Emotional/Behavioural Changes after Brain Injury – Part 1

lightning striking the ground under dark clouds
Sometimes the storm seems to come out of nowhere.

From The Toronto Acquired Brain Injury Network.

My comments are in bold like this.

Emotional/Behavioural Changes

Some people are left with changes in emotional reaction or behaviour after a brain injury. These are more difficult to see than physical or cognitive changes. However, they can be the most difficult for the person and their family to deal with.

BB: I had no idea that a TBI would affect me emotionally, or change the way I acted. Like so many people, I figured that a bump on the head was just an external thing. I'd feel pain on my scalp, and maybe I'd feel a little woozy, but it would clear up in a few minutes... or hours. How wrong I was - so many times. Emotional and behavioral issues have been the bane of my existence (and my family's) for years and years, starting back in my childhood when my behavior was erratic, and my emotions were volatile.

Not everybody will experience these problems and their severity will also vary.

BB: The severity can vary from person to person, as well as from situation to situation. With me, I can be fine, one day... be not-so-great (but seem fine), the next... and then completely lose it a few days later. It's often cumulative, but nobody on the outside sees it building up. That happens inside. Where nobody can see. And when it erupts... hooo boy.
fireball explosion
The problem for me, is that when I blow up, it puts people off, and then they think that's how I always am... and then they walk on eggshells about it, all the time.

And I sometimes never get a second chance, because they've made up their minds about me in a negative way.

Agitation

This frequently occurs at a very early stage after the injury. It can be a coping mechanism for the person, who may be disorientated and very confused. It is most often a stage a person passes through, rather than a permanent change. Examples include: restlessness, pacing and pulling at intravenous tubes.

BB: I've been extremely fortunate to never having had intravenous tubes to pull at, but I know the feeling of not being able to sit still, being extremely agitated - especially after a TBI. A number of times, I can recollect getting hit in the head, and then being flooded with agitation and an overpowering need to MOVE! Like when I got hurt during an informal pick-up soccer game in high school, after the hit, when I was lying there, dazed and confused, I suddenly felt like I'd been given super-powers, and I leaped up and started playing like a crazy person. I don't think I played better than I had before I got hit, but I felt like I did. And I was ON FIRE - or so I thought.

In another soccer game, when I got my bell rung, I knew I'd been hurt, but I felt this incredible urge to GET UP AND GO!!! And I started racing around the field -- in the wrong direction, no less. I nearly scored on my own team, which I think was a red flag for everybody on the sidelines. I did get taken out of that game, and I paced the sidelines in confusion and anger, because I NEEDED TO BE IN THERE! But it was wise to pull me from the game. I was not in good shape, at all.

So, while agitation may be a coping mechanism for some, as they say above, I suspect it also has to do with the mechanism of the brain - the release of all those chemicals, and the general confusion that causes. The brain is trying to figure things out - plus, it's firing on ALL cylinders, like there's no tomorrow. In addition to being a behavioral coping mechanism, it's a result of the brain's basic function.

Explosive anger and irritability

If there has been damage to the part of the brain that controls emotional behaviour and the ability to tolerate frustration, emotions can swing to extremes. The stress of coping with even minor crises, such as misplaced shoes or a noisy vacuum cleaner, can be too much and trigger an angry outburst. If these stresses can be identified, it may be possible to reduce them.

BB: Amen to this. The part of the brain that controls emotions is particularly susceptible, as it's out in front and there are so many types of injury that can affect it. Car accidents, where your brain slams up against the inside of the skull... or tackles that snap your head back and forth... falls, etc. Minor events can turn into crises -- just being blindsided by a sudden change or something unexpected happening, can set me off. Little things can turn into huge things, in an instant. One minute, I'm fine, then all of a sudden, it's off to the races with emotional overload and over-reaction.
galloping horse
Prolonged stress will also do a number on me, as will fatigue. The more tired I am, the more irritable I get - a tired brain is an agitated brain. And when I get too agitated, it's not cool.

Sudden outbursts... extreme reactions... it's all part of a day in the life for me, sometimes. Unless I can get enough sleep and take good care of myself. If I can keep on my schedule and be smart about eating and drinking enough water, that helps. So does meditation and just taking time to chill out. 

Lack of awareness and insight

The ability to recognize your own behaviours and change them when needed is a sophisticated skill that can be affected by brain injury. This can affect someone’s ability to: be self-aware; have insight into the effects of personal actions; show sensitivity; or feel empathy. It also means that a person may not fully appreciate or understand the effect that the accident is having on their life, health or family.

BB: I honestly had no idea how my TBI was affecting my household, back in 2005. I'd gotten injured at the end of 2004, and 2005 was the start of the downhill slide. I became incredibly self-centered and obsessed with myself. Small wonder - I had to recover and build myself back up, as my Sense-Of-Self had taken a huge hit. I didn't know who I was or what I was about, anymore, and it was devastating. I didn't recognize myself, and I was so caught up in figuring it out inside my head, that I never realized the extent of the changes on people closest to me (who were outside my head).

It took talking with someone on a regular basis about what was going on with me, to help me see what an ass**** I was being, and to do something about it. Until I started talking to a neuropsych on a regular basis, I had no way to understand myself and objectively examine my behavior, because nobody I talked to actually understood how TBI affects the mind, body, and spirit... so they made all kinds of flawed assumptions about who I was and how I was. It was incredibly unhelpful for me, and it did more harm than good. 

I got lucky. A lot of others don't have that opportunity. And that's a damned shame. It's criminal, really.

I’ll continue this post in Part 2. Watch this space for notifications.

Source: www.headway.org.uk

Source: Emotional/Behavioural Changes | ABI Network

The MTBI Downward Spiral

I’ve written before about how ignorance and narrow-mindedness produce greater disability than injuries alone.

TBI related issues like increased distractability, lower thresholds for anger, and sleep disruptions, the cascade of behavioral and logistical effects can create subtle cracks in the foundation of your everyday life, which ultimately compromise your ability to get on with your life in a mature and responsible fashion, even your physical and mental health.

Here’s how you can get into trouble, thanks to a TBI:

  • TBIs have a nasty way of slowing down your thought processing speed.
  • Sleep disruptions have a nasty way of resulting in increased agitation and distractabilty.
  • Increased distractability can lead to “careless mistakes”.
  • These can lead to arguments with others.
  • Arguments can escalate if your flashpoint threshold is low.
  • A low anger flashpoint threshold can become even more explosive if you’re tired and not thinking well.

For example — say a guy with a wife and two kids and a good job is in a car accident and smacks his head against the car window. I’ll call him (Car Accident Guy.) He’s knocked out for a few minutes, and when he comes to, the EMTs take him to hospital, check him out, determine there’s no serious damage, and turn him loose. He goes  home and lies down for a while, then the next day he’s up and at ’em again, ready to get on with his life and just relieved he wasn’t hurt worse in the accident.

