After the war – battling off that pesky PCS

Cleanup time...

Headache today. Headache for the past few days. I suspect it’s a combination of lack of sleep last night, bone-weary fatigue that reaches far beyond the past few days, being dizzy and having to hold my head in certain positions so I don’t fall over, and a variety of other stressors that are adding to my tension and tightness.

I haven’t been to see my chiropractor in several weeks. That might have something to do with it, too.

I also haven’t been exercising as much as I normally do. Something in me is rebelling. Just doesn’t want to do it. So, this is what I get – headache.

The interesting thing about this is that I have gone for at least a year without that nagging headache that was always with me, day in and day out, to the point where I didn’t even notice it anymore.

How can you not notice a headache? Well, if it’s always there with you, it just becomes part of your life — a part of your “new normal” that you sometimes end up having to accept and adapt to. I figured the headaches were just part of my “new normal” and I had to just live with them. Then I started exercising regularly. And I started going to a chiropractor. And I started practicing consciously relaxing. Who knows exactly why, but the headaches subsided, then completely went away.

And I had to adjust to yet another “new normal” where I wasn’t in constant pain anymore.

But something in me, I think, needs to push the envelope. And something in me needs to have some level of constant stress. I need it to keep me a little sharper than I am when I’m totally relaxed. I need it to keep me engaged. I need it to keep me feeling alive. This is a problem. Because logically I know that this is why I’ve gotten hurt a bunch of times — I’ve pushed myself when I should have taken it a little easier. I exceeded the limits of my capacity, and I fell. Or I got in an accident. Or I got knocked around. I tend to push it. So, I tend to get hurt.

I also tend to fight. I mean, really battle. I used to go after people — individuals who seemed like they were in my way. People I worked with, who I felt competitive with. People in my life, who I felt were making me feel less-than. People I encountered who had something I wanted, or who were what I wanted to be. I was always going after people, literally or figuratively, setting up competitive scenarios where I could either come out on top, or I could at the very least knock the other person down a bit. I wanted a fight. I wanted to fight. And there were plenty of people who obliged me. But too often, I’ve been a bit of a wuss and have either backed down or deflected someone’s counter-attack. I’m not proud of it, but that’s what’s happened, time and again.

Okay, so it’s embarrassing, but there it is. I’m human, after all.

But back to the war… and my PCS, which is what this feels like — a resurgence of post-concussion syndrome. The Mayo Clinic website says this about PCS:

Post-concussion symptoms, which vary, include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of concentration and memory
  • Noise and light sensitivity

Headaches that occur after a concussion can vary and may feel like tension-type headaches, cluster headaches or migraines. Most, however, are tension-type headaches, which may be due to a neck injury that happened at the same time as the head injury. In some cases, people experience behavior or emotional changes after a mild traumatic brain injury. Family members may notice that the person has become more irritable, suspicious, argumentative or stubborn.

That’s pretty much where I’m at right now.

  • Headaches – a sick, migraine-y feeling behind my eyes, a thickness in the front of my head that feels like my skull is too small for my brain, and my brain is trying to get out through my eyes.
  • Dizziness – wobbly and lightheaded, I have to keep my attention focused on ONE THING AT A TIME, or I feel like I’m going to fall over. And throw up.
  • Fatigue – It’s so deep, it’s in my bones, pulling on me, dragging me down. I’m so tired, that I am having trouble sleeping.
  • Irritability – Edgy at work, edgy at home, I have been having issues keeping my irritability under wraps.
  • Anxiety – Yeah, that too. It’s a little embarrassing to admit — why does everything make me anxious — but it does. I’ve got this low-level anxiety that’s been crowding out intelligent thought for some time.
  • Insomnia – Yeah, that too. Waking up at 3:30… 4:00 a.m., and not being able to get back to sleep. And having trouble falling asleep to begin with, now and then. It’s more about having trouble staying asleep than getting to sleep, but in any case, I can’t sleep nearly as well as I have been in the past.
  • Loss of concentration and memory – Yeah, well, I’m getting by, I suppose. I’m trying to stay flexible and responsive to what the hell is going on around me, but I’m having real challenges remembering some things. I try not to let it get to me, because that makes a difficult situation even harder. But it’s a real pain in my ass, these days. I’ve done pretty well with accepting that I can’t remember some things, so I have to ask again and again and again, and ignore the strange looks that people are giving me.
  • Noise and light sensitivity – Makes staying asleep hard, if I don’t have my earplugs in. ‘Cause I’m so sensitive to sound, that if I hear something off in the distance when I’m half-asleep, it sounds like it’s right there in the room with me, and it wakes me up.

So, the war is back again. And I say that with both a humility towards the veterans and soldiers who have served in actual wars, knowing that the “war” I am fighting pales in comparison to what they have gone through overseas… and I also say it with the sense that no matter what your experience in actual combat, there is an element after TBI that is war-like.

My neuropsych hates it when I talk about battling through things. They want me to think about my experience in terms of a dance or a game. They don’t want me to get so hung up on things, and to ease up on the intensity in my life. I get that. It’s not such a great thing for me to be so god-awful tweaked about every little thing. And I understand they want me to keep the agitation levels down as much as humanly possible. They want me to manage my situation with forethought and insight and mindfulness. They want me to approach my situation like a dance. Better yet, as a game.

