Brain injury healing: with Nick Mercer

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Table of contents:
00:45 Nick Mercer
04:58 Nick’s brain injury story
09:14 Coping with a brain injury
12:42 Acceptance and mindset
19:14 Speech problems after traumatic brain injury
22:08 Better brain injury care
25:56 Concussion Talk podcast

Introduction to this episode on brain injury healing

Brain injury healing is a process and as all of us know, it’s just as much a psychological as it is a physiological process. In this Concussion Stories episode, brain injury survivor Nick Mercer shares his story. You may know Nick from Concussion Talk, his podcast about traumatic brain injury recovery. 

What now follows is a transcript of the entire podcast episode. 

Concussion Stories

[0:00 Melanie] Welcome to Concussion Stories, a Lifeyana podcast series filled with hope. I’m here to let you know that you are not alone in your concussion recovery. I’m Melanie and I spent more than six years experimenting, training and learning in order to heal myself from a very bad case of post-concussion syndrome. And today, I feel better than ever before. 

In Concussion Stories, we dig deep while discussing hopeful stories of recovery, as well as the hard stuff in the messy middle. If you’re struggling to focus, be sure to take breaks. Down in the description of each episode, you can find a table of contents – in case you want to skip ahead. Let’s dive right in. 

Nick Mercer

Brain injury healing with Nick Mercer

[0:45 Melanie] In today’s episode you get to hear Nick Mercer. Back in 2003, he was cycling with friends in his beloved home country Canada when he had an accident and slammed into a tree. He was in a coma for two weeks and had to relearn many skills after that, like walking. 

Two years after injury, he returned to finish his master’s degree. And now, almost 20 years after injury, he’s inspiring and helping others by sharing recognition, insight and authenticity through his Concussion Talk podcast. 

Watch our video

Nick’s speech may be difficult to understand at times. So if it helps you and you aren’t already watching this episode as a video, I recommend you follow the link below this episode to watch it with subtitles over on YouTube, so that you get the most out of everything that Nick has to share with you. Get ready to be inspired by Nick’s honest and wise words. 

Newfoundland and Labrador & the dog…

[1:40 Melanie] So Nick, with the risk of sounding ignorant, I really had an amazing discovery. Because I believe you live in a very wonderfully titled Province of Canada. It’s called…

[1:50 Nick Mercer] It’s called Newfoundland and Labrador. I was actually born in Newfoundland. Because when they came east and there was like just new land, I think that’s why – that’s what I learned. 

[2:13 Melanie] And that’s how the dog was named… 

[2:17 Nick] The dog was named… Probably, I’m not sure… I think it was probably because  of the English boats, probably?

[2:27 Melanie] You see how this is confusing.

[2:29 Nick Mercer] Yeah, I know, I never heard it’s named after the dog. As far as I know, the dog is named after the land.

[2:38 Melanie] Yeah, that sounds logical. Yeah. I already said that I would probably sound ignorant, but I just wanted to know what it was and how it came to be.

[2:49 Nick Mercer] I know very little about Holland, so you’re fine. 

Spending time with family and friends

[2:53 Melanie] Can you maybe share a little bit about yourself, so maybe things you like to do or people you’d like to spend your time with?

[3:00 Nick Mercer] Well, obviously it’s my family and friends I’d like my time with. I was born in 1980. And as you know, I was born in Newfoundland, now Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Nick’s biking accident

Then I went to BC and I went to the University of Victoria, which is on the Western coast  of Canada, far west. When I was out there, I started to do triathlons and I was there to do my Master’s of Public Administration. 

I was about to leave for my work term to go back out east to Ontario. I was going with a group of friends from my triathlon team, and I crashed into a tree and ended up in a coma for two weeks. I had a really bad brain injury. 

Concussion Talk podcast and other passions

Since 2010 I’ve been doing my website called Concussion Talk. And since 2015, my podcast, the Concussion Talk podcast. I do love swimming, as I told you in the last podcast. I was swimming this morning. In the summer, I swim in the lakes nearby around town and in the ocean when it’s July or August, because otherwise it is not warm. 

And I am very close with my friends and my family: my sister who is in Toronto and my mom lives pretty nearby. She lives in St. John’s with me. Not with me, but she lives nearby as well. 

[4:53 Melanie] You’re surrounded by a lot of loved ones. 

[4:56 Nick Mercer] Yes. 

Nick’s brain injury story

Nick’s brain injury story

[4:58 Melanie] And have they been with you through the whole brain injury… Wow, what do we call that? 

[5:08 Nick Mercer] Experience? 

