Part 3 in an ongoing series on brain injuries. Today's installment looks at how difficult it can be for those with brain injuries to return to work, even years later.
Clayton Dyck used to work as full-time as a manager at AimHi and part-time for the city but now even a two-hour shift at a local restaurant tires him out.
Two years after suffering a brain injury when he was the passenger in a single-vehicle car crash, Dyck has been unable to return to his previous jobs due to fatigue and memory loss. He works one short morning shift a week at the Tim Hortons in the Hart, but even that two-hour commitment is draining.
"I go home [after a shift] and I've got to rest, I'm just dragged out for the rest of the day and that's frustrating," Dyck said.
The symptoms Dyck reports are common for those dealing with a traumatic brain injury. He gets tired quickly, has trouble remembering names and once simple tasks are now incredibly taxing. Even finding a job he could do at Tim Hortons was a challenge - at first he wanted to help unload trucks but the movement of looking up and then down all the time made his symptoms worse.
Like many people in Prince George living with a brain injury, Dyck wants to re-capture as many of the skills and abilities he used to have, but at the same time he understands that recovery is often a long process.
"You want to push through it," Dyck said of the fatigue. "But when you push through it, it just kicks you in the butt and the next day you're just useless."
Prior to his injury, Dyck had worked at AimHi for two decades. He misses his work family, but his injury has given him some unique insight into working at a social service organization. He used to work with people who lived with a developmental disability their entire lives, now he has an acquired disability and faces some similar challenges.
"I've gone from being a manager to a client and that can be very humbling," he said.
Helping people with brain injuries rejoin the workforce is one of the services provided by the Prince George Brain Injured Group (PGBIG), which celebrated its 25th anniversary in June. The local organization helps connect its clients with jobs and volunteer work in the community and offers opportunities for people to hone their skills working in the office or with the Downtown Prince George Clean Team.
Jesse Ryckman worked with the clean-up crew for two years as part of his recovery from a drunk-driving car crash in Alberta over nine years ago.
At first, he wasn't sure he was ready to return to work, even on a part-time basis due to his ongoing symptoms. Once he started, he loved it because it allowed him to meet new people and not just spend time alone during his recovery.
Ryckman tried his hand at a handful of different careers after his injury, from a butcher's course in Kamloops to a culinary arts program in Prince George, but neither worked out due to the after-effects of the crash.
"I have no sense of taste or smell, so [culinary arts] was a tough one," he said. "You have to be able to taste or smell your food to make sure its edible."
Eventually Ryckman landed a job at a local trucking company, working part-time.
Ryckman's recovery has been long and is still ongoing, but he's pleased with the progress he's made so far.
"My long-term goal is to keep my brain active," he said.
Harry Good is also keeping the big picture in mind as he continues to deal with the day-to-day challenges of living with a brain injury.
Good was injured when he was struck in the head at a bar almost a year and a half ago. He is still dealing with symptoms ranging from depression to a constant piercing headache to anxiety. It's the latter that has made it impossible for Good to return to his previous job working security.
"When I tried to do security at the CN Centre I ended up having anxiety from all the people around and feeling enclosed," Good said. "The anxiety gets so bad, it feels I'm having a heart attack."
Since the injury, Good has also noticed that he's become more aggressive with others. In the past, he was willing to talk things over but now he lashes out.
The personality change has not only made it difficult as Good looks to transition to a new career, it's also been on hard on his relationships with friends and loved ones.
"Some of my friends don't understand what's actually happening with my depression, my headaches and some of them just say 'get over it' or 'stop feeling like that,' " Good said. "But you can't just stop."
At first, Good turned to drinking as one way to relieve the pain of the injury and the depression that came along with it. Now Good feels he's turned a corner in that regard and he's cut back on his alcohol consumption as his depression has lessened.
Once his symptoms improve further, Good wants to get more training in another field. One area he's looking at is instructing first-aid courses.
"It will be a little less stressful," he said.
Dyck is also looking forward to a time when his symptoms improve and he's able to work longer hours and be more involved in the community. He used to be the president of the Huble Homestead/Giscome Portage Heritage Society, but had to relinquish those duties after the crash.
He was also very active in the local wrestling scene both as a coach and as an official for 30 years prior to his injury. Now, with the help of fellow coaches, he's still involved in the sport, but in a reduced capacity.
"My definite goal is to return to my positions at both my jobs and I'm working towards that each and every day," Dyck said.