He seems fine to everyone at home and at work — the only problem is, all of a sudden, he can’t seem to do the simplest things — like going to the store. Or completing a job his boss assigned to him. He keeps getting distracted by the simplest things, and when his wife sends him to the store to pick up milk and bread and his prescription refill, he ends up coming home with milk and eggs and shampoo, instead. In the process, he runs out of his daily dose of blood pressure medication, and his wife is upset, impatient and pissed off at him.

His wife tries to overlook his forgetfulness at first, but after a while, she starts to get pretty fed up with this guy. They quarrel and bicker, and he becomes nastier and nastier when they fight. He takes it out on his kids, too, yelling at them when they do things like turn the t.v. up too loud or come home late for dinner.  His wife’s patience gets shorter and shorter, and she feels like she has to double-check everything he does. He used to be so reliable, but now he’s just not trying… What’s wrong with him?

At work, things are getting tougher, too. Car Accident Guy’s boss has been noticing how he’s not delivering results when he promises he will. The reports are late. The analysis is incomplete. And he’s started making stupid mistakes he doesn’t even catch till someone brings them to his attention. Even when folks do show him how he screwed up, he’s contentious and argues about it, and his relationships with his co-workers seems caught in a downward spiral. His boss tries to talk to him, but he can’t seem to sit still in their meetings, and he keeps changing the subject or talking about other stuff that has nothing to do with what they’re there to discuss.

All the while,  Car Accident Guy has been missing his daily blood pressure dose, and his BP has been climbing — especially when he’s angry. He seems even more angry than usual, in fact, and his wife finally prevails on him to see his doctor. When he goes to the doctor, his blood pressure is way out of control, and his doc becomes very upset with him for not taking his daily dose. The doc considers him non-compliant and lectures him, and Car Accident Guy takes issue with his tone and snaps back at him. The doc, who has had a long day and isn’t in the mood for this crap, puts him on notice that he’d better clean up his act, or else. Car Accident Guy is immediately sorry for the tone he took with the doctor, and he apologizes and promises to do better. Feeling self-conscious, he tries to listen to the doctor and get what the doc is saying, but he can’t seem to focus, and he loses the piece about needing to schedule a stress test in six weeks. He takes the new BP med prescription from his doctor and puts it in his shirt pocket — but he’s distracted by what the doc is saying to him, so he isn’t actually aware of which pocket he put the script in.

Done with the appointment, he sails out of the office, forgetting to make the appointment for the stress test, trying like crazy to recall — from memory — the exact content of the his visit, so he can be sure to get himself back on track.

When he gets home, his wife asks him how the appointment was, and he has trouble remembering. He tells her it was okay, but when she asks him what the doctor said, he can’t remember exactly, so he avoids her question. She senses he’s covering something, and she’s concerned that there’s something seriously wrong with him that he’s not telling her. She becomes anxious and starts to press him for details, which he cannot recall exactly. He snaps back at her, and the conversation escalates to yet another argument.

Exhausted and frustrated, he stomps off to bed, tosses his clothes in the hamper, and sleeps the rest of the day. While he’s sleeping, his wife does a load of laundry — including the shirt with the prescription in the front pocket.

When he wakes up, Car Accident Guy remembers he needs to take his BP meds, and he also remembers he needs to get his new prescription. He can’t remember where he put the script, exactly, but it must be in the clothes he was wearing at the doc’s office. Unfortunately, his shirt and pants have gone through the laundry, and the prescription is in soggy tatters in the washer. Furious with himself and furious with his wife, Car Accident Guy flies into a rage and verbally attacks his wife, his kids, anyone who is nearby. He drives off in the car, calling his doctor on his cell phone for a new script.

The doctor is noticeably irritated, and he thinks Car Accident Guy is not committed to taking care of himself. He writes another script and faxes it to the pharmacy, so his patient can pick it up. Car Accident Guy thanks the doctor and heads to the pharmacy, but on the way there, he’s distracted by a yard sale along the road. He pulls over and spends an hour and a bunch of money buying some pieces of furniture he doesn’t really need, but that look nice and are available for a good price.

He loads the furniture in his car and heads home. When he gets there, his wife is still angry with him, and she’s packing to go to her mother’s house with the kids. In the meantime, his anger has completely dissipated, and he doesn’t understand what she’s still angry about. He also can’t understand why she isn’t pleased with the bargains he found. She asks him where his prescription is.

“Prescription?” he asks…

That’s more or less a cause-and-effect narrative of what can happen, just from a couple “simple” problems like sleep disruption, distractability, and lower anger thresholds — all of which are common in TBI. Even MTBI (supposedly “mild”) can produce life-wrecking after-effects. Believe me. I’ve lived it. I know. Car Accident Guy’s story is not terribly different from my own, though my own circumstances are different — still, the types of problems mulitiple MTBIs have brought me are not that different from these.

It’s eerily easy to end up in a downward slide — in no small part due to sleep issues, which contribute to distractability, which contributes to frustration, which contributes to lowered anger flashpoints.

But in the same vein, being aware of the issues up front, makes it eerily easy to avoid situations like this.

Getting enough sleep is a start. Being mindful of your energy level is another. Keeping notes about what you need to do is yet another. And stopping to check in with yourself and double-check your work is yet another.

TBI, even mild traumatic brain injury, can totally screw up your life. The good news is, it doesn’t have to.

Losing Tiger

Here’s my blatantly opportunistic exploitation of a public figure for the sake of blog hits. But seriously folks, the whole situation does give me pause for a lot of thought.

Depending which radio station you listen to or which news source you read, Tiger Woods’ domestic dispute either involved him getting clocked with a 9-iron by a furious wife… and/or being scratched up when she lit into him… and/or driving around semi-conscious… and/or him sustaining injuries from ramming a fire hydrant with his Escalade… and/or his numb and non-communicative wife bashing out his car windows to save him… and/or him lying on the pavement snoring, when the medics arrived.

I don’t think anyone but the folks directly involved will ever know exactly what happened, but I’m not sure that matters. Enough damage has been done, to permanently erase the once saintly persona we once knew as Tiger Woods. And if his wife really did hit him in the face with a 9-iron, and he was in and out of consciousness, I have to wonder if the head trauma won’t screw with his fine motor control… and possibly bring his golfing career to a sickeningly tragic end.

I’m being harsh, you say? I think not. For years, this guy has made millions, at least in part by projecting a squeaky-clean image, having kids intone “I am Tiger Woods” mantras on moving commercials, and by hawking his wholesome image throughout the media. He has made tons of dough and enjoyed vast amounts of prestige, thanks to his image.

