How I graduated from university after my TBI

BY: MARIA LISCIO

Out of nowhere things can change and make you feel as though everything you’ve worked so hard for doesn’t matter. That happened to me the summer before my last year of university when I was struck by a car, as a pedestrian, on my way to work.

I do not remember anything about what happened, other than leaving my house and then waking up in the hospital in an enormous amount of pain. I had severe traumatic brain injuries, including a concussion, brain bleeding and brain bruising.

Until this time, I always focused on achieving high grades in school. I pushed myself to excel in every course I took. I majored in psychology at Ryerson University with a full course load every year. Although it was challenging at times, I worked hard and landed on the dean’s list.

I did not realize the extent of my injuries until I returned home from the hospital. Doctors, social workers, family and friends, said I should take the year off school to recover. I was completely taken aback. I thought, “How could I possibly take the year off? This is my last year and I want to apply to masters programs in a few months!”

Empty University Lecture hall
PHOTO VIA PEXELS

School was one of the most important things in my life and I being told I shouldn’t go back threw me off guard.

I learned I had a mild cognitive impairment, which caused problems with focus, concentration, and writing. I noticed my writing difficulties right away, I spelled words incorrectly and my sentences didn’t make sense. I was devastated.

How could I go from being a straight A student, to not being able to spell words correctly?

Even after hearing everyone’s advice, I did not want to listen. I was determined to go back to school, maintain my high average and graduate on time, no matter what. And let me tell you, it was extremely hard.

I told all of my professors about my situation the first week of classes. They were all very understanding and told me if I ever needed extra time with an assignment or extra help, to let them know. During this time, I was still attending frequent doctor, therapist and specialist appointments. Trying to manage everything took a huge toll. I broke down many times and cried because I could not focus, I could not remember the topics I was studying, and my essays did not make sense.

Fortunately, my friends and family were always there for me during my struggles, helping me and making sure I was getting enough rest.

Woman studying with her head in her hands
PHOTO via PEXELS

Due to my injuries, my fatigue levels were very low.  I took a nap almost every day after school, before starting my homework, in fact, I scheduled them in. Without enough rest, I couldn’t focus and concentrate on what I needed to do.

However, there was one time in particular where I knew I had to persevere and prove myself. It was during one of my mandatory psychology classes, and the material was so different from the majority of my other classes. I was very confused, so I asked my professor for help. He tried to help me, however, he also told me that if I didn’t understand, I should drop the class.

I was furious! Drop the class? Not graduate this year? There was absolutely no way I was letting that happen! That comment made me realize that just because you don’t understand something, does not mean you should give up. I studied long hours, and, as always, I took naps when I needed to. I made sure I ate enough to fuel my body. I continued visiting my professors and asking for help, and I spent a tremendous amount of time working on essays.

I wanted to prove to myself and others that my brain injuries, and the struggles caused by them, do not define me and what I am able to do.  

Before my accident, I had worked part-time at a grocery store for almost six years. Initially after my accident, I did not work for three or four months so I could adequately recover. Then I tried going back to work but I could not manage it. I experienced extreme fatigue and dizziness from standing during my shifts. Even though it was unintentional, I also felt as though some people did not understand the extent of my brain injuries because they were not something anyone could physically see.

Working and being a student was something I could no longer do. I was trying so hard in school, and it was time consuming. I resigned my position to focus solely on my studies.

Through all of my battles, I managed to yet again get straight A’s. I have never been so proud of myself and what I was able to achieve, despite the circumstances. However, my most proud moment was achieving 90% in none other than, the psychology class I was told I should drop.

I graduated university that year, with honours, making the Dean’s List and most importantly making myself proud of this achievement.

I am now working for a health care clinic and I am still planning on applying to masters programs in the future. I continue to experience more fatigue than I am used too, and some difficulties in writing and focusing.

Even with these difficulties, I am going to try and preserve as best as I can.


Maria Liscio is an ABI survivor who is working towards a career in health care. She currently works at a health care clinic that assists many individuals with ABI. Maria uses her personal experience to connect with others facing life’s challenges, and strives to encourage positivity.  Follow her on Instagram at @maria.liscio.