[5:09 Melanie] Yeah, experience? That sounds light, well…

Friends came to the hospital

[5:13 Nick Mercer] Well, I was in British Columbia when it happened, which is a flight from St. John’sVictoria – about 11 hours. And my other friends were in Ontario, which is about six hours, but they were everywhere. When I was injured, I was 23. They were also 23, 24. And at that point, they were all scattered around, doing their thing. 

They couldn’t just hop and go on a plane like my parents and sister did. But they were around by phone and came to visit me. And my friends from Victoria were just amazing… I had met them only at the most seven months beforehand and they were all right there at the hospital every day. 

Of course, I didn’t know, I was not good. I was either in a coma or just coming out of the coma so I wasn’t really that aware. But they were kind and they were just amazing. And my family of course is, too. 

Family flew across the country

[6:35 Melanie] Because your accident happened, what year was it? 

[6:39 Nick Mercer] 2003.

[6:40 Melanie] 2003. And then you’re, entirely across the country. Your parents and your sister flew in.

[6:55 Nick Mercer] Yeah. 

[6:56 Melanie] They must have had the shock of their lives.

[6:59 Nick Mercer] Yeah, they really had. 

Severe traumatic brain injury

[7:01 Melanie] But you were in a coma, so your injury was probably labeled officially severe traumatic brain injury, right?

[7:08 Nick Mercer] It was, yeah. On the Glasgow Coma Scale, I was a four I think – or five maybe. But now, it’s changed, but I was four. I only know everything about my brain injury phase through personal experience and also I’ve learned about the actual stats, like the official figures as just hearsay because I wasn’t around for it.

[7:40 Melanie] No, of course, no.

[7:43 Nick Mercer] Yeah. 

Memory problems after waking up

[7:43 Melanie] And then the first thing you probably remember is waking up, right? Or do you not even remember that?

[7:51 Nick Mercer] I don’t know. It’s all a blur… If I look back, I remember watching a nurse come into the room asking me where I was. And I said, Victoria, Texas. I thought I was in Texas for some reason. She said okay. I had no idea what day it was or where it was. 

I remember random things at the hospital from my time in the hospital. But I remember getting home six weeks after my injury. But to say what my first memory was… I have no idea. 

[8:49 Melanie] I can only imagine. For me, it was a bit of the same after my injury. But of course, it was a really different experience because the severity was… It’s a completely different diagnosis. But I can only imagine how confusing it must have been for you at that time. 

Coping with a brain injury

Coping with a brain injury

At the time, when you had this full blown brain injury developing maybe still a bit, could you cope with it?

[9:26 Nick Mercer] Not really. In 2003, the doctors were trying to help me and I was doing rehab stuff. I was talking to psychologists and seeing a physiotherapist and occupational therapists and I didn’t know what to expect. 

No more waterpolo and triatlons

I couldn’t do things that were most important to me. I was a waterpolo player and a triathlete before my injury, as in: the morning of and then I just couldn’t swim for the first time. And I cried when I tried for the first time, because I couldn’t make it to five meters. I couldn’t run. 

So it was hard to deal with my physical limitations, but my brain was actually fairly good. Of course, with my double vision it was difficult to read. I wanted to read a lot but I couldn’t, because the double vision was hindering that. Now, I can cope with it because my attitude has changed. 

23 years with a brain injury

But first, my attitude was more of a 23-year-old: I wanted to do stuff.

[11:02 Melanie] Of course

[11:03 Nick Mercer] You know, life.

[11:06 Melanie] Of course it matters that you’re… it matters so much that you’re 23 and  that you’re starting life, I’d say: starting adult life, exploring the world – and this happens to you. Because you didn’t even get a chance to bloom yet, I’d say. 

[11:24 Nick Mercer] No. 

Post-injury depression

[11:25 Melanie] But anyone who would have all of their passions and activities and capabilities taken away like that would have… well, “struggled” is the least of the words that you can use.

[11:41 Nick Mercer] Yeah, it still was tough. I was obviously depressed. My parents and my sister helped me. My sister helped me deal with it a lot. I would get mad and I’m frustrated and stuff, but nothing crazy and nothing long-lasting either. 

So like you said before: when it first happens, we’re in disbelief that it was happening or that it wouldn’t fix itself. I wasn’t prepared for that, because my life before that was frankly great and I was doing well and things weren’t usually a problem. So I figured it would just fix itself: I’d just have to suck it up at the hospital for a few months. By the time that really went away, those were tough years. 

Acceptance and mindset

But then I was like: this is it. But you know, I think that that didn’t come out just spontaneously. It developed from not believing it to just accepting it, and now I’m just living with it the best I can. I’m just enjoying my life now.

[12:59 Melanie] That’s the second time that you now touch upon the subject of attitude… probably mindset. Can you tell a bit about how that has influenced your journey?