And what does he do, but not only tramp it up with impunity, apparently on Ambien, no less… but also be dense enough to leave tons of incriminating evidence, not to mention get intimately involved with the kinds of women who brag about bedding him. What was he thinking?!

I know the man was in pain, not least of all from losing his father. I know he’s been under vast amounts of pressure, due to his position and reputation. I know he’s been working as hard as any aging athlete to keep his edge in a field full of fresh young players just aching to take his place in the lead. I know the man was human, and I know he behaved like so many other men do in his position. I know that, being human, his mojo quota had to be in some kind of decline, which must have made him absolutely crazy at times… it’s not easy to peak relatively early in life (men do so earlier than women — some of the world’s greatest mathematicians achieved their masterpieces when they were but young pups) and then see yourself decline — however invisibly to the rest of the world. I know the temptations of all those women must have been too much to take at times. Clearly, at least some of them were.

But here’s the thing — if you know all eyes are on you… if you know your fortune depends on your ability to maintain a clean-cut image… if you have a wife and two kids at home and endorsement contracts to honor, you don’t fuck around. And you certainly don’t sext your hottie du jour hundreds upon hundreds of times and leave voicemails on her phone with your name. Geezuz, Tiger — what were you thinking, man?!

In a way, I can understand how it would come to this. I think the guy was set up by a system that makes artificially optimistic, insanely unrealistic, and eventually overwhelming demands on gifted but relatively frail human beings. Frankly, I think the powers that wrote up his contracts probably never genuinely expected him to uphold every last piece in the morality clause(s).  They probably figured they would ride the Tiger Train for as long as it would pull them along, and that eventually something would go amiss, and they’d get at least some of their money back from him, having made millions from his endorsements in the meantime. But they probably never genuinely expected him to violate his own artificial image in such a public and plainly stupid way.

When all is said and done, what I feel most about all this, is a profound sense of loss. The magical golden child of golf has fallen — sure as the golden calf was struck from its pedestal by Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai. And now he’s being ground up and served to all the masses in tiny little bits, strewn through our food and drink. The invention that we had and believed in — that innocent, honest, hard-working, Horatio Alger of a golfer — has failed to hold up under the stress tests of real life, and now we all have to eat crow and cringe whenever we think of those “I am Tiger Woods” commercials.

Those of us who demand perfection from others are as much to blame for this debacle as the parties involved. We are all complicit in this crime against human optimism. We put him up on a pedestal, and then when he stumbles, we go on a feeding frenzy, attacking our object for not validating our fondest fantasies. We need to get real. And stop needing the Tigers of the world to be our role models and paragons. We each need to aspire to and achieve heights in our own ways, not put all of our vainglory into a persona we prop up through consumer devotion and starry-eyed water-cooler talk.

Of course, in the midst of it all, some might cry “racism” and say he was set up and handled too harshly in the media — but weren’t we all set up and then disabused by our own dashed illusions? Weren’t we all just a little too trusting of the image, a little too inundated by all the media blitz, a little too incredulous that someone who flew so high could fall so far? It’s lonely at the top, and it gets hot up there, as Icarus found out.  He plunged from the great heights, too, and did not survive the fall. But he got a whole sea named after him.

As for Tiger… well, there probably won’t be any large bodies of water named after him, but you might get a good deal on a set of his golf clubs on Craigslist right about now…

Please join me in a moment of silence for our dearly departed hero.

I’ll miss him.

Alicia – A film about a brain-injured woman

I happened upon this film (broken up in to segments) about a brain-injured woman from Australia.

Seven years earlier, an 18 year old woman, ALICIA was seriously injured in a car accident. It was her brain rather than her body which suffered.

This documentary tells the story of her long journey of recovery. Not content with just regaining a ‘normal life’, Alicia pursues her original dreams of becoming an actress. Through Beth, the main character from Sam Shepard’s play ‘A Lie of the Mind’, Alicia is able to express the common experiences of brain injury, her alienation from society for being different and her lack of inhibitions.

Flashbacks, dreams, Alicia’s video diary, interviews told with heart and extraordinary honesty by her family, friends, medical practitioners, healers and theatre colleagues; all contribute to unmask and reveal the many faces of Alicia and explores the issues confronting everyone involved with acquired brain injury. ( http://www.stellamotion.com.au)

Watch and learn

Quick – before the snow flies

I’ve had an increasingly pronounced sense of urgency about getting my affairs in order. Could be it’s the end-of-the-year rush, or maybe it’s this sense of immanent change, or perhaps it’s the realization that my life is changing — yet again — but this time it’s changing for the better, and I need to be more mindful of how I manage my resources and energy.

Since I began my neuropsych testing and evaluation, over a year ago, I’ve been acclimating myself to the idea that disaster is not necessarily a given in my life. I’ve realized that the head injuries I’ve experienced, the mild traumatic brain injuries I’ve incurred over the course of my life (beginning in early childhood), have played a direct role in the course of my life. I’ve also realized that with the knowledge of how my brain functions (or fails to function), I can devise strategies to offset the after-effects of MTBI, and plan alternative strategies. And with the proper amount of mindfulness, I can follow through with them in a certain what that can — and does — help me head problems off at the pass before they become the kinds of catastrophes I’ve coped with my entire life.

Yes, I now have tools to help me make my way in the world. And I need to get my act together, to match the level of my mindfulness-augmented competence.

So, I spent the weekend cleaning and moving. Saturday morning, I cleaned my study. Finally. It’s been on my to-do list for months, now. The last time I cleaned it, two years ago, the space felt truly amazing. I just loved being in my study (where before I had dreaded it). But it’s gone slowly downhill over the past few years, which I knew I needed to fix. So, I worked on that consciously on Saturday morning. And while I didn’t complete the task (which took over a week, last time I did it in in 2007), I did make a sizeable dent. And it’s a deeper sort of cleaning now, than I have ever performed in any of my study spaces.

I really focused on doing it mindfully — cleared out a whole bunch of old files, filled several grocery bags with paper to be recycled, dumped old damaged items that needed to be “liberated” a long time ago, and the proceeded to rearrange the contents of my closet. I still have a ways to go. I’m probably about 10% along the path. But the point is, I started it. (And I continued this morning, cleaning out one of my over-stuffed, disorganized filing cabinet drawers.)

Saturday afternoon, I moved leaves. Raked. Used the leaf blower/vac mulcher. Moved 7 large tarps’ worth of material off the front lawn. I may need to make another pass before the snow starts to fall, but if I don’t, at least I’ve made enough of a dent to protect the grass from the effects of acidic leaves over the winter months. I also moved summer items from outside to inside, and I also fixed the dryer duct, which had  become too clogged for the dryer to work properly.

