The Magic of “Analgesic Stress”

Clearly, the human body is built to survive. And the mechanisms that kick in to save our asses are as built-in as breathing heavily after a sprint or sex, as instinctual as brushing shaggy hair out of our faces when we encounter someone or something we need to see more clearly.

What’s more, the survival mechanisms we employ to escape imminent physical doom are also important parts of less extreme, yet equally vital physiological and psychological survival strategies. Physical responses to mortal danger don’t have to originate only from physical situations, like a mother grizzly discovering you standing between her and her cubs. They can just as easily — and probably, in today’s world readily — arise from psychological ones, such as a sneaking suspicion that your boss is going to fire you at the one-on-one meeting they just scheduled, or the surprise discovery of your spouse in bed with the neighbor.

In order to trigger the biochemical cascade of fight-flight-fright, our brains don’t have to be presented with cut-and-dried physical reasons to pump our systems full of glucose, adrenaline, cortisol, etc. The juices can start flooding our systems over perceived threats, as well. And those threats can be just as existentially distressing if they’re job-related or relationship-related, as threats that involve our physical being.

If something truly threatening to any aspect of your survival is registering, your brain doesn’t particularly care whether it’s a charging bear or a discharging boss. It doesn’t matter if the grizzly is coming at you with a roar, or your spouse is coming with a scream. A threat is a threat, and the part of our brains that differentiates between different sorts of threats is offline, at the time we’re reacting to something wretched happening to us. Sure, the refined, discriminatory, gray-area-friendly parts of our brains are still there, but they are waiting till after the excitement has died down, before they start to tell the difference between a purely physical fight-flight-fright scenario and one that’s all about our emotions or our self-worth or our hopes for the future. The problem is, in the interim, while the sensible part of our brains is “down,” the survival-based part of our brains is flooding our bodies with all sorts of biochemical franticness that both hops us up and dulls us down, that pumps us full of energy, while shutting down the very systems that can regulate the rest of our delicately balanced systems.

So, where does that leave us, if we’ve experienced tons of traumatic stress over the course of our lives? Where does that leave us, if we’ve been stressed and over-taxed and put-upon in very intense ways over a long term? Chances are, it dopes us up with a pretty compelling case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that modern version of “shell shock” or “combat fatigue” or “nervous exhaustion” that clouds our judgment and heightens our reactivity.

And the more it happens, well, the more it happens. If you get sucked into a cycle of intense trauma response often enough, your reactions become so sensitized that your experience doesn’t need to be extreme to trigger a heightened stress respose. I’m no neuroscientist, and I’m not a formally trained psychologist, but it’s my understanding that if you’re put through enough trauma over the course of your life, your body can get in the habit of switching on those stress hormones at a moment’s notice, just to get you through the day. You don’t even need to be in severe mortal danger, for the action to take effect. It can just look/feel/seem like severe mortal danger to the body, and the mechanisms that prevent disaster will spring into action.

That’s where PTSD really digs in and becomes more persistent, more pronounced, more likely to take over. Which cycles around to exacerbate not only its own instantaneous reactiveness, but also its after-effects. And they aren’t pretty. PTSD’s symptoms can include (in no particular order, and in a bunch of different combinations):

Re-experiencing the traumatic event

  • Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
  • Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
  • Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
  • Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
  • Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)

Avoidance and emotional numbing

  • Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general
  • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
  • Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)

Increased arousal

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled

Other common symptoms

  • Anger and irritability
  • Guilt, shame, or self-blame
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Feeling alienated and alone
  • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • Headaches, stomach problems, chest pain

Which can all conspire to make you feel like you’re either losing your mind, or you’re not fit to live in the world, or everyone is out to get you, or you just can’t make it through the day, or all of the above. And more. I’ve had a pretty eventful life, myself, thanks at least in part to the after-effects of multiple traumatic brain injuries, so I’ve got my fair share of trauma in my past. And post-traumatic stress. And full-blown PTSD.

My brain’s biochemical reactivity has, in many cases, worked very much against me. And I freely admit that I haven’t done nearly enough tending of my parasympathetic nervous system to decompress and regain my balance on a regular basis. But where my brain has often worked against me in stressful times, it has also worked for me, thanks to stress. And the things that have worked for me are those handy endogenous opioids I talked about in my last section.

