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Brandon Blake Explains the Beauty of “Bonus Time”

Brandon Blake is many things. He’s a teacher, a cyclist, musician, and more. And he is also a traumatic brain injury survivor. In this episode of Brain Injury Today, Brandon speaks with host Deborah Crawley about how he has used music to practice mindfulness and stop rumination, and why he loves to share the concept of “bonus time” with fellow survivors.
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Brandon Blake is many things. He’s a teacher, a cyclist, musician, and more. And he is also a traumatic brain injury survivor. In this episode of Brain Injury Today, Brandon speaks with host Deborah Crawley about how he has used music to practice mindfulness and stop rumination, and why he loves to share the concept of “bonus time” with fellow survivors.

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This episode of Brain Injury Today was produced and edited by Goal17Media.com and is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

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You can get in touch with Brandon at by emailing him at bonustimemusic@gmail.com or visiting his website: www.bonustimemusic.com. He’s also on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube!

Find out more about Brandon’s current work as an educator at Pasado Safe Haven in Sultan, Washington at www.pasadosafehaven.org. And learn more about Brandon’s recovery journey on the Seattle Bike Blog.

For more resources related to traumatic brain injury go to:

Brain Injury Today Podcast – braininjurytodaypodcast.com

Brain Injury Alliance of Washington – biawa.org

The Pooled Alliance Community Trusts – pactrusts.org

Brain Injury Art Show – braininjuryartshow.org

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Deborah Crawley: Brain Injury Today is produced by Goal 17 Media, storytellers for the common good.

Brandon Blake:  Bonus time is the idea of living each day not so much as if it would be your last, but living each day as if each moment is just a bonus!

Deborah Crawley: Welcome to another episode of Brain Injury Today, your connection to the brain injury community. And I am your host, Deborah Crawley, Executive Director for the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington. We always look forward to bringing you conversations with survivors, researchers, and those who are integral and part of the brain injury community. And today is very exciting because we are speaking with Brandon Blake. He is, uh, a musician by trade, an educator by trade, a wonderful person by humanity. And, um, he also has just taken a position at Pasado Safe Haven. Is that correct? Brandon?

Brandon Blake: Yeah

Deborah Crawley:  …As their humane education coordinator… and Brandon also is a survivor.And I’m going to ask Brandon to start with some, um, what led you to be here today in this conversation with me.

Brandon Blake: Well, wow. What a, what a beautiful intro. Thank you, Deborah. That was really, really special. Thank you for those kind words. So yeah, so I’m all of those things and I’m sure a little bit more here and there.

We all have lots of facets to us, but I’m super excited to talk about how I came to be in the brain injury community. Wow. Well, try to keep a really long story, somewhat to a manageable length. But basically it starts off, um, on July 25th, 2013, I was in the preschool classroom, and it was a really special day.

I was going to be taking my preschool students, the whole classroom, to the Museum of Flight here in Seattle. And it was the culmination of a year’s worth of learning about space and rocketry. Excellent engineering. Just really tying in all the concepts of STEM, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, to what these kids could conceptualize as what they could do, what they could be a part of. And it just is a day that’s still today, seven years later still fills me with so much joy, but I had never had a day such a tale of two sides, right. Such a joyful day. And then I bring the kids back and I get them all down for nap time in the afternoon.

[00:03:04] I said goodbye to the teachers. Great work today. I’ll see you tomorrow morning. And I got on my bicycle with my helmet, of course, always with my helmet. And I remember being two blocks away from preschool. And I remember thinking on my bike, I can still close my eyes and picture it. Exactly. I remember thinking what a great day.

[00:03:27] That’s why I do what I do. And then the next thing I remember was waking up from a coma in Harbor view medical center. I had no idea where I was or why I was there or what happened or why I was restrained in a bed or why I couldn’t feel my legs or my mouth or anything. And Sabrina, my wife had explained that I was in a really, really serious bicycle accident.

[00:03:57] A car hit me on my bicycle. Um, and this person had taken, uh, A really, really questionable, left hand turn as the light was turning while I was already in the intersection. And, um, the police said there was a 20 foot skid Mark with my tire, but I don’t remember any of that. So, um, yeah.

