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6966965057_d3e8e3a569_zMy speech is impaired from a brain injury resulting from a suicide attempt in 2007.  While it has improved considerably, it’s still not what anyone would consider “normal”  which left me feeling very self conscious, anxious, and inferior- this was especially amplified whenever I was in public.  Easy solution.  Don’t go out in public.  So, I didn’t.  After years of hibernating, I have s-l-o-w-l-y coming out of my self -imposed isolation.

I used to feel as if I had a thought bubble over my head following me everywhere, pointing at me, and reading “brain injured idiot.”  Desperately not wanting to draw attention to myself, I rarely spoke to anyone and tried to disappear into the background.  I tried really hard to appear “normal,” – whatever that is.  Now, I realize that I wasn’t the center of everyone’s attention, and, even if anyone did notice, so what? My ability to venture out into and interact with the world directly coincided with how comfortable I was with myself.  My impaired speech has been a catalyst for great personal growth and self acceptance.

blueSuit-150x150Early in my recovery days, I saw the comedian, Josh Blue, who won The Last Comic Standing in 2006 and has cerebral palsy, on television.  His speaking is slightly impaired, he walks with a limp, and his right arm waves uncontrollably around him with the hand curled while he performs.  Instead of letting his impairments limit him, he has made a very successful career for himself making jokes about them.  In his stand-up routine, he says “People ask me if I get nervous before coming up on stage.  I say ‘Heck no, I’ve got this many people starring at me all day.”  I remember seeing him and being just totally blown away because he took a deficit and made it a benefit for him.

henline1Bobby Henline, is a veteran who served four tours of duty in Iraq.  On the last tour, his Humvee was hit by an IED, and he suffered burns over 38% of his body losing his eyelids, ears and left hand.  His head was burned so badly that his skull was visible.  He turned his horror into humor and inspiration as he performs for the public and troops. He even jokes that his last tour “was a blast” and dresses up as very convincing Freddy Krueger.  He believes that, by telling his story, he is raising awareness and breaking through barriers.  On his website, he says “that comedy is about telling the bitter truth with a sense of good timing.”

Nick_Vujicic_speaking_in_a_church_in_Ehringshausen,_Germany_-_20110401-02Most everyone has seen a video of Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms or legs.  He jokingly says that he does have a flipper which is very useful to him, and his motto is “no arms, no legs…no worries.”  At 28 years old, Nick has accomplished more than most people do in a whole lifetime.  Nick has traveled around the globe, sharing his story with and inspiring millions and just recently married.

These people are incredibly encouraging to me.  When I see them, I think “…and I am worried about talking a little funny?” I’ve gotten to the point that I still feel a wee bit self conscious sometimes, but not much.  I decided that I refuse to let my impairment limit my life in any way or to use it as an excuse to not live fully and it’s working!

As a matter of fact, like the examples above, I am actually finding my altered speech, surprisingly, to be somewhat of an asset, giving me an element of believability and credibility within brain injured and non-brain injured communities. An online friend, whom I met in person for the first time recently, even said that they found my speech “soft, kind and rhythmic.”  Their perspective was a reminder to me that others’ perceptions are going to be totally different from my own.

I’ve learned that what may seem like a drawback, can be uniquely turned around into an asset.  The difference is a matter of  perception of it and yourself.  Is there something that may look like a tragedy in your own life that can become a triumph?

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  1. Stephen Gemmell Reply

    Hi Debbie, it’s not just your Mom that’s proud of you. You really are an inspiration to all. Love the quotes. And realise that ‘normal’ doesn’t really actually exist (even though the ‘normal’ people use it as a guage). Thanks again, and take care, Stephen

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you so much, Stephen. As the saying goes “Normal is just a setting on a washing machine.”

  2. Judy M. Hampton Reply

    Well done, Debbie. As you usually do, you make me grateful for the blessings I have and to accept the limitations I have with humor and good grace. I am so very proud of your successful journey and to be your Mom.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks for the kind words, Mom. Anything can be a blessing, I am finding, if you just change your perception of it. Neato!

  3. What a beautiful post, Debbie. I have known you for quite some time now, and I have been waiting for the day when you say – ‘it’s really not as big of a deal as I think it is.’ Can’t tell you how happy I am to see this! You have so much to give and so you have so many people to help. You are greatly loved and as I’ve said before – a true inspiration.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Oh, Erin, I cannot tell you how big this made me smile. Only took a few years…better late than never, huh?! 🙂 I am happy to be here, finally. Thank you for your encouragement, support and example over the years!

      • Great post, Debbie. Others may have the “luxury” of having their disabilities not be obvious, but that’s not always a benefit. You have to live your life as who you are without hiding. It may be more difficult at first, but it’s honest and it’s real. If someone judges another on their disability, that says more about the one judging than the one being judged. Your posts are honest, refreshing, informative, and hopeful. I believe your speech, no matter how it sounds, will reflect the same qualities. I’m so happy to be reading this post, another milestone along the road to healing and wholeness.

        • Debbie Hampton Reply

          Mark, your words are so kind and make my heart smile! I think, after a brain injury, that is the biggest hurdle among the many…to quit striving to achieve “normal” and to accept oneself as is while still working to get better!

  4. Somewhat like my experience with dementia patients, I didn’t know you before. I got to know and like you as you are now. It is sometimes more difficult at first for individuals and those who knew them before and after a notable change in condition. You can’t help comparing. But we all undergo changes, gradual entropy if not the catastrophic kind. Parts of us become less than they were, but other parts of us become more! The look in your eye, your smile, the tone of your voice, ways you move and position yourself, it all talks. There’s so much to communicating outside the specific ability to control the acuity of speech. I’ll bet you come across very clearly.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Mikey, very true! Communication is so much more than speech. A very important part of it is listening. I do that much better now than before the brain injury because it actually made me shut up!

      My family and those around me have gotten used to my speaking this way and they do not even notice it any more. People not used to my speech immediately realize that they have to pay attention and listen closely. Not a bad thing!

  5. Hi Debbie,
    I would say that life really is what we make of it. We can be serious or we can have fun with it. It is up to us to decide what path to choose.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Justin, so true and so simple…but why is it so difficult and takes soooo long to really understand and live this? Well, it did for me, anyway. It ONLY took 40+ years…half of my life…but then, I have the second half to have fun! Gonna be good!

  6. Thomas Eklund Reply

    My guess is that the more you will find what you can do for other people, that is also deeply meaningful for you personally, the happier you will be. That is what you seem to be searching for, too. Your websites seem to be part of that journey. You may find that area of activities based on your insights, that have an overlap with other people’s needs and wants.
    Wishing you the very best,

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thomas, thank you for your thoughts. You are so right on! I get so much fulfillment an joy out of sharing what I have learned about physically recovering from a brain injury or just bettering the brain, healing depression and changing your thoughts to change your life. I am working with some one right now who had a debilitating stroke….teaching them about neurofeedback, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a brain healthy diet and hydration, and brain healthy practices such as mindfulness and meditation. If I can do it, others can!

  7. Marty Coleman, The Napkin Dad Reply

    YAY for you and your beautiful voice! I am very happy to read of your willingness to push through that self-consciousness and get out there. And don’t forget, there are many who hear your voice and think it is beautiful!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Marty, thank you for your encouragement and support and for offering a different perspective. I am going, already! 🙂

  8. Debbie:
    Your Best Brain Possible Facebook posts are amazing. They reinforce what I’ve always thought about the human brain, the human spirit, and human beings in general. Thank you for all you do. You are an inspiration. I recommend your Facebook feed to many people I meet.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Well thank you much, Shannon! You sure put a smile on my face. I completely turned my life around by just simply changing my thoughts which, in turn, changed my physical brain. Pretty amazing! I want to share this because it is so simple yet so powerful and anyone can do it!

  9. Shelsee Kirk Reply

    Debbie you are amazing. When I saw the begining of your story I said this sounds like my 14 year old son Tanner. He also attempted suicide on 2-8-10. He suffers from dystonia from the anoxic brain injury. He is an amazing kid. Before and after. Just this summer he was able to give a speech using a dynavox at an Out of the Darkness walk for Suicide Prevention. He does speak and I do understand him but others struggle. He has turned this tragedy into a journey of helping others. It is amazing when someone takes their suffering and shares it with others in the hope it helps. I loved reading your article and as soon as Tanner gets home I plan to share it with him. You are so inspiring and show that it is possible to enjoy life no matter what is thrown at you. I wish you many days of happiness.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Shelsee, thank you so much for sharing your experience and your glowing words to me. My heart goes out to Tanner. The good news is that he can make changes as a result which will benefit him his whole life. For me and for most, I believe, suicide is the result of destructive thinking patterns which can be unlearned. Through thought reframing and other similar tools, the brain’s happiness set point can actually be changed physically.

      Sounds like he is already learning to turn tragedy into triumph! The personal growth, strength and resiliency which he is learning from this experience is invaluable for him. He will be a stronger, better person going forward. I know. I know. Let’s hope he chooses gentler lesssons in the future. I have a 14 yr old and a 17 yr old son. I can relate.

      Has Tanner done hyperbaric oxygen therapy? It is specifically very effective for anoxic brain injuries as it gets the oxygen back to parts of the brain that were damaged. I have done it about weekly or more at first for three years. It was incredibly beneficial at improving my speech. Even now, my speech is so much better right after I do it. Blog on it with some links

      Another therapy which was also amazingly beneficial in improving my speech and overall mental satus was Brain Wave Optimization. It is the next evolution of neurofeedback. This stuff is AMAZING, and I found it to be much faster than traditional neurofeedback. Blog with links:

      Also, I would encourage Tanner to do his own speech therapy everyday…reading Dr. Seuss out loud, singing out loud, and doing exercises that I am sure he has from therapy. Doing this repetitively with consistency will cause his brain to make new pathways. It takes time. Three months of speech therapy is not going to get it which is typically what insurance will allow. I saw the most improvement in my speech during the third year post injury because I worked on it the most.

      Let me know if you need any more info or help. Tell Tanner that he can improve depending on how hard he is willing to work at it. When he stops working, he stops improving.

  10. Debbie,
    I love your blogs and this one speaks to me very clearly. I, too, had to learn to slowly venture back into the world after my brain surgery and my perception that everyone was staring at me and wondering what was wrong. I finally figured out it really didn’t matter what they thought and their opinions of me are none of my business. Now,that took years, maybe decades, and I still find myself at times being self conscious and have to remind myself that my imperfections make me perfectly who I am. Thanks for sharing your story. It helps take some of the stigma off sensitive subjects, like brain injury and suicide (attempts or otherwise). I appreciate your wisdom!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks for your kind words, Pam! I find that, now, I really only get self conscious around certain people or in certain situations. (Like around my X) This is a sign to me to do some introspection and figure out why I feel this way. What is being triggered in me in these situations? It is always about something inside us. I, hopefully, one day will get to where I never feel this, but I kinda doubt it. As you indicated, it is all about being OK with myself.

  11. Debbie,

    This is such a great reminder that no matter what our story, there’s probably someone else who has had greater challenges. It really helps us put our own sufferings into perspective. Thank you for this great inspiration today!

  12. Debbie Hampton Reply

    Thank you, Sandra. The saying that if all of the troubles were thrown into a pile, you would take yours back is so true. There is always someone who faces greater challenges and, from them overcoming them, we can find so much inspiration!

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