Remember, the biochemical/hormonal stress response in humans doesn’t care what the stimuli are that are freaking out the brain. All it knows is that it’s freaking out, and it needs to supply the right magic cocktail of hormonal juices, so that the taxed system can function adequately in the face of mortal danger. Even in the absence of lions and tigers and bears and horrific natural disasters, in our modern world, endogenous opioids kick in to numb us to our pain, suppress responses that would keep us from fleeing to safety, and keep us bright and alert on some level — and they can save our asses just as much as they did our Grendel-fleeing ancestors’. At least that’s my experience.

And this is not something we can necessarily stop, once it gets started. We are literally hard-wired to have these biochemicals kick into gear when we’re in danger, we’re uber-stressed, and when we’re in pain. Whether the stress is from a charging bear or an angry boss chewing us a new one in a performance review… whether we’re in danger of losing a limb or losing our job (and our house and our car and all the stuff we owe money on)… whether we’re in pain from lacerations to our legs or sleep-deprived, repetitive-stress-fried joint agony… our bodies are still sending signals via stress hormones (our messengers to/from the gods) and our instinctively hard-wired brains are going to get a shot of numbing sweetness that takes our mind off our ills and lets us live to see another day.

And so a heightened stress response becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a self-perpetuating loop of spontaneous over-reaction that not only jacks us up, but chills us out, as well. It’s like having an existential smoke — nicotine has the dual effect of first stimulating the system, then chilling it out (which is what makes it more addictive than heroin, I’ve been told). Getting that rush of adrenaline, feeling the mind clear, sensing the body coil and prepare to pounce or flee… and then getting that soothing rush of endorphins… It’s hard to beat that, when it comes to being fully functional.

And it does make me fully functional. In more ways than one. The net result of our inborn neuro-biochemical survival/support system is the heightened ability to respond to immediate threats, reduced pain experience, and clearer, more focused thinking. And when I am in a state of extreme agitation and sensitivity, the effect on me is like the effect of clicking the button on a morphine pump for someone who has recently come out of surgery.

Indeed, I have to say that the same survival mechanisms that let me haul my ass out of mortal danger, also enable me to function at a “normal”level in my day-to-day life. This is probably going to sound crazy to some people, even mentally ill to others, but there’s a logistical reason I find my ass in a sling, time and time again — an inborn, ingrained need, even dependency, on stress hormones to function adequately in the world, and actually feel like a normal person.

Putting myself in the direct line of danger — whether by cultivating friendships with people who are innately hostile towards me, seeking out work with employers whose environment seems custom-tailored to trashing my work-life balance, or taking on too much work at a time when my body is sorely in need of rest and rejuvenation — triggers that magic biochemical cascade of endogenous opioids, and suddenly everything is better. It’s not only BETTER, it’s just better. Normal. Regular. Boring. Standard-issue. Uneventful. Drab. Blah.

This probably sounds odd, but normal, uneventful, rote life is something I really need to work at. Whether due to my head injuries or just my nature, I seem to be hard-wired for excitement. And that tends to get in the way of living my life — especially around other people and when I’m at work. Plus, I have a raft of physical/sensory issues that really get in the way and keep me from getting on with it in a productive and steady way. I don’t need my experience to be over-the-top better, just normal. Just regular. Just standard-issue, run-of-the mill… the way everyone else’s life seems to be, and the way I wish my life were.

And analgesic stress lets me do just that.


A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents

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A Perilous Relief: Bliss From Within – The Glory of Endogenous Opioids

For better or for worse, I tend to have pretty high stress levels. It comes from an eventful past, as well as a busy present, and the intense drive to realize my deepest desires for my future. Certainly, it’s not much fun having to constantly “quality control” my thoughts and my actions, so I don’t get myself in trouble over post-traumatic stress that has nothing to do with what’s really going on around me. I certainly don’t want my energy and attention to get pulled down by old stuff that still makes me jump when an unidentified figure appears out of the corner of my eye. And it’s no fun “melting down”

But being highly stressed isn’t as bad as it might sound. In fact, there is a side to my typically high levels of stress that feeds me. And I love it. After years of being down on myself for being “over-stressed,” I’ve come to terms with that shadow side of myself. And I’ve learned to love my stress.

