Adventures with Debra and Robert

Behind the Scenes

Episode 24-Debra’s Story. Two Meander Goes to the Gym. Issues a Health Quest Challenge

Photo of Debra and Robert at Gym

I am not able to share with you what the Episode 24 video means to me, as well as our subsequent Health Quest Challenge, without first giving you a review of past events. Please bear with me through this timeline hop.

After I had to leave my 12 year career with the State of Texas because of my brain injury, I tried a myriad of jobs. The list below seems endless and was definitely tumultuous.

  • 2010. Inside Sales Manager at a Pharmaceutical Company

That lasted until I had an episode on the job and my doctors suggested I move to Dallas to be closer to my specialists. I worked several part-time retail jobs until I could find a teaching position. My thought was that I could still finish out my pension with teacher retirement (TRS) vs. state retirement (ERS). I still had hopes of rebuilding my life after losing everything to my brain injury – my career, my home, my vehicles, my marriage, etc. The only thing that stayed in tact with me through all of that was my furbabies, my close friends and ultimately, only a few family members.

  • 2010-2011. I finally got a position teaching middle school science. I loved it! And …. I could not do it. The stress was just too much. I was offered a contract extension at the end of the year and declined.
Photo of Bentley in Snow
Bentley, 2/1/11, Snow Day, School Closed

Note that the date in the photo is exactly 7 years ago. It has been a long climb up. Life is good today. It is sometimes painful to remember the decline, but all of it gave me the life I have today. I am blessed. I am happy. I am grateFULL.

  • 2011-2012. From there I went to work at a metropolis Chamber of Commerce as their Membership and Event Director. Again, way too much for me but I sure gave it my all trying.

It wasn’t clear yet what was going on with me. I knew I had a TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury, but I could still function. I was devastatingly poor from all of my medical bills, but I was getting them paid off slowly but surely. I just needed to stay employed. Surely I would get things turned around, right?

  • 2012. So I decided to work with an employment agency and look for a low stress, low key job. I ended up working in the office at a manufacturing plant in the warehouse district of Arlington, Texas as an accounts payable clerk.

At the time, I was driving an old vehicle, a 1983, buick century that I had bought from my parents. While working for the state I had enjoyed a new car each year, but at least I could still drive! I knew I was one of the lucky ones for that, but it meant moving close to work in case it broke down so I could walk to work if need be. I couldn’t afford much in the way of rent so I moved to the hood. And literally slept on the floor many nights to avoid gunfire – after my bedroom window was shout out – not once, but twice.

Photo of boarded up bedroom window.
A board over my bedroom window that was shot out, 2012

My health continued to decline and my spiritual awakening was renewed. It is a bizarre feeling to know that your brain is dying at the same time your life is expanding. A lot of traditional Christians would call it being saved. For me it was a re-awakening to the reality that we are One. God is everywhere and everything. There is no separation.

Around that same time my neurosurgeon retired. I was not comfortable at all with the partner that took over his practice. Plus, it was the first time I was hearing that nothing more could be done for me. The scar tissue on my brain would continue to grow or it would stabilize. That was that.

  • 2013. I went to work for one of my best friends as his office manager at the church where he ministered in Arlington. That fell apart right at the same time he was offered another church in Colorado.
  • 2014. I went to work at Unity of Dallas as their Executive Manager. I knew that job would not last when I kept getting lost going to work. I called my friend at the Arlington church one morning, sat in a parking lot until he could help me get oriented, found my way to work, assembled my staff and told them I would be meeting with the Senior Ministers to share the same with them. My days of gainful employment were coming to an end.
  • In 2014 I also went to a family reunion in Goliad, Texas that changed my life. I met family on my father’s side that I never knew I had and I fell in love with Goliad. It had one stoplight! Surely I could work and live in a small town! It was an epiphany.
Photo of Dickinson Family
Dickinson Family Reunion, taken at Kenedy Cemetery, 4/11/14
  • And the State Park where I stayed for the reunion was hiring! I was blessed to get the job. I moved there, and made life long friends from that town. I gave it my best shot but was only able to work there for several months when even that became impossible.

My doctors at the time told me once again I needed to move near specialists. And of course, there are no neuro specialists in a town with one stoplight. To this day, I miss Goliad.

