Diving into Safety Head-First

We have helmet laws here in British Columbia. Even if we didn’t, I’d be wearing mine.

One saved my life. And still I’m different than I used to be.

When I saw this article come up on Twitter, I got pretty choked about it. I started thinking of the friends I’ve seen riding without a helmet — whether for a block or in the thick of city traffic with bad weather — and I found myself clenching my teeth in frustration.

Head injuries are horrible.

They change you forever.

They affect you emotionally, spiritually, physically.

And I’ve had far too much personal experience with head injuries to let the topic of helmets disappear easily into the cybernight without some commentary.

My personal experience, with just people my age?

Well, personally, I almost died. Had I not been wearing a helmet, I would have died when I somersaulted off my scooter and hit the pavement at Columbia and 2nd back on August 29th, 2004.

I spent the next year trying to get back to who I was while I laboured without a diagnosis on my head (because judgment is the first thing to go; you can’t be objective about yourself and you don’t think about the reasoning behind why you’re such a “fuck up” now; it becomes a self-esteem and time/skill-management thing when it should really be a head-injury thing).

I changed as an employee — it cost me my job security and made me first on chopping block when needed lay-offs came rolling around. (We didn’t know then that it was my brain-bouncing that was the cause of my production getting slower and less sharp.)

That started two years of job insecurity as I hopped around the employment world, learning that I couldn’t handle stress like I used to anymore, and realizing I couldn’t learn new skills or organize as well as I once could.

Experience 2 with head injuries is my brother. Hit by a Chevy Suburban, he spent 5 days in a coma in late 2005 and has never been the same person since. He takes longer to understand things, has a hard time processing his emotions, is more inclined to depression, and it’s all a result of the severe head injury he took — since he had another one within 6 months of the first.

Experience 3 with head injuries was a beloved old friend, in 2008, just 34 years old, who was out adventuring with friends just 9 days after the birth of his little baby girl. His ATV tipped, crushing his head on rocks, and leaving him washing down the fast river, where he drowned and died — orphaning that beautiful baby girl in her first two weeks of life.

Yes, head injuries are bad.

So, when I see brilliant, fantastic friends hopping on their bikes in their almost-hipsterness, cruising around town without their helmets, it fucking kills me.

Know what a head injury feels like?

Take equal parts of STUPID, ANGRY, and CONFUSED, throw them into a martini shaker and mix liberally with IMPULSE CONTROL ISSUES and BAD JUDGMENT and you’ll have the start of what you’re after.

Now, take that horrible mood cocktail and spread it over your days — 24/7, 365.

I spent a year at a loss about what I felt, what I needed, where I wanted to go, how to get there. I’m lucky, I’m a writer, and somehow through the act of writing EVERY SINGLE DAY for a year, I managed to get my brain to finally start firing again.

I don’t even remember ANY of the first 6 months except a Pocky Incident and being unhappy about a hamburger while watching World Cup Hockey.

I’ve never been as good at learning things as I used to be, I need more guidance and have more questions, but I’m smarter than the average person so I get it together sooner or later on new tasks, but only after a lot of frustration.

I’m still smart as hell, no doubt, but I forget large chunks of my life.

Large chunks.

And my mother’s dead.

And some of the chunks are of her. When death rolls around with your loved ones, memories are all you’ve got left, and your head is all you got to protect that with.

It kills me, you know. Just kills me.

When you’re a writer, your memory is your most valuable tool. I’ve lost a lot of mine. My years are a hazy blur when they used to have crystal clarity to them.

I have to live the rest of my life with the very real knowledge that head injuries are like a good savings plan — they compound infinitely.

Every time I hit my head, I run the risk of making myself less of who I was.

Every time my noggin bumps a doorframe or something, a shock of fear runs through me.

You parents failing to put helmets on your kids, I’d be all right with calling that child abuse, given what I know has changed in my life from my head injury.

Protect your children. It’s your job. It’s the law.

I can’t tell you how much I wish I could have that day I almost died back. How much I could undo the stupidity that led me to thinking I should be on my scooter that morning.

I just can’t tell you.

Most people who know  me would never think I’d had a head injury. I’ve got razor-sharp wit, keen conversational abilities, and I’m sly as the day is long.

But they’d be wrong. I’m different. Just in little ways I can work around.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t anger me still that I’m different now.

I used to test at Mensa levels on IQ tests, you know. Between 145 and 170, depending on the day, over the years. “Smart” is a commodity one can’t afford to trade on, not via head injuries or anything else.

Really, it’s not that the head injury takes you out of the game — because it doesn’t. That’s kinda part of the problem — you become the “walking wounded” afterwards.

You go through life okay enough — you look fine, everyone thinks you can do your job, they think you’re as normal as can be. But because you’re rendered some lesser part of yourself as a result of the changes, you’re not even aware of how much you’ve changed — you’re in a fog, a daze, so you can’t say “Hey, something’s off here.”

And because you’re not defending or explaining yourself, those around you think you’re just in some depressive funk and that you need to “shake it off.”

But you can’t.

You hit your brain and you have a boo-boo that can’t be bandaged, doesn’t get air, never sees the sun, and can’t be displayed to others. You’ve seen how long a bruise on your leg takes to heal? What about if it’s under a skull, and all the bruised areas affect how synapses and thoughts and neuro-body-controls occur?

It was two years after my head injury that I finally realized how much I had changed, and only because I was seeing the same stuff happening to my brother with his head damage. A strangely consistent downward spiral in his life mirrored the one that had been happening to me.

Finally, I went to see a shrink I’d been to in the past, who’d had muchos experience in head injuries, and I learned what was going on inside was all part of the healing journey a head injury victim usually takes.

I had a helmet on and I’ve luckily lived to tell my story, even though I’m changed and will probably always have to live with the legacy of that day in small ways.

In fact, everyone I’ve written about here today was wearing a helmet, and yet, look at our stories.

Put your fucking helmet on.

Get over your haircut. Get over yourself.

If not for your own life and the hell it will likely be if you survive a head injury and have to live with it for the remainder of your life, then at least wear it so my fucking tax dollars can go somewhere more intelligent than dealing with your dumb-ass negligence.

Please.

__________________________________

Think you might’ve had a head injury and wonder what the indicators are? Check here. The New York Times has a good cheat-sheet HERE on what to do or look for after a head injury has first been suffered — please read it NOW, not when you need it. Remember how quickly Natasha Richardson died from a ski fall? Yeah. Know your shit.
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