[00:04:20]Deborah Crawley: [00:04:20] So how long were you hospitalized? Rehab?

[00:04:25] Brandon Blake: [00:04:25] Well, so when I woke up from the medically induced coma, that next day. I had three broken ribs. I had lash lacerations all over my shoulder and chest. And my face was completely destroyed. My face took the brunt of the impact on the site’s steel beam of her car. My home, it was destroyed. The cops. The first responder said, we don’t know how this guy survived.

[00:04:52] Nine out of 10 times. This is a phone call to loved ones and family. I’m so sorry. He didn’t make it. So I was in Harbor view for one week and I had a full facial reconstructive surgery. And luckily my friends got to joke and say who I should get reconstructed and looked like a grumpy cat at the time.

[00:05:13] Was the winner, even though like Steven Seagal or Fabio would have been fine, I would have been okay with Fabio, but you know, um, they were all joking cause they know how much humor is a big part of my life, but. From when my face was surgically reconstructed and I had these seven titanium plates put in there and my mouth was all wired shut, and I couldn’t do anything but slurp down liquids for three months.

[00:05:38] I mean, you know, it was a, it was a rough journey. So luckily when this happened to me, I was in very good physical shape other than what trauma I had just experienced. So they wanted to get my facial reconstructive surgery done, see that my brain was stable and get me out and get me home and let me recover at home.

[00:05:59] And so then that I feel like. As traumatic as having your face reconstructed and imagining what that’s like and, you know, being intubated in the hospital and in a medically induced coma, that was nothing compared to the road. To recovery that was in front of me when I went home. And that journey is when I started physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, speech, and language pathology, and a vestibular therapy to help me with vertigo and things that I was dealing with my balance.

[00:06:36] So all of these different therapies combined with neuropsychological evaluations. Dentist appointments to reconstruct my mouth more appointments, to go back in for surgery, to remove scar tissue from my face and lips. All of these things added up to, I believe it was something along the lines of 180 doctor appointments in my first year.

[00:06:58] Deborah Crawley: [00:06:58] And that’s not uncommon. Right.

[00:07:01] Brandon Blake: [00:07:01] Right. And you know, and then the second year was full of more. So I think the first two years I had something along the order of 250 doctor appointments within two years, but I am so grateful for the opportunity to have had those appointments and the way I was viewing it at the time.

[00:07:21] And I really. Really suggest this for any listener who is listening right now, who may be struggling with their recovery and brain injury, or know somebody who is, I would say this treat recovery. If you’re going through this, treat it like your full time job. Like, that’s it. I had to put my life on hold as I knew it, my career as a preschool teacher on hold my, my work, being a musician in a band and playing gigs out, out around town, on hold, doing massive art pieces on hold everything I loved on hold. My job now was my brain. I think I, I had recovery be my full time job for the first two and a half years.

[00:08:08] Deborah Crawley: [00:08:08] Yeah, that sounds. Pretty normal. And I think that, it sounds like you understood that though pretty quickly, too. And that’s hard for a lot of folks. I mean, everything that you just said that you gave up that  a challenge, you know, and again, you had a, a great team of, uh, doctors. You had Sabrina who was pretty on it and, you know, she had, she was able to give time to this. And so, I mean, that’s part of the journey and the struggle is just balancing and allowing and saying things got to take a back seat now.

[00:08:44] Like, how did you choose what you could spend time on? You know, how do you choose friends over PT or, you know, and how important is each of those?

[00:08:54] Brandon Blake: [00:08:54] Yeah, I, I got back to things gradually and not all at the same time. I knew that it would have been too overwhelming for my newly healing brain to reintroduce things as much as I love them.

[00:09:10] I didn’t want to overload myself because I was also learning that I had a, a very. New and unfamiliar threshold of cognitive energy. Yeah. Like a threshold of brainpower that I could exert in any given day. And that was new to me, but I credit a lot of, a lot of, I am too also reintroducing things that I love because I realized.

