Probably one of the most annoying things about TBI is the power and speed with which moods can change. You’re going along, doing your thing, and all seems well. But all of a sudden, you’re flipping out – for no reason that anyone can tell.
Our TBI Flies have something to say about this. Meet Jenny, a perfectly normal, nice gal who has a bit of a mood swing problem.
Not necessarily. It’s important to understand why folks get bent out of shape with TBI. Depending on the person — and this is not true for all TBI folks — anger can become rage and rage can escalate to violence with the kind of speed that will make your head spin.
Green Fly above seems to think it’s all a convenient excuse for bad behavior. Green obviously doesn’t know a whole lot about TBI-related anger.
You see, anger comes with TBI for a number of reasons, the big one being that pesky constant restlessness that takes over your brain, as though all our synapses were on high alert, looking for a new way to make the connections it was used to making before the injury. That constant restlessness can lead to fatigue — our brain is something like 2% of our body’s weight, but it consumes 20% of our body’s energy. And when we get fatigued, TBI folks can get irritable.
When you get irritable, if you interpret that as that there’s something wrong with you — you’re defective or flawed or a bad person — it can mess with your mind and make you do and say things you would normally not do. It can make you mean. It can make you cold. It can make you aggressive. That sick, sinking feeling that you’re behind and you’re just not going to be able to catch up… that sick, sinking feeling that you’re damaged beyond repair and you’ll never be the person you once were… that sick, sinking feeling that you and everyone around you is completely screwed and you will never be able to dig yourself out of the hole you’re in… that can make people do some pretty desperate things — including lash out at the people around them, doing and saying whatever the hell comes to mind, regardless of any consequences.
When you think you’re damaged beyond repair, you think you don’t have a lot to lose, so you can sometimes do and say things that will cause you to lose the things that mean most to you — love, respect, dignity, grace under pressure — and each episode of high drama chips away at the inner reserves you have, till you end up walking around like a shell of the person you once were.
The people around you may not realize it, however. They may not see any reason to think you’re any different than you were before, and so they react to your outbursts with understandable irritation and puzzlement. And when they don’t factor in what’s going on inside of you, it can be easy to consider them stupid in their own right(s) and treat them like the blind idiots you know they are. They’re so blind, they can’t see what’s going on with you, and they earn your contempt, through and through, by simply treating you like you’re capable of dealing with things like you did before you got hurt.
It’s a vicious cycle that I believe contributes to the downward spiral that can often accompany TBI. Even mild traumatic brain injury can result in this dynamic — sometimes it’s even more likely, than if there was a severe injury, because people outside your head literally cannot tell that there’s anything amiss with you. And they may vehemently deny that you are any different than you were before, or that you’re any different than everyone else around you.
This kind of dynamic is all too common. But it’s somewhat preventable. Keeping chilled out and rested and learning to handle your anger is an important step in this. Also, realizing that everything you feel isn’t necessarily true. And sometimes the things you feel most strongly are the ones that are farthest off the mark. In my case, the more extreme the mood swing, the less likely it is to have merit. The most intense, drastic fluctuations in my moods are clearly neurologically fed, not psychologically justifiable. And the better I am at dealing with the flares of emotion that come out of nowhere — accepting them for what they are, but not feeding them any energy — even ignoring them, if at all possible — the better off I am.
Of course, when I’m tired and stressed, the chances of me being able to do that drop pretty sharply.
So, it’s important to pay attention up front to what’s going on, so you don’t create the kinds of conditions that lead to rage:
- Telling yourself stories about yourself that convince you you’re damaged and inept and worthless
- Telling yourself stories about yourself that convince you that they are idiotic wastes of space who don’t deserve courtesy or respect
- Continuous stress that you feed, in order to keep the steady supply of stress hormones pumping so you feel “sharp”
Keeping an eye on things can go a long way towards helping. Of course, you can always laugh at yourself, too. Not ridiculing or belittling, but understanding that this too shall pass, and there’s no point in getting completely BENT over stupid shit that is gone almost as quickly as it appeared.