I’ve been thinking a little bit lately about all my TBI-related issues which I was really struggling with over the years before I figured out what was going on with me and got some help. The last three years have been a pretty amazing process, and at my neuropsych appointment this past week, I was struck by the contrast between the conversations I used to have with my neuropsych and the conversations I’m having now.
Now, our conversations are much more about how I’m handling things in my life in a productive way, or how I might handle them differently to achieve the results I want. It used to be about all sorts of abstract noodling about my life, theories, research, and all manner of exploring the ins and outs of what was going on in my head.
Now things are much more concrete. Much more “mundane” but at the same time, much more productive and, well, powerful. Not powerful in the sense of overpowering others, but in taking control of my own life.
It really is remarkable, and it’s pretty gratifying. I seem to have made astounding progress, just in the past three years. I have to say, too, that things started to turn around for me in some pretty big ways, when I started exercising regularly, almost every day. Amazingly, a lot of my anxiety was reduced, and the edginess and snap decision making that often ended badly, had a markedly less pronounced place in my life.
I have to say, I haven’t been as derailed by my issues — headaches, memory problems, mood swings, impulsiveness, distractability, temper outbursts, light and sound sensitivities, balance problems, pain, fatigue, and insomnia — half as much as I was, only three years ago. So much has changed.
Or has it?
I took another look at the list of issues that can cause a person problems after brain injury, and as I looked down the list, reading the behavioral, emotional, mental, and physical issues, I realized that to some extent, I still had a lot of those issues. I still have headaches, and I still have anger (and other emotions) come up and then disappear abruptly. I still have light and sound sensitivity, and sometimes the tactile sensitivity is pretty intense, to where I can’t be touched — especially when I’m tired. I haven’t been sleeping well, the past few weeks, and I’ve been pretty fatigued and foggy.
In all, were I to go down my list of issues and tick them all off, and also write something about them, it would be a pretty exhaustive list. I have a headache now. And I’m not nearly as sharp as I’d like to be. I’m also behind the 8-ball on a couple of important projects, which is stressing me out. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
But it’s different now, than it was three years ago. Three years ago, I would get so worked up over all these issues, get stuck in thinking that there was something WRONG with me, and get panicked about not being able to fix everything at once. I also didn’t have good strategies for fixing the things that needed to be addressed. I had a lot of false starts and flops. I was in pretty constant crisis.
Now, though, I have a completely different perspective, thanks to my coping strategies. I have managed — with the help of my neuropsych — to develop thoughtful responses to things that come up with me, and I’ve learned how to manage my time and energy and thought process. I’ve learned so very, very much, to the point where I still have all these issues, but they are not taking over my life.
I think that’s the thing — everybody has issues. TBI or not, concussion or no, everybody has their own problems. Some people have emotional problems, some people have physical challenges, some people have attentional issues. Some people have no family or friends. Some people have no job or no home. Some people seem to have “everything” but they feel dead inside. Everybody’s got something going on that is like an albatross around their neck.
The thing that makes people different and sets them apart, is how they handle their issues. How they cope with them. The difference between my frame of mind now, when I am working actively with being mindful and thoughtful about many, many aspects of my life… and my frame of mind three years ago, when I was driven by this constant anxiety and agitation… it’s like day and night, respectively. Words cannot describe.
What’s made the biggest difference, I think, has been the way I’ve learned to approach my issues and turn them from life-threatening hurdles to factors I need to work with on a daily basis. I’ve learned coping skills and I’ve worked on being mindful, so that I’m not in a constant state of alarm and frenzy. The alarm and frenzy cuts into my clarity and clouds my mind with emotion — intense emotion I cannot always control, and which comes up like a wildfire to burn everything in its path. Alarm floods my system with all those stress chemicals, which make it all but impossible for me to think clearly. I cannot have complex thought and take the many, many factors of life into consideration, if I am perpetually stressed and frazzled. I also cannot rest, which makes me even more fuzzy. The experience of constantly being driven by this anxious frenzy exacerbated my symptoms even more, turning them from somewhat irritating, distracting issues, into — literally — life-threatening challenges that constantly threatened to derail me and any progress I was making in my life.
My issues are still here — it’s how I handle them that’s changed. And this is a biggie for me.
It’s so big, in fact, that I’d like to devote some time over the coming months to talking about all these issues and explaining how they’ve changed with me — and why. It’s a fantastic before-and-after story, and it’s worth telling, I think.
In the midst of all the talk about the long-term tragedies of sports-related head injuries, I’d like to offer some hope to people who are seriously scared about their prospects after traumatic brain injury/acquired brain injury/concussion. There are ways to address the issues in a constructive way, so they don’t completely take over your life. I’ve found some, and I’d like to pass them along.