I should have fixed the dryer duct years ago, but that was one of the things that fell off my plate, after I fell down the stairs 5 years ago. You wouldn’t think that hitting your head on a bunch of steps would completely derail your life, but after that fall, I stopped paying attention to the list of things that needed to be done. I’d had a list I was working with — we’d only been in the house two years, up to that point, and the series of things I was planning to do over the coming years was starting to become more manageable and less clogged. Then I fell, and I stopped working on the list. I’ve been working hard to get back, ever since I realized, about a year ago, how badly I’d let things fall by the wayside.

Now my life consists of a whole lot of remedial stuff. Recover stuff. Rehab stuff. Life as rehab. Each and every mindful minute of paying attention to what I’m doing — and why.

Every now and then, I also get the chance to help someone else out with their list, which is what I did on Sunday. A friend of the family is breaking up with their partner of 7 years, and they needed to move some furniture and reconfigure their living space.

My spouse and I drove out to their place and helped them get a number of large, heavy items out of their living room, as well as from upstairs to downstairs. When we got there, they were looking pretty ragged and depressed and overwhelmed. But by the time we left, they were a whole lot more relaxed and up, and they had their home office set up and connected, so they could get their act together. I’m glad we could help. And it felt great — after several months of regular exercise — to be able to lift and carry the sorts of heavy furniture we were wrangling. Recliners, with all that steel, are NOT light items to move. And trying to angle stuff through two narrow doorways was not the easiest thing. But we did it. And it was good.

This friend of ours (I’ll call them C) has been struggling with getting ahead and staying that way, for as long as we’ve known them.  They make progress, and then they make poor choices and slide back… Interestingly, back in high school and college, C played team sports — the kinds of team sports that frequently result in head injury. In fact, they told my spouse onetime that they had been hit in the head a lot, so their memory wasn’t the best. But whenever I bring up the topic if TBI  — with reference to myself, as I’ve told them about my history — they shut down and stop listening.

The other interesting (and a little tragic) piece of C’s story is that their ex-partner of 7 years was in a car accident within the last year, and they took to the bed with overwhemling fatigue, irritability, wild mood swings… and more. It sounded an awful lot like things were with me, when I had whiplash in the past. Their change in personality was eerily familiar to me.

I tried to talk to C a few times about the possibility of MTBI playing a role in the relationship’s degeneration. I said nothing about C’s athletic history, but I focused on the car accident. But C couldn’t hear it. They just blocked it all out. They refused to admit that there had been a real change, or that the change was physical and neurological, rather than psycho-spiritual. C is very much into “energy medicine” and thinks about health in terms of karma and past lives and energy. They think they can address substantive issues with affirmations and intention.

Which is a shame, because they might have been able to get some relief and/or come up with some alternative strategies, by addressing the physical and neurological after-effects of that car accident, and developed real-world coping mechanisms, rather than realinging their chakras.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a strong believer in chakras and energies and intention and affirmations. But I’m also a firm believer in the power of the brain’s neurology to wreak havoc with one’s life. I know the domain of the brain can be very scary for people — especially people who don’t have good insurance and/or can’t get decent medical care — but by leaving out that very important aspect of our overall health, problematic situations can escalate and become even worse, on down the line.

Unaddressed TBI issues can literally cost you your job, your home, your marriage… and more. Especially if folks avoid dealing with them up front.

TBI — even “mild” traumatic brain injury — isn’t the sort of thing you can necessarily wish away or “clear with intention”. I’m sure there are people out there who are very capable mind-over-matter practitioners, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s prudent to give the brain its due and not just brush off a brain injury as something that time alone will heal. Brain injures don’t just go away. And left unaddressed, they can cost you a lot that means the world to you.

I’ve experienced that myself… And I spent most of yesterday moving heavy things with someone who is experiencing it, as well. My aching back and joints can attest to it.

Well, at least we got things moved while the weather was still nice. And for all the hard work over the weekend, it feels great to be this functional again, after years of ennui and inertia and neglect. I feel like I’m really starting to get back in the game, in many ways. My life and my attitude and my outlook is very different than it was, before things fell apart in 2004-2005. But I feel like my life force is returning — and it’s actually good for something.

By the time winter comes, this year, I might just be ready for it.

Building my cognitive-behavioral exoskeleton

MTBI can do a lot of damage, in terms of shredding your existing skills and long-accustomed habits. It can really undermine your thinking and judgment, so that you never even realize you need to do things differently than you did before. And it requires that you force your brain (and sometimes body) to push harder and harder, even when every indication around (and inside) you is saying, “Let up… let up…”

This can be very confounding. I encounter — all the time — people who are keen on “taking it easy” and doing things “with ease and grace”. They think this is a sign of superior evolution. They think this is a sign of superior character, as though it means they are more “plugged in with the Universe”. They don’t want to have to expend the effort to get things done. They want Spirit/YHWH/God/Creator to do it for them. They don’t want to take a chance and extend themselves, because they are convinced that a Higher Power is more capable than they, and they believe they should just “get out of the way” and let that Higher Power take charge of their lives.

That may be fine for them, but that mindset drives me nuts. First of all, it absolves them of any responsibility for their actions. If things mess up, they can say it was “God’s will” or part of a “higher plan”. If things get really messed up, they can say they just need to be more “in tune with Spirit”.  I have a bunch of friends who are convinced that they are “channels” for Divine Inspiration, and that’s how they should live… just floating along on a tide of holy impulse. And their lives are a shambles. Objectively speaking, they are constantly marinating in a brine of their individual dramas and traumas. It’s just one thing after another, and all the while, they keep expecting Spirit/YHWH/God/Creator to fix all the messes they’ve helped create.

It’s very frustrating to watch this willful disregard of basic cause and effect, but I suppose everybody’s got their stuff.

Now, it’s one thing, if these people (some of whom are very dear to me) are content to live their lives that way, but when they expect me to do the same — and they judge me as being less “evolved” if I do things differently — it’s a little too much to take, sometimes. I don’t do well with living my life from a distance. I don’t do well with telling myself that I’m just floating along on the divine breeze, waiting for some wonderful opportunity to arise to save me from my own creations. I need to be involved in my own life. I need to be invested. I need to put some effort into my life. I need the exertion. It’s good for my spirit. It’s good for my morale. And it bolsters my self-esteem, as well.

Anyway, even if I wanted to just float along, I couldn’t. I’d sink like a rock. I’m not being hard on myself — this is my observation from years of experience. I can’t just ramble about, taking things as they come. I need structure and discipline to keep on track, to keep out of trouble, to keep my head on straight. I can’t just be open to inspiration and follow whatever impulse comes to mind. My mind is full of countless impulses, every hour of every day, and if I followed each and every one, I’d be so far out in left field, I’d never find my way back. I have had sufficient damage done to the fragile connections in my cerebral matter, that the routes that neural information takes have been permanently re-routed into the darkest woods and jungles of my brain. All those injuries over the years didn’t just wash out a few bridges — they blew them up. And they slashed and burned the jungle all around, and dug huge trenches across the neural byways I “should” be able to access.

