March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and for the past two years Nutcase has partnered with Brain Injury Association of America to raise awareness and funds for research.

Brain injuries come in a lot of different packages and no two are alike. In addition, traumatic brain injuries, often referred to as the “silent epidemic,” leave survivors feeling frustrated, vulnerable and disconnected. So, we thought we’d talk about it.

We sat down with Starr Walker — cyclist, nail artist and social media fanatic — to talk about her experiences with traumatic brain injury and how she’s learning to live with it.

Nutcase: So, what happened?

Starr: I was on a team ride with a bunch of ladies in 2009. We had left the bike shop I was working at in Richmond, VA after a heavy rain and I was leading out the group on a ride we’d done a thousand times before. The tracks at the bottom of this descent were super wet. I hear all but one of us went down. I hear my wheel got caught and flipped me on my head. I’ll spare you the details. Hospitals, slow recovery with lost of gaps in memories, lost hearing and brain trauma.

Nutcase: Were you wearing a helmet?

Starr: Oh yeah, of course. One doctor told me I should have been wearing a helmet and I told him I was. That kind of freaked him out I think. It was pretty intense.

Nutcase: Fast forward to 2016 and you’re living in Portland, OR now. It’s been 7-years since your crash. How’s it going?

Starr: Well, last year I hit my head again while mountain biking. The fall wasn’t as bad as the first but it’s definitely amplified by having had existing brain trauma. Needless to say, my bike rides are mostly to the coffee shop these days.

Nutcase: How has your recovery been?

Starr: This time it’s definitely been more of an emotional recovery than a physical one. I’m kind of all over the place. Then there’s the medical bills. I’ve made some shirts and art to sell to raise money to keep up with the bills.

Nutcase: Do you have tips for folks out there living with brain trauma?

Starr: You mean like maybe don’t go mountain biking?

Nutcase: Hah! No, like tools.

Starr: Post it notes. They should be like the unofficial symbol of brain injury everywhere. I would probably starve to death without them.

Another is one I learned from a fellow cyclist. It’s pretty clever but I admit I felt a little silly at first.

Clap hands! – I live with my dog and brain trauma can make you anxious. In the morning I would go back to the door 2, 3, 4 times to be sure I had locked it, occasionally turning around half way to the office to check again.  A cycling teammate of mine taught me a trick to make sure I locked the door in the morning on my way to work. After I lock it I celebrate to myself and clap my hands and I remember that, for whatever reason.

Nutcase: What are a couple things you would like people to understand about living with a brain injury?

Starr: It doesn’t really heal or go away. Some days are better than others, sure, but I’m not using it as an excuse for not being able to remember if I sent that email for example. I need to go check to be sure.

Also, sometimes I’m not in the mood to be in groups or go out. It’s a lot to take in and process and I get tired. I still like you, I just can’t right now.

Nutcase: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today Starr. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Starr: Yeah, I’d love to find a therapist who is living with a brain injury so they can better understand what I’m talking about, that would be cool. Or meet other cyclists that are living with brain injuries.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. For more information, or if you or a loved one is struggling with a recent brain injury, please consult our partner for this month, the Brain Injury Association of America, for resources near you.  

Follow Starr on Instagram here.