Table of contents:
01:52 Brain injury support
04:00 James’ traumatic brain injury symptoms
06:33 Brain injury awareness with TBI One Love
10:44 Brain injury recovery inspiration from James
12:40 James’ traumatic brain injury recovery story
17:55 Relearning after brain injury
Introduction to this episode on traumatic brain injury recovery
Recovery from traumatic brain injury is often seen as very hard, if not improbable, by many doctors. This sets many of us up for a mindset of passiveness and let’s-wait-and-see. However, there are stories of people rising even from the darkest of situations.
Take James Durham. After his injury his body first gave up, he then returned to us and remained in a come for 5 weeks, and then had lost a lot of functions and had to relearn even more. Even though doctors didn’t expect a lot of him, he was determined to be positive and assertive. And what did he do? Well, nothing that was predicted! Listen to this Concussion Stories conversation to hear James’ recovery story and his nuggets of wisdom.
Please keep in mind that a concussion is a so-called mild traumatic brain injury. If we say TBI in this conversation, this means traumatic brain injury.
[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 feel 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 and 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.
[0:45 Melanie] In this episode, James Durham shares the power of positivity and hope with us. And mind you: these are no empty words of motivation. James has literally defied all odds with his philosophy, because after hisaccident in 2011, James remembers being surrounded by loved ones who had already passed on. And he remained in a five week coma after that.
Doctors didn’t think he’d ever be able to walk, talk, or remember a thing if he’d wake up. James woke up, and he had lost functions, some of which were truly lost, like his sight from one eye and other functions he was able to relearn with help of his positive philosophy.
James now lives a very positive life, graduated university, runs a charity organization for traumatic brain injury and inspires people around the world. James story is a perfect illustration to aim for the life you feel is waiting for you, even if experts can’t see how you would ever do that. This is James Durham.
Brain injury support
[1:52 Melanie] So James, we are on a similar mission. Because on your website, you write that it doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re from: you are not alone. And this same message is so important to me that I put it in Lifeyana’s name because Yana is an acronym for You Are Not Alone. Why is so important to you to reach out and let people know and feel that they’re not alone?
[2:22 James] You know, that’s a great question. The reason that I reach out and to let people are not alone, has multiple perspectives. But most importantly, of course, that they are not alone and that there’s others out there that can relate to them, and help them with hope, education, with steps that worked for them, and can be addressed to their own personal equation. And most importantly, inspire them to understand that what they’re going through may be difficult, but it is not the end.
Positive brain injury recovery
Before my injury, I was always a positive person. But I understood that after sustaining my injury, and literally rewiring my brain that the positive impact was still there, it was just even more in depth. More stronger is what I’m referring to by saying more depth. And in doing that, it helped me not only think differently, but also had the ripple effect of being and living differently, even with my long-term effects of my severe traumatic brain injury.
Better than he ever was before
[3:20 Melanie] So would you say then that.. because you write, I think it was in a… sorry, it was in an interview with Jennifer Sheehan that you said that you’re better in so many things that you ever were before. And does that have to do with this attitude?
(If you want to watch Jennifer Sheehan’s interview with James, you can find it right here: )
[3:37 James] It has, you know, that’s a really good question. It does have to do with this attitude. The attitude is the roots of all the scenarios that I go through short, long-term in life and especially with the difficulties that I experienced daily with my brain injury. I still use that every day, because like you mentioned, I do still have difficulties with my brain injury you know.
James’ traumatic brain injury symptoms
For example, just to help our listeners understand, communication error where I have difficulty understanding or writing certain words or phrases, what they actually mean or how they’re properly pronounced, written, etc. I do have no smell and taste.
I do have a very strong lack of depth where my body senses are damaged so I have difficulty with telling the exact temperature of items and/or body temperature. I’m deaf out of my left ear, I’m completely blind on my left eye and of course I have a brain injury on top of that.
James’ symptoms don’t hold him back
[4:42 Melanie] I think it’s really amazing that you do all the things that you do, especially when you’re still experiencing, or when you continue to experience all of these symptoms, but then I know that you’re guided by something else than just some will to put your story forward, right? It’s a deeper level of motivation that you have.
Brain injury awareness is low
[5:11 James] Thank you. And like I said, a lot of people have the same ripple effect. They have not heard of a brain injury before they sustain theirs. But once we get a brain injury, we have the ability not only to help others understand, how brain injury is affecting an individual’s life, but also how if we can go and move forward with it, there’s no reason to really complain that things can’t be done.
An invisible illness
It’s an inspiration for others to understand, especially when it’s an invisible disability, that you cannot tell exactly by the outside layer, that there is a brain injury involved. You might see some individuals with some damages to their outer limbs or not able to function completely, but when you see that you don’t assume brain injury. You think either bad wreck or most importantly, they were born that way.
You don’t think oh, hey, maybe they have a brain injury which also caused that. But then again, it comes with the flexibility and most importantly, the comfortability of sharing what you’re going through to let others know that hey, this is what I’m going through, learn more about me, you might know someone that’s going through the same thing, or most importantly, you can help make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone in your own life and especially yourself.
