Five years ago, I started giving a lot of thought to what traumatic brain injury does to your Sense-Of-Self. Of all the things that brain injury does to a person, disrupting your sense of who you are and how you fit in the world is one of the most dramatic and disruptive pieces of the puzzle.
What’s more, it’s the most hidden one of all — obscured from those around you by “weird” changes in your personality experiences… and hidden from your own view, because it’s hard to tell what’s what, when your brain has been injured.
In fact, I believe that losing your sense-of-self is one of the most traumatic elements of traumatic brain injury. Yes, the injury was traumatic. But it’s the ensuing days and weeks and months and years that take the real toll for many. And if the disconnect is big enough between who you and everyone else understand yourself to be, and the person you appear to have become, it can wreak havoc — both internally and externally.
There’s a reason so many TBI survivors don’t have a lot of friends. Fatigue is one aspect. But also, our old social circle has a way of dissipating, when they realize you’re not the person they’re accustomed to.
It’s serious business. And it has profound impact. But other than a few folks, here and there, I haven’t actually found much writing about it — how to understand it, how to explain it, how to see it in the larger social context… or for that matter, constructive advice on how to actually do something about it.
Losing my sense-of-self was a massive “hit” to me and my well-being and quality of life. And it didn’t just happen once. It happened a number of times. Each time I got clunked on the head or slammed around in a car accident, I’d come back with a little more of myself missing. I couldn’t explain it to anyone — after all, I hadn’t even gotten knocked out. What was I complaining about? What was there to complain about?
It was terrible. And the worst was after my fall in 2004, when the injury was more severe and the change was more marked than it had ever been. It was sheer hell. And I had no idea who I was, anymore.
So, a couple of years ago, I decided to write an extended series on the subject. A book-length work, with chapters posted here, so people can read it.
And I was making good progress. I really felt like I was making strides, like I was getting myself back, and I was able to share what I’d learned with those who needed to know about my experience.
But then I hit a snag. All of a sudden, last summer, I stopped feeling like I knew who I was. I wanted to write about restoring my own Sense-Of-Self, but I just couldn’t. Because I really wasn’t sure, myself. There were still holes in my sense of who I was, still gaps left from an injury that was over 10 years old, but wouldn’t seem to f*cking heal. It felt all wrong, to be talking about getting my Sense-Of-Self back, when I didn’t feel like I’d done it.
Well, it’s been six months since I stopped moving forward, and in that time, I’ve settled down quite a bit. And while I do have my “off” days, I have to say, I actually feel like “myself”, most of the time. And I now actually feel as though I can speak to how a person can actually get back a sense of their Self.
There are bound to be those instances when I look around me and don’t feel like any of it is familiar… like I’ve been dropped off somewhere by folks who were giving me a ride, and decided they didn’t want me in the car anymore, when I feel asleep and started snoring too loudly. I think, because of my injuries, that may never go away 100%. But even so, I can honestly say that pretty much all the time, I actually feel like myself, again.
It’s an updated version of mySelf. But it has a whole lot in common with the earlier versions of me. And although it may feel foreign, at times, that foreignness actually feels like me. It’s not like I’ve been dropped into someone else’s body. It’s me, having the experience of not feeling like me — as me. If that makes any sense.
And in fact, the very experience of not feeling like myself, has become one of the identifying factors of my sense of who I am.
It’s familiar. It’s not always comfortable. But I have become certain that I mySelf can handle it just fine.
And I do. Because that’s who I now know myself to be.
Time to write another chapter.