2. When the brain is injured, it can release a lot of chemicals that do strange things to the connections that help you think.
Concussion / mild TBI causes the brain to go hyperactive. It’s been injured, and it starts sending out all sorts of messages to the cells without any particular order. It “knows” it’s been injured, and it starts telling itself it needs to Get Going! Go! Go! GO!
It’s like a commander in war, or a coach in a critical game shouting at the team. The cells themselves start firing on all cylinders – in any and every direction – like soldiers pinned down and desperate to fight their way to safety, firing their guns in all directions with no thought of who or what they might hit. The panicked cells start sending out impulses and communications to each other in no particular order.
In the process, a lot of chemicals that should really stay inside cells, get on the outside. And a lot of chemicals that should stay on the outside, get inside the cells. It’s like a panicked football coach telling every single player to get on the field for a play – offense, defense, special teams, and even the kicker, athletic trainers, and support staff end up on the field, running in all directions, none of them quite sure what’s supposed to happen, or what they’re supposed to do.
All they know is, the coach is yelling GO! GO! GO! … and they’re going.
Scientists call this process a “neurometabolic cascade” — a chain reaction that releases all sorts of interesting biochemical substances into places of the brain that normally shouldn’t have them there. Cell walls get “breached” and the stuff that used to be inside gets outside, and the stuff that used to be outside gets inside.
In concussion / mild TBI, your brain is literally flooded with chemicals that shouldn’t be where they are. If you’ve ever had your basement flooded, or you’ve seen pictures of a flood aftermath, you get the general idea of what happens to the brain.
Even after the initial excitation is over, it takes a while for the brain’s processes to return to normal. Just like a flood leaves a coating of gunk behind it, all the chemicals in the wrong places leave gunk on the connections in your brain.
Depending on the concussion, there may be a lot of “gunk” that your brain needs to clear out before its connections can begin to heal and be repaired.
During that time – sometimes it’s days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months (it varies from person to person) – your brain has to work extra overtime to clean up its act. The problem is, it takes extra energy for it to do that – and the metabolic energy-producing process involved is negatively affected by concussion.
So, just at the time when the brain needs more energy to clean out and heal, it’s less able to produce the energy it needs.
The net result? You may feel like you’re walking around in a fog. And you are.
Your brain’s connections are “fogged up” by the extra gunk that got released when you got “dinged”. It’s a terrible feeling – especially if you’re the kind of person who’s always on the go, always active and involved in life. If you “just bumped your head”, it might not make any sense to feel the way you do – but you feel this way for a very good reason: your brain is still trying to clean itself out, so it can get on with the healing process.
You’re not stupid – it just feels that way. And chances are good that you won’t feel that way forever.
Think of what happens when water gets in your gas tank. The engine doesn’t much like it, and it lets you know. It sputters and coughs and can sound like it has a nasty cold. Likewise, when all those neurochemicals clog up your system after a brain injury, the engine inside your head starts to behave strangely, too.
Depending on your injury, some of the connections themselves might actually be frayed or broken… but you won’t be able to tell, until after the neurochemical gunk has been cleared away.
What to do?
Sleep, clean drinking water, and nutritious food have all been shown to help.
Some people take supplements like fish oil to help, but some people (like me) have reactions to it, so it’s really best to keep things super-simple.
Just resting and taking a break from all the screens, and not doing a lot of mental activity are highly recommended. T.V., reading, video games, Facebook, surfing the web, emailing… all those things get your brain riled up, so you need to step away from them for a while, so your brain can catch up with itself.
Sleeping is actually one of the best things you can do for yourself, because it’s been shown to help clear out gunk from the brain. While we are asleep, the brain is literally washing itself, so one of the smartest things you can do after a concussion is give it plenty of opportunity to do the work for you.
Trust me, it’s no fun. Your brain is telling itself (and your body) to Go-Go-Go, but remember, it’s been injured, and it has no idea what you’re supposed to do. That’s just the neurotransmitters talking.
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