Brain injury awareness with TBI One Love
[6:33 Melanie] Yes, that’s so important. And I think that it is really beautiful that you do what you do with TBI one love. And we haven’t touched upon that subject just yet. So can you maybe tell a bit about it?
[6:47 James] Of course. TBI One Love is a nonprofit organization, spreading a positive form of hope, inspiration and education to those that have been touched by a brain injury, along with awareness and prevention to the general public.
It is a phenomenal source of, like I stated, that positive form, but it also has survivors sharing their story with our inspirational family tree of survivors and caregivers. There’s over 400 individuals that have joined the family tree out of 14 different countries to helping us paint the world green and end the silence of the invisible disability.
Making the invisible illness less invisible
[7:25 Melanie] The invisibility of it all is, I think, partly what both of us are working on so hard in order to create this awareness. You do that, for example, by having people share their stories, which are such beautiful and touching stories. And they are also so elaborate, because you really let people share whatever they feel is important to share in order to create this awareness that people are not alone, and that there are so many more things to a brain injury than most of even the survivors often know, when they get it.
The silent epidemic
[8:07 James] Exactly and, like I mentioned, and that’s the whole point of my work in my organization, and that’s the whole point that all survivors and even caregivers need to share their story. Because brain injuries happen anywhere to anyone at any time. Very little have ever heard of a brain injury. And if they have, it’s not fully understanding because they do not live with one. And it’s sad to say this, but brain injuries have been around for generations, they’re never going to go away.
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury
Thanks to Dr. Bennet Omalu with locating CTE, that really tipped the iceberg of changing brain injury awareness, and most importantly, how a concussion not a headache. It is a mild traumatic brain injury. So there are differences that are always going to be educated and differences that will really help unfold the journey.
But we’re never going to really understand the full impact of brain injuries for generations, because it’s been around for so long. But once again, by finding that it’s addressing the chain and helping others understand not only of course that they can happen anywhere, anytime and to any one.
There is no brain injury recovery timeline
But also how it’s not like when you break your leg or break an arm or a bone, for example, where you’re going to get a calendar that’s going to say: “Hey, by X amount of weeks, you’re gonna have this done by X amount of weeks, you might get your cast off by X amount of weeks you’ll be do this.” Because with a brain injury, there is no finish line.
Every brain injury is unique
And most importantly, every brain injury is completely different. Even if you have an individual that has a similar style of brain injury, or the same area damage, they’re not going to match. All brains, all individuals are different. So what’s very important, kind of going with the motivation of being ourselves, is just because we look the same doesn’t mean they act the same.
[10:01 Melanie] No, that’s very true. I feel like sometimes we don’t even need an introduction, right, we understand on a deeper level what we’re all going through. And still, there are so many differences, and we still cannot understand the other, as well as… I think the welcome on someone else’s shoes saying applies here.
So it’s also very… I think it’s something that I’m very aware of also that you always leave room for another to be able to explain how things are for them instead of assuming what they are going through. And this is also something that has to do with the invisibility that you already touched upon as well.
Brain injury recovery inspiration from James
If you imagine that someone is listening right now. And they feel like there is no end to their struggles, so this is a place that I have been too. Could you share, I feel that you can, could you share some words of hope and inspiration from your own story with them?
[11:00 James] Of course, I’d be happy to. You know, some of the words of wisdom and guidance that I recommend to anyone, especially our listeners, or people that they know, is we need to focus on at least one positive thing a day.
The little things are the big things
And a lot of people think that when I ask them to do that, that okay, it’s really got to think on the big things. It’s not. Focus on the little things, that’s something positive. For example: waking up, having food, having clothes, having a home, having friends, family, etc. Those little things really are the big things.
Rewire your brain
When you start to do that every day – not saying the same ones every day, but the same style – think about a positive thing of beginning of day, the end, or the middle, whatever works best, you’re actually going to rewire your brain and create new neurological pathways that are able to obtain positive impact more easily. When you continue to do that you’re going to build more, they’re going to get stronger, etc.
The power of positivity
But it just is very important to understand that the power of positivity can be a very powerful – keyword powerful – long-term effect to our physical, emotional, and most importantly, our mental lifestyle. If we have the ability and flexibility to want to do it. Because life is a gift. There are always going to be ups and downs. But when we can focus on the positive, instead of only on the negative, it’s going to really reward us and help change the person we are, how we think, and most importantly, how we live.
James’ traumatic brain injury recovery story
[12:40 Melanie] That’s really beautifully said. I want to talk about this a little more, because as you already know I think, I’ve watched your interview with Jennifer Sheehan. And in it, it shocked me to hear that you died right after the moment of impact. And this goes to show the severity of your injury.
Doctors thought James wouldn’t wake up
And she said that you told her that in the hospital, the doctors thought that you would not wake up and if you would, that you could become a vegetable. And yet, here you are! So, I was wondering, have you ever felt – after waking up – that had you believe that you could become no more than a vegetable, so you wouldn’t have all of this positive energy working with you and for you, you would not have made the effort maybe even to recover like you did, to do all that you’re doing right now?