Here’s why:

In addition to these classic “fight-or-flight” responses to get you going, the little almond-shaped gland in the brain, the amygdala, triggers the brain to release endogenous opioids (opium-like chemicals that originate in your own system) which help your system function adequately in high-demand situations.

These endogenous opioids are a built-in part of our naturally functioning system and they are ever-available in varying quantities. Endogenous literally means “from inside”. And endogenous opioids are magic opium-like potions our systems create on their own (it’s been discovered that the human body actually produces morphine in small amounts). Yes, Virginia, there is a way to get high on your own steam, as the biochemicals our brains produce are of the same type as the illegal, intensely addictive stuff you can buy in a plastic baggie from some sleaze who will take sex as payment for the goods instead of money. They’re just a little different, so they match our body chemistry better. And they aren’t usually available to our bodies through our brains in the intense concentrations that leave overdosed junkies dead on the street.

In particular, these internal substances can have a hypoalgesic or analgesic (pain reducing) effect on the body, which helps you deal instinctively with whatever threat is in front of you, without having to deal with pain, as well. I’ve read that endogenous opioids serve to suppress the “lick response” in injured animals, so they can escape. (An animal, when injured, will instinctively stop to lick itself and tend to its wounds, but if it’s been injured by a predator this instinctual response makes it easy prey for its hungry attacker. By suppressing the pain – and the lick response – this natural impulse lets the animal ignore its wounds and focus on escaping to live to see another day.)

The same holds true with us humans. Imagine how short-lived we would be in crisis situations, if we were distracted by pain and other heightened sensations. We’d be too busy going “Ow! Ow! Ow!” and checking to see what bone we broke or what piece of flesh we tore, to get out of the way of the oncoming rockslide, tidal wave, or speeding bus, or haul ourselves out a burning car and run to safety before the gas tank explodes. The adrenaline rush and sudden biochemical cascade of pain-numbing opioids makes it possible for us to do important things like rescue each other, even when the rescuer is injured… to pull ourselves from danger, even if we’ve been hurt… and do things that would be utterly impossible, if we had to deal – for real — with intense pain. Endogenous opioids may well have been what let that tech guy save himself from dying on an ill-fated hike through the California wilderness by hacking his arm off below the elbow with a pocket knife.

Now, these endogenous opioids are truly wonderful things. Among them are Endorphin, Enkephalin, and Dynorphin. More research keeps trickling in about these substances — and others like them. It seems implausible that we could know so little about these important biochemicals until recently, but some of these have only been identified and studied since the mid-1990’s. And by the time I write (and you read) this, much more will probably be known about these substances, and how they interact with our sensitive systems.

It’s my understanding that the reason that artificial opiates work is because they are so much like the opioids we produce in our own bodies. Like a copy of a master key fitting into a lock, artificial/man-made opiates “open the same doors” that our own bodies normally have closed… and then open, when properly prompted by our biochemical “keys”. If you consider how strongly heroin and morphine can affect the human system, and if you consider that the only reason they work is ‘cause they mimic the qualities of opioids we already have in our own brains/brains, you can begin to understand just how powerful our own biochemical systems intrinsically are.

Yes, these endogenous opioids have the same sort of effect on us as opiates. They cut pain. They give us a euphoric feeling. They help clear our minds. They do amazing things to make life worth living. Lenny Bruce, the heroin addict, said of his addiction, “… it’s like kissing God.” If you consider that endogenous opioids can work the magic of relieving/inhibiting pain, imparting euphoria, and making us think better, it explains how human beings can sometimes perform at super-human levels irrespective of pain, danger, stress, or other normally stymieing influences (like, for example, the voice in their head urging them (in vain) to keep a low profile).

These magic potentialities we have in our brains have recently been getting more “air time” from scientists like Irving Biederman, who studies perceptual and cognitive pleasure. According to Dr. Biederman, we’re not only wired to survive — we’re wired to enjoy ourselves in the process. A lot. Things like learning new things, encountering novel situations, looking at innovative art, “tickle” the parts of our brains that release endogenous opioids into our systems.

So, under the worst and the best of circumstances, endogenous opioids are about as close to a gift from God as you can get. Not only do they buffer our bodies from the ill effects of extreme duress, but they also reward certain kinds of behavior (learning, in particular) with a pure shot of unbridled joy.

Kind of makes it all worthwhile, doesn’t it?

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents

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A Perilous Relief : Because Extreme Duress Makes Me Feel Better

Thinking back over the course of my life, to all those times when I pushed myself, stretched myself, and in some cases really punished myself to get to a goal, I can see discernable patterns in my behavior:

  • I am presented with a variety of choices about people and activities and jobs.
  • Some of the choices are positive, pleasant, benign.
  • Other choices are more challenging, distasteful, and carry the threat of some ultimate negative consequence.
  • I know I have positive, pro-active options available to me, but time and again — against my better judgment and experience — I choose the lesser of the options and plunge myself into yet more chaos.
  • Sometimes things go well, and I reap the rewards for overcoming the challenge.
  • But other times, I burn out, flame out, crash and burst into a veritable brilliant fireball that can be seen for miles.
  • Friends, family, coworkers all scratch their heads and puzzle at my poor decision-making, my risk-taking and danger-seeking behavior that endangers my professional reputation and my social and financial viability.

I’ve been puzzling and puzzling over these patterns of mine for the longest time, trying to figure out why I’ve apparently been unable to learn from my past mistakes… always thinking, this time will be different… but it never is — it actually gets worse. Given my life experience, my intimate knowledge of my limits, and my determined commitment to self-care and peak performance, there is no way I should be doing these kinds of things and making these kinds of “mistakes” over and over. I’m not an idiot. I know better. I’m not mentally ill (from all indications 😉 and I always start out with the best of intentions.

What’s the attraction of danger? What’s the allure of risk? I’m not the kind of person who seeks out thrills and chills — I hate suspense movies and I shudder at the thought of skydiving or rock climbing — even with ropes. What’s wrong with me, that I continuously put my own professional and social well-being on the line, time after time? Am I addicted to adrenaline? Am I hopelessly brain-damaged, thanks to my multiple tbi’s? Is there some fundamental flaw in me that seeks out its own destruction, time after time, and wants to secretly destroy all the progress I’ve made over the years?

What about emotional issues? You might ask… I ask myself the same thing, at times. I have been known to keep busy-busy-busy to keep my mind off painful or uncomfortable thoughts. But I have dealt with a lot of my personal issues that used to get in the way, and it’s been years since I genuinely wanted to run from myself. I’m healthy. I’m happy. I don’t do drugs or drink alcohol. I am not running willy-nilly from old ghosts like I used to, and I’ve dealt with many emotional and psychological aspects of my past in a productive and definitive way.

Well, then, what about being addicted to an adrenaline high?1 I’m not sure how that’s possible. I don’t crave thrills like skydiving and freestyle skiing. I’m not fond of courting danger – like some of my siblings do. The very idea of taking extreme chances makes my blood cool. I’m a homebody who likes a quiet life. I’d rather curl up with a good white paper on cutting-edge neurological research than go mountain biking in the Grand Canyon around sunset.

So, why the hell do I do these stupid-ass things, time and again? What is it — really — that makes me make such risky social and professional choices and screw up so dramatically on such a regular basis?

In stepping back from my personal perspective, looking at all the objective data about my life, and then thinking about not only the things that went wrong, but the things that went right while things were going wrong, I’ve realized I actually feel better when I’m under a lot of stress and strain. And the higher the intensity of my stress experience, the better I feel.

I believe, based on my own observations about my life, that beyond the most obvious components in in my decision-making process, there’s something else at work. Something not cognitive, not emotional, not psychological, but something physical. Could it be that risk-taking / danger-seeking behavior meets a basic, fundamental physiological need in me which persists in spite of better judgment and deliberately broken bad habits? Could there be something about the experience of dangerous risk that – rather than boosting me into a super-human experience – supports me in having a normal human experience?

I’ve gradually come to realize (after untold hours of reflection and consideration and painstaking — and sometimes maddening — rehashing of patterns and details) that I need stress in order to function properly. I don’t seek it out in order to pump up an already fully functional system. I seek it out in order to bring a struggling system up to par, so I can participate normally in the world and have the kind of regular life that other people take for granted.

Not being in the same room with you, I can only guess at your reaction. But I suspect it’s one of skepticism and incredulity. Why on earth would someone need stress, in order to function? Why would they need to take risks and seek out danger, in order to live a normal life? Isn’t this a little… hyperbolic?

Since you’re not in the same room as me, and you aren’t privy to my personal experience, I’m not sure I can explain this exactly. But I’ll try…

1 Note: From where I’m sitting, using the common “addicted to thrills” metaphor implies that the high you’re getting is not necessarily something you need. It’s superfluous, it starts out as recreational, then you develop an irrational need for it, a destructive need for it. The terms “adrenaline junkie” and “addicted to thrills” carry pejorative connotations, as well, which I feel are not very helpful in understanding this phenomenon.

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents


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A Perilous Relief: Risks I Took that Turned Out Badly

Throughout my risk-taking career, I have not only taken risks that paid off or that I barely escaped, but I have also taken a number of risks that failed to deliver on both small and large scales. And I have made choices, especially with regard to work and associates, which some would consider extremely risky — and I lost the silent “bet” I made with myself that everything would work out great.

For some reason, I tend to gravitate towards people who I should steer clear of. Either they are so different from me, we don’t have much in common that will stand the test of time, or they are just plain no good for me. They aren’t on the same wavelength as me, they don’t agree with my philosophies, and even worse, they judge me for my beliefs, they are really hard on me, and the courtesy I extend to them is never returned, only repudiated. I have had a number of long-term friendships/relationships that grew increasingly hostile because my friend/lover was totally at odds with me, and as the relationship progressed and the divide between us continued to widen, they began to act out aggressively towards me when I didn’t fit with their world view. It’s a little daunting (and depressing) to think about it, but there it is.

For some reason (that has eluded me for decades), I don’t seem to gravitate towards people who are in synch with me. There’s just not much of an attraction there. I don’t get the same “charge” from people who are like me, and I don’t seem to find them very interesting. We may have plenty in common, but the more compatible with someone I am, the less interest I have in them. Rather, people who are on the opposite end of the spectrum, philosophically and ethically, attract me like a magnet attracts iron shavings.

The thing is, I often don’t even realize the chasm between my own personality and theirs, until I’ve developed a substantial relationship with them. This happens at work, as well as in my personal life. And once I realize how at-odds with them I am, our relationship has taken on a life of its own, and I’m “stuck” with them — and they with me. The problem is, I tend to be a lot more accommodating of others’ differences, than they are with mine. So I end up on the wrong end of the deal, getting the brunt of their neglect/abuse/maltreatment/judgment — you name it — while they happily romp all over me.

Ironically (for I am actually a very self-assured and assertive individual), I often feel very comfortable in those kinds of situations. In fact, I sometimes feel better in situations where I’m being mistreated, than when I’m totally accommodated and accepted. The problem is, the mistreatment takes a toll, and eventually, I buckle under the pressure and say/do something that puts me completely at odds with the folks I don’t synch with. And when I melt down, I look like the “bad guy” because all along, nobody had any clue that I wasn’t okay with their perspectives and/or behavior, and they had no reason to change, because I didn’t make an issue of it. They have no clue they are part of the problem, because I am able to stay cool as a cucumber up to a certain point, and I’ve never indicated I felt that way. The only indication they have that things are amiss, is when I blow up, melt down, pitch a fit, or say/do something that is not only unprofessional but insubordinate and uncollegial.

At the risk of totally depressing myself, I’ll outline just a few instances of this kind of behavior.

Professional Danger-Seeking Activity That Went South

I have held a disproportionately large number of jobs working for bosses or companies that were not a good fit. In the best of cases, they were mildly annoying and were an inconvenient way to make a living. In the worst of cases, they were abusive, neglectful or outright hostile to me. I have stuck it out with rake-you-over-the-coals-type employers with widespread reputations for being “burnout shops,” and I have put in many hours working with abusive sons of bitches who didn’t evidence a single kind bone in their bodies.

But despite all my bad experiences, I have persisted in choosing jobs that were bad fits for me, including jobs at companies with commutes that I knew were too long for me to make comfortable, twice a day, five days a week, and positions with companies that were so at-odds with my own moral code that I came to loathe myself for working for them within weeks of taking the job. And despite my discomfort, I have persevered at those jobs, irrationally successful in extremely harsh environments, despite my best intentions to protect myself… this time.

I also have a history of gravitating to employment situations that had very little security and substandard compensation. I would take work as a contractor with a company that had a history of summarily dismissing contract staff, or I would take a position that paid me less than I could easily command on the market with my skills and experience.

Typically, I would thrive in those kinds of environments for a number of months… until I began to exhaust myself — and started to say and do things that put my job and professional standing in danger. I would start to be disruptive in meetings, stop meeting my deadlines, become argumentative, even combative, with people whom I found increasingly distressing, and in some cases I would become downright insubordinate and start to foment dissent and agitation in the ranks. I would start to pick fights, stop being so long-suffering and accepting, and despite my better judgment and intelligence, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. What’s more, despite my decreasing job satisfaction, I would take on more and more responsibility, overburdening my already taxed system, and eventually I’d burn out or flame out or become physically ill (which impacted my ability to think rationally and act responsibly)… all the while being unable to halt my downward slide – or even accurately detect it till it was too late.

Looking back, I can see how I have really paid, time and time again, for my poor choices in ill-fitting work. But despite my best intentions, I end up working with people and companies, over and over, who are not good fits for me, doing work that is neither challenging nor as financially rewarding as it should be. But I can’t seem to resist the draw of those types of scenarios. In fact, I have often actively sought out those kinds of work environments — against my better judgment, my past experience, and the urgings of my friends, family and co-workers. Although I am well aware of the risks involved and I have had more than my fair share of wishful thinking failure-dramas, when it comes to seeking out new work, I have to actively discourage myself from being involved in pie-in-the-sky too-good-to-be-true job offerings, and I have to make a concerted effort to seek out stable employment.

  • At Risk: Employment, job security, personal happiness
  • Dangers: Unemployment, poor working conditions, professional backlash from jobs gone bad
  • Rewards: Satisfaction of “being able to do it” and “hanging tough”, continued employment, acquired ability to function in a wide variety of work situations, respect of professional peers
  • Outcome(s): Continuous employment, financial security, repeated screw-ups in job choices, intermittent and recurring job dissatisfaction

Personal Choices that Sucked

In my personal life, I’ve had a long history of bad choices, as well. I have gotten into a number of relationships (romantic and otherwise) which were not in my best interest. They weren’t good ideas when I was initially attracted to them, they weren’t good ideas when I started them, and they just went downhill, the longer I stayed with them. To the untrained eye, in some cases, the friendship/relationship looked like “the right thing to do.” The other person “looked good on paper” or was very popular, or they were the kind of person that other people said I should be with — but no doubt about it, it was a bad match. And I was drawn to the dynamic like a moth to the flame.

In a number of cases, my friend/partner was so completely different from me, so at odds with what I thought a decent person should be like, and quite aggressive about their take in life, that I ended up first getting swept up in their own life and perspectives, and then I got bullied into sticking with them, just because they had grown attached to me (and my wallet). How many times I’ve ended up being friends (or lovers) with someone whose main interest was in how much stuff I could buy them and how obedient I was to their whims, I’m embarrassed to say. But it has happened. Over and over again. And each time, I’ve been dismayed and horrified to re-realize that I was repeating old patterns. Over and over again.

  • At Risk: Personal happiness and fulfillment, financial well-being, personal autonomy & safety
  • Dangers: Being trapped in bad relationships, abuse, exploitation by friