Traumatic brain injuries have been in the news a lot lately. An alarming number of suicides of professional football players have been linked to TBI, bringing attention to a serious condition that can affect people from all walks of life.
March is Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month.
Its a scary, not-much-talked-about reality. And, if youre a parent, it might make you think twice about putting your kids into contact sports like hockey and tackle football. At least it did me, although many leagues are working to regulate and minimize head injuries.
TBI is a sophisticated tormentor, sometimes elusive and nearly always devastating if left untreated. Jim Dukes of Cary knows that firsthand. He suffered a traumatic brain injury while working overseas as a defense contractor.
Over the years, things got worse and worse. He tried to ignore it.
I started having problems with money, and my faculties were just not correct, said Dukes, 42. I was experiencing things that I knew werent right, but I was just gutting it out, pushing everything down and trying to be normal.
But it got too hard, too chaotic. Dukes tried to commit suicide. Twice.
In January 2012, Dukes decided he was ready to do the hard work required to both survive and live with a brain injury, in large part for his 4-year-old son, Caden. But also for himself.
TBI cost Dukes his job, his marriage, his ability to work, drive and read. A Cary High School graduate, he moved back home in January to live with his mom and is in intensive therapy and counseling.
The therapists are helping Dukes find new strengths and encouraging him to build on the ones he has. Thats key for anyone with TBI; otherwise its easy to get discouraged and depressed.
Thats the whole thing with the brain finding new neural pathways, Dukes said. Thats what all the therapy is for, to retrain the brain.
And although his brain struggles to compute numbers, Dukes has noticed a heightened capacity to work with images. One of his therapists suggested he embrace his old hobby, photography.
I always enjoyed photography, but I think I really started looking at things differently, said Dukes, who writes a paragraph for each photo about what he sees and how it parallels with his recovery experience. Each image is a slice of the journey already behind him intermingled with hints of the path ahead.
Dukes is the featured artist in March at Lucky Pie Gallery in downtown Cary. He was recently offered a summer residency at Tapps Art Center in Columbia, S.C.
Im glad my work is being viewed, Dukes said. It has given me a great sense of accomplishment to have exercised my brain and accomplished something positive that could hopefully motivate others with a brain injury to express themselves.
Before, I was focused on getting better, but there had been no goal, Dukes continued. Then a light bulb went off and I thought, Ive got to find a purpose. I think its my artwork. I dont want to be disabled. I can choose to be a man with a disability or a disabled man. Those are two separate things.
On March 29, Dukes will participate in the Cary Art Loop from 6 to 9 p.m. at Lucky Pie Gallery to meet and talk with visitors.
He will be the guest speaker at a Brain Injury Association of North Carolina support group meeting in April at WakeMed.