As my diagnostic neuropsych says, “I am not neurologically intact.”

So that kind of disqualifies me for just winging it in my life. I tried for years to “go with the flow”, and I ended up flit-flitting about like a dried oak leaf on the wild October wind. I got nowhere. I can’t live like that, and I know it for sure, now that I’m intentionally trying to get myself in some kind of order. My brain is different. It has been formed differently than others. It has been formed differently than it was supposed to.

I can’t change that. But I can change how I do things. I can change how I think about things. I can change by facing up to basic facts. As in:

  • My thinking process is not a fluid one, anymore. In fact, I’m not sure it ever was — for real, that is. I’ve consistently found that when I’ve been the most certain about things, was the time when I needed most to double-check.
  • If I don’t extend myself to get where I’m going, I can end up sidelining myself with one minor failure after another. One by one, the screw-ups add up, and I end up just giving up, out of exhaustion and/or ex-/implosion… and I can end up even farther behind than when I started.
  • It’s like nothing internal is working the way it’s supposed to, and the standard-issue ways of thinking and doing just don’t seem to hold up.
  • My brain is different from other folks. It just is. It doesn’t have to be a BAD thing. It just is.

On bad days, it’s pretty easy for me to get down on myself. I feel broken and damaged and useless, some days — usually when I’m overtired and haven’t been taking care of myself. But on good days, I can see past all that wretchedness and just get on with it.

Part of my getting on with it is thinking about how we MTBI survivors can compensate for our difficulties… how we create and use tools to get ourselves back on track — and stay there. There are lots of people who have this kind of injury, and some of them/us figure out what tools work best for us, and we make a point of using them. These exterior tools act as supports (or substitutes) for our weakened internal systems. We use planners and notebooks and stickie notes. We use self-assessment forms and how-to books and motivational materials. We use prayer and reflection ane meditation and journaling. We use exercise and brain games. We use crossword puzzles and little daily challenges we come up with by ourselves.

Some of us — and I’m one such person — use our lives as our rehab. Not all of us can afford rehab (in terms of time or money), and not all of us can even get access to it (seeing as our injuries tend to be subtle and the folks who actually know what to do about them are few and far between). But we have one thing we can use to learn and live and learn some more — life. The school of hard knocks.

I use everything I encounter to further my recovery. I have to. I don’t want to be homeless. I don’t want to be stuck in underemployment. I don’t want to fade away to nothing. And that’s what could easily happen, if I let up. My friends who are into “ease and grace” don’t get this. But then, they’re embroiled in their own dramas, so they don’t really see what’s going on with me. Even my therapist encourages me to “take it easy” a lot more than I’m comfortable doing. (They’ve only known me for about seven months, so they don’t have a full appreciation of all the crap I have to deal with, so I’ll cut them a break.)

It stands to reason that others can’t tell what difficulties I have. After all, I’ve made it my personal mission to not let my injuries A) show to others, B) impact my ability to function in the present, and C) hold me back from my dreams. I may be unrealistic, and I may be just dreaming, but I’m going to hold to that, no matter what. I can’t let this stop me. None of it – the series of falls, the car accidents, the sports concussions, the attack… None of it is going to stop me, if I have anything to say about it. I just have to keep at it, till I find a way to work through/past/around my issues.

And to do that, I use tools. I keep notes. I write in my journal. I blog. I have even been able to read with comprehension for extended periods, lately, which was beyond my reach for a number of years. I keep lists of things I need to do. I come up with ways of jogging my memory. I play games that improve my thinking. I focus on doing good work, and doing well at the good work I’m involved in. I bring a tremendous amount of mindfulness to the things I care about, and I’m constantly looking for ways to improve. To someone with less restlessness and less nervous energy, it would be an exhausting prospect to life this way. But I have a seemingly endless stream of energy that emanates from a simmering sense of panic, and a constantly restless mind, so  I have to do something with it.

Some might recommend medication to take the edge off. But that, dear reader, would probably land me in hot water. Without my edge, I fade away to a blob of ineffectual whatever-ness.

I build myself tools. I use spreadsheets to track my progress. I downloaded the (free and incredibly helpful) Getting Things Done Wiki and installed it on my laptop to track my projects and make sure I don’t forget what I’m supposed to be working on. I have even built myself a little daily activity tracking tool that I use to see if any of my issues are getting in my way. It not only lets me track my issues, but it also helps me learn the database technologies I need to know for my professional work.

I am constantly thinking about where I’m at, what I’m doing, why I’m doing it. I am rarely at rest, and when I am, it is for the express purpose of regaining my strength so I can go back at my issues with all my might and deal directly with them. I am at times not the most organized with my self-rehab, but I’m making progress. And I track what I’m doing, to make sure I’m not getting too far afield. And I check in with my neuropsychs on a weekly basis.

I also use external props to keep me in line. I build exercise and nutrition into my daily routine, so I have no choice but do do them — if I break my routine, I’m lost. The anxiety level is just too high. I commit myself to meetings that require me to be in a certain place at a certain time, so I have to keep on schedule. I work a 9-5 job that forces me to be on-time and deliver what I promise. I surround myself with people who have very high standards, and I hold myself to them. As I go about my daily activities, I do it with the orientation of recovery. Rehabilitation. Life is full of rehab opportunities, if you take the time — and make the point — to notice.

In many ways, my external tool-making and structure-seeking is like being a hermit crab finding and using shells cast off by other creatures for their survival. I don’t have the kind of inner resources I’d like to keep myself on track, and I don’t have the innate ability/desire to adhere to the kinds of standards I know are essential for regular adult functioning. I’ve been trying, since I was a little kid, to be the kind of person I want to be, and it’s rarely turned out well when I was running on my own steam.

So, I put myself in external situations and engage in the kinds of activities that require me to stay on track and adhere to the kinds of standards I aspire to. I seek out the company of people who are where I want to be — or are on the same track that I want to be on. And I “make like them” — I do my utmost to match them, their behaviors, their activities. And it works. I do a damned good impression of the person I want to be — even when deep down inside, I’m having a hell of a time adhering to my own standards.

The gap between who I want to be/what I want to do with my life, and how I actually am and what I actually accomplish is, at times, a vast chasm. I have so many weak spots that feel utterly intractable — and I need to do something about them. So, I use the outside world to provide the impetus and stimulation I require to be the person I know I can be, and to accomplish the things I long to do. I use the supports I can get, and I use whatever tools I have on hand. I fashion the world around me in a way that supports my vision of who I can be and what I can accomplish in my life. and I just keep going, layering on more and more experiential “shellack” that supports my hopes and dreams and vision.

