support, in a coma, and people started wondering why so many resources were being used on someone who might not survive at all, and even if they did would likely be brain dead, or paralyzed. After I came out of the coma, I was put through vigorous therapies, but I was unable to comprehend the reason why. I was asked simple questions like, “What does a cow say? What number is between 3 and 5? How many hours are in a day?” I was so frustrated because my brain had not registered that it had been injured, so I thought I knew the answers to all of these questions, even though I did not. I also had to endure physical strain like I’ve never even imagined before. Re-entering this life, completely dependent on others, I had to teach my brain how to do everything – from walking and talking to swallowing and holding my head up - all over again. 
     Because I had not registered that I was severely injured and actually needed to be in a hospital, I was bound and determined to return home as quickly as possible, regardless of how much care I actually needed. Doctors warned and instructed me of a lot of things that would be harder to do as a result of my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). With the amount of trauma I had taken, I was unable to accept that I had a TBI, let alone that I had any added difficulties. When friends came around, I felt like they were treating me differently and I still could not believe that I was any different, so I became frustrated. However with a TBI, frustration does not stay as frustration. It turns into anger, lashing out, and threats of all kinds of ridiculous things. Before long, I had run every single one of my friends out of my life. Amongst everything else, school was excruciatingly hard, I couldn’t hold a job for very long, and my spirituality had plummeted. For the last 5 years, there has not been a single day that I have woken up and been happy to be alive.
     For the last 5 years, I have felt intense pain physically and emotionally. For the last 5 years, I haven’t been able to understand why I’m still here, living. Over the last 5 years, I have asked Heavenly Father to take me home countless times. Over the last 5 years, I have struggled with accepting what happened to me. However, the time that I said, “Shannon, it’s about time that you gave yourself permission to emotionally heal,” was possibly the most emotionally painful time. That was 5 months ago and I’m not done yet. With 5 grueling, heartbreaking years, and a lot of faith, trust and insight I am learning to accept my TBI and my life with it.
     I don’t want people to think of Shannon as the person I have been after my accident. Shannon L Blackham worked way too hard to let a stupid motorcycle and a dumb backhoe destroy her name. So please, stop and think about everything you knew about me before my accident. Think about that moment when you heard that I had been in a terrible accident that could possibly take my life. Think about how heartbreaking it was to think that someone who loved you so much and whom you loved in return could suddenly just be taken from you. Stop there. Please, don’t go any further. Shannon L Blackham DID DIE that day; the itty bitty pieces of Shannon that are still fighting inside of me are torn down by the TBI 99% of the time. The TBI has tainted the name of Shannon Blackham and her history in the lives of my own and others. Let us hold the good memories of Shannon and keep it at that.
     The image that I have of Shannon L Blackham is very great and therefore holds high expectations. Trying to live up to the image I have of that name is an extreme struggle. Given my new set of circumstances, I am not able to reach many of my previous hopes and dreams. I need closure from the life I lived before the accident. I recognize that closure doesn’t come to all people in the same way. The TBI wiped my memory of nearly everything therefore I don’t know what really happened after my accident. I only know that this traumatized, brain injured person does not act in accordance to the way that Shannon would have lived. Additionally, one of the strangest things, is that occasionally some random note, shirt, picture, or landmark will flood back dozens of memories with a particular person. The hard part about this though, is that all of those memories can be incredible, but because of the way our lives parted, it tears me apart. It destroys me every time I think about certain people from my past; it kills me even to drive past my old high school; the worst part is knowing that it is all my fault. Or at least it’s the person trapped inside of a traumatized, brain damaged body’s fault. It hurts more than one could imagine that I will never have the ability to be the Shannon L Blackham from before the TBI.  The last 5 years I have been in a state of limbo – no longer being Shannon Blackham; someone largely devoid of personal identity, friends, companionship, confidence, motivation and a desire to move forward. In short, I have been controlled by a TBI.
     As the hardest yet beneficial thing to do, I am saying goodbye to everything I have ever known. In so doing, I’m going to try to reset my goals, dreams and expectations. To do this, I need an entire identity switch. Please do whatever you can to not associate the person you’ve seen for the last 5 years with the name Shannon as she has been TBI. Although selfish, going forward, I’m asking everyone to stop calling me Shannon and start calling me Riley. I need to be able to put Shannon L Blackham to rest and embrace a new persona. A persona that I do not feel the need to justify every action by explaining my TBI, a persona that can accept my new set of qualities and challenges and stop comparing them to everything I was before. With Riley I hope to be able to once again find joy from no longer equating myself to pre-accident-Shannon.
Love sincerely,


