Ryan Farrell, a brain injury survivor and college student, who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) during a cheerleading exhibition in 2010. Ryan currently shares her story with teens through BIA-MA’s Gateway Program, often volunteers at BIA-MA events and writes blogs for us about her experiences post-injury. Today, Ryan sits down with BIA-MA and talks about how she stays so positive and what has kept her moving forward, even while dealing with challenges and setbacks.
1. You’ve been through so much as a result of your brain injury and come so far. Despite the challenges you’ve faced, how did you stay so positive and how do you continue to do so even on days that might be really difficult?
From the moment I was actually able to grasp what had happened to me, my main commentary was basically: “OK, so how can I ‘make it better’?” I can honestly say that I have never, nor do I ever plan to wallow through the “WHY ME?!” mentality – I don’t have time for it!
I have always been a “sunny-side-up,” “glass more than half full” kind of individual. Thinking negative thoughts would use up too much time and energy – time and energy I should be taking advantage of to get me closer to my dreams and aspirations.
2. Do you have a support system behind you and how have they helped you?
I have the strongest, most amazing support system behind me! My family – immediate & extended – is the main reason why I am able to do all of the things I have done, and will continue to do post-injury. In the initial months of rehab, it was my family members – parents, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins – who were at Spaulding Rehab Hospital (where I received in-patient therapy for 11 weeks), every single day. Whether they were rooting me on in physical therapy when I was relearning how to sit-up in my chair, or during speech therapy when I was determined to try and remember lists of names or places to exercise my short-term memory, they were the “constant” that I had in my day-to-day life. When everything else in my life was so out-of-sorts, my family kept me determined and sane!
3. What was your greatest struggle post-injury and how did you overcome it?
My greatest struggle post-injury was not anything for which there was a specific “treatment.” My short-term memory was basically non-existent throughout the first months after my injury. I could not remember the most trivial things, such as what I had eaten for breakfast, even if I was asked five minutes after finishing! My short-term memory is still something that I struggle with at times, though not as severely as I did in those first months. I have to be extra-vigilant and make sure I am persistently paying attention to make sure I do not “miss something.”
4. What was your greatest success?
My greatest success, thus far, has been returning to college in fall 2011. To overcome one doctor’s prognosis of, “Your daughter is so severely injured, that at the very best she will only ever walk with a walker,” has been the biggest barrier that I have catapulted myself over!
This fall, I am entering my senior year, and will be enthusiastically concluding my undergraduate education in spring 2014. Like I said, my greatest success thus far has been returning. Ask me again, 10 months from now, and I will state, loudly and proudly, that my greatest success has been COMPLETING!!!
5. What do you want to tell other survivors?
I want to tell other survivors everything that I have believed, and that has been told to me throughout these past 39 ½ months. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU SET YOUR MIND TO, and, the only person who can set limitations on you, is you!
6. You share your story as part of our Gateway Program. What is the best part about sharing your story with others?
Public speaking has always been “my thing.” The rush I experience when I am standing in front of a group, large or small, is inexplicable. Through the Gateway Program, I am able not only to fulfill my love of this, but I am also able to positively impact and influence the teens and young adults whom I’m speaking to. The absolute best part of sharing as a part of this program occurs after I’ve shared my story. At the end of my presentation, I always inform the teens and young adults that it is now their time to speak – they can ask me questions, make comments and they don’t even have to pertain to my story. When the brave, “ice-breaker” of the group asks the first question, it allows the other individuals in the room to feel comfortable asking a question, too!