Nick’s mindset shift

[13:16 Nick Mercer] Well, my mindset at first was: I want to do this, I’ve made plans and I had thoughts about where I would be and what I’ll be doing and blah blah. All the stuff you think when you’re young. 

My mindset now is more meditation and things like that. Just now living – it doesn’t mean ignoring the future, but you’re just enjoying the moment. You know, because you’ve talked about your Buddhist inclinations. I’m not Buddhist, but it’s just that sort of thing: just enjoy what is. 

And if you remember that, then you can just correct your thinking about: I got to fix myself, I got to do this, and I’ll never feel good until I do this or do that or whatever. I can’t play water polo like I used to. But I can swim, I can enjoy life and I do yoga. I can do Pilates. Just keep active, do other stuff.

New meaning and fulfillment

[14:45 Melanie] So other things came into this place and even though you would probably love to do the other things, the new things are also meaningful for you.

[14:58 Nick Mercer] Definitely, it’s very meaningful to enjoy life as is and has become so.

[15:05 Melanie] I find you’re so strong and so courageous for doing all that you’re doing, because you have come such a long way. So much has happened to you, and hear what you’re saying right now! 

These are words of hope and of strength and also of fulfillment in a life that you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself before. And that shows a lot of practicing acceptance – I feel like you have accepted what has come to be your life. And in that, you find a new sense of meaning.

Lessons from Buddhism

[15:53 Nick Mercer] Yeah, serendipity is the word. You talked about the Buddhist influences, and again, I’m not going to preach on Buddhism, I’m just, but just enjoy the moment, because moments and life are just experiences.

[16:13 Melanie] I think that is the most valuable… gift – I say that very carefully – of trauma, of things that can happen to us. Because in the beginning, it can all feel like life has no meaning anymore. 

And Thich Nhat Hanh, he’s one of the people I study Buddhism with, he wrote something like: a gardener doesn’t separate garbage – the weeds – from the flower. So he uses the garbage, the weed, to turn into compost to help the flowers grow more. 

[17:09 Nick Mercer] That’s a good analogy. 

[17:11 Melanie] Yeah, he makes the best analogies. I think he’s a very good teacher. But I think that this is what you have done. And also, I think that this is the thing that saved me as well. So my situation was very different, but I recognize so much from your story. And it helped us so much.

The power of perspective

I think it’s very important for our listeners also to hear this, that if you have this perspective that something better may be waiting for you, not better than your previous life, but better than what you’re feeling right now… It’s two different lives: before and after, but both can be meaningful in their own way. 

[17:49 Nick Mercer] Yeah. 

[17:50 Melanie] And that really pulled me through, that belief that something good could be waiting for me.

Mindfulness and acceptance

[17:57 Nick Mercer] Yeah, because I think that the mindfulness part of it is that you deserve the things that are happening right now. But you think: this is bad, this is not what I want to happen. But just observe it as an experience, and the next second it will be something that happened in the past. It will be behind you, you look back and say, “Okay, so that thing happened. And we move on to the next thing.” 

Dealing with the side effects of a brain injury

[18:23 Melanie] Of course you have to work through things if they are there. And you also mentioned, I don’t know if it’s in this podcast, or in our last recording, but you mentioned the psychologist. We have already talked for a long while now. But it’s very important to deal with all the psychological side effects of brain injury constructively. 

Still, a positive attitude, I would say… You don’t have to pump yourself up in order to feel positive: I feel positive, I feel positive – that doesn’t work. But if you have an attitude of: I can figure this out – if that’s the basic belief – and something better might be waiting for me, those are things that already lift you up when you say it. 

[19:07 Nick Mercer] Yeah. 

[19:09 Melanie] So that’s so important to do. 

[19:11 Nick Mercer] Yeah, I agree to that. 

Speech problems after traumatic brain injury

Speech problems after traumatic brain injury

[19:14 Melanie] Can I ask you something else? Because I already told you that I had this speech impediment in the beginning, so I had a lot of trouble finding words. When I couldn’t find my words in the beginning, I had trouble finding words and I retreated. So I avoided situations where I had to find words. Conversations, communication, interaction, anything. 

[19:41 Nick Mercer] Yeah. 

Speech impediment and a podcast

[19:42 Melanie] You also have a speech impediment

[19:45 Nick Mercer] Yes. 

[19:46 Melanie] And you make podcasts. 

[19:48 Nick Mercer] Yes. 

[19:49 Melanie] I applaud you for that. Because I find that’s very courageous. And I think it’s wonderful because, of course, it’s so good that you do it, because it’s what it is. And it’s so important to share how it is, instead of what I did: retreating and not showing so that nobody could respond to it in general. How is that for you? How do you see that?

