concussion now i’m stupid

Someone visited this blog yesterday with the search “concussion now i’m stupid” and it seems like it’s in the air.

I had a great day Saturday — I had a very social day, and I was out and about in town, which rarely happens with me. I either don’t have the time, or I don’t make the time, or I find a hundred other things to do that are more interesting than interacting with other people in a city.

But Saturday, I took a bunch of chances, and I had a ton of interactions that were really positive and encouraging.

Sunday, on the other hand, was a huge challenge. I wasn’t able to rest as much as I had wanted/planned, and I was really feeling the effects of all the exertion on Saturday. Even if the exertion was good and positive, it was still exertion, and I didn’t remember to rest.

One of my big problems is, when I get over-tired, I often forget to self-monitor. That happened to my yesterday. So, I ran into trouble.

With a Capital T. Had a huge meltdown yesterday. As in — rage and tears and being stuck in a loop of anger and shame and frustration and resentment. I hate when that happens. I could feel it coming on, and I thought I could stop it, but I couldn’t. It was like a repeat tsunami of unwanted overwrought emotion. Waters pulling out, then washing in and wrecking everything in its path. Emotion pulling out, then rushing back in and leveling everything in its way.  It came and went for about three hours, and it totally screwed me up — and my spouse. Not pretty at all. And I’m still “hungover” from it this morning.

Ugh.

Looking back on things with a less emotional eye, one of the things that complicated my situation yesterday was that insidious little voice in the back of my head that managed to find everything I’d done “wrong” on Saturday, amplified it about a thousand times, and then commenced to tell me You’re So Brain-Damaged and Stupid. Who would ever love or care about you? You’re such an idiot – you had a concussion — no, wait, you had a bunch of concussions – and now you’re stupid. You’re so stupid you don’t even know how stupid you are.

Stupid.

Well, you get the idea. And sure enough, as always happens when that voice gets going, before long, I was at war with the world, at war with myself, at war with my spouse, at war with my job, at war with everything and everyone who came anywhere near me.

concussion now i’m stupid…

My thinking is too slow, I’m not sharp and quick like I used to be, I’m not even funny anymore (and I used to be a laugh and a half all the time), and who would want to bother with me?

Geez.

It’s bad enough that I have to contend with the physical and logistical issues, but when that voice gets going… well, the only thing to do is go to bed.

I managed to do that eventually, but not on my own steam. I had to be guided to bed and put away like a cholicky baby. I friggin’ hate when I’m reduced to that. But when I’m in the midst of that storm/tsunami, I cannot for the life of me pull myself out.

For future reference, I need to keep the image of the tsunami in my mind, when I feel it coming up. So I can get to higher ground. Tell my spouse I need to take a break, and remove myself to my bedroom or study, to simmer down. Just get myself out of the way of the wave. Maybe go out for a walk in the woods. I did that yesterday at the end of the day,  and it helped tremendously. Yes, the walk in the woods — climbing up to the top of the nearest big hill — helps me a whole lot.

I also have to have a talk with my spouse about this TBI business – it’s not okay for them to talk to me like I’m an idiot, which is what they’ve been doing more and more over the past year. Apparently, they seem to think that because my memory is a bit spotty at times, and my processing speed has slowed, I’ve lost my innate intelligence. Either that, or they have always acted this way, and I’ve just recently stopped allowing myself to be intimidated into hiding my issues from them. That’s always a possibility.

So, there are three main issues I am contending with — the wave of emotion that cannot and will not be stopped and can only be avoided until it calms down… the voice in my head that tells me I’m stupid… and the voice I live with that tells me I’m impaired. The first one, I just have to be mindful of and learn to avoid being swept away. The second one, I have to either ignore or actively argue with. The third I have to have a serious talk with — and possibly involve my neuropsych to explain to my spouse that my relative weaknesses are manageable and don’t mean I’m reduced to a simpleminded shadow of my old self. Some days it feels like that — like yesterday — but it’s not the truth of the matter.

But ultimately, the bottom line is, here’s the #1 Lesson I (re)learned over the weekend:

I have to pace myself. If I have a big day, even if it is a really good big day, I need to take the next day OFF and SLEEP. Rest. For real. Nothing else matters. No distracting entertainment is worth the price I’ll pay for exhaustion.

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10 thoughts on “concussion now i’m stupid

  1. Short but sweet – pay attention to when you hear that voice that says concussion = stupid and say ‘stop’. and then switch tracks. write out ahead of time what other message you want to say – not happy talk but real talk, factual talk – stuff that empowers you to move forward and do all the great things you can do.

