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.