  1. You are awesome Riley! Please tell me you (still) like chocolate chip cookies! ;) We love you! Rachel and family

  2. Woah! Big! I love you! I will admit, I felt a pang in my heart when I read "Riley".. I am sad I can't call you all the nicknames I've always called you lol. I hope you'll have patients with me if I forget. It's automatic for me to say "love you shan", so it might roll off my tongue unintentional. But I do love you, exactly as you are and as you hope to be. I feel like the Girl I know is this girl, the one who is beginning to find some hope In a new future because not having hope it's just too exhausting.. And as scary as it is to hope in the unknown, I'd rather be scared than feel that hopeless feeling you know? I seriously can't wait to see you in this new life you are embarking on. I hope I can always be a part of it.
    Ps- Ezra says hi to his Auntie Riley! (If he could .. Lol) and he is actually legit wearing a onesie that says "if you think I'm cute you should see my auntie" lol

  3. Riley, I love your name...it's beautiful! I will be sure to tell my kids and I know they will love it to. We are excited to meet the new you when we come for our next home visit. Will you be getting a new facebook account and blog as you begin the journey of life forward? Please keep up linked up :) Lots of love my friend!!

  4. We love you, Riley! Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt post with us. We have so much respect for what you have overcome and had to persevere through the last five years.

  5. I always loved my cousin Shannon!! And I'm excited to spend more time with Riley. You must have always reserved the best part of yourself for when we were in town because over the past several years I have really enjoyed our little visits and how you give your time and attention serving my children and agreeing with me about how beautiful and fun they are :). Hoping we can do another art project, play games or go to your parents and jump on the tramp again! As well as all the other family events in July! Your post was so beautifully written. The best part of my day!

  6. Dear Shanny/Riley,
    As Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." I am so glad that you are my sweet little girl and that I am your Big Daddy. I have spent a fair amount of time over the past few days reflecting on the events of 5 years ago. Despite the overwhelmingly negative reports from the medical test and evaluations, I was blessed with a sweet assurance that you would be OK. It was five years ago today, about at this time (a little later actually), that I found myself in the Salt Lake Temple. I was reading in the Book of Mormon, in 3rd Nephi chapter 17. These words came to me as direct revelation concerning you: "Have ye any sick among you? Bring them hither...and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you...I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you." I still believe that promise. You have experienced a miraculous process of physical and cognitive healing, and you are now in the agonizing process of the emotional recovery that for you has been the most difficult. The maturity and resolve you express in your blog post is a giant step forward toward that goal. I pray for your success and I pray that you will have the support from others, including your peers, as you progress down that path. You are a fighter, an achiever and a beautiful young woman. You are my hero. Thanks for still being here, despite the pain and suffering you feel. My life is better because you are in it. All my love. Your Dad.

  7. To my precious, courageous niece whom I will now with respect and affection call Riley, thank you for sharing with us your journey to this crossroad in your life. Thank you for continuing such an arduous fight, for taking responsibility, for making this wise, inspired change, for requesting our support. I have felt for five years that you will become the woman Heavenly Father wants you to be with incredible gifts and sensitivities you never expected. I earnestly pray and have assurances that life will be fulfilling and joyful as you bravely, humbly, faithfully press forward on this remarkably revised path. You remind me of these lines from Robert Frost:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.
    You have and will continue to make a sweet, valued, life-blessing difference to me--and so many others. I love you, dear Riley!
    Aunt Pat

  8. What an intelligent and courageous move! God gave several great people new names with new life's focus. Looks like He is at it again.This is inspired and inspiring.
    Love the name, the attitude, the new beginning, the probable new look(be sure and post for all to see) and the up coming new email address and the many miracles this day represents!!! YES!!YES!!YES!!
    You are a champion and I love you to pieces.
    Big Hugs,
    Uncle Merlin

  9. Riley, we love you and are inspired by your strength. I am in awe with your eloquence in writing and your ability to bravely and beautifully share that with the rest of us. Thank you!

  10. Everyone deserves a chance at a fresh start. You don't have to worry about what other people will think of this change, because the decision rests solely on you. You have been traumatized and had to endure the consequences for 5 years. And the fact that it has left such a continuing damage in the form of the TBI just makes it that more painful. Anyway, I hope you are rebuild from here, and that you get a chance to live your life as you see fit again. Good luck!

    Sabrina Craig @ Medical Attorney NY

  11. This is a very big move, and I, for one, believe that everyone deserves having the power to choose for themselves. I hope things are doing better for you now, and that the years you’ve spent under trauma has been laid to rest. All the best to you, Riley!

    Modesto Culbertson @ D & Z Law Group