An unconventional love story

BY: ALISON

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.

couple spelling the word LOVE with their hands
Tyler Nix

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.

Sign that says Happily Ever After
Ben Rosett

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.

Holding Hands
Luong Huynh

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.

 

 

 

Brain injury and intimacy: A gay perspective

G. Ian Bowles was 37 and living in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2001 when his vehicle hydroplaned during a thunderstorm. He slammed sideways into a bridge support and was in coma for six weeks. When he woke up six weeks later, he says he was first confused about where he was, then unsure if his orientation had changed. Was he still gay or had the brain injury somehow altered him? This is his story of life after brain injury and how he and his partner Tim maintained their relationship.

Brain injuries can be extremely difficult for family relationships, especially with regards to spouses or partners. It is one thing when accidents happen and a sibling or child changes in the emotional or cognitive realm. But when that happens to a spouse, it can be devastating. A relationship once built on experience and memory potentially loses much of  its foundation. Commitment and long-term love are suddenly much more important than reciprocated affection and immediate enjoyment.

Such concerns can be even more pronounced if the injured person is gay.

My accident happened in the American South, in Arkansas, where I had moved a year prior. When I woke from my six-week coma, one of the first questions that I was asked was where I thought I was. The last place I remembered was being at school, in Pennsylvania, which turned out to be two years earlier. When they started trying to convince me of my location, I thought it was a joke. When they didn’t give up, I thought it was a conspiracy. I remembered that I had been starting to “come out” before the accident. As a gay man, why would I move to Arkansas, of all places? Then snatches of memory started coming back, including the memories of the gay community in the state and my partner. Slowly it dawned on me that they were telling the truth.

Ian Bowles with partner Tim.

When I was first told about my accident and brain injury, I wondered if there had been any effect on my orientation.

Continue reading

Dating, Romance and Sexuality Post-ABI

Dating and relationships are complicated for just about everyone. A brain injury can add one more level of complexity. Indeed, it can seem overwhelming at times, but there are several things a person can do to help navigate through. On Monday February 27, 2012, at 6 p.m., BIST Social Worker Michelle Ratcliff will lead a workshop at the Northern District Library for people living with the effects of an acquired brain injury (ABI), along with their families and friends. The topic of the night, and her article for Torontobraininjuryblog, is Dating, Romance and Sexuality Post-ABI. 

Michelle Ratcliff

Entering into a new relationship or holding onto a previous relationship after a brain injury can be a complicated path to navigate. All brain injuries are unique, as are all relationships.  This means that starting, maintaining and ending romantic relationships will be different for everyone. People often feel overwhelmed when trying to reenter into this area of their lives.

When looking to find love with another person, it is important to start by figuring out what you want from the relationship. Some people might be looking to go on dates without a lot of commitment. Other people are hoping to settle down with someone soon.

Another important thing to remember is that relationships may be different in a number of ways after a brain injury. Depending on the injury, communication styles, emotional needs and physical considerations can alter the way a person dates and maintains a relationship, but this doesn’t mean relationships aren’t possible. Just like knowing what you want in a relationship, it is important to think about how your needs might have changed since the injury. Asking for input, advice and observations from trusted people in your life about ways to adapt and adjust may also help you to figure this part out. Understanding this aspect may not happen immediately; often people need to adjust to life post-ABI before reexamining dating and relationship needs.

One of the hardest things can be finding a date. People meet their partners in a number of ways. Some people meet through friends. Some people bump into a fantastic person in a store, at a concert, in a restaurant or on the subway. Other people try online dating. These methods aren’t for everyone, so it important to to know what you feel comfortable trying.

It’s also key to be safe when entering into new relationships. Meeting new people in public places, not giving out personal information or loaning money, and feeling comfortable to say no if you feel uncomfortable, is essential when dating.

For some, finding a new relationship isn’t the issue. Many ABI survivors were in relationships at the time of their injury. However, an injury can mean major changes to the relationship, for both the survivor and the partner. Both people will have to adjust to the changes after a brain injury, which can be a stressful period.  Maintaining a relationship is often dependant on communication. Being able to talk with your partner about your feelings, needs and wants while listening to your partner’s feelings, needs and wants is an essential part of being in a relationship. Part of communicating well with your partner may involve conversations about your injury. How to tell the person about your injury and talking about how your injury impacts the relationship can be difficult talks to start, but starting slow, providing small amounts of information at a time and planning ahead about when, where and how you want to talk to your partner can help to reduce anxiety.

Being sexually intimate is another area to figure out. For some brain injury survivors, sexual needs, functions and abilities change. This can be a major life change for people, and a major consideration when re-entering the dating world. For those in relationships before injury, both partners may have to work together to renegotiate the sexual aspects they share. Communication is important. Talking to your partner is key.

Michelle Ratcliff, BIST Social Worker.

Visit Brain Injury Society of Toronto for more information about BIST’s community meeting on the theme: Relationships, Dating and Intimacy Post-ABI


Monthly preview: BIST on love and intimacy

Sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, an increased heart rate.

Smiling, laughing, and sometimes, tears.

Being in love or feeling attracted to someone stirs up plenty of emotions — positive, negative and everything in between — that can be hard to navigate at the best of times.

A Couple sharing a moment at the park
Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For a person with an acquired brain injury, there are a host of other challenges thrown into the mix when it comes to dating and relationships.

Consider a few examples.

A young man, thanks to his ABI, lacks sexual inhibition and often makes inappropriate comments to complete strangers, such as fellow riders on the subway. A few people file complaints and now he has to explain himself to the authorities.

A woman married 12 years finds herself acting as a caregiver for her spouse who she feels “Is not the person I fell in love with.”

An eight-year-old girl with a brain injury hits puberty well ahead of other girls her age in a process known as precocious puberty, leaving her confused and embarrassed about the changes happening to her.

Throughout this month, Toronto brain injury blog will address these and other issues relating to Love and intimacy.

In our Question and Answer, Caron Gan, a registered marriage and family therapist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, will offer insight into the issue of sexuality for youths aged 8 to 25.

Also this month, BIST member Ian Bowles shares his story of how he and his partner maintained their relationship after Ian’s ABI.

And BIST social worker Michelle Ratcliff provides advice for people with an ABI who are thinking about dating.

To read these articles and get other information from BIST, check out the sidebar of this page to subscribe to the blog via email or ‘Like’ us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Matthew Chung, BIST member and Editor of Toronto brain injury blog

Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net