Saturday, March 9, 2013

Showing up

Tonight I'd like to start with a question. It's a question you're familiar with, maybe from a job interview: where do you see yourself in 5 years? And to answer it you've had to stop and reflect where you see your life going, your hopes and dreams for the future.

Except this evening, I'd like to explore the question in reverse. I'd like to share what my life was like 5 years ago, compared with today.

In 2008 I was a manager in engineering at a high tech company, a few miles from here. I had 11 direct reports. We had just been acquired by a large multinational and our roadmap was on fire. The aggressive milestones meant all of us gave 110% every day. It was challenging, fast-paced, interesting work. 

As an employee I got excellent performance reviews. I loved my job and did it well. With an Ivy-League education and an honors degree, the future looked bright. Most days I commuted by bike 10 miles each way. At home I would put down my keys and start making dinner, talking on the phone, doing laundry, planning for a weekend bike or ski trip. I was never still and never doing just one thing.

Just over 4 years ago on Christmas Day 2008 I did something that would change all that. I got in a car. That's something we do every day; we don't give it a second thought. It's necessary for daily life. 

This car was headed down I-5 to San Diego and it was very windy that day. There was a dust storm that made it impossible to see. So when there was a car stopped on the freeway in front of us, we hit it going 35-40 mph. I was in the back seat, without an airbag. And my head hit the seat in front of me at that speed. When I went back to work after Christmas break, that's when I realized something was different. That's when life slowly began to unravel.

Let's fast forward to today. What's today like?

Well, it's quiet. I'm unemployed. This injury is invisible so I'm not on disability. Every day starts with a dose of caffeine. Like many survivors of mild TBI I have lingering issues with attention. I'm constantly losing and forgetting things like sunglasses, keys, passwords. Everyday things. So I need to be vigilant about tasks to complete them and do them right. I need to keep a routine. Structure is my new best friend.

Getting enough sleep every night has become a priority. No more late nights at the office, or 4am meetings. Almost every day I head to the gym or get out on my bike. Afternoons are at a coworking site near my house, blogging about brain injury and how exercise helps with cognitive function. 

Because of these challenges, it's tough to imagine working in high tech again. Instead, my business card has the name of the blog on one side and on the flip side "How my traumatic brain injury became a gift".

You might say my social life is in a "rebuilding" phase. People don't really understand brain injury, they may not be able to offer support, they don't understand why you can't just get better and move on. So what happens is, most people just fade away. 

And while looking at this huge crowd tonight and telling you about the last 5 years is truly overwhelming, it is my pleasure and privilege. Everyone in this room is progressive and one step ahead. You are not fading away, you are showing up and supporting SBI. They in turn support people like me. And without them and my partner Danny, I could not tell this story. 

I may not be functioning at the same level as 5 years ago, but I am a whole person. I'm truly lucky to be here. Thanks for your generosity tonight, thank you for listening, and enjoy the party!


  1. What a wonderful speech. :)

    1. Thank you, Rachel, for showing up here. Your presence is encouraging me and others to keep doing the right things.