Dear reader, if you only knew how different my fondest hopes and most brightly burning dreams have been from my actual reality throughout the course of my 4 decades-plus on this earth, you would weep for days, maybe weeks. But this is not the time to cry. Not when I have within my reach the means by which to put myself on the track I long for. Not when I have the resolve to take my life to the next level. Not when I have — at long last — the information I need to understand my limitations and my cognitive-behavioral makeup. Not when I have the drive and desire to live life to the fullest, to love and grow and learn and … and …

But enough — the day is waiting, and I have things I must get done.

Peace, out

BB

My books have arrived from the library!

I’m really stoked. I finally managed to find a library copy of George Prigatano’s Neuropsychological Rehabilitation After Brain Injury and Prigatano & Schacter’s Awareness of Deficit After Brain Injury.

I’m sure it sounds odd for me to be so excited about getting them from the library, but these are books I’ve been wanting to read for some time. I first came across George Prigatano a little over a year ago, when I was researching brain injury and wondering why in heaven’s name I had never realized there was something “up” with me. I mean, I had a lot of problems when I was a kid and throughout my adulthood. Problems with memory, problems with mood issues, problems with keeping track of stuff, problems with temper, problems with freaking out over every little thing, problems with money management… I get tired just thinking about it all.

I should have realized a long time ago, that all those problems couldn’t possibly have been due to everyone/everything else. Something had to be “up” with me. But no… my broken brain was convinced it was everybody else, not me, that had the problem(s).

Anyway, now I’ve got the books on loan for three weeks — and the past-due fees are high, so I’d better get reading. I’m sure it’s considered a little “blasphemous” and presumptuous for me to be reading up on cognitive rehabilitation and advanced topics that are supposed to be beyond this layman’s brain, but I don’t really care what other people have to say about it. I have access to the information, and even if I don’t understand everything, at least I’m going to check it out.

My wrists are doing a little better. I’ve worked almost 30 hours in the last 2 days, much of that time spent typing, so I still have more resting I need to do. But that will come. Right now, I want to celebrate.

Celebrate life. Celebrate recovery. Celebrate cognitive rehabilitation. I saw my “neuroshrink” today, and we actually had a really good session. I was talking about different events of my past, and I actually got a laugh out of them. A good, hearty, spontaneous laugh, too. In the past, they’ve been kind of reserved and distant, like they were checking me out… not sure if they were going to keep working with me. But today was a good session.

They told me, in the course of our 50 minutes, that considering everything that’s happened to me, my life is a great triumph, not a tragedy. And yes, it’s true! My life is a tremendous triumph, and I’m feeling really grateful tonight that I’ve been able to do as well as I have.

How I’ve been able to do this well — bounce back from multiple mild tbi’s, including sports concussions and falls and assaults and car accidents, and build a life that’s full of activity and love and productivity and, well, happiness… I’m still trying to figure it out.

But if I had to chalk it up to anything, I’d say it’s just stick-to-it-ive-ness. Never giving up. Being tenacious. Stubborn. Hard-headed in the right ways. Trying and trying and trying some more. And never settling for less than I want — and deserve.

Just keeping going… in some ways, that’s the best rehabilitation of all. None of the other approaches actually work that well over the long term, if you don’t have this as the foundation.

But still, tenacity aside, it’ll be good to check out these books. It’ll be good to have some input that comes from outside my own head and immediate experience.

I’m also looking forward to reading more writing from George Prigatano. I have been a huge fan of his for quite some time, and what I’ve read from him I’ve really enjoyed. It might sound odd to talk that way about a neurologist, but everybody’s partial to something. Some folks are into Japanese art, some are into road bikes, some are into Turkish ceramics, some are into Dice-K, some are into the Cavs. I’m into neuroscience. Particularly cognitive rehabilitation after brain injury, and all the fascinating aspects of life that go with it.

And I do mean “fascinating”. The brain really is the final frontier, and despite the fact that everyone has one and we all love to talk about ourselves, precious few of us — scientists and doctors, included — seem inclined to talk about our brains and the way they impact our lives. It’s as though there’s this huge curtain drawn between our white/gray matter and the rest of us… a kind of holy-of-holies veil that keeps us from approaching the Ineffable Massiveness of what sits atop our shoulders and between our ears. I can’t account for the reticence, in general. It’s like everyone is running around talking about everything except their brains… like we’re trying to keep our minds off it.

Or maybe it’s just so close to home that it makes people waaaaay too nervous to approach, and anyway, we’re taught that unless we have degrees and qualifications, who are we to discuss such weighty matters? It puzzles me. We all have brains. We all love to obsess about ourselves and our human conditions. Yet we’ll invest countless hours in dissecting the life choices of Octomom, while remaining oblivious to the Real Drama that takes place inside our skulls, each moment of every day.

I can’t account for it. But it’s getting late, I need to rest, and there will be more time tomorrow to ponder these imponderables. And read the words of  George Prigatano.

PTSD/TBI Factor #1 – Proximity to a traumatic event

This is a continuation of the discussion about PTSD from TBI – Exploring some possibilities. (Updated June 10, 2012)

When it comes to who develops post-traumatic stress disorder and who manages to recover from the trauma without post-event effects, how close you are to a traumatic event can determine the degree to which you are affected.

People who are closer to traumatic events have been shown to develop more symptoms — folks who were closer to Ground Zero after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 had almost three times as much PTSD symptoms (up to 20%, versus 7.5%) as folks who were in Lower Manhattan, but farther away.

Physical proximity doesn’t always play a role in the development of symptoms. Research has shown that people who watched the WTC attack on television from a great distance, many miles away, developed PTSD after the event, and in some cases, their symptoms were more extreme and persisted longer than folks who were physically closer to Ground Zero.

One of the key factors in all this is not only actual physical proximity to a threatening event — it’s the individual’s interpretation of the even as threatening… their perceived level of danger.

Now, when it comes to this aspect of PTSD, TBI can play a significant role.

But the role that TBI plays can be quite different from the role that other injury situations (like war or motor vehicle accidents) can play. In the case of those other two examples, the danger is immediate, extreme, and it can lead to deer-in-headlights freezing, which “locks” the experience in place, to be played out time and time again. In the cases of “classical” trauma, the single injuring event itself is the culprit. In TBI, while the injury itself can be a source of trauma, very often the injured party has either dim or missing recollections of the event, so like someone who’s drunk behind the wheel of a car who gets into an accident but comes out the other side without any PTSD whatsoever, in traumatic brain injury, the brunt of the trauma is felt after the injury, when cognitive functioning and decision making and perceptions are all out of whack. Not only can you end up making decisions and taking action which puts you in harm’s way over and over again, but your reactions to those situations can be heightened to make matters far more traumatic than they “should” be.

