How My Brain Injury Affected My Life
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
I was diagnosed as being moody at nine years old. I still have that diagnosis to this very day: “mood disorder due to brain injury.” I also have anxiety and panic attacks. I still have today most of the same problems I had back then, just in an expanded manner.
I remember one thing that always frustrated me – Before my head injury, I was able to read, comprehend, and retain what I was reading. I remember having A to A+ grades and never getting into trouble. But, as soon as I had my head injury, I remember being hit a lot with a ruler by the nuns, being called “demon child,” not being able to read out loud, and having issue after issue trying to remember what we just learned or read five minutes ago and being told that I was lazy. (Oh, that one always got my goat.) I could not keep quiet or shut my mouth for more than five seconds, and I would speak out of turn. I could not sit still in my seat, and I was constantly moving around and around. These are some of the things I personally remember.
I know my parents wondered why I acted out, and they took me to multiple specialists during my youth. I was diagnosed with optic nerve damage, but no other problems resulting from my head injury were identified. Each doctor gave my parents the same answer: “There is no logical explanation as to why she is doing this now when she did not do it before the head injury.
I was extremely impulsive and still am to this day. In addition to the moodiness, this has been one of the hardest things for me to overcome. I experience emotions very quickly and intensely. As a child and into my teen years, I was very moody and got aggravated very quickly over the littlest things. I always felt anxious without exactly knowing why most of the time. It still happens to me to this very day. I will have an anxiety/panic attack, and I cannot explain why it happened. Recently, I went to a friend’s house, and I had to leave soon after I got there because I started to have an anxiety attack. I get anxious easily still today because I am so afraid people are going to make fun of me and tease me because I am different. I do not tend to keep friends very long because they tend to find something that is strange or I say something weird and they run from me.
I have absolutely no tolerance for change. I have no patience when it comes to waiting – I have to have everything NOW, NOW, NOW. I am always told I have indiscreet ways for making my feelings known to others. So many people take my statements out of context. I feel that I am acting appropriately, but others do not see me that way. When I change my way of saying something or going about something, I am told I am coming off as hostile or aggressive. I do not see it that way, nor do I mean it in that way either. I try to explain my head injury to others, but they tell me to shut up and act normal and stop giving excuses. Yet, it is not an excuse; it is the truth.
As a child, as a teenager, and even in my adult years, I lacked awareness of my own personal deficits. It was only about five years ago that I started to realize the things I do that cause these issues, and I personally have tried to change them.
I would verbally lash out, cry, become depressed, and literally throw temper tantrums. This went on into my early 30s. I realized that, if I do not change, I will never have anyone in my life because all I do is find a way to push everyone out of my life. It wasn’t until maybe a year ago that I started to try to change things on my own.
I have also tried to seek professional help, even going as far as intentionally getting myself diagnosed as being “severely mentally ill” just to get the help. But, nothing worked. Actually, getting that diagnosis set me back years.
I had NO assistance from the mental health system. They were actually making my problems worse. Now I try to address the fact that there is an issue, and I doggedly try to understand what the physical, emotional, and psychological effects are upon my daily day. I try to rectify those effects that I deem as a hindrance to my social well-being by forcing myself to change the way I interact with others. I started by intentionally going to bars, not to drink, but to interact with others so I could watch how people reacted to certain behaviors. Honestly, this was hard and long. I lost people from my life, but those people were not the people I truly wanted in my life anyway.
I have a problem keeping people in my life as a result of my inability to function properly in certain social situations. The majority of family and/or friends that choose to maintain their relationship with me either ignore or downplay any behaviors that I portray. Only a select few recognize and respond well when my behaviors are considered outside social normality. When people start to see the social abnormalities in my personality, most either ask what is wrong with me, why I am acting like a crazy person, or just never speak to me again by cutting me out of their lives. (Almost always, they cut me out little by little.)
During my teenage years and into my 20s and even 30s, I had depression on and off. It got better after I had a hysterectomy. When my behaviors started to level out a lot, I was able to control myself better and move past other issues by actually learning not to do this or that.
Within the last year, I have found one of the best outlets to cope with the changes in my behavior. I now fall back on crocheting. I make things for others who are in need of certain things more than I. For years, I would fall back a lot on my dogs and my boyfriend. Honestly, one of the dogs – my service dog, Amber – helped me break free from my isolation. The attention that people placed on her made me break free of the isolation I had restricted myself to. I interacted with people just by talking. I learned how to cope with my anxiety and my expression around other people.
Thank you, GeorgeAnna Bell.
Any views and opinions of the Guest Blogger are purely his/her own.
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(Photos compliments of GeorgeAnna Bell.)
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