SPEAK OUT! Guest Blogger: Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind
Change . . . for the Better
When it comes to TBI recovery, it’s easy to feel like things are never going to change. After I fell down a flight of stairs and hit my head in 2004, my personality changed dramatically. Before my fall, I used to be very levelheaded and thorough. I was competent to an extreme. Being a Type A overachiever was a big part of my personal identity, and any time I fell short in the know-how department, I worked my butt off to make up for it. I was very funny, once upon a time, and I was fun to work with. People sought me out and asked specifically to have me assigned to high-profile, high-stakes projects at work. I could pick up new skills with little or no problem, and I was always up for a challenge.
After my fall, I basically fell apart. I lost the ability to read things and understand them. I hardly could sleep. I was always on edge, and my hot temper flared at an instant’s notice. The worst was I lost my sense of humor. I no longer thought anything was funny. Plus, I could not learn new skills . . . at all. I could never figure out for myself where to begin new tasks, and, when others told me where to begin, I could not stick with things long enough to complete them. But I could not see that something was “up” with me. It was always someone or something else’s fault.
And I thought that nothing would ever change. So did my spouse. Both of us figured the old me was gone for good.
But it hasn’t turned out that way at all.
I somehow managed to find a neuropsychologist who is a strong believer in neuroplasticity — the idea that people’s brains change and that we can get better after TBI. My “neuropsych” is convinced that the brain can rewire itself, and so am I. In fact, I have been a believer in neuroplasticity for 30 years. Back in the early 1980s, I came across a scientific report that showed the brains of rats that had been exposed to a rich learning environment versus those that had not received any stimulation. The brains of the stimulated rats were chock-full of additional connections (their wiring). The proof was in the picture, and it was undeniable. If that happened to the brains of rats, surely it happened with humans as well!
In the last 5 years, since I started my TBI rehab, I have seen so many changes for the better. I realize now that my fall in 2004 was really the most recent of a series of mild traumatic brain injuries, which started when I was a kid. I’ve had at least 9 mild TBIs since I was about 7 years old, and there could have been more that I just can’t remember. So, I’m not just recovering from a fall in 2004. I’m recovering from a lifetime of concussions — some of them worse than others, which finally culminated in my nearly catastrophic traumatic brain injury ten years ago.
To say that I’m a different person now would be an understatement. There have been many ups and downs, and some days I still wonder who the heck I am. But in the end, things are so much better now than they were just five short years ago. TBI recovery takes years and years — and even when we reach a level of decent functioning in the outside world, our inside world can still feel like utter chaos.
My life can “feel” very chaotic, when it’s actually very calm and orderly. That’s one of the weird and frustrating things about my injury — it makes many things seem far worse than they are, and I tend to react to that impression, rather than stepping back and taking a logical look at things. It’s hard to trust my brain, when it’s constantly sending me signals that something’s wrong while everything is actually pretty awesome.
But to be honest, it’s tough to believe everything is okay when you have constant issues that never seem to go away. I get overwhelmed by back and neck pain, loud ringing in my ears, sensitivities to light and noise, and feeling like I’m always playing catch-up. My memory comes and goes; I’m tired a lot and have trouble sleeping; and my energy level is unpredictable. Some days I just need to disappear into my own world — going for long walks in the woods or walks on the country roads around my home, spending time surfing the Web, working in the yard or my workshop, or just sleeping all afternoon on the weekends.
After years of trying to fix the problems, I’ve found that a better strategy is to concentrate on creating new and better experiences that eclipse the bad ones and to get my mind off my troubles. Yes, I’m in pain. Yes, I forget things. Yes, I often feel like I’m in damage-control-mode. But when I focus my attention on the good parts of my life, the troubles fade away and become part of the scenery, instead of the defining factors of my life.
My present recovery strategy is to enjoy myself as much as humanly possible. I go out of my way to slow down and really enjoy the life around me. I want to give my brain as much good to react to, as bad. I’m an expert in identifying problems that I can fix, and it gives me a lot of pleasure to fix them. At the same time, there’s more to life than constant problems. Being able to stop and enjoy an amazing day…just breathe deeply and soak it all in…really taste the food I’m eating…feel myself getting stronger when I work out in the mornings before work…and feel my body soaking up the water I drink after my workout is done. All those things are good for my spirit AND my brain. I figure the more good things I notice and dwell on, the more “wiring” for good I’m building in my brain.
Traumatic brain injury comes with a host of predicaments and issues that you’d never expect to come up in a regular life. If I’m going to have to deal with all of that, I might as well get to enjoy myself too. There’s a ton of stuff I cannot control in my life — but my attitude and my outlook are something I can control. So, I focus my energy there.
Granted, it doesn’t always work. It takes a lot of energy, and some days I just can’t manage the whole “positive” thing. So, I cut myself a break, make myself a nice steak dinner, watch a man-against-nature television show, and call it a day.
Thank you, Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind.
Any views and opinions of the Guest Blogger are purely his/her own.
You can read more about Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind on his blog.
(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)