    Calvin Coolidge said that persistence makes the game and this is true to BI survivors as well. The rumination mechanism may be out of whack so you have to work harder to get it back in line – not to feel like mr/ms wonderful but to be able to see what is and is not true.

    Many people with all kinds of challenges go on to successful, happy, satisfying, productive, independent lives. that can be done – not easily, not with a snap of fingers, but it can be done.

    You need an anti-stupid ad campaign for the brain.

  2. Thanks — I’ll have to see what kind of ad campaign I can come up with – a public service campaign, ultimately.

    What’s the rumination mechanism about? I’ll have to look that up.

    Thanks again.

  3. The tsunami analogy is a perfect descriptor for your emotions. My husband suffers terribly from debilitating meltdowns especially when he can’t remember something he was about to tell me and starts banging the side of his head with the heel of his hand cursing himself up one side and down the other “I hate my brain, I hate my frickin brain!” he yells. Then he looks off in to the middle distance, unblinking, and I can almost see the synapses in his brain misfiring, somewhere a connection is not being made.

    There’s nothing I can do to console him, what do I say at that point, “don’t worry, I really didn’t need to know anyway?” (translates as there’s no point in asking you anything). Or how about “I love you for you, I don’t care if your brain’s messed up” (translates as yeah you’re frickin messed up) and that wouldn’t be so great either.

    So I’m just there for him, a calming non-judgmental presence in his life. Being such a strong advocate for combat PTSD and TBI his issues are of great concern for me. I want to get the word out to as many as I can that these invisible wounds are as real and damaging as any cancer out there.

  4. Hey Combat Vet Spouse -

    Glad you checked in. These issues are indeed as debilitating as any ‘regular’ disease — but they strike us at the heart of who we are. They strike us at the heart of WHAT we are, and how we need to be, to just BE in the world.

    I would hit myself on the head too, if it didn’t distress my spouse so much. Plus, I worry at times that all my head-banging before (I used to really pound on myself — beat my head against the wall) may have complicated my neurology a bit. So, that’s one thing I remember not to do.

    It’s so important to have folks with us who can just be with us, without judgment, offering us what we need. Your husband is a lucky man.

    Have you heard of Give Back Orlando? They are a group of TBI survivors who are dedicated to recovery — you can find resources here: http://www.givebackorlando.com/resources.html

    I have found them tremendously helpful, especially as they explain how the brain works and what causes it to misfire… and they offer examples of what has worked for them. They have a self-therapy workbook, and materials for family members of survivors. I think you may benefit from what they have to say.

    Best of luck and hope to hear more from you. You are definitely not alone, and thank you for your work in helping raise awareness about TBI and PTSD.

    Best
    BB

  5. BB,

    I went for a long period where I couldn’t interact with people much if I wasn’t drinking. Or rather I could, but it was an effort and large groups of people especially would make me a little crazy. So, to counteract the isolation, I drank and it worked, I was social.

    Of course that led to other problems . . .

    It was a relief to rediscover the ability to be in people again and not drink, but it’s still an effort, and often tires me out. I hate the habit I had for a long time of questioning every interaction, wondering if I remembered it right, understood what was going on, etc. I got into the habit of writing everything down, which was useful in clarifying in my mind what had taken place, and also redeveloping the habit of REMEMBERING – and getting away from the feeling I often had in not being able to remember, that something bad had happened.

    It is an awful feeling to feel out of control, and stupid, unable to experience the things you did before. To be unable to live in the world the way you did before. I still find that line so easy to cross, and it often happens when I feel most confident, when I begin to think that whatever I went through is over – or that maybe it was never real in the first place. I’ll crash and it will become very real indeed.

    It’s like that line from the Godfather: ‘just when you think they’re out . . . they suck you back in . . .”

    Fatigue makes you (one) feel stupid. I remember when I started doing yoga for real a few years ago, how exhilirating it was to feel healthy, clear again. But the fatigue, the fog, still creeps in, takes on a life of its own. It’s friggin’ awful, and takes away your humanity, your whole higher sense of self. When I come out of it, I always say to myself, ‘if you’ve never experienced it, you’ll never know what it’s like.;

    I hope you talk to your spouse. I often got very, very angry at people who made me feel stupid, reminded me when I forgot things etc – but often they didn’t know what they were doing or were trying, in a clumsy way, to help. It’s easy for people to forget – and easy for us to forget that other people can be weak, or need understanding in their own way.

    T.

  6. Thanks T.

    I hear you about the drinking. That’s been one of my struggles, as well. I’ve been able to steer clear of it for many years, now, but alcohol was always one of the places I ran to first, when I was overwhelmed or overwrought.

    It’s wild how that happens — the high followed by a tremendous crash. Think I’ll seek out the middle path, once more.

    As for my spouse, I really have to speak to their attitude in the moment. A lot of times, when I approach them after the fact, because the moment has passed, they don’t have a clear recollection of it. I think it’s a matter of staying on top of things and both addressing it in the moment, as well as showing them that I’m really not a brain-damaged idiot.

    It’s complicated. And a lot of work. Oh, well. Such is life.

    Onward…

    BB

  7. Thanks so much for putting a voice to TBI’s… I’m also the spouse of a combat vet with TBI and PTSD. After my husband’s last tour I felt like I lost him. His personality changed and he became very illogical. In addition, he developed a very controlling persona. Nothing I try to say helps with the memory loss, mood swings or paranoia. He becomes furious with me if I don’t do exactly what he tells me to do and often demands that I know what he wants without being told. Things have gotten worse- I came home one day and he didn’t know who I was. What can I do to help him.

  8. Hi Sheena -

    I’m sorry to hear about the difficulties you and your husband are having. In the past, I myself have behaved like your husband behaves, and I can assure you, it’s not fun for us, either. That doesn’t make it right, it just kind of puts it in perspective (I hope).

    Some of the hidden factors in TBI problems are:
    - Not getting enough rest/good sleep
    - Being susceptible to stress
    - Not getting enough exercise

    Since I started exercising regularly each day, over a year ago, many of my persistent problems with mood and behavior and temper have improved a great deal. It’s not just the exercise that does it — it’s the better thinking and better feeling that help with overall improvements.

    It also helps that I have someone to talk to regularly about my issues. They help me put things in perspective.

    One of the other things that has helped me a great deal, has been doing deep, steady breathing each day before I get started with my day. If I am tired, I can have a hair-trigger temper and say and do things I regret later. Somehow, doing slow, deep breathing helps me calm down, so even when I am tired, I’m able to manage my behavior better.

    Just so you know, there have been times in the past, when I have not known where I was or where I was going. All I knew was, I was driving in my car and was supposed to be going somewhere. After a little bit (in less than a minute), I was able to remember what I was doing, but it was a little scary at first. If your husband is not recognizing you, it may be pretty scary for him, as well. But he may not want to show it, because he may think it makes him “weak”.

    It’s not being weak, it’s being human.

    The main thing with me is to not get down on myself and not be really hard on myself about the problems I have. When I let myself be human, and don’t get down on myself because my memory is slipping or I’m having a hard time balancing or keeping my attention on things, it makes it easier for me to address them. I need to just realize that I have some limitations I need to work through… but keep at working through them. Not giving up is the most important thing.

    Just remember — the brain is an amazing thing, and what we focus on has a way of developing. If you and your husband really focus (every day) on him improving and learning to do things differently — and he gets plenty of sleep and learns to take time-outs when he starts to get angry — you can start to see improvements. But you both have to be able to identify the problems and call attention to them in ways that are not blaming and not attacking, so you can both address them as a team.

    My own spouse and I approach these challenges as a team, and in the process, my recovery has really progressed, and I can honestly say I’m a LOT easier to live with than I was 5 years ago.

    Here are some resources that I strongly recommend:

    Traumatic Brain Injury (from NIH) – http://brokenbrilliant.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/tbi_htr.pdf

    Helping Your Family Member to Recover from Head Injury – Part 1 – http://brokenbrilliant.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/hepufam_section1.pdf

    Helping Your Family Member to Recover from Head Injury – Part 2 – Advanced Techniques – http://brokenbrilliant.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/hepufam_section2.pdf

    Self-Therapy for TBI Recovery – Teaching yourself to prevent head-injured moments – http://brokenbrilliant.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/hepusef_main.pdf

    It’s important to learn as much as you can about traumatic brain injury — and also about post-traumatic stress. PTS has a nasty way of complicating TBI, but a lot of people think they’re separate. They’re not. TBI can lead to a bad case of PTS — that doesn’t mean you’re stuck for good with all the problems, just that you need to approach the problems really aggressively and keep at it, with the TBI/PTSD factors in mind.

    I’m feeling a little under the weather today, so I’m afraid I can’t write more, but I hope this helps.

    God bless.

    BB

  9. Thanks again for your encouragement- we’ve since discovered that some of my husband’s prescribed medication was causing him issues. Knowledge has definitely been key and through lots of trial and error my husband has returned much to his former (amazing) self, thanks for all of the resources!

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