My Name Is... Thomas Quinlan

Traumatic brain injury survivor advocates for compassion

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Surviving every day

A few years ago, I was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury. I lost everything. I lost my business, my friends, and connections with my family. I became homeless. I started wandering along the river.

Walking that river kept me alive. It gave me purpose. I focused on the birds: When I started, I knew 17 birds by sight. As time went by, I taught myself maybe 350 birds, by sight, sound and movement. It kept my brain active.

Having a TBI is about survival every day. Every moment of every day. It wants to do you in. God is the foundation of my survival.

Just wanting to be listened to

TBIs are sometimes called an invisible disability. If you’re in a wheelchair, there’s very little condemnation. With a TBI, you may walk into a room strong, but before long people start to get frustrated with you.

Once you tell people you have a TBI, they treat you like a second-class citizen. Like you’re crazy. Like you’re not quite human.

Most of us with TBIs just want to be listened to as intelligent human beings. We just need to go slower. Sometimes it takes us days to process something. At first, I’d get upset with myself. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t understand. As time went by, I started to find my way. I’ve been tested by doctors, and they say I’m no better off, but that I’ve just learned to live with it better. It’s discouraging, but it’s what I’ve got.

‘I don’t want to be invisible’

The slower we go, the better off we are. Before I got injured, I could cook, clean and do homework at one time. Now I’m fortunate to do one thing at a time. Now I can get three or four things done in a day, but I have to do them with total focus.

I run a website called TBIVisual.com. I share survival skills, stories, and tips and tricks about living with a TBI. Everything from how to use public transit, how to cook safely, how to meditate, to how to advocate for yourself.

It’s easy to become invisible, but I don’t want to be invisible. I want to be part of the world, without having to explain myself.

If you have suggestions for My Name Is, please contact David Gilbert at dgilbert@coloradocommunitymedia.com.

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