Certainly you can think about it in other terms, like it’s a dance or it’s a game, but in my experience, it’s more like a battle. Because this is not some game that has no consequence. This is my life. My survival is at stake. In a dance or a game, you can always walk away from the situation and get back to normal. But with my situation, I AM the situation. And I can’t just walk away from myself and find some more normal way to be.

And in a dance or a game, you don’t acquire post-traumatic stress and have horrible, terrible biochemical consequences of your “adventures”. You don’t have that constant cascade of fight-flight stress chemicals marinating you from the inside-out. You don’t have that repeated surprise(!) experience of having things turn out completely differently than you expected/planned — without having any idea why that happened. You don’t feel like you’ve lost yourself — sometimes the most important parts of yourself — and you have no idea how to get them back. You don’t feel like you’re cut off from the parts of you that once mattered so much.

Treating the challenges of life like a dance or a game may be fine for some (and some days it seems that way) , but it’s just not my experience, and my experience speaks louder than words.

It has been a battle. On and off. It has been a struggle at times. It has not been easy. Sometimes things have come together, but many times they have not and I have had to make do after the fact — scramble to sort out my snafu’s and fubar situations. Scramble I do — I sure know how to do that! And I can usually come out on the up-side. But then comes the post-traumatic stress. Even if the outcome is good, there can still be post-traumatic stress, when you’re hopped up on all the excitement, and the excitement seems to connect directly to your survival.

Excitation cascade to stress

Good stress, bad stress… it’s still a stress on your system, no matter how positive the outcome is.

And when you perceive the action to be directly related to your survival, and it feels like your life is in danger (perhaps because you’re going to lose your house if you don’t get this right so you can keep your job), it is no dance, and it is no game. It feels bigger and badder than that. And you get traumatic stress. Plenty of it.

Which introduces a whole host of problems — which I have found can be most “tolerable” when I am adding more stress to my situation. When I don’t have enough downtime to get my balance back (literally), I can end up making things even worse, on down the line. Because I crave the soothing effects of stress hormones, adrenaline, and those complexity-dampening chemicals that make everything in my life seem more simple, more basic, less complicated and confusing.

I know I’m not the only one. And I really believe this is a big reason why people are “compelled to repeat” their choices that put them in bad situations. Because they may not have the time or the resources to sit down and take a breath and sort things through and make sense of all of them. So, they jump head-first into more stress, without even realizing what they are doing. And they put themselves back in situations that traumatized them to begin with — bad relationships, bad jobs, redeployment, crime, etc.

I think TBI ups the ante on this, because it turns up the volume on Everything. Think you’re stressed? Try being stressed on a TBI. Think you’re confused now? Get hit on the head. You don’t even need to be knocked out. Any alteration in consciousness can have an effect.

Sensitivities can go through the roof, when your brain has been injured. Welcome to the party! The one way you can take the edge off, is by going extreme — extreme sports, extreme fun, extreme danger, extreme jobs… that’ll settle you down and focus you in.

The only problem is, you eventually have to come out of those woods, and you eventually have to go about your life again.

Which is when the PCS sets in. The headaches, the dizziness, the irritability, the sensitivities. It makes me crazy, and I feel like I’m back to where I started, several years ago. And it seems like the only thing that can take the edge off, is plunging back into the types of situations that caused the trauma to begin with.

I can’t tell you how tempted I am, to dive back into another massive project at work, and just lose myself in that.

Maybe then I won’t notice the headaches…

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

2 thoughts on “After the war – battling off that pesky PCS”

  1. The difference between a battle and a dance is that in a battle one side loses, in a dance both partners form something greater.

    Not everything is about victory and defeat and we waste a lot of energy chasing the idea of being a winner. An adrenaline soaked life is as unfulfilled as a life of passivity and helplessness – neither allows for interaction.

    If you don’t sleep you will be tired. That is a fact.

    Like

  2. m –

    I’m not sure that battles always have winners. Seems to me, both sides often lose, with “victory” being a figment of the imagination. The difference for me between a battle and a dance, is the experience, the harshness, the struggle, the contest… The biochemical results that come from prolonged struggle. Struggle is a fact of life for many of us. There’s no getting away from that. And when we deny that the struggle exists, I think we lose something of our understanding about the human experience. For me, the goal is really to acknowledge and accept what is there, to see what good can come of it, to change what can be changed, but to say, “yes, that can happen” and learn from it.

    Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that dances don’t really form much of anything, other than a dynamic. It’s a performance, a way of interacting. And it doesn’t necessarily produce anything. What I’m talking about in my own experience is the need to make a living, pay the bills, keep off the street. Basic survival stuff, which has to involve at least some sort of victory, and avoidance of defeat. My boss is not particularly fond of me focusing on experience and process. They want me to produce results. My bi-weekly paycheck and my year-end bonus depend on them, and thus my life depends on it. And I’ve had some talking-to’s from my boss (and their boss) about “productivity issues”. Apparently, they think I should be accomplishing more… which is in fact a struggle for me, at this time.

    Interaction is essential, yes, as in a dance. And I don’t see interaction as being ruled out in a battle-type situation. It’s just a different sort of interaction. And when I remove the emotional charge around what is “right” and what is “wrong”, don’t judge it, and simply let it be what it is — all the while understanding the various impacts it’s having to my life and health, and managing them intelligently — it frees me up to participate in the ways that are necessary at the time.

    For me, what matters is the willing participation in whatever dynamic comes up, as a team member, as a colleague, and holding my own in the midst of a group which depends on me, that matters most. It may be a battle, or it may be a dance, but it will be what it is… until I find a way to change it for the better.

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