Some of my best friends have had TBIs – but don’t know it

The most interesting things can happen to our brains

A funny thing happened, the other day… I was online, checking in with friends, and one of my old school buddies from college years told me that when they were young, they were in a car accident that messed up their neck. They said they had had a lot of pain throughout their life, and that that pain had given them a greater capacity for compassion and patience for others. They didn’t talk at all about concussion or TBI – for them, the real problem was their neck.

And a funny thing happened, the other month… I was at work, talking to two colleagues about this and that, when they started talking about accidents they’d had when they were younger. Now, keep in mind that I haven’t told anyone in “real life” about my TBIs, aside from a few select folks (who I thought at the time would appreciate my situation – but as it turns out, didn’t want to hear about it), and I’m not one to run around in the offline world, telling people my woes.

Anyway, these two colleagues of mine proceeded to tell me how they had both been in motor vehicle accidents when they were younger. One of them had been thrown from a motorbike when they were 16. They landed on their chin, and they broke “everything that could be broken”. They were in a coma for a week, and they had amnesia for a while and were “retarded” (in their own words) for some time after that. The other had been hit by a truck, was knocked out for a while, and nearly lost their leg.

Pretty wild. I never would have guessed, from interacting with them. All three of them, in fact. Yet, when I look back on my interactions with them over the years, I can see behaviors and patterns that correspond pretty well with TBI.

My friend from college, so they told me, had been reserved and insecure and unsure of themself when they were younger. Meeting me, they actually said they found much more confidence in themself and found that they could follow their own dreams in ways they never thought possible. They even dedicated a performance they did to me, thanking me (in absentia) for having that impact in their life.

I found out about this effect I’d had on them, just a year ago, when we reconnected after many years of going our own ways. It really hit me, when they told me, and I was choked up for days. I’m not a really emotional person, but this was a kind of redemption that I never thought I’d find. It gave me an incredible sense of amazement that they had been influenced this way. Here, I’d thought I was just some dumb galoot who was making a mess of everything at that time in my life — I got into a lot of trouble, and I never finished college — but as it turns out, I actually helped someone just by being who I was.

As for my friend, I remembered them being a real fan of the theater. They performed in a lot of productions in school, and they loved to go to Rocky Horror and go through the esoteric motions of participating in the movie. I could never figure out what the attraction was, but now that I think about it, theater gave them a great outlet to safely explore the human experience according to a script that they could memorize and follow. And Rocky Horror provides a great outlet for those who feel chronically different, who need a way to witness other people being even more bizarre than they feel. I went to Rocky Horror once (not with them), and I left the movie feeling so very… normal. For someone struggling with TBI issues, and confused and afraid on the inside and not fully understanding what is going on with them, the experience is a great leveler — a kind of created reminder that there are many, many different textures to the human experience, which may seem bizarre on the outside, but are just ‘part of it all’.

When I think back on my college friend, I do recall them being a bit tentative. With plenty of reasons for playing it safe. They used to talk about their dad leaving their mom, and how that messed up the family — and them, especially. And I have to wonder if maybe they were interpreting some of their TBI stuff (the emotional upsets, the volatility, the restlessness of the brain that translates into uneasiness with yourself), as psychological. It wouldn’t be the first time someone laid TBI issues at the feet of emotional or psychological upset.

I also have to wonder if the childhood accident they had might have put a strain on the relationship of their parents. I know my own childhood injuries put tremendous strain on my own family. I was a real challenge a lot of times, and my parents had no idea how to handle me, other than disciplining me (which didn’t work). I wonder if things happened after that which caused their father to be less interested in being a husband and father… We’ll never know, but the thought crosses my mind.

As for the other two folks, my colleagues, I can now see definite connections between their behaviors and habits and their past TBIs. Knowing what I know about symptoms, as well as the cognitive behavioral effects that can happen, I can now better understand why they are they way they are.

My colleague who was thrown from the motorbike is a pistol. They’re always on the go, and they are probably one of the least organized persons I’ve ever met. They love to use gadgets to do things – like use their GPS and smartphone to go about their life. But they are incredibly inefficient in just about everything. When they set their GPS to go somewhere, they will only listen to the GPS, even if it’s sending them “around the barn” and making their trip twice as long and twice as complicated as it needs to be. But you can’t argue with them – they’ve got this literal, black and white thinking that seemingly forces them to ONLY do what the gadgets tell them. And then when I point out a different way of doing things, they get really upset and start saying how “retarded” they feel. They say they want to find someone, settle down, and start a family, but they always have at least 2-3 love interests in their life, and they weave this constant web of intrigue, suspicion, seduction, attraction, repulsion — you name it, if it’s on the emotional spectrum, they experience it… x100. They just can’t seem to get off the drama roller coaster, and they will spend hours talking about these situations they’ve gotten themself into — totally by their own doing.

It’s so exasperating, and they can’t seem to get free of their own web.

Colleague #2, the one who was hit by a truck and nearly lost their leg, is a completely different sort of person. They are deliberate and cautious and take their time working through anything and everything. They, too, are something of an extreme case, while their extremes fall on the other end of the spectrum — they are the polar opposite of the person who was thrown from the motorbike, and they are as settled and as domestic, as Colleague #1 is wild and uninhibited.

Between the two of them (they work very closely together on the same team), you can see the varieties of effects that TBI can have on a person. Reckless abandon and emotional variety on one hand. Over-caution and strict control of emotions on the other. They compliment each other very well, actually, and it’s interesting to watch their dynamics.

When I get in the “mix”, it’s interesting, too. I seem to relate to both of them very well, and we work effectively together. It’s wild how, of all the people I work with, these two individuals are the easiest for me to interact with. Or maybe that makes perfect sense. Because we recognize something common between us – I just never knew till recently, what that might be about. I’m not saying that’s the only reason we are sympatico. But I’m not ruling it out.

I’m not sure that any of them have any idea that TBI could be affecting them the way it does, even after all these years. It can, but I’m not sure they are aware. It’s not for me to tell them all about it (unless they would ask, of course), but it’s interesting informatin for me.

As for my college friend, we’ve been emailing back and forth, to see if we can catch up. We live several hours apart, but it’s within easy striking distance. Should be interesting when we actually do cross paths again.

Anyway, I’m feeling a little under the weather today. Time to get some rest… It’s Sunday, and I only have a few things to do today. So, that’s what I’ll do — a few things — and catch up on my rest.

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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.

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