In her debut novel, Jodi Gilroy advocates for empathy and the equitable treatment of individuals living with traumatic brain injuries.
For the first eight years of her life, Jodi Gilroy had a normal Midwestern upbringing. An East Lansing, Michigan, girl by birth and a Michigan State Spartans football fan at heart, she and her brother were traditional “latchkey kids”: their mother worked at Michigan State University and their father was an insurance agent serving the local community. Their parents were never inattentive, and ensured the family’s middle-class life was a loving one. A natural tomboy, Jodi spent her free hours riding her bicycle around the metropolitan neighborhood and playing impromptu football games in her friends’ backyards.
In 1982, at the age of eight, a horrifying event wrenched Jodi’s normalcy out of alignment. She survived a car accident that should have been fatal and nearly was. Surgeons worked frantically to heal her fractured skull, exposed brain matter, and facial lacerations, while her parents desperately prayed for a miracle. To this day, the doctors at Sparrow Hospital call her recovery exactly that: a miracle.
From those nightmarish days forward, Jodi was forced to navigate two worlds: the medical regimen demanding much of her attention and her interrupted childhood. The physical fallout from her traumatic brain injury, while livable, wasn’t curable, and it would be decades before she had an opportunity to address the emotional aftermath. There was no choice for Jodi except to grow up too fast. With one foot in two spaces, she soon found bridging them was impossible. Her school friends withdrew; when she tried to share her feelings, they bullied her instead of listening. Feeling ostracized, Jodi considered herself “different.” It was a fiercely painful experience that piled on top of the unthinkable accident itself.
Once she turned 18, Jodi felt a renewed spark of hope. Maybe upon reaching “adulthood,” she could kick off the shackles of loneliness. She married young and gave birth to two sons, Phillip and Neil, the greatest blessings of her life. Her initial years of marriage were wonderful, and her husband supported her in every venture and all that she wanted. It seemed, more than she could personally imagine. Eventually, Jodi went back to college, completed her Masters degree, and worked alongside her father as his agency grew until he passed away.
But in 2019, Jodi endured another unbearable tragedy. Her eldest son, Phillip, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Already grieving the loss of her father, Jodi was shattered.
Two months prior, she had volunteered with Girls on the Run, a nationwide empowerment program designed to help young girls embrace their self-confidence, develop critical thinking skills, and build positive relationships within their communities. At the end of a twelve-week period, the students and coaches run a 5k marathon together.
Entrenched in a horrific depression, Jodi didn’t believe she could keep her commitment to Girls on the Run. The local organizers encouraged her to attend only as many sessions as she could. “Every day, I got up,” Jodi says. “I felt if these girls can go to two practices a week, I could go to two practices a week.”
Girls on the Run became Jodi’s first step forward in the journey of returning to her true self. She realized the woman she’d become needed to repair the broken, lonely girl inside whose heart had never healed from her trauma. As Jodi mentored girls of different age groups, she simultaneously parented her inner child of the same age, extending herself grace and empathy. She discovered she was vastly more valuable than the self-critical thoughts she once carried.
At the end of the twelve weeks, Jodi conquered the 5k with her girls—and with herself. She reached out to a certified trauma therapist, and hand-in-hand with the unwavering support of her son and biggest cheerleader, Neil, she pivoted to face her future.
Changing “Maybe One Day” to “Now”
Over the years, Jodi kept in touch with one of her best friends from high school, Lindsay Jacobs. Lindsay, a recent debut author, had written about how her experiences as a runner-turned-triathlete helped her recover from an unhealthy marriage in her book Stronger. She’d long ago told Jodi that her own story was meant for the published page.
Jodi didn’t agree. Her story wasn’t as powerful as her friend’s. Lindsay remained insistent, but Jodi fell back into the refrain of saying, “maybe one day.”
After Phillip’s passing, Jodi knew it was time. But she also knew she couldn’t tell this personal story alone. She trusted Lindsay’s connections in the literary world and waited for the right person to appear.
Not long after Jodi received contact information for The Book Professor®, Nancy Erickson. After they spoke, Jodi knew Nancy was the only person capable enough to guide her through this venture. Her trust in Nancy came easily, in large part because of Nancy’s gentleness.
“She didn’t push,” says Jodi. When Jodi re-lived incredibly traumatic events and didn’t think she could write them down, Nancy said, “We’ll do it together.”
With the help of The Book Professor®’s structured BookMAP program, Jodi constructed her first draft. In hindsight, she credits the experience as one of the reasons she survived the loss of her son and father. Regularly working on her book in tandem with consistent therapy helped her emerge from years of dark, seemingly inescapable depression. She felt “brought back to life,” and together with Neil’s constant companionship, she stopped blaming herself for the tragedies her loved ones had endured.
Finally, she was no longer alone. Finally, she could take true steps into the future.
Get Out of Your Own Way
In Hairline Fracture: Living a Full Life after a Traumatic Brain Injury, Jodi relays her story in two parts. The first half chronicles her injury and its aftermath while the second part lays out her recovery plan. For Jodi, though, there wasn’t an easy solution and never could be. No cure exists for traumatic brain injury or for grief; we can only learn ways to live through and with them. It was a quandary for Jodi; without a clear problem-solution structure, surely her book was unpublishable. She feared that having a different story would see her tossed to the wolves.
