I wish they’d told me: You’ve had a brain injury

What happens to the brain connections when they are enriched
What happens to the brain connections when they are enriched

Over the course of my life, I’ve had 9+ mild traumatic brain injuries, and each of those times, it not only noticeably altered my consciousness, but it also significantly altered my life. My behavior changed. My senses changed. My moods and thinking changed. My sense of myself changed. Other people’s sense of me changed.

Sometimes it was drastic. Sometimes it was relative minor and temporary. But each time, there was a change. Because I’d injured my brain. If I had known that, it might have made a real difference in how I lived my life — the choices I made, and the actions I took. I’ve known for over 30 years that the brain changes in response to learning and its environment, and I have always believed that I could — and did — change my own brain, thanks to the way I lived my life.

So, knowing that I’d injured my brain when I fell or got hit, could have helped me better understand both the nature of my injury, and what to do about it. Heck, it would have told me that I had an injury, to begin with. As it was, all I knew was that my whole life all of a sudden seemed so screwed up, and I coulnd’t figure out why. It made no sense.

If I’d had the piece about brain injury, it might have. And that might have made all the difference in the world.

I wish someone had told me: A concussion is a brain injury.

It’s a mild traumatic brain injury (mild TBI). When doctors talk about a “mild” brain injury, they mean that you weren’t knocked out for more than 30 minutes, you don’t have lasting amnesia, and you can open your eyes and respond fairly well.1 But even a mild TBI can have serious after-effects.

Experts used to believe that you needed to be knocked out to have a concussion. Now they know better. You don’t need to get knocked out to have a concussion. You also don’t need to have amnesia.

You can get a concussion even without hitting your head – like when your body decelerates quickly in a car collision, and your head snaps back and forth, twisting and shearing the connections in your brain and hitting up against the bony inside of your skull. You can also get a concussion from being tackled and having your head rotate quickly – also twisting and shearing your brain’s connections.

If you get dazed for even a few seconds, if you’re wobbly on your feet and lose your coordination, it’s a sign your brain may be injured. If there is a disruption of consciousness, that can be a concussion. It’s both simple and complicated at the same time.

There's a lot going on in "command central"
There’s a lot going on in “command central”

Our brain is “command central”of our bodies and and minds, and an injury to the brain can affect your mental and physical systems.

Mentally, it can make you feel:

  • foggy
  • slowed down
  • stupid
  • dull
  • agitated

Physically, it can mess up your:

  • vision
  • balance
  • hearing
  • coordination
  • senses of taste and touch
  • sensitivity to pain
  • digestion
  • sleep/wake cycles
  • and more…

That puts you at higher risk for re-injury (which can do even more damage). Your coordination and senses may not be working well, and your thinking and reaction times are slowed down, so it makes it easier to fall or get hit again.

When your brain gets injured by concussion, everything is affected.

This brain injury stuff can sound pretty scary. That’s probably one of the reasons we don’t usually talk about concussion that way.

Brain injury, to most people, means brain damage. And brain damage means you’re stupid, or a “retard”.

It can make you an easy target for others who want to take advantage of you.

It can make you seem like less of a person.

There’s a ton of prejudice against brain injured people – even though millions of individuals are actually brain injured each year, and the vast majority of them recover and get on with their lives without lasting problems.

One reason for that prejudice is the belief that brain injury is permanent. For hundreds of years, doctors and neuroscientists told us that brain injury was forever. Once you lost your brain cells, they weren’t coming back. Once you damaged your brain, it would never recover. Or so they said.

We now know that is untrue – the brain heals itself and it finds ways to re-learn the things it used to do. It’s not always simple, nor is it always straight-forward, but it does happen.

There are many, many stories about this happening, and books like The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, M.D., offer plenty of evidence that all those pessimistic doctors and scientists were misinformed.

Even so, most of us have no idea what goes on inside our brains. And we aren’t comfortable thinking about being brain injured. And we don’t like to talk about it. Nobody wants to be stupid or impaired, especially if they’ve always been highly functional.

But it’s important to overcome that fear and face up to the fact that concussion is a brain injury.

When you do that, you can actually take some healthy steps to heal.

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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