Nick missed talking with people

[20:16 Nick Mercer] Again, this is because of my acceptance. I couldn’t have done a podcast in that first year, even if I was speaking fine. My head wasn’t in the right spot for it. But acceptance was so important. 

Then I realized that I wanted to actually talk to people. I couldn’t play sports and stuff like that, so I couldn’t meet people that way. I wanted to talk to people. A podcast is a reasonable excuse to talk to people. 

Speaking fast is difficult

My speech still is… when I get excited about a subject and speak quickly, people won’t understand me. It is getting better since I’ve done a lot of podcasts. It kind of helps them feel that my podcast is authentic, it’s obvious that I have a brain injury or at least a deficit of some sort. 

It’s not like I’m speaking like this and saying: “You should do this, you should do that.” I’m not judging while I’m learning. I just want to learn from people and to talk to people and find out what they’re doing and what’s available for other people who are maybe in my previous situation.

Better brain injury care

[22:08 Melanie] It’s wonderful, because you explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. And that was also one of the things that I really wanted to ask you: what is the thing that you most want out of everything that you’ve been through for other people with brain injury?

[22:27 Nick Mercer] I want other people to have better availability of care for brain injury. I think it’s good to hear what you’re doing and people who were injured last year or two years ago, sharing their experiences and press for more advancement. 

Try to experience, not judge

I just want people to not be so judgmental of their current situation and just note that it’s life. You have less influence on your life and that sounds really sad and bad. But it’s just meant to be: where you’re born, who your parents are in your area – there’s so much that you had no choice over. And that’s fine: that’s just the way life goes on. 

I didn’t choose this. I had a helmet on. I didn’t choose to get a brain injury, but I did. Take the experience for what it is. And don’t treat every bad thing that happened to you as the worst thing that can happen to anybody in the world. This is one thing. It’s not even a bad thing. It’s just a thing that happened. People think me strange for saying that it wasn’t a bad thing. But it was just a thing that happened to me.

This isn’t easy to accept

[24:11 Melanie] I recognize and can acknowledge everything that you’re saying. And I believe if someone is listening now, who’s still in the middle of the storm, it can be very painful or hard to hear this. 

But it’s something that we know from ourselves, but also from talking with a lot of people who have been moving through this for a long time or have been through it, that this is what most of us experienced in the end. So this is something also that we needed to learn: to be able to move with what’s happening with us. 

You don’t know what you will get in the end

I think it’s a Chinese saying… It’s not a saying, but it’s a little story that something happened to a farmer, and then all the village was saying to him, “Oh, it’s so bad that this happened to you. It’s so sad.” And the farmer said, “I don’t know yet if it’s sad or bad. It hasn’t played out yet.” And then something else happened and people say it again and again and again. Every time he says: “I don’t know if it’s bad or sad, it hasn’t played out yet.” And there’s also another crux to the story, but I think that shows what you’re saying. 

[25:39 Nick Mercer] Yeah. 

[25:41 Melanie] You don’t know what will come of it. And if you choose a mindset, let it be one of hope, and of improvement, and possibility.

[25:53 Nick Mercer] No matter what the situation is!

Concussion Talk podcast

Concussion Talk podcast

[25:56 Melanie] Exactly! Is there something else that you would still like to share? Maybe something about your organization or your website or any advice, anything you want to share?

Concussion Talk episode with Melanie

[26:09 Nick Mercer] My website is concussiontalk.com. And my podcast is the Concussion Talk podcast, which you have been nice enough to be on. We just have been talking forever, because we just recorded my podcasts before this one. 

I’m not sure when yours will come out, but ours will come out about February 8 2022. So look at that one and enjoy life as much as you can. If you just look at life as much as you can and view life as just a bunch of experience. Appreciate those experiences.

Closing the interview

[26:44 Melanie] I want to thank you for your time and your attention.

[26:49 Nick Mercer] Thank you so much. Dankjewel!

[26:50 Melanie] Alsjeblieft. Oh no! I just responded to you, but I should say “dankjewel”, and you should say “alsjeblieft”.

[27:01 Nick Mercer] Alsjeblieft? 

[27:02 Melanie] Yes. That’s: “You’re welcome.”

What do you take away?

[27:06 Melanie] Now I would love to hear from you. What do you take away from this episode? Is there something that you can apply to your life right away? 

Head on over to lifeyana.com and leave your comment now. And if you want to hear and read more Concussion Stories, actionable steps and inspiration, be sure to subscribe to the Lifeyana email list while you’re there, so that you never miss out on new materials we constantly made for you. 

If you want to support this podcast, head on over to patreon.com/concussionstories. Thank you for listening to this Concussion Stories episode by Lifeyana. May you be well, and may you be happy.

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