Auburn Family

Learning to Look at Life Through a Different Lens: The Road to Recovery After a Traumatic Brain Injury

As Auburn students we believe in “work, hard work.” Auburn student, Audrey Bellah puts this belief in action through her daily journey as she recovers from a traumatic brain injury.

Bellah has sustained a total of ten concussions (a type of mild traumatic brain injury) since 2005. Because of the large amount of trauma Bellah’s brain has experienced, it has become “fragile” meaning that a slight bump from every day life activity is dangerous for her.

On March 8, 2012 Bellah suffered a moderate traumatic brain injury while playing ultimate Frisbee when she collided with one of her fiends. This head-on collision sent Bellah to the emergency room.

“I don’t remember being picked up by the ambulance,” Bellah said. “In fact, I don’t remember the entire week of the accident.”

As a result of the accident Audrey was faced with constant headaches, dizziness, light and sound sensitivity, and insomnia. These symptoms were severe for the first year and have reduced in gravity over time, however they have not disappeared. While her headaches are no longer constant they are triggered by stress/anxiety, reading, lack of sleep, and exercising.

“Having a TBI is a physically and mentally exhausting experience and every day is a challenge,” Bellah said. “As far as academia goes, I could not concentrate on anything at all and got confused very easily. I would try and read a passage and would forget everything I just read almost instantaneously. My brain felt overall extremely sluggish.”

Because of the effects of her traumatic brain injury Bellah had no choice but to withdraw from Auburn University. She went from experiencing the independence that life as a college student offers to being completely dependent on doctors and family members. For two years Bellah had to rest in the darkness of a small room while her friends’ and family’s lives continued. During this time she experienced depression and anxiety, which are two major symptoms of traumatic brain injuries.

“I was not able to drive or even cook food for myself,” Bellah said. “I was totally dependent on others. For those that knew me before the accident, they know how independent I had always been. So, having to relinquish independence was one of the most difficult parts of my recovery. It made me feel guilty and like I was a burden to everyone.”

Unfortunately, most people who suffer a traumatic brain injury will never fully recover and in fact their brains are forever changed.

“I often think that I just want to be ‘normal’ again and live my life the way I used to – unfortunately, that is never going to be in the cards for me,” Bellah said. “Now I have to get used to this ‘new normal,’ which is very difficult to do. All I can do now is trust in God and know that He has a greater plan for my life – way greater than I can even imagine. I just have to push on and keep fighting.”

And that is exactly what she has done. Bellah is registered for classes at Auburn University for fall 2014 and plans to continue pursuing a degree in Radio, Television, and Film. One day she hopes to work for Walt Disney Studios. She also runs her own photography business, Audrey Bellah Photography.

“As I look at her journey from beginning to where she is now, my overall impression is what an awesome spirit she has,” Audrey’s mother Karen Bellah said. “Her joy for life, her huge heart and sense of humor are always evident. Yes, she had many dark days… probably more than I will ever know, but, she is still the same Audrey, but, now stronger, wiser and already trying to help others. She also still has big dreams and truly I believe God has great plans to use her in a big way.”

“I am a lot stronger than I originally thought,” Bellah said. “I have been dealing with these horrible symptoms for many years now, but I continue to fight and strive to live an active life. “

Although Bellah’s world has been changed forever, she strives to live by encouraging words spoken by Walt Disney, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

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