I’ve been thinking about the article I came across the other day about TBI unfolding over the course of months, rather than the initial timeframe of the obvious injury. My initial reaction was, “This is good – someone is getting a bit more of a clue.” Then, as I read the article, I thought, “Well, d’oh — they have to do a clinical study with rats to figure this one out, when all these people with TBI are walking around in front of them, exhibiting long-term issues, despite “just getting their bell rung”… What is wrong with the medical/scientific establishment?!”
Then I calmed down and decided to be happy that they’ve found research that supports what so many of us know — TBI can wreak havoc with your life for a long, long time, even after the physical bump on your head has gone down.
Whatever the point of view, whatever the source of information, I think we can all fundamentally agree that TBI is a bitch, and while it helps to understand the nature of the condition, its scope, and its ramifications, what we really need (and the article above speaks to this) is a way to address these issues.
The medical/pharmaceutical industry, by their nature, are likely to look to pharmacological “solutions” — pills that will interact with the hippocampus or other related parts of the brain, to counteract the progression of TBI-related symptoms. The psychotherapeutic industry, by right of their orientation, may look to psychological / cognitive-behavioral approaches. And insurance companies, by their nature, may put checkpoints in place to disqualify TBI “experiencers” from medical treatment after a certain point — say, after six weeks worth of treatments — so they don’t incur long-term costs from paying for all those people who got clunked in the head may have prolonged periods of difficulty.
[As an aside, the truly chilling part of the insurance scenario for me, is the prospect of all these people finding out about the devastation that TBI can cause, and then deciding that if they've sustained one, their goose is cooked, so they really can't expect to ever go back to the way things once were, so why not just give up and file for insurance pay-outs and/or public assistance/disability... while the medical/pharma/insurance industries are keeping two steps ahead of them, policy-wise, and ten steps behind, treatment-wise... and not only are hurt people not getting the help they need (or believe they need) from the trained experts, but the trained experts -- by right of their ignorance and/or wilful decision to avoid incurring costs and/or outright greed -- are blocking their access to real, substantive help, thus plunging the lot of them/us into a morass of ignorance-fuelled helplessness.]
Anyway, back to my originally scheduled post…
Outside the realms of medicine and pharma and insurance claims, what do the rest of us do? What can those of us do, who have sustained TBI, who are outside the fold, in terms of getting help? Are we doomed to perpetual dimness, impaired memory, a short-changed life, and a host of physical problems that our doctors cannot possibly treat?
Perhaps. Certainly, it happens. All too often. But it doesn’t have to. This has been my perspective and my belief, almost from the start of this blog — a firm personal conviction, even faith, that TBI does not have to be the final judge and jury of our lives, condemning us to a marginal existence marked by confusion, disorientation, rage, hate, and fear. Things can get better. Things do get better. They will get better.
Now, anyone could argue that with me and point to countles examples of TBI situations that didn’t get better. All the vets who return from overseas with TBI and PTSD who end up in jail or taking their own lives. All the survivors of car accidents and assaults and falls who fade away into the shadow lands of the neurologically impaired. All the folks who never fully understand why it is their brain isn’t working like it was before, and can’t figure out how to get back to a level of functioning they’re truly comfortable with. There are myriad stories — all of them true — about how TBI is a main ingredient in a recipe for disaster.
TBI does damage, certainly. Short-term damage. Long-term damage. It unfolds unpredictably over time, and too little is known about it for mainstream help to be readily available. There are steps forward, there are steps back. And since every brain is different, you’ve got yourself a vast array of possibilities, when it comes to plausible explanations for why things are so screwed up… and a vast array of possible responses to those reasons.
But here’s the thing — at least, for me. The human brain is “plastic” — that is, it changes over time, depending on stimuli and the internal workings of the person it belongs to. It responds to biochemical stimuli, it responds to physical input, it reacts to physiological conditions. And while neurons and axons and synapses may be totally mucked up by the wrenching, tearing, shearing action of traumatic brain injury, neurons that fire together wire together, so as long as there are at least some neurons still viable, there is opportunity for change.
There is a virtual guarantee that there will be change.
And the key to me is that we are in charge of that change.
Oh, certainly, there are aspects of life which are totally beyond our control. Injustice and unfairness and exploitation and oppression are part and parcel of the human experience, and they happen to us daily — just because we’re alive. But the thing we CAN control, is our reaction to those things. We can choose how to approach these challenges in life — as violent opponents given to rage as a driving force in attacking the wrong-ness of life… as curious, engaged participants in life who choose to contribute to a solution… or as a combination of those two in different parts of the spectrum. Our reactions, our involvement in life, fashion the internal chemistry of our brains, and our plastic brains respond with gusto to whatever we send their way. They can’t help it. That’s what they do. The brain changes. It can’t help but change.
When you experience a TBI (or two or three… or nine – like me), the input that you receive can be terribly confusing and disorienting. It’s messed up, no doubt about it. Your wires are crossed. You’re confused and scared and walking around with a rage-provoking hair-trigger. Your brain is getting constant signals that SOMETHING IS WRONG! SOMETHING IS WRONG! WTF?!?!? SOMETHING IS WRONG!!!! All the old ways seem like they’re gone for good, and you can’t find your way back.
But it doesn’t need to stay that way. Because if you stick with it, one way or another, you can find your way back. You may not find your way back to the exact same place you were before, and you may never regain the exact same old abilities you once had, but those old abilities are not the only ones you have at your disposal. You have a ton of abilities you don’t even realize you have, and if you never test yourself, never push yourself, never get outside your comfort zone, you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to discover and develop them.
In many, many ways, TBI is like a natural disaster that destroys your home. Maybe it’s like a river that floods and either washes away or damages beyond repair all that you once held dear. Maybe it’s like a tornado that touches down in your town and not only destroys your home, but the homes of everyone close to you. Maybe it’s like a wildfire that takes out one house while leaving others intact… and that leads to even more damage from the water used to put out the fire. Maybe it’s like an earthquake or sinkhole that buries or swallows your house and every earthly possession in one fell swoop.
The old ways of doing things are gone. The old ways of thinking, of acting, of relating, even of walking down the street… gone. The memories may be gone… or the sense of humor… or the sense of balance… or the quiet in your ears — gone. But you can’t just sit around and worry about the things that are gone… the things that were lost in the fire or the flood or the tornado or the earthquake. You’ve got to get back on your feet, repair what damage you can, and resume some semblance of life.
Not that any of this is easy. Far from it. But people go through disasters every day, some of them more survivable than others. And somehow we survive. WE repair the damage. We patch the holes. We keep walking or paddling or steering the vehicle in the direction of our choice.
And we survive. We even thrive.
Speaking of which, it’s time for me to get to work. I have three deadlines to meet before Monday. Three excellent problems to have.