[00:09:40] I really needed to reintroduce art and music, especially back into my life because they were therapeutic to me. And I realized that I could use art as therapy. And I could definitely use playing my music as, as therapy, even though the first time I grabbed my bass guitar to play. After my accident was maybe, maybe like a four or five days after I had returned home from the hospital, but I wasn’t sure it was quick, but I, I grabbed it.

[00:10:15] No knowing if I could play it. I didn’t know if my fingers and brain would remember that. Yeah. So I was nervous for that, but luckily I didn’t forget how to play. And I started to view playing the bass guitar as a time where I could employ mindfulness, where the concept of mindfulness was so difficult for me, especially with my newly injured brain.

[00:10:49] It was so hard to focus. It was so hard to pinpoint my, my energy on one thing and not get distracted. It was hard for me to do things for extended periods of time and not get headaches and not, you know, feel ill. So. I realized that playing the bass guitar and little, little stuff, Vince, three minutes here, two minutes there, five minutes there, it was so therapeutic.

[00:11:19] So that just continued and grew and grew and grew until ultimately my music took on a whole new persona and a whole new dimension. And instead of just. The bass guitar. I now play the sand Sula, which is this tiny little beautiful Columbia. Listen to this.

[00:11:45] Deborah Crawley: [00:11:45] I love the sand food law. I never knew what offense hula was before Brandon.

[00:11:55] You know, I like having these conversations because I do learn some of these more intricate and intimate pieces of your journey. And I, um, yeah, and I liked, well, I loved what you said about how you use things. And I think this is an important phrase without an end goal.

[00:12:13] Brandon Blake: [00:12:13] Thank you, Deborah. Well, um, so the point is, is that every time we do something, whether it’s positive or negative yeah.

[00:12:23] Are encouraging neuron, neuronal connection, right. We are encouraging different neurons to connect in novel ways. And so it really is up to me. Do Y want to make novel connections of these neurons in my brain and, and watch neuro-plasticity take off and these creative outlets and have all of these therapeutic things that bring me calm, joy, serenity, and a little bit of peace.

[00:12:53] Or do I want to sit over here and ruminate about all the things I can’t control and be depressed and anxious. And with that said, I struggle. And I’d love to talk about this because I think a lot of people can hear it for me and think, wow, this guy is so positive and he’s, you know, he’s so joyful and he doesn’t know what it’s like, the battle, depression and anxiety.

[00:13:16] And I wish I had it that good, or I wish I didn’t deal with that. I wish it could be happier like him. Here’s what I want to say hi, while I do have all of this joy and excitement for life and love of bonus time. And we haven’t even explained what bonus time is yet. We’ll get there, but it’s that love of life?

[00:13:36] How. How can I have that love of life without being connected, to struggle and attain and adversity, which I’ve gone through. And I got to tell you before my brain injury, I didn’t deal with depression. I didn’t deal with anxiety. I was this weird anomaly that who is just always happy. I’ve always fought for justice and I’ve always spoken up for things that I feel.

[00:14:06] That need needs to be spoken up about, but I didn’t ruminate about stuff and I let things go. But now one of the things that, and I really struggle with with my brain injury and I’m sure other people listening could probably relate is I get stuck in rumination all the time and it drives me nuts. I never had them before, but here I am.

[00:14:29] And one of the things that I’m stuck with now is anxiety and depression. And I ruminate and I get stuck. So I’m trying to find ways to get the needle out of that groove and get me unstuck while also realizing so much of my struggle is because this is, this is the hand I’ve been handed that, but how do I help the neuroplasticity of my brain eventually get to a place?

[00:14:54] Where maybe I’m not ruminating as much. And when I am struggling with depression, I can get out of it a little more.

[00:15:02] Deborah Crawley: [00:15:02] You have, right. You’ve set up things. Let’s talk bonus time. What do you mean by that? What does it mean to you?

[00:15:12] Brandon Blake: [00:15:12] Well, what bonus time is, it’s the idea that for all intensive purposes, On July 25th, 2013.

