When local author Ruth Curran wrote “Being Brain Healthy” two years ago, she had no idea it was only the beginning of her contributions to the process of healing from a traumatic brain injury.
Her book, subtitled “What my recovery from brain injury taught me and how it can change your life,” is a primer on keeping the mind sharp and clear. It’s filled with the exercises, tips and scientific research that Curran herself turned to while trying to deal with her own traumatic brain injury.
“Honestly, once it was published, I thought I was done,” she said. “But what I realized pretty quickly was that the book opened a conversation that I hadn’t really intended – one that would allow a peek into what it actually feels like inside an imperfectly functioning brain.”
The interest in “Being Brain Healthy” from people who were not suffering from a brain injury surprised Curran. Readers commented, “Oh, I didn’t realize how that felt” and “Really, you can lose your depth perception?”
She decided she needed to write another book and, this time around, she had to address not just survivors of brain injuries but also the people who love, support them and interact with them on a daily basis.
“Caregivers have unique needs that are often overlooked during the recovery process,” explained Curran. “They are on the front lines, often noticing subtle changes the survivor may not see or may plain out deny. And, in their own way, they need support too.”
Curran created her new book, “An Insider’s Guide to the Injured Brain,” as a workbook because, as she explained, “It is invaluable to feel like you are actively pursuing healing. Stories may provide insight but doing the work offers much-needed hope.”
The workbook is meant to be a shared experience between survivor and supporter, so they continually view life through each other’s eyes and take the journey toward recovery together.
In fact, the idea of sharing was so important to Curran, she collaborated with Mary Lanzavecchia, a friend and colleague who had also experienced a traumatic brain injury.
“By working together, we validated that our experiences – although different in many ways – were not unique or special to us as individuals,” said Curran. “The partnership gave us the opportunity to understand each other’s perspective. This spilled over to our families and our friends, and everyone involved got to see the world of brain injury through other lenses.”
Lanzavecchia agreed. “The similarities in our emotions were staggering and surprising, even when the symptoms themselves were different. It made me feel like someone truly understood me, and we knew those common threads would be meaningful to so many others, as well.”
Those common threads included feelings like frustration with the inability to communicate accurately, impatience with the process of healing, grief over the loss of self, the overwhelm of constantly being bombarded with sensory information, and, most of all, the sense of being in a constant fog.
“Understanding these feelings can help everyone,” said Lanzavecchia, “because, statistically, we are all more likely to know someone who has had a brain injury than someone who has had cancer.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, every 16 seconds, a person in the United States suffers a traumatic brain injury. That means there can be close to two million new survivors annually. In addition, another 800,000 people suffer a stroke each year.
“TBI and stroke survivors can face impaired thinking, changes in sensory processing, and altered emotional functioning, among other challenges,” said Lanzavecchia. “All of these issues can have lasting effects on the survivors, their families and their communities.”
The exercises included in the book evolved from Curran and Lanzavecchia’s personal experiences. They tested every exercise personally and modified them based on what they learned themselves, from each other and from their family members.
This fall, Curran will be following what she believes to be the most valuable, ongoing exercise in the book. Straight out of Chapter 15 of “An Insider’s Guide to the Injured Brain,” she will be leading book clubs for stroke survivors in San Diego. She’ll also be continuing her ongoing work with the San Diego Brain Injury Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers outreach, support and education for survivors and caregivers locally.
“An Insider’s Guide to the Injured Brain” and “Being Brain Healthy” are both available on Amazon, Kindle and Audible. For more information, visit insidersguidetotheinjuredbrain.com.