I HAD to relearn how to do things
[13:40 James] Exactly. And that’s very true. You know, and even with getting the diagnosis and how things are supposed to be (obviously they did tell me that, they told my family), but going through the process of relearning how to do things, even if I knew how to do them, I still was forced to do it.
And looking back at that now and even the way that I continue to do do certain exercises, mental rewiring, mental boosters, etc. It’s really helping me not only be how I am, but most importantly, help inform others. Because without that self motivation, and liking myself enough to where I can be happy with who I am, how I live, no matter what obstacles are on my way, it’s really helping me unfold the way that is supposed to be instead of the way it was determined.
Accepting a brain injury and it’s long-term effects
[14:34 Melanie] I hear a lot of… the word “acceptance” is what comes up in my mind when you speak.
[14:42 James] Exactly.
[14:44 Melanie] But acceptance is a really hard process to go through. Once you have, this whole space opens up for you to move. Because I think yes, you’re moving with whatever has to happen, apparently. But before that, it’s really hard sometimes to get to this place where you feel like, okay, I have accepted where I am, and from here I am going to improve upon my situation.
Do you feel that you can maybe share some insight on how to accept one’s situation when someone is feeling like: this is not supposed to happen, I am supposed to live a different life then what I am having now?
A brain injury is an obstacle
[15:28 James] Exactly. And I’m glad you asked. It’s very important for us, who we are and how were are all day, especially once we have obstacles. And when I’m referring to obstacles as you know, brain injuries. Everyone has obstacles: life changes, and other people are always going to motivate us or give their perspective, which is very powerful. But that’s only going to be about 75 to 80%. useful.
And I know, listeners are probably thinking, well, if our own determination is the remaining, which can be 20 to 25%, theirs is more useful. Which is not true. The smaller amount is up to us, and that is the most valuable. People are always going to give their opinion on situations, they’re going to give their perspectives, pros and cons, etc. However you want to work.
Believe that you can get more out of a brain injury than you expect
But at the end of the day, it all determines on us. We are our own source of inspiration. We view others and get to learn from them, but it’s not a copy. We get to learn from them, put in our own equation and use it. So we get to not only be happy on how we’re climbing, even if it’s going to take time, the end result is going to be much more than we could ever imagine.
[16:45 Melanie] That’s a really beautiful perspective. And it’s exactly the same as what I have experienced and what I believe. So I can completely agree with you.
James’ positive outcome after a severe brain injury
You have sustained such a severe injury. And still, you are now doing all that you’re doing with TBI One Love. You’re helping people… well, come forward I would say, because of this visibility of it all, and share their stories. But you’re also helping people experience and choose hope and feel that they are not alone in all of this.
[17:25 James] Even, no matter what the scenario is, it can always be worse.
[17:27 Melanie] Yes, it can. That’s one of the things that really helped me choose hope in the beginning, because I found a book that describes stories of hope after brain injury. And after I read that, I realized that I really hadn’t had it that bad. And I really felt that if others could do it, I could live that way too. And that’s the thing that I love so much about the message of TBI One Love, but also your story.
Relearning after brain injury
So having injured the left side of your brain, I think it’s responsible for things like talking and understanding and analyzing and planning right? The more logical things, and you need this to do your work, all of which you are doing with TBI One Love. So I think it’s an amazing illustration of how much the brain is capable of relearning after injury.
[18:19 James] Thank you so much for your kind words.
[18:21 Melanie] How do you see this? How do you see all of this relearning that you had to do? And all of that you you are now capable of doing?
[18:30 James] You know, I think it’s very important. You know, it’s like I’ve told people, it’s just like riding a bike, it’s gonna take time. And of course, we want it to happen immediately, faster, and it needs to. But the longer we take, to really allow it to adapt to the way it’s supposed to, we’re going to be much more happier with the outcome. And we’re going to be much more happier with the results that we personally get to experience short and long term.
Acceptance and positive energy
[19:04 Melanie] Yes. And there’s the acceptance again. So that’s really, I think, the key topic that you have touched upon, aside from all over the beautiful notes that you made on positive energy. With that, I would like to conclude our recording. I’m curious whether you would like to share still something with our listeners?
About TBI One Love
[19:26 James] You know what, I think we’ve shared enough. I would just highly recommend them, if they would like to learn more about myself, or my organization or the family tree that you’re a part of, please visit TBIonelove.org or find us on Instagram and hit the like button.
[19:43 Melanie] And with that I would like to conclude our recording. Thank you so much for taking this time with me and sharing your light with our listeners.
[19:52 James] Hey, thank you for the opportunity, Melanie. I hope you continue to thrive and I know you will inspire others. Keep up the great work.
Can you apply this?
[20:00 Melanie] Thank you so much. 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 make for you. If you want to support this podcast, head on over to patreon.com/concussion stories. Thank you for listening to this Concussion Stories episode by Lifeyana. May you be well, and may you be happy.