In my last article I expressed how you never know how speakers are made. From the small time I’ve had the pleasure of working for MySpeaker Rhetorich and the stories I’ve heard, a common phenomenon appears to be a life-changing event from which a 2.0 version of these speakers is born and with it, an unforgettable story.
When one looks at Robson Lindberg, you would have no idea he suffered from traumatic brain injury. You wouldn’t know, that still, to this day, he suffers from four different kinds of headaches, extreme tiredness, constant pain in his lower extremities or that his right side is weaker than his left. That goes to show how deceiving looks really are and furthermore, why every person deserves the basic human right- to have their story heard. I stress to my readers, do not judge a book by its cover, for if anything, Robson is proof of just that.
“I shouldn’t be here,” that’s how he started but it was the description of this woman, who looked sad and then devastated which brought chills to everyone in the audience in our last open mic. The woman was his mother and after opening his eyes at the hospital, she ran to a nurse exclaiming, “I think something is wrong with my son. He doesn’t recognize me.” She was right. He didn’t. And although memories of family soon returned, the following two months would forever remain forgotten.
“The ambulance league,” he called it in ice hockey and no wonder, when he himself woke up in the back of an ambulance. In his own words, he got checked (an opponent checks another, separating the player from the puck) and was unconscious three minutes. He was rushed to hospital, only to be released hours later. The severity of the damage would only present itself in the following two weeks, however there was not one dent in the hockey helmet. See the reason I mention that, is perhaps if the damage had been visible- somebody, anybody might have taken him more seriously. At the time, no one did.
That same day he received a CT scan and was told he was ok. After the medical staff noticed a temporary shift of brain tissue, he was called back in a day later. He recalls being so out of it, he let not only the hospital staff know but also the janitor, that he had arrived. He’s taken in for another CT scan only to be told, the shift is gone and he can return home. That he could go home regardless of the never-ending list of symptoms that pursued, including but not limited to: amnesia, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, loss of coordination, headaches, slurred and slowed speech.
On a Thursday he was told he didn’t need sick leave and as long as he limited his physical activity, he could return back to work. The next Tuesday, after having been “checked”, unconscious for three minutes, and now consistently accompanied by an array of symptoms, he was on a plane to London. He remembers they were doing an e-commerce expo in London and how he felt absolutely terrible and not with it. No kidding he wasn’t with it, when a customer asked him what does his company do? Robson responds, “we are an e-commerce company” but had to turn to his colleague to inquire, “what is it we actually do?”
Robson felt like something was wrong but with the doctors having insisted he was fine, this inner turmoil of am I or am I not fine began. The day he finally came to consciously accept he wasn’t fine was the day he found himself standing in the middle of Helsinki. He didn’t know who he was or where he was going. Can you imagine? A complete and utter loss of identity, not because of a change of job or moving country but because your own body begins to fail you.
I, myself have seen cases of Alzheimer’s in older generations, and although Robson’s story is different and his amnesia was caused by a traumatic brain injury, I’ve seen fear in the eyes of someone who can’t remember who they’re talking to or what they’re doing. I can only imagine the sheer panic Robson must have experienced when he stood in the midst of people with no clue where he was going. He ended up googling himself to the office. When he sat down at the office, he finally understood this is NOT normal.
Suddenly, the vision from his left eye disappeared and he couldn’t get up, every time he tried, he fell. His colleagues sent him home. He recalls that whilst everyone else could see there was something wrong, he himself was still having this inner debate and even HE struggled to accept is something seriously wrong, when physically, looking in the mirror, nothing had changed. In our chat he brought up an excellent point, “I didn’t want to believe it. I mean how scary is it, to think you have brain damage? What do we really know about brain damage?” It’s a good point and true too. It is much easier for us and those around us to accept damage when it’s in a physical form but when you can’t see it, touch it- I guess we are more prone to think, “nah, I’m ok.”
Brain dead or healthy, that’s what he knew before he finally came to accept, he had brain damage. On a visit to a private doctor, he was informed he would never get the level of treatment he needed, add to that, people generally don’t believe in brain damage. He was sent from a physical therapist to a neurologist. It was the physical therapist who first told him there were people worse off than him and, “we would get through this.” But the road to recovery would be long, and include relearning to drive, to crawl, how to stand still without moving, among many other tasks.
The courage for him to recall these memories and share them with me, wasn’t easy. In a particularly moving segment of our chat together, there comes numerous pauses and his eyes move away from the camera, “for three days I just remember crying in the shower” (cue: the goosebumps appearing on my arms as I’m writing this) “and on the fourth day, on an inner conversation with myself, I determined there were only two choices, end my life or do what I had always done and make a goal. It was then I decided I would become the best traumatic brain injury patient the world had ever seen.”
In a serene moment, he looks down towards the corner and goes silent. With a deep breath, he sighs with almost disbelief, “I can’t believe I made it this far.” You may not be able to see any physical ailments but the trauma is there, it’s there in his words, his breaths, his overall demeanor, in the silence and the nervous laughs. Even after 20 neurologists told him he would never work again, he did. Not only that, but he’s accomplished more physically than many of us.
In his speech in our last open mic, he told us, “In 2020 I cycled 628km in one go, I broke a Finnish record cycling 906km in 8 days in a total of 56 hours. In total, I trained 528 hours (cycling, swimming and running), adding up to a total of 10,568km. I also became a host and moderator for Ironman and I’ve spoken in 55 schools to 9000 kids.” He accomplished more than he was told would ever be possible.
Robson told me how every morning he would watch a video of an inspirational/motivational speaker, yet, what he didn’t realize was, instead of going on YouTube, he merely needed to look in the mirror. For he had become exactly that- a motivational speaker for not only those suffering from severe brain injury, but for all those who struggle in any regard.
He accomplished remarkable milestones and without even believing in himself, but he, just like many of us, became his own hero. Next time you take a look in the mirror, remember there’s only one of you and that appearances can be deceiving. Robson ended his speech during our open mic, repeating his title “I shouldn’t be here. Where shouldn’t you be?” Where and who told you that you could never achieve the impossible? More importantly, did you believe them or did you reluctantly but gradually, begin to believe in yourself?
This article is written by Celina Rellahan, an avid storyteller, previous Personal Assistant and current Content Manager. From having moved around as a child and then traveled to over 30 different countries, she developed deep cultural awareness and the ability to uniquely connect with whomever she is speaking to. She transforms peoples words into enchanting stories, always finding the deeper meaning of their raison d’être (reason to be).