Overwhelmed with self-doubt, Jodi tore her BookMAP draft to shreds. “It’s hard; I can’t do it,” she told Nancy.
“You can,” Nancy said. “Your story needs to be told.”
At Nancy’s behest, Jodi sent her draft directly to The Book Professor®. Nancy wasted no time reorganizing the existing bones of a strong, powerful manuscript. When Jodi received it back, she couldn’t believe what lay on the pages.
“This is really my story?” she asked.
“It was all there,” encouraged Nancy. “Get out of your head, get out of your own way. You’re going to be okay.”
The key to completing her book lay in the trust, encouragement, and reassurance Nancy provided. Jodi didn’t have those instilled in her mind or heart, so Nancy became her guidepost. Even when doubt continued to creep in and convinced Jodi her snippets were worthless, Nancy kept her centered. Nancy’s experience as a professional writing coach gave her the high-level overview necessary to piece this book together in a way reflective of Jodi’s experience. Just because Jodi’s structure was different didn’t mean her story was a waste of time.
So, Jodi kept writing. Nancy’s belief in her capability proved incredibly gratifying, as did her willingness to adjust her normal coaching methods for Jodi. She trusted Nancy with her story, and Nancy honored that trust with a delicate, supportive, and empowering hand.
Their relationship proved even more special when the two met in person. Several authors from The Book Professor® program joined Nancy on a women’s retreat to Barbados, and Jodi raves about the incredible and heartening experience. “Nancy in person is as authentic as online, even more so,” she shares, and encourages everyone to meet her if opportunity allows.
The Strongest Version of Your Story
When she began her book, Jodi didn’t realize how often she’d need to separate her emotions from the craft of writing. She required additional time to complete her draft, but trauma can’t be resolved under a time limit. Without the combination of effective counseling and The Book Professor® program, Jodi’s certain she would have refused to face certain experiences.
Instead, The Book Professor® provided a safe environment for Jodi to tap into the deepest parts of her soul without scorn or condemnation. For example, Jodi realized the role her beloved stuffed bear played in the time following her injury. Named Boo-Boo, Jodi told him all of her fear, pain, and loneliness. After pouring those feelings into an inanimate vessel, Jodi set Boo-Boo aside so she couldn’t feel hurt anymore. It was the only trauma outlet available to a young child.
As an adult, Jodi sat with those emotions. “All that stuffing in Boo-Boo now lives in me,” she reveals. It was painful, certainly; she didn’t have the language to process her trauma as an eight-year-old.
Conversely, Jodi didn’t realize how much of her book needed trimming. If left to her own devices, she’d still be tweaking sentence structure and word choices. Jodi chuckles that “Period was my friend,” and there exists enough material on the cutting floor for a second book. Nancy’s keen eye knew when it was time for Jodi to close both this metaphorical and literal chapter and was kind but firm, regardless of how much Jodi loved the extraneous material.
What mattered most was presenting the world with the strongest version of Jodi’s story. “If I can teach anyone [with my book] that they are more than their fragments,” she shares, “that’s my purpose.”
New and Renewed Relationships
In addition to the guidance of a woman as strong as Nancy, Jodi was blessed with an Executive Group Writing MASTERMIND cohort of remarkably strong individuals. Each of Jodi’s fellow authors was unique yet brought to the table similar stories of emotional resilience. Jodi learned she wasn’t the only survivor of trauma, and it was possible to emerge from its shadow with grace and dignity. Her cohort offered hope and love, and for the first time, Jodi felt safe to share her trauma experience in-depth. To this day they inspire her to be her best self. Of many joys, these connections were the highlight of Jodi’s experience with The Book Professor® curriculum.
Jodi’s joy didn’t stop there. After Stonebrook Publishing, The Book Professor®’s sister company, released her finished work, many childhood friends reached out and explained why they had pulled away after her injury. Her brother didn’t know how profoundly the experience affected Jodi, and these conversations gave Jodi a new perspective. She’s renewing relationships and no longer feels ashamed to talk openly about her injury even as she’s extending grace toward her friends and family. She never considered her book could give them a voice, too, or a chance for her to tell them, “It’s okay that you were also hurt.”
Not a Miracle, but a Joint Effort
How does Jodi feel now that her words are out in the world? “It’s really surreal still,” but in a great way. Visiting a friend’s house and seeing a purchased copy of her book sitting on a table will take time to sink in, let alone spotting it at football games or autographing copies by request. Her brother shared it across Facebook; her cousins thanked him for the Amazon link.
The most important reception, however, belongs to the doctors at Sparrow Hospital. With the amount of time Jodi spent with the medical staff, they became a family of their own. Sharing her book with them is a way for her to give back to the selfless, tireless people who saved her life, especially when the staff continues to attribute her survival to a miracle rather than their own efforts.
Jodi, of course, doesn’t share that perspective. It was a combination of her resiliency, the doctors, and the prayers of her parents that sustained her – a joint effort she celebrates by placing the book of her heart and soul into Sparrow Hospital’s many hands.
Stories Create Community
Looking to the future, Jodi hopes to open a business aimed at helping individuals with brain injuries re-enter the world. After that, or simultaneously, she might author another book. The ideas are talking to her, and working with Nancy again when the time’s right is an easy “yes.”
After all, “sharing our stories is how we create community, how we build relationships,” she says. If her book can change a single life or comfort just one person in a similar situation, her efforts were worth it. It changed her own life, which was enough in and of itself.
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