[00:15:23] When my accident happened, I should have died. I shouldn’t be here responders. Like I said, they, they told me my wife, Sabrina, who has been there for me the whole time. They told her nine times out of 10, that’s a call to family saying, I’m sorry, he didn’t make it, but I did make it. And I’m still here. I was given this opportunity to continue living and that’s bonus time.

[00:15:51] It’s the idea of I could have died that day, but I didn’t and I wasn’t supposed to. So here I am still going. And bonus time is that idea of. Living each day, not so much as if it would be your last, but living each day as if each moment is just a bonus, because it sounds so cliche, but we know nothing is guaranteed.

[00:16:22] We’re not guaranteed to wake up tomorrow morning, you know? And so what do we do with this lack of guarantee of the future? Is just a call to be mindful in the past. That’s all. What can you be part of if you’re given the time, what can you be part of, you know, how do you embrace or move forward with each day?

[00:16:47] And, you know, there are still challenges, right? So there’s still the struggles and there’s still, when you have to deal with your anxiety or depression, it is. But, but you share it to Brandon. You’re really a big gift to this community and my message of bonus time. Isn’t me sharing my story of my bonus time only.

[00:17:12] It’s me sharing the idea of you are in your own bonus time. So if anybody remembers anything from this podcast, I want you to remember. That you were in your own bonus time and your bonus time is unique and special to you and you, no matter what shape you’re in, no matter what level of anxiety or depression you might be battling with, you still have so much light to add to the world.

[00:17:42] And the more you recognize that, wow, Brandon’s right. I am living in my own bonus time. The more the mundane becomes special and magical and the more waking up every morning becomes a ritual of all right, let’s do this. What can I be a part of today? How can I contribute to adding joy to my life and adding joy to others?

[00:18:07] And you know, what, maybe what can I be part of today is just. I’m going to reach out with a really simple text. So that one friend I haven’t reached out to in a while, little things like that, then what were you a part of today’s answered. You were a part of showing up for somebody else that might feel.

[00:18:28] Invisible or absent. And I will say for anybody struggling with disability right now, listening to this podcast, I see you and I, and I feel you, I know that isolation, social isolation is a problem and, and a real issue for the disability community without a global pandemic. And. I think a lot of people now can actually understand what people with disabilities actually live through because they’re isolated and so much of what they love and took for granted was all of a sudden taken from them.

[00:19:05] So it’s a really interesting perspective shift for all of us, but it’s our own bonus time. What do we do with it? What are we going to be a part of today?

[00:19:15] Deborah Crawley: [00:19:15] Thank you, Brandon friend, Brandon says friend alone. I want to say that to all the people listening as Brianna did to our friends, listening, we do want you to stay connected.

[00:19:26] That’s a huge piece of why we even started these podcasts. And I always want people to know that the resource line is available at (877) 824-1766. You are not alone. We are here, the brain injury Alliance of Washington and, you know, thousands of people who are part of this community. Um, I’m going to say thank you to Brandon for being part of today.

[00:19:53] I just, uh, I enjoyed entire conversation and, uh, until we, until we chat again and here’s Brandon with some sense, Sula to end our podcast for today.

[00:20:06] Brandon Blake: [00:20:06] Thank you, Deborah. And thank you, everybody listening. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to just stop everything around you, and I want you to find yourself present in your body.

[00:20:18] Whether you’re in a wheelchair, sitting down, if you’re a mobile in a bed or standing up or able to stand or sit, I want you to find yourself in a comfortable position. I want you to close your eyes. And I want you to imagine your own bonus time that you’re in right now, and I’m going to play some soothing music while this music is happening.

[00:20:40] I want you to just shower yourself in some gratitude for being here in the shape that you’re in right now in your own bonus time.

[00:21:39] Mmm. Thank you so much. Go enjoy your bonus time. Thank you, Deborah.

[00:21:47] Deborah Crawley: [00:21:47] Beautiful.

[00:21:54] That’s all for this episode of brain injury today. If you want to get in touch with Brandon, you can find his information in our show notes, and please do subscribe to our show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And as always, you can find support by calling (877) 824-1766 or by visiting  dot org.

[00:22:22] We’ll see you next time. Take care.
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