Let’s get into this a little more…

First, brain injury can impact a person’s ability to assess risk. They can end up underestimating the danger of a given situation and rush in “where angels fear to tread.” They’re not necessarily fools. They’re brain-injured.

I myself have been a walking, talking example of this. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve done really dense things that I didn’t realize were dense, till much later. One time stands out, in particular:

One day, a couple of years after my most recent head injury (but before I realized that I had been injured as much as I was) I went hiking bright and early one morning on the first day of deer hunting season. I was wearing natural earth-tone colored clothing and wandering off the beaten path, deliberately following deer tracks because I wanted to “get in touch with nature”. Seriously poor judgment. In the course of my ill-conceived hike, I happened to cross paths with a deer hunter who was watching the very area where I was hiking, gun in hand, ready to shoot.  I was in very real danger of being shot.

Now, I know better. I’m from a family filled with avid deer hunter – my dad and all my uncles and my brother go hunting regularly with almost religious fervor. I know that the first day of buck season is NOT the day to go hiking in the woods, and if you have to, you wear bright colors and you stick to the trail(s). But that morning my brain totally failed me. I literally could have been killed in one of those hunting accidents I grew up hearing about.

Believe me, I’m not proud of this genuinely impaired choice, but it’s a great example of how TBI-limited thought processing can put a person in mortal danger, without them even knowing it.

The second way TBI can contribute to the proximity of danger is by heightening the intensity of one’s response to situations.

For example, a head-injured person can quickly lose their temper in a confrontation with someone bigger and badder and meaner than them. That has happened to me many times, and I’ve been injured in the process. I know from personal experience that an impaired brain can make you think you can take on that opponent — and win — only to have your body find out that’s not the case. And if you piss someone off who carries a grudge, you can find yourself looking over your shoulder at every turn… becoming increasingly paranoid and jumpy… which eventually can add up to a hefty dose of PTSD.

Now, one of the things that Belleruth Naparstek mentions in her book Invisible Heroes (this discussion is based on info from Chapter 4 therein), is that another factor is internal perception of danger/trauma. If someone doesn’t know they’re in danger, they may not be impacted by even a serious event. People who are involved in accidents when they’re drunk have been shown to develop less PTSD than might be expected. That’s not to say everyone should run around intoxicated, only that having your perceptions impaired or dulled or distracted somehow can keep PTSD at bay.

But if you believe you’re in danger — even in the case of a near miss — you can really find yourself on the PTSD ride of your life. It’s your perception of danger that sets off the reaction… which can build and recur, build and recur, build and recur, till you don’t know whether you’re coming or going and you feel like you’re losing your mind. Even if you escape a traumatic situation relatively unscathed, you can end up with some nasty symptoms.

The third way TBI can contribute to PTSD is by slowing information processing and reaction times, so it can be hard to get out of a worsening situation before it turns really ugly.

Remember, slowed processing time is one of the most common hallmarks of mild traumatic brain injury. And fatigue is not only a common after-effect of TBI, but it’s also a factor in diminshed attentional abilities and cognitive functioning. When you’re in a potentially dangerous situation, the last thing you need is to be thinking and reacting more slowly than you could/should/otherwise would. But with TBI and its after-effects, that’s precisely what can happen.

As an example, say you’re driving down a deserted country road after dark one winter evening. It’s late and you’re worn out from a long day, and you just want to get home and fall into bed. Out of the corner of your eye you see a shape standing on the grassy shoulder beside the road. A huge six-point buck comes into view in your headlights. Something tells you to slow down, but tou’re not thinking clearly, you’re tired and foggy and slower than usual, and it takes you a few seconds longer to hit the brake than you normally would.

Suddenly, the buck turns and starts across the road right in front of you. Before you can react, you hit the deer head-on, crumpling the front of your car and inflating the airbags in your vehicle. Your head bounces off the airbags, breaking your glasses, and slams against the headrest. Dazed and confused, you sit stunned for a few moments. Then you climb out of the car and go see what just happened.  As you approach the deer, you feel something sticky and warm on your face. Your broken glasses cut into your scalp, and the cut — like many scalp wounds — is bleeding profusely. Clamping one hand to your head, you you try to drag the deer off the side of the road so you can drive on, but it’s too heavy — the carcass won’t budge.

You head back to the car to find your cell phone, but you’re so confused you can’t find it anywhere. It’s dark, and it’s cold, and your car looks like it’s totaled. Your scalp is bleeding, you’re disoriented and confused, and it’s been over an hour since you passed an inhabited area. It’s too cold to get out and walk anywhere. You’re cut off. Alone. You spend the night keeping your car running, so you can stay warm, afraid you’re going to bleed to death, uncertain if and when you’re going to get help, having countless scenarios of impending doom running through your mind.

In the morning, a local deliveryman finds you and your car and the dead deer and radios for help. A tow truck comes and delivers you to the nearest town, which is just a quarter of a mile away, up the road, ’round the bend you couldn’t see in the dark the night before. You find your cell phone in your car’s glove compartment and you call a family member to come pick you up. Then you get on with the business of dealing with your totaled car, getting back to work, getting on with your life. You seem okay physically, with just the cut (that stopped bleeding) and a nasty headache. But you can’t get that vision of the deer out of your head, and you keep waking up in a cold sweat, your heart pounding, feeling like there’s something sticky on the side of your face.

Now, this is not to say that someone without a TBI wouldn’t have the same experience. But having thought processing slowed can contribute to slower reaction times, poor judgment calls, and impaired coping techniques… which can contribute to and complicate bad conditions, making them worse than need be — and making them seem worse, too. And that can happen not only with someone who has a TBI going into a tight spot, but someone who experiences a TBI and then has to deal with challenging situations with an injured brain. A double whammy.

The forth way TBI can contribute to PTSD is by making everything seem a whole lot worse than it is.

With TBI, impaired risk assessment can go both ways, I believe. It can not only be impaired, but it can be hyperactivated. TBI can make you think things are lot more hazardous than they are, that you’re in more dire peril than you are, and that you need to respond more intensely than you necessarily need to. PTSD alone can do this, but when your brain isn’t firing with all pistons, your impaired judgment just feeds the PTSD fire.

So, even if you don’t end up in that car accident, or you really aren’t in danger of getting your ass kicked by that Very Large And Angry Person, or you walk away unharmed from a fall that was broken by soft snow, your (impaired) perception of “immediate danger” can trigger a bunch of biochemical reactivity that puts you very much on edge and eventually adds up to full-blown PTSD.

Warning, Will Robinson!

Danger! Danger!

You may not be in danger at all. But your injured brain tells you that you are/were. And your impaired judgment, thinking it’s protecting you from a perceived threat, gets the gears going and sets off a potent chain reaction that — while bothersome at first — can lead to serious trouble, on down the line.

