Happy Veterans Day to all those who have served, as well as their families and loved-ones.
Thank you for your service.
I’m about to pack up the car and go on a long road trip to see an old friend, but here’s some information about TBI that I’ve learned over the years. I, myself, have had at least 9 TBI’s over the course of my life. They have ranged from falls to assaults to sports concussions to motor vehicle accidents. Each TBI has been different, it’s had a different effect on my life, and the effects have indeed been cumulative… eventually leading to me very nearly losing everything I worked so hard for — job, spouse, house, professional future, health… you name it… it was all “on the chopping block” a little over three years ago, till I started to look for help.
Anyway, enough about me — here’s a little “high level” info I have to offer, which I hope is helpful to you.
1. TBI happens. Whether it’s from an IED explosion, a gunshot, or some other accident, according to the CDC (pdf):
Each year, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a TBI annually.1 Of them:
- 52,000 die,
- 275,000 are hospitalized, and
- 1.365 million, nearly 80%, are treated and released from an emergency department.
TBI is a contributing factor to a third (30.5%) of all injury-related deaths in the United States.1
About 75% of TBIs that occur each year are concussions or other forms of mild TBI.2
2. Having a TBI doesn’t make you crazy. Mental illness can follow it, and it can be a contributing factor, but being brain injured doesn’t necessarily make you permanently nuts. You can certainly FEEL nuts, but that can change. Certainly, a lot can depend on the type of brain injury you’ve had, the location of it, the severity of it. But a lot of it can also depend on your attitude, the support you have, and the skills you develop to deal with life as it changes. Lots of people start to feel crazy when their lives change dramatically. The thing with TBI is, it gets so much more extreme, and the added stress of the injury can contribute to that. Just know that the feelings of being crazy may be more feeling than fact. And also know that over time, this can change. So, stay steady and keep going, reach out for help, and find someone to talk to. That can go a long way towards helping you get grounded and stable and help you deal with everything.
3. Brain “damage” is relative. Brain “plasticity” (which means the brain changes to adapt to different conditions) happens throughout your life — and that includes after brain injury. Just like feeling crazy after TBI, the damage that takes place — chemicals getting pumped into parts of your brain that they normally aren’t — can change over time. Some of your brain cells will die, some of them will go to sleep, while others will come to life in different ways, wake up from their “slumber”, or find whole new ways to behave in your head. It’s all relative, and it all changes. The other thing about it being relative is that plenty of people are walking around out there with a history of brain injury, but they don’t let it define their lives — either they don’t know about it, or they have found a way to move on. Just because you’ve been brain injured and you feel like there’s something wrong with you, doesn’t mean that other people see you in that same light. Many people would never guess that others have TBIs, and they just interact with them as they would anyone else. So, make sure you don’t make yourself out to be more disabled than you really are — and know that the things that seem obviously “wrong” to you might never even register with others.
4. Exercise is important. For stress reduction, for helping your body metabolize and handle sugar levels, and for helping you wake up and be more involved in your own life… as well as heal and recover… there’s nothing like a regular exercise routine to help. Also, having a regular structure around working out, and the concentration of doing exercise, can also be very helpful. You want to give your body as much help as you can, to heal. That includes giving it plenty of oxygen, getting the blood flowing, getting the lymph moving in your system to flush out the “sludge”, and having a good sweat on a regular basis to keep your cells lively and healthy. Plus, sports can give you a way to interact with others in a structured setting that helps you deal with social interactions according to common rules. That social support is very important. Don’t count it out.
5. Everything changes. Brain injury isn’t the end of everything. It’s a change like a natural disaster — it’s big and it’s dramatic and it impacts your life, but you may find many ways to overcome the challenges. Think of it like having your house wiped out by a tornado. You can’t just live outside, you have to rebuild, one way or another. So, hang in there and keep plugging away. Don’t give up, and stay open to possibility. People overcome difficult, terrible things everyday, and you’re no exception.
There’s a lot more I could say (and I’ve said it elsewhere on this blog), but right now I’m short on time, so I’ll do what I can … and hit the road.
Stay strong. Don’t give up. And again, thank you for your service.