Ashley Tindall and her mother Brenda are ready to launch their book about their journey of living through traumatic brain injury and recovery, from their perspectives as the injured person and also the caregiver.
The launch will take place at 2 p.m. on December 11 at St. Jacobs Calvary United Church, 48 Hawkesville Rd.
Their book, “The Way I See Things,” was 20 years in the making. Since her daughter’s accident, Brenda always knew it needed to be written.
In August 2000, Ashley Tindall’s life changed dramatically after a collision. At 17-years-old, she was a backseat passenger in a car that was being driven by a distracted driver who swerved into the wrong lane on a bridge and into a loaded dump truck. Ashley’s side of the car took most of the damage.
Ashley was airlifted to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, and was in a coma for 12 days. That initial stay in the hospital lasted 80 days, and she had many surgeries following that.
Brenda was Ashley’s caregiver while she continued working as a bookkeeper for the family electrical business, and filled her role as mother of their family.
“When Ashley was in the hospital, I longed to read a book about how someone else got through a trauma like we were dealing with, and I couldn’t find any books like that to use as a resource,” said Brenda. “We wanted to show others that you can get through trauma and become stronger because of it.”
Today, Ashley lives with the injuries she sustained, including brain injury, vision reduced by about 75 to 80 per cent, fatigue, she no longer has a sense of smell, a shattered right elbow, an injured pituitary gland, diabetes insipidus (meaning her body cannot regulate fluids on its own), and a chronic cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak due to multiple broken bones in her head. This leak puts her at risk of meningitis, which she has had twice.
Ashley developed coping strategies to handle her injuries and continues to live her life. For example, she is easily fatigued, so she does any needed work in the morning, and has patience with herself when it takes her longer to accomplish things.
Along with the accident came a new personality, and that was a challenge, Ashley recalls.
Before the accident she was an athlete, which centered her identity, and was also quite shy. After the accident, she could no longer play sports like she had. She also now has something called verbosity, which is a tendency to speak profusely.
“It’s a frontal lobe problem,” said Brenda. “So she didn’t filter. Anything that was on her mind, she had to say. So she pretty much talked all day long.”
“Growing up, I was athletic. I played a lot of sports, like I played competitive soccer,” said Ashley. “And then all of a sudden, because of my brain injury, I can’t do that anymore. So I had to figure out, ‘OK, who am I now?’
“And I realized that before, my identity was largely based on being an athlete, and following the accident, I had a lot of shifts – one day I was a student, the next day, I felt like a daughter, I felt like a good friend. And then I eventually realized, above all else, I’m a child of God.”
Not just Ashley’s life, but the lives of everyone in their family were changed.
At first, Brenda was focused on the tasks at hand, and not the implications of the accident for the entire family and herself.
“I tried to not get emotional about all the different changes, because there were changes to our family’s lives, my life. The family unit changed. And I was the one that took care of everything, so I wasn’t allowing myself to get emotional. And then it was about two years after Ashley’s accident, I started addressing all of that.
“I lost a lot of my independence after Ashley’s accident. But would do it all over again – you do that for your kids, you’re there for them.”
In their book, Ashley and Brenda share their innermost personal thoughts and feelings as they take the readers with them on their emotional, physical, mental and spiritual journey over years of healing.
“The Way I See Things,” covers the timespan of the day of the accident in August 2000 until Ashley started university in September 2003. A sequel is due out next winter.
The book started off as Brenda’s project. But Ashley soon joined when they realized the book needed her perspective.
Throughout the book, the perspectives of mother and daughter are both presented. Brenda kept journals throughout the entire process, and relied on them heavily to write her portions. Ashley wrote hers from memories.
Since Ashley can only work in the morning, they would take two mornings per week to work on the book together. They would write their pieces separately and then work together in person, over the phone or over Zoom calls to fit them together. They also took two writing retreats each year at a friend’s cottage.
Brenda took a memoir class. “I’m not a writer, I didn’t know how to do this,” she said. But she persevered.
“I was absolutely committed to telling our story. So all my time that I wasn’t doing something else, I was writing.”
Ashley said she didn’t have journals to write from, and worked from memory, and much of the experiences she had tried to block out as a coping mechanism. Writing the book with her mother had a healing effect for her, who could fill in some of those blanks. For example, she has no memory of the first month after her coma, so it was helpful to see her mother’s perspective of that period.
Did they ever want to give up and not finish writing the book?
“Fortunately, it would happen to us at different times. It’s a good thing that it didn’t happen at the same time, let’s just say that, because it’s taken so long, and so much focus,” said Brenda.
“Then the other one would step in and, and remind them why we’re writing the book and the whole point behind it. That would encourage them to keep going,” added Ashley.
How do they feel knowing their innermost thoughts and feelings are now out there in the world?
“We feel very vulnerable. We’re private people,” said Brenda.
“We knew in order for the story to be real, we needed to be real,” said Ashley. “And include those parts that made us uncomfortable, maybe look stupid at times.
“Not look good, yeah,” added Brenda. “We included those.”
They hope their story will be a guide and help for others who go through trauma. They included some useful tools and strategies they used during their experiences for the reader.
For example, Brenda said she had to learn how to accept help. Ashley had to learn how to count every success and victory, no matter how small, and embrace the new person she became, rather than compare herself to who she had once been.
The pair worked with a company called Innovative Design and Print to produce the book. They will have copies available for purchase at their book launch. Part of the $25 cost will go toward supporting people with brain injury and low vision, said Ashley.
More information about purchasing the book can be found at their website ashleyandbrendatindall.ca.