So, there are several distinct aspects to how TBI affects the proximity factor of PTSD (including, but not limited to):

  • It can create conditions of actual physical proximity to danger by impairing someone’s ability to detect (and avoid) risk/danger.
  • It can make a person’s responses more intense and/or more precipitous, so they overreact to situations and put themself (unintentionally) in danger.
  • It can keep someone from getting themself out of trouble in a timely manner and keep them from adequately dealing with an existing tricky situation.
  • It can heighten the perception of physical proximity to danger.

All of these (and I could think of a bunch of other examples, but I won’t take up the time here), not only do a number on your head, but also on your body. PTSD is very much about physical reactions… and they tie in with mental processes. So, if your brain is impaired by an injury, and you’re backed into a corner (or think you are), you can end up with a more potent mix of trauma experience that heightens the post-traumatic stress impact.

And that’s no friggin’ fun.

TBI and PTSD – The chicken or the egg?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought, lately, to how TBI and PTSD interconnect and “feed into” each other. In my experience, the two are closely interconnected, and they can make each other pretty confusing and convoluted. Each condition changes the brain in subtle but important ways, and when the two interact in one brain/body/mind/spirit, the compounded difficulties can be exponentially more difficult to identify — and treat.

Traumatic brain injury is by its very nature traumatic, and post-traumatic stress disorder comes out of trauma. So, when you fall and hit your head, or you are in a car accident, or you are attacked and knocked out, trauma happens to the body. The body is threatened – sometimes mortally – and the brain kicks in with all sorts of great hormonal and biochemical survival mechanisms. Adrenaline gets pumping. Endorphines start flowing. Glucose gets delivered to muscles. And the less-survival-based reactions we have get pushed off to the side, so our bodies can focus on one thing: survival.

Even if we are not consciously aware that we are in danger — like when I fell down the stairs in 2004, and I didn’t fully realize the extent to which my physical safety had been threatened — our bodies are aware that they are under attack, and they respond accordingly. It’s not something we can control, it’s not something we should control. We need our brains to be able to care for our bodies without our minds knowing how to do it. The problems start, when our brains don’t realize that we’re out of danger, and/or we get caught in a constant feedback loop of detecting perceived danger, reacting to it, stressing out, and never getting a chance to settle down.

That settling down piece is very important. After our sympathetic nervous systems have risen to the challenge(s) of a perceived threat, our parasympathetic nervous systems need to kick in and help our bodies chill out. Rest. Restore. Relax. Digest… Take a break and get back to balance. But if we never take a break and get our nervous systems to relax and get back to normal, we can get stuck in a constant roller-coaster of fear/anxiety/stress/hyper-reactivity that just won’t quit. And traumatic stress eventually turns into post-traumatic stress disorder. Not fun for anyone.

One of the big ways I think TBI contributes to the development of PTSD is in the “debriefing” phase after a crisis or trauma. TBI can impair a person’s ability to self-assess — sometimes we literally don’t know that something is wrong with how we’re experiencing/reacting to life. It can be harder to detect physical experiences and decode behavioral problems, not to mention cognitive ones. And that diminished ability to self-assess makes it more difficult to self-regulate… to consciously and deliberately change your behavior and actions so that you can “power down” and let your over-taxed body restore itself.

At least in my case, when I went through traumatic experiences — let’s take one of my auto accidents as an example — I wasn’t able to think things through after the fact and assess how I was feeling. I literally didn’t know that I was having trouble understanding what people around me were saying. I thought it was them, who were suddenly refusing to speak intelligibly. I literally did not realize that my sleeping schedule was off — I just stayed up later and got up earlier and pushed myself to go-go-go… and then drank and drank and drank to get myself to relax. I wasn’t even able to determine how I was feeling physically. All I knew was, something was up with me, and it really made me feel awful.

So, I pushed myself even more to “keep up”… and it just added to my already overtaxed body being stretched beyond its means. Not good.

A few posts back, I wrote about being wired to survive and all the biochemical activities that take place as a result of some traumatic crisis. The thing to remember about that wiring system is that it is totally independent of rational thought… but rational thought is necessary to deal with its aftermath. The physical experience of all that adrenaline and endorphins and glucose is not a walk in the park. Our bodies need our brains to take over, after we have rushed to safety, to tend to our frazzled nerves and make choices that allow us to relax, regroup, recuperate, and restore the delicate balance in our central nervous systems.

But with TBI, even mild ones, the brain is impaired and it cannot process clearly. So, we can end up making choices that do not help us relax, that keep us on edge, that keep us going-going-going, so we never really get a break from the crisis and drama.

And post-traumatic stress disorders emerge, which further alter our brain chemistry and how we make choices and take action in our world. PTSD actually alters our cognitive functioning. It makes us think differently than we would, under normal, non-stressful conditions. And that different thinking is not always the smartest thinking.

But wait, there’s more…

Impairments to our thinking — our heightened hyper-reactivity, our hair-trigger response systems that are fried and frazzled — can cause us to make choices that are dangerous and risky. Choices that can cause further head injuries. Being all PTSD’ed-out can make us very quick to anger, in situations where we’re likely to get in a fist-fight, even if our opponent is twice our size. It can make us “slow on the uptake” so we miscalculate choices while we’re driving. It can cloud our judgment about whether or not to take up skydiving. And our increased appetite for stimulation can cause us to pursue activities that are custom-made for yet more traumatic brain injury.

And so, we end up with a vicious cycle of traumatic head injury feeding our post-traumatic stress, which evolves into disorders of mind, body, heart, and spirit… and leave us wondering why the hell everything around us is going to shit. Our brains have been injured, and our judgment is impaired. And each condition feeds the other.

I’m not sure how much research has been done on the interactions of TBI and PTSD. I think it’s a topic that’s ripe for harvesting, and we could probably learn a lot from taking a close look at the two pieces of the puzzle. I think that folks being treated for PTSD should also be evaluated for TBI, and vice versa. Having experts and folks in positions of authority say that “most TBI suvivors heal” sends the message that the brain will just take care of itself, and everything will be fine. But while the brain is healing — to whatever extent that may be — post-traumatic stress can emerge, which can feed a vicious downward spiralling cycle that affects not only the mind, but the spirit and the body as well.

And that needs to be addressed.

And I do more of that here…

TBI Videos – Living With Traumatic Brain Injury

People with traumatic brain injuries may experience physical, cognitive or personality changes that affect their work and relationships. In this program from the University of Washington, hear stories of people who are rebuilding their lives and readjusting to family, careers and everyday life. This program is sponsored by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services/Aging and Disability Services Administration, University of Washington Traumatic Brain Injury Model System, and Harborview Medical Center.

Check out these great videos on YouTube:

Living With Traumatic Brain Injury

and

Coping with Brain Injury: Life After Brain Injury

worth watching!