I’ve had different people who read this blog take guesses at whether I’m male or female. Some folks deduce that I’m male, perhaps because of the types of injuries I talk about — sports concussions sustained during soccer and football — or perhaps because… I’m not sure why else they think that. Others assume that I’m female because of the words and punctuation I choose to use.
To be honest, I had agonized over whether to blog “less anonymously” from the viewpoint of a specific gender. It seems to me that some men can better hear about certain kinds of information from other men, while some women are more comfortable hearing about experiences from a woman’s point of view. (Sorry if I’m being sexist with my generalization…) And certainly, each end of the gender spectrum has its specific challenges with respect to getting along in the world, so identifying my gender when I blog might help one side, while it might put the other off a bit — or at least shade their perception of me.
But the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that gender can really get in the way when talking about TBI — and considering that there does seem to be such a discrepancy between the numbers of men/boys who sustain head injuries and the numbers of women/girls, I didn’t want to serve one side, and possibly detract from the other. Both sides have needs as TBI survivors which are largely misunderstood and unmet in today’s American society.
Traumatic brain injury is an equal-opportunity destroyer… and at times the way it changes the brain can kind of cancel out the societal/cultural training we have as men and women, when it comes to social interaction and personal habits. Slowed processing speed is slowed processing speed, whether it happens to a girl or a boy. Increased distractability is still a problem, whether you’re male or female. And a damaged short-term memory will impact you no matter what your biology is.
Certainly, each gender with its relative socio-cultural imprinting will respond to TBI differently. Men are trained to behave in ways that can really help you function in spite of mild TBI — the habit of just keeping going, no matter what, which is pounded into men’s minds from an early age, certainly makes it possible to keep soldiering on through after a head injury. And women are taught to interact with others in ways which can offset the impact of brain injury — being taught that it’s okay to be vulnerable, to reach out for help, and “tend and befriend” can really go a long way towards lightening the burden of a cognitive deficit.
But it’s my experience — and my observation — that for all our external/public/social/cultural training about how to go through life, TBI (even mild TBI) can wreak untold havoc in your internal world, where all the cultural conditioning in the world can’t reach. When your brain is broken and things are not firing as they should, even the most ingrained culturally conditioned processes can break down. What’s even worse is when on the surface you appear to be dealing just fine, ’cause you’re following rote social protocol with other people, but inside you’re a tangled mess of emotion and confusion and nothing makes any friggin’ sense.
In fact, what (I’ve found) makes surviving a TBI the hardest is being completely and totally unable to deal (on the inside) with the things life throws at me on the outside. Here, I’m falling to pieces, trying to just keep up, while everyone around me is crowing about how cool I look, ’cause I’m behaving like a typical person would. It drives me nuts. I’m following the rules of engagement to keep socially viable, and it’s working, yet inside I feel like I’m losing my mind… no, wait… like I’ve already lost it. But nobody notices, ’cause I’m behaving like they would expect someone of my gender to behave… or at least a fully functioning adult with a few slight gender variations.
So, in the spirit of respecting and honoring the mystery of the brain … and recognizing that what goes on inside our injured heads is often quite different from what we present outside our bodies … I’m going to keep this blog gender-free and talk about my experiences not as a man, not as a woman, but as a person. Someone who may seem quite “together” on the outside, but has a heck of a time keeping things in line on the inside. Someone who has a lot in common with millions of other TBI survivors — be they men or women — because my gourd got rattled pretty badly a bunch of times and shifted the direction of my life irrevocably. And someone who has something to offer — tales of survived experience, regardless of the body I was born in.