Life Lessons — Empathy

By Amy Zellmer

Throughout the course of my TBI journey, I have learned numerous lessons that perhaps I never would have learned otherwise. While some people may look at their TBI as the worst thing to ever happen to them (or their loved one), I choose to consider it a blessing that keeps on giving.

One of the lessons I have learned is that a hidden or invisible disability is challenging for others to accept, and to believe you “actually” have a major health issue.

In the early days after my TBI, I was told things like: “It’s just a concussion, get over it,” or “It’s been six weeks, I don’t understand why you’re not back to work yet,” or “It’s not like you have cancer or something.”

Those words came from people I thought were true friends, friends that would be the first ones to bring me soup when I was sick. Apparently a concussion doesn’t count as being sick … as friends provided better care and showed more concern when I had a minor surgery or the flu.

While I have always considered myself an empathetic person, I have come to have way more empathy for anyone who is struggling … whether it’s with illness, injury, mental health, or from plain ol’ daily life challenges.

I remember having days where I considered buying and using a cane so that someone might hold the door for me at the grocery store, as then it took ten times more energy for me to carry a bag of groceries than it did prior to my TBI. I would often require a nap—before I could even begin to put the bags away after carrying them in from my car.

Now I will go out of my way to hold the door for people, as you never know what kind of day they are having or what sort of “invisible-ness” they are dealing with.

The moral of the story: have empathy, be compassionate, and never assume you know the full story … everyone is going through his or her own personal struggles—and a warm smile or holding the door open might truly make his or her entire month!

Previously published on


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