Faiza Siddiqui’s “Diary of a Headcase” and the wisdom of a community

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I’ve been told countless times (or maybe not that often, but I can’t remember) that it’s a damn good thing I had my speech therapy degree before developing impairments from traumatic brain injury. When I tell someone about a new strategy I have for improving my day, it’s amazing how often people remind me that old speech therapy degree sure is coming in handy! I hear the same thing when I talk about how important it is to caption and audio describe films. Yet I never learned about those things in school. In fact, I didn’t see captions on a single film we watched in class even though providing those captions is the law. So if I didn’t learn all my anti-brain injury strategies in school or how to provide disability accommodations and access, where did I learn them? My community.

It was not me going back to my notes that helped me regain self-control when I was losing it at my support group meetings. It was Joan Miller, my Mama BIRRD, calling me at home to reflect with me on my responsibility to learn to control my poor behavior. Then, she even made suggestions for controlling it. After that, at meetings she discreetly pointed out to me when I was succeeding.

Captions? Deaf artists and allies. Audio description? Blind, visually impaired, and non-visual learning artists and allies. Daily modifications around the house? Brain-injured friends and allies. Dismantling ableism and oppression? The disability community and allies. And yes, I learned many strategies from cognitive rehabilitation. But years after rehab has ended, it’s my friends and supporters who reinforce and refine the strategies much more than my old book learning. I’m actually well aware when I’m doing something I learned in school and when I’m doing something I gained from the collective wisdom of my communities. It’s important to me to give credit where credit is due, especially because crips, gimps, disabled people, people with disabilities, the differently-abled among us, and everyone else I love and respect is almost never given credit by non-disabled people for being able to teach one another about moving through this world.
Check out what Faiza Siddiqui (not her real name) decided to do after her severe traumatic brain injury. She wrote a memoir, not just to share her personal story, but as a memory aid. Her partner got tired of retelling stories about her life to fill in her memory gaps. He suggested she write down his retellings. Now she has them and can access them herself. She also uses a memory strategy that involves visual imagery that she learned in school before her TBI. Her rehab clinicians suggested she try it, and since she already knew how to do it, she uses it again but now in daily life.

Her book, “Diary of a Headcase,” is described as joining together her personal experiences with what she’s learned about neuroscience since her injury. Brilliant. Adding to that collective wisdom, humanizing the book learning, sprinkling in some much-needed humor. Read about Faiza and the book on the BBC Ouch! blog. Then read more from the Ouch! blog. Because if nothing, it is an absolute clearinghouse of disability wisdom and experience that we can all learn from.