What TBI recovery really means

Did these people stop driving because their car got flattened by a tree? I doubt it. They probably went out and got another car… and put this one up for sale.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of TBI recovery. Some folks claim that there is no recovery from TBI, mild or otherwise, because the brain is unalterably changed and you can’t just go back to the way things were before.

The brain is not unlike a piece of metal, in that respect. Once you bend a piece of metal, you can never get it back to exactly the way it was before it was bent — you can get it back to the same shape, but there will always be a little wrinkle or dent or crook in it that shows you where it was damaged before. The object may be totally serviceable (like the door of my car that got side-swiped by someone who was texting while driving), but no matter how you try to pull out the dent, you’re always going to have some sort of tell-tale sign that something happened before. In my case, the car door is fine, it opens and shuts, but I’ll always have that reminder of the night that someone wasn’t paying attention as they were driving towards me.

Same thing holds true with the brain – once you’re “dinged” you’re dinged. The connections that were once in place aren’t ever going to go back to exactly like they were before. Tough nuts. What’s done is done. Your faculties may be 99% intact, but there will always be that little 1% (at least) that’s a regular reminder that things aren’t working as they once were, and you have to do things a little differently than before.

However — and this is where I differ from the experts who are riding the “no recovery after TBI” hayride to hell — just because certain connections no longer work, doesn’t mean you can’t create whole new connections that do the same thing, only a little differently. Sometimes whole areas of old abilities and ways of being are blown out, and they aren’t coming back to the state they once were. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create new connections in different ways that serve the same purpose, albeit not identical to the way things once were.

Think of TBI as a tornado that smashes the roof of your car and wrecks the roads going out of town. Combine that with a flash flood that washes out parts of the roads, too. Your car is toast. Totaled. An irretrievable loss. Everybody knows that sometimes you can’t repair a road to be exactly like it once was. So what? You take the check the insurance company sends you and you buy another car. You build a new road, you create something different. And sometimes the new road is even better than the old one. Sometimes it’s not, but it still does the trick. The new car might handle differently from your old one. The new road might take you down a longer route and it might be a little bumpier in places, but it will still get you where you’re going.

And you might get to see some different scenery, as well.

I have a theory that many (if not most) people go through some kind of major shift in the course of their lives, which causes them to rethink the routes they’ve been taking from the Point A’s and Point B’s in their lives. Whether it’s a mid-life crisis or a health crisis or an injury or a job loss or a failed marriage or a natural disaster, we all go through something like this at some point in our lives. Some of us have it happen more than once — which is not a sign that we’re total screw-ups, rather that we have even more opportunities to learn and grow and change. Even when the transitions are totally unexpected or seem to come at the “wrong” time of life — a concussion during a high school soccer game, or a car accident on the way to your vacation — they still present us with the chance to change and grow and find out what else we’re capable of doing/achieving.

Recovery from TBI, in my opinion, is no different in nature than recovering from the above “disasters”. And telling ourselves that just because we can’t get back to exactly how we were before, it means we cannot/will not recover…. that’s pretty counterproductive. And when an expert tells you that, well, it’s just ignorant and cruel and seems more like them covering their expert ass, than giving you something to work with.

Ultimately, expert advice aside, we all need to figure out how to live our own lives to the best of our abilities. If we put our whole trust in experts, who are human, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. What matters most is what we believe about ourselves and what we believe is possible for our lives. Whether we move ourselves on through science or religion or psychology or exercise or will-power or tons of hard, hard work… or all of the above, the bottom line is, there are many ways to progress, to create positive change, and to become more and better than we were before.

It’s a process. It’s all a process. Never let anyone take hope from you, and never let anyone else define you with their own limitations. It’s bad enough that they want to do it, but you don’t have to let them.  So get up and get moving and see what you can do today. (Just make sure you eat right and get plenty of rest in the process.)

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.

6 thoughts on “What TBI recovery really means”

  1. Very interesting. I feel like an entirely different person to the person before the TBI. I think my life will forever be split into two…life before and life after. I think I will always have to distinguish between them.

    In some ways, if it weren’t for the headaches, eye problems, hearing etc etc etc and the need to work of course, the sense of blankness in my mind I do quite like. I function much slower than befor, and before I was often speedy and nervous and couldn’t take my mind off of things. I don’t really find I think much now. I just sort of drift in and out I guess.

    Have you heard of people who acquire skills (i.e piano playing) following a TBI? I wonder if people who have these gifts would give it all back just to be 100% as they were.


  2. Yes, that difference can be pretty striking. I have heard of people becoming amazing artists after TBI, but I’m not sure any of them would keep their new skills, if they could get their old lives back.

    What’s done is done, and there can be some consolation in the new ways we find. But it’s just not easy. This is what’s so difficult to explain to others. It all becomes so surreal, after a while…


  3. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a coworker who was
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    I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this….
    Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some
    time to talk about this matter here on your website.


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