I guess at this time I should insert that I had moved to Goliad in Fiona, my beloved vintage Class B. You see, I still had hopes that I would be able to continue my plans of overhauling her head-to-toe, retire with a full state pension (hence my excitement at getting another state job), and live happily ever after driving off into the sunsets.

Well, even without my brain injury, Fiona had other ideas. She had her first electrical fire right after I bought her.

Photo of burned fuse box.
The fuse box burned, January 26, 2014.

That was the fuse box and I had the entire thing replaced. I should also point out that I had also already replaced the water pump, the gray tank, the refrigerator and a/c unit, and removed the furnace. She was a long term project for retirement. Repairs were expected. I planned to replace the generator and engine last. She didn’t make it that far.

In August of 2014, she had another electrical fire. This time in the walls. That was that. On our fourth night of being without electricity in the August Texas heat, Miss Bettie, friend and RV park owner, invited me and the furbabies in to her lovely home.

Photo of Bedroom
Photo of Miss Bettie’s guest bedroom.

Then another miracle happened. Nearby neighbors, friends, bought a bumper pull travel trailer for me and the furbabies to live in until we could get everything figured out.

Photos of Super Spree Travel Trailer
Photos of Super Spree Travel Trailer

When it came time to move back to Austin, to be near specialists and determine my prognosis, they even moved the trailer to an RV Park (February, 2015). The furbabies and I had a heavenly site. I had several friends, earth angels, that helped me make this beautiful patio.

Photo of beautiful patio at the RV Park
My beautiful patio at the RV Park.

2015. The furbabies and I lived there until I flooded the trailer.  I’ll never understand how I flooded it. I had been reduced to note cards on how to do everything – black tank, grey tank, water hoses, etc. – but that day they did me no good. I used the savings I had built-up to restore their trailer. All this time I had maintained a part-time online job, but even that came to an end – the same month. I was deteriorating rapidly.

I was also falling. A lot. And even if I weren’t falling, I could no longer take hikes with my furbabies because I kept getting lost. This photo, one of the less gross ones that I can show you, was taken on day 11 after a major fall that landed me in the ER. To this day my left eye is messed up.

Photo of Bruises after a fall. Day 11, May 2015
Bruises after a fall. Day 11, May 2015

The trailer went back to my earth angel friends in Goliad, and I began bouncing from house to house, friends and family members. Eventually my furbabies and I moved in to a tent and began staying in State Parks.

Photo of Cleburne State Park campsite
Our campsite at Cleburne State Park

My furbabies and I were in a tent because I am not able to stay in homes because of all the noise.

This whole time, I was seeing doctors, social workers, state workers, etc. Eventually, the prognosis became real clear and final – unless modern medicine makes more advances …..

There is nothing more they can do for me.

They went so far as to say that I might see 2016, but probably would not know it. It was a devastating time.

My doctors insisted (required) that I get a Trustee. My best friend Leslie stepped up to the plate for that. By the end of the year, she took me to lunch, and said the magic words that ultimately saved my life, “If there ever was a time to do a bucket list, it is now.”

By now I had given in and applied for disability. With those funds, we bought Fancy Free and my life on the road began October 8, 2015. None of us know how long we have, and I am grateful for every day. I believe the decision Leslie made, the one that gave me the gift of living in the quiet and peace of my van, in nature as much as possible, has saved my life. Certainly, it has improved the quality of my life.

Fast forward to the featured videos shared at the beginning of this article, and you know why I celebrate being able to issue a health challenge with my partner and friend, Robert Witham.

I not only saw 2016. I thrived. Hence, the name TBI Thriver. Two years later, I can no longer maintain my own YouTube channel, but I’ve partnered with an AWE-mazing fellow TBI Thriver to begin a new business. I’ve seen great places and met great people. And we just shot a video of me in a gym, exercising on a treadmill and an elyptical machine!  Without falling! Or drooling!

Now it’s time to concentrate once again on improving the quality of my life – starting with my physical health and getting in shape. If I can do this, so can you, my wonderful readers and viewers!

Together we’ve got this!!! Isn’t life beautiful? Isn’t life AWEsome, AWEmazing and AWE-inspiring? No matter what, don’t ever, ever give up.

