This is the sixth part in a multi-part exploration of sense of self and how it’s affected by traumatic brain injury. Read the other sections here.
Beyond acting out and behavioral challenges, there’s another way that an impacted sense of self can affect you after TBI, and it’s very much internal. It’s the constant nagging voice in the back of your head that’s always whispering (or yelling) about how you got this ‘wrong’ or that ‘wrong’… how you screwed this or that up, and you’ll never get it right.
When you’re accustomed to doing things a certain way — thinking at a certain speed or able to perform at a certain level — if that is affected (or goes away), it can feel like everything is wrong. Wrong, all wrong. And it can set you up for a constant stream of nagging insecurity that puts you on edge, pumps you full of stress hormones, and drives you with a seemingly insatiable urge to GET IT RIGHT.
Even if what you’re doing isn’t technically wrong, still, a part of you thinks it is. Because you’re used to doing things a certain way. And anything different from what you’re used to — even if the differences are small — feels foreign and threatening. In a very real sense, our very individuality is threatened, since the person we think we are no long seems to be around. And if we aren’t the person we thought we were, well, who are we?
I suspect this is even more pronounced with people who have sustained TBIs later in life, when their habits are set and they are accustomed to having a certain type of personality. With someone like me, who has experienced a number of concussions / mild traumatic brain injuries over the course of my life, I’ve been forced to evolve my understanding of myself so often, I’m sometimes not sure exactly who I am. (But that doesn’t stop me from living my life.) I try to stay flexible. It works for me.
But still, having results for your customary actions turn out different from what you expect, time after time… having your internal experience not match what you expect, over and over… expecting your brain to think one thing and then having it think something different, from day to day, gets to be a drain. Who are you, anyway?
Without a familiar sense of self, that nagging sense of uncertainty can really do a job on you. It can make you paranoid, hyper-sensitive and hyper-vigilant, and it can disrupt your sleeping patterns, which is about the last thing you want. Lack of sleep just makes everything worse, and so the worry about being somehow wrong or damaged feeds into the regular messages we get about ourselves, making relative small problems into huge deals — largely because of our interpretation of and reaction to them.
[aside]… Speaking of disrupted sleep patterns, I could use some more rest myself. Time for a nap to take the edge off this fatigue and hopefully cut the pain.
This ends the sixth part in a multi-part exploration of sense of self and how it’s affected by traumatic brain injury. Read the other sections here. More to come…