Dating is a nightmare. Dating after a brain injury is even scarier. Which is why I feel so happy and hopeful whenever I hear of people finding love after a traumatic injury. So, I convinced my normally private husband to let me share our unconventional love story, as well as the difficulties that we face as a couple.
I want other survivors and caregivers to know that brain injury shouldn’t be a barrier to forming and maintaining healthy, life-long partnerships.
I met John through an online dating site in November, 2012. It’s funny how one seemingly insignificant decision can completely change the outcome of your life. I was tempted to cancel our first date, even while on my way to meet him. Luckily, I didn’t, because I felt a connection the instant we met. He had a genuine smile, an attractive voice, and I could tell he was kind. A mutual friend told me that he didn’t think that John and I would be a good match. He was right about the incompatibility of our personalities, but we had so much chemistry that it didn’t matter at the time.
After going on just a handful of dates with John, I acquired my first concussion in March, 2013. He spent nearly every night visiting me, sitting quietly and motionless in a dark room. In May, 2013, John gave me a key to his condo because he wanted me to have a peaceful and loving environment to recover in. That’s when he became my caregiver and lifesaver.
Approximately one year later, when I was finally starting to see significant improvements to my symptoms, I had a freak accident at home and acquired my second concussion. Despite having to restart the recovery phase, John proposed in July, 2014.
He said that even if my condition never improved, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. (Neither of us would have ever guessed that things were going to get much, much worse.) I had always said that I didn’t want to be married to anyone. In fact, on our second date, when we were talking about our life goals, John told me that he was hoping to get married and start a family and I told him that I wasn’t looking to be anyone’s wife or mother. (Do you see why our mutual friend didn’t think we would work out?)
But since marriage was important to John and both of our families, I agreed. While planning our wedding, I had a car accident and sustained my third concussion. Despite exacerbated symptoms, we got married as planned, in September, 2015. It was a beautiful, fun, and meaningful wedding and I will always be grateful for that day.
However, our first year of marriage was far from romantic. We were emotionally disconnected, exhausted, resentful, and constantly arguing. We separated less than 14 months into the marriage. I’ve always believed that you can’t really know a person until you see how they behave after breaking up. And despite having hard feelings, the way that John treated me after we separated made me see and appreciate him in a new light.
During our separation, we received individual counseling as well as marriage counseling. John was able to get the break that he desperately needed and I regained a sense of independence. But above all, the physical distance allowed us to get a different perspective on our relationship and our individual needs.
We learned that our relationship hadn’t had the opportunity to develop conventionally and so when John became my caregiver, our relationship quickly adopted an unbalanced dynamic. As opposed to being romantic partners, he felt like a parent and I felt like a patient. We also became isolated from friends and family from operating in survival mode for too long. Therapy really helped us to understand our triggers and needs, and to change the dynamic of our relationship. We started to get to know each other as friends, compromise and support each other as equals, and incorporate fun and adventure to our shared lives. John now feels loved for who he is as opposed to what he does and I feel seen and respected.
With John by my side, I went on to survive misdiagnosis, multiple strokes, and two major brain surgeries. I am happy to share that despite the unimaginable and relentless difficulties, John and I celebrated our four-year wedding anniversary in September, 2019. We’ve never felt stronger as a couple.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have a list of complaints and I’d be surprised if his list for me wasn’t just as long, but we communicate healthily, share joy in our daily lives, are growing as individuals together, and wouldn’t trade each other for anything. We wouldn’t mind winning the lottery, though, just in case the universe is listening.
‘Mind Yourself with Alison’ is a collection of self-help tips, research, and personal experiences dedicated to helping people thrive after brain injury (or other health problems). Check out Alison’s other BIST Blog articles Women and Brain Injury: What you need to know and How to be a Good Friend to a Survivor. You can follow her on Twitter, HERE.