I look forward to this year and whatever it brings. KOKO!

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Complete Transparency. In early 2015, friends and family contributed $6,000 to pay off the last of my medical bills through a YouCaring account established by my bestie, Tracy. This came after I could no longer work, no longer had a place to live and had personally paid off almost $50,000 in medical debt by myself.

Then in early 2017, close friends encouraged me to create a GoFundMe account, so that I could stay on the road. Without it, I would have ended up in assisted living, but I was generously gifted funds again so that I could get upgrades to my van. The financial generosity, and then the help from many friends on the build out and tweaks, has allowed me to stay on the road.

Now, it is my turn to give back. I finally, firmly, believe that the turmoil has stopped and I can concentrate on truly thriving, giving and spreading love. I still struggle with declining faculties, but I am also daring to believe I truly have a chance at a full life again. It is scary and exhilerating. It is overwhelming at times to be so blessed and so grateful. In the moments when I am thunderstruck by it all, I can only cry.

I wouldn’t be here without the outpouring of love and support I have received from so many. Thank you.

If you can learn anything from this journey I’ve been on, know that you are loved and that there is always, always, always something to be grateful for. Just keep doing the next right thing.

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Join us on our newly created (as of 2/2/18) FB Group

Two Meander Health Quest Challenge Group

Let’s get fit together! Post your goals (all posts are private to the group) and keep us updated. We will still do the monthly video update and are working on prizes and incentives for the FB Group. See you there!


  1. gayle

    Wow, Debra, just wow! Two Meander is more than just a fun thing to do. It is your DESTINY! By the way, did you ever mention how you got your TBI? Or should I even ask? Also, on which video do you discuss what I asked you about — the “escape” from children? You said the answer is in the videos, but that’s a lot of videos to search, so if you could give me a clue!

    • Comment by post author

      Oh my, Gayle. Thank you so much for your kind words. Also, I did not mean to be flippant in my response or send you on a wild goose chase. I appreciate you coming back and for asking for clarification again! Here is the link to my “Getting To Know Me. My Story.” playlist:
      You may want to start with the “My Story and My Van Interior (v4 of 5)” video and then jump to Friday Features 1, 2 & 3. I’m not sure why I have such a hard time answering it in comments. Haven’t reconciled that. I just do. Please do contact me again though if you have anymore questions. It’s just the children thing and the how that’s hard for me to speak directly about sometimes. Weird, maybe I guess. I appreciate you. Thank you!

  2. Dear Friend, You are such a marvel. Not only brave but awake and grateful for the all the gifts in your life. Your path has been a tough one but I do believe our sufferings are also gifts. They make us humble and compassionate and help us grow. Your light shines so bright Debra! Big hugs. Big Love.

  3. Mark

    Debra, I would love to say something, anything, but I have no words. The only thing is, I am a better person to have meet you and, hopefully, call you friend. Much love.

    • Comment by post author

      My dear friend, it is I who am blessed for having met you and Irene, and having the pleasure to spend time with you. What a bright light you two are. I was so not myself and off my game at the RTR. I truly appreciate your kind words. Robert and I both look forward to seeing you guys again – somewhere down the road – hopefully sooner than later. Much love and big, big hugZ, d

  4. Susan

    You amaze me, Debra. I am so encouraged by your spirit. I am sad about your past and I am happy when I think of where you are now and where you are going. Onward! <3

  5. Mizjewels

    Debra, you are an amazing woman~definitely a thriver! And talk about strong-holy cow. You’re an inspirational person. And you’re a former teacher – which automatically makes you a saint!

    Hope we’ll get Robert’s story someday too.

  6. So excited, Debra, and you and Robert are doing this together, YAAAAY! I think you’re both terrific and really enjoy your videos and following along your adventures (tears and happiness and all). KOKO!

  7. Joan Jensen

    Dearest Debra, The first video I saw of you and your story , I knew you were an incredible , loving person. I admired you from day one. I never thought I would ever meet you .Let alone become friends which turned into family. My spirit sister. Your faith and love knows no bounds. It is an honor to know you. A Blessing to everone that comes into your life. Much Love & light, Now & Always Joan ?

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