Breaking Out

My dad used to say that I had legs for pulling a plow. My sister would say, in reference to my size 14s, that I had a “good understanding.” And I used to say I was strong like bull, smart like tractor. We joked about my strength. I didn’t look like a body builder, but I was powerful in a sort of torque vs horsepower kind of way.

But in the first couple of years after the accident I wasn’t strong. My body shook uncontrollably at the oddest moments. I spent months in a hospital bed. I spent day’s laying on the couch, watching TV, eating, and playing guitar as well as my semi paralyzed fingers could manage. This “laziness” meant my muscles were shrinking and muscle atrophy from disuse can last a lifetime.

I was a burden on those around me.

Dad worked. Mom worked. And dad wanted me to work … but I couldn’t even bring myself to apply for a job. I may have looked normal, but I wasn’t. (That’s why TBI is known as the silent epidemic.) Things weren’t “right in my head.” I was tired all the time. My spatial reasoning was wonky — sometimes even putting my hand into a shirt sleeve required intense effort. I couldn’t speak well, odd words coming out of my mouth at inopportune times. After a couple years I tried working with my father’s company and made it through one day, but couldn’t return.

Really, I spent all my time reading, writing, exercising and playing guitar. It was fortunate that my support system allowed me to focus like that, for it meant I could strengthen myself.

After four years I worked up the courage to apply for a part time job selling clothes at Eaton’s. It felt awkward filling out the application and even stranger having an interview, but I got the job and overcame a major hurdle. That was an exciting summer. It was the summer that I began to break out of the shell of my parent’s house. Not only did I get a job, but I took a couple of summer courses at the University of Alberta. I also learned that I’d been accepted to the University of Victoria, beginning that fall, in the Writing program.

What’s the moral of this story? Take the time to develop yourself. Focus on activities that build the brain like reading and memorizing and playing music and exercise. Push yourself to do the things you need to do. Ask for help. Don’t rush. And don’t expect immediate change. Keep at it. It may take a while, but good things will come. You can build a solid life. It won’t be what it was, but it could be better.


In the spring of 1990 Allan Boss was in a motor vehicle accident. He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. The attending neurosurgeon informed his family that he would never walk again or talk again. He recovered and finished three university degrees including a Ph.D., has written/edited four published books and his CBC Ideas program “Updrafts” about recovering from brain injury won nominations for multiple international awards including the Peabody and the Prix Italia. He is currently writing a non-fiction book about his recovery.

Want to learn more? Email  with the subject Send Me the Free Outline to the book, The Seven Steps to Healing your Brain.

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