Once upon a time, I was an independent researcher — who funded their research through employment in technology. I had a couple of book deals, and I had an academic paper published, I was given 3/4 of a full page to wax eloquent in the Sunday edition of a major metropolitan newspaper, and I was on track to continue my work at revolutionizing how the world perceived social relations during the 12th Century in Western Europe – and what it could mean for us today in our shifting cultural climate.
Then the book deals fell through. And my discussions with peers about my paper got mired in acrimony and cost me a very dear relationship. My research pivoted in a different direction which felt promising… but somehow wasn’t progressing the way I wanted.
Of course, at the time, I had no idea that my history of 9+ concussions / mild TBIs had anything to do with A) my fluctuating work habits, B) my business decisions, or C) my ability to communicate with others and have rational verbal discussions. As far as I was concerned, it was all everyone else’s fault that things were falling apart.
Then, in 2004, when I was starting to get a foothold in my new research, I fell down a flight of stairs and hit my head hard on a number of the steps, ending up dazed and confused at the foot of the stairs. It wasn’t the worst TBI I’d ever had, but it did the most damage in my life, thus far.
Over the course of the next year, my work went to hell. I could no longer read. I couldn’t remember what I’d read in the paragraphs prior — let alone the previous chapter. I no longer had a fiery interest in my subject matter. Nor could I fathom why I ever had. My ability to focus, to learn, to interact with others, to keep my cool during tense situations — all of which had been hallmarks of my personality — all that vanished. And I had no idea why.
I didn’t even realize how much I’d been impacted, until I looked at my bank account, several years after my fall, and realized that I’d spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I could not for the life of me figure out where the money had gone to, or remember where and when I’d spent it.
That realization kicked me into gear. I’m the sole provider for my household with a partially disabled spouse with neurological issues of their own, and in the course of reading up on neurology, cognitive impairment, stroke, brain injury, and a variety of other things neuro, I finally put two and two together and realized that all the issues I’d been experiencing in my life, starting in early childhood, mapped very neatly to symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury.
And with that began this next phase of my research work.
Since 2007, I have been actively studying traumatic brain injury — especially mild TBI — in connection with my own situation. At first, it was just to figure out WTF was going on with me. I had no idea. Nobody was telling me anything. The doctors and neurologists I went to see treated me as a hostile drug-seeking malingerer, who just wanted attention (and possibly grounds for a lawsuit). And my friends who were psychotherapists with active practices all assured me, it was “just” residue of childhood trauma I’d never resolved.
I took all their input into consideration, often to my own detriment. But in the end, after rigorous examination and consideration, I had to believe there was more to my issues than emotional upset or a litigious streak. The symptoms I had were so compelling, they mapped so well to descriptions I read, they were so logical, so… convenient, Henri Poincaré himself would have backed me up.
Long story short, my realization of the breadth and depth of my mild TBI experience was substantiated by research — a skill I’d practiced all my life. And my recovery has been driven by that same practice. In fact, my reading ability has been restored, thanks to scientific papers I searched for (thank you PubMed, Science Direct, and Google Scholar), downloaded, and read — at first for the abstracts alone. I could handle abstracts — a handful of sentences at a time. And when I read that new study published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology indicate[s] “that an individual’s ability to “get the gist or extract the essence of a message” after a TBI more strongly predicts his or her ability to effectively hold a job or maintain a household than previously revealed by traditional cognitive tests alone.” (brainhealth.utdallas.edu – Feb, 2015), I knew I was onto something.
I’d struggled with mild TBI symptoms for years — even when the experts told me I should be fine — and my gist reasoning was (in the vernacular) for shit. That was the connection I’d been looking for; after that, I used scientific papers to help me with my gist reasoning.
And guess what — it worked.
Along with changes to my diet, exercise, fixing my sleep hygiene, making sure my Vitamin D3 levels were within a healthy range, learning to juggle, brushing up on my foreign languages, and pushing myself more, socially and logistically, the gist reasoning training I did with research papers — reading abstracts, figuring out what they meant, and then trying to get the gist of the full studies — gave me a much-needed boost.
Research helped me turn the corner.
So, now I’ve got a hard drive full of papers, and I’m finding more each day. With rising awareness of concussion / brain injury comes increased funding. With increased funding comes more studies. With the internet comes more access to papers. And with Twitter comes a steady stream of links to new and interesting papers that just beg to be read and spoken to.
I’ve been blogging about my personal experiences as a multiple mild TBI survivor at my blog Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind for a number of years. That blog has helped me clarify things, get back on my feet, and share what I’ve learned with others. Now that I am able to read at length and research again, as well as sustain my attention and focus, it’s time for a new project — TBI Research Riffs.
Welcome. I hope you find this useful.