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CSUF faculty member speaks from experience: `We are blessed with hardships to humble us’

By Daniel Andre Ignacio
As a full-time coordinator for St. Jude Medical Center’s Brain Injury Network, I assist survivors of traumatic brain injury, which can result from a concussion, fall, a motor vehicle accident and many others. It is an honor and a privilege to be beside those who embody the definition of human resilience. Helping individuals with disabilities find personal relevance in life and attain their fullest potential has become a passionate pursuit for me.
I know how impossible this goal may seem at times since I, too, am an adult with a disability.
In 2008, I was pushed off a three-story balcony. Left lying in the soil, unconscious and seemingly lifeless, I was eventually picked up by emergency services and transported to a nearby medical center. While I stayed unconscious for the next three weeks, my family and friends waited anxiously day in and day out, even when a doctor informed them of my permanent vegetative state (or so she thought). I was 18 years old.
By Daniel Andre Ignacio<br />Photo courtesy of the author
Awaking from a coma, I had no control over my body; I could only blink my eyes. I could not lift my arms, move my head, or speak. I did not know what had happened, where I was, who were the people pushing my stretcher, or why my body would not work. I was trapped in a broken shell with many exploding emotions and no way to express them.
I spent all day forcing myself to go to sleep, desperately hoping that I would finally wake up from this nightmare. As I sat in my wheelchair, I developed a deep appreciation for the daily abilities that I used to take for granted and an even deeper frustration that I could no longer perform them. Over the next few months, I relearned how to walk, how to talk, how to eat, and how to use the bathroom (among many other things). I thought I had overcome the worst, but it was only the beginning.
After returning home, I slowly started managing my physical ailments, but it was the devastating mental symptoms of traumatic brain injury that completely thrashed my identity, self-esteem, plans and hopes I once had for my future. I could not maintain focus; my attention span was that of a child; I could only remember events for minutes at a time, and I developed an eating disorder. I was constantly depressed, frustrated and angry. So angry. I did not know it at the time, but I was mostly upset with myself for wanting to give up. I wanted to die … but I would have always questioned what would have happened if I had tried.
I refused to live a life of regret. One day, I cut my unkempt hair and started running. I began a diet and an exercise regimen while reading for my school courses. I kept pushing myself until I cried, exercising until my feet would bleed, studying until I fell asleep on my desk, and praying until I had nothing left to say. An adage came to me in prayer that put my disability into perspective: “We are blessed with hardships to humble us, as the meek shall inherit the Earth.”
Having a brain injury has taught me invaluable things about how to live. It is those who are broken who truly know the value of being fixed. It is during the times that we have less, that the little bits are cherished. When I took my first step away from my wheelchair unassisted, I felt magic: left foot — magic, right foot — magic. When I first started remembering the names of my family and dearest friends — magic. When I could remember the last time a friend and I were together and could even remember the last joke that we shared, I cried.
Every day since then has been magic to me, and, ultimately, I realized what that adage meant. I inherited a beautiful brain-injured perspective. I inherited a lens that allowed me to experience a profound sense of appreciation: to not concern myself so much with the pursuit of happiness, but with the happiness in my pursuits.
I wish you the absolute best of luck as you approach the hardships in your life; how you respond to them could be a reflection of who you might become. If you or someone you love may be dealing with issues related to a traumatic brain injury, I would love to hear from you
Daniel Andre Ignacio graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 2015 with a master of science degree in psychology (clinical) and now teaches in CSUF’s Psychology Department. He serves on the board of directors for Huntington’s Disease Society of America, Orange County. In addition to his work at St. Jude, he also works for YMCA’s New Horizons socialization program and for Clear Motivation’s vocational rehabilitation program assisting adults with developmental disabilities to gain access to the same opportunities enjoyed by others. He is also a first-year doctoral student in clinical psychology at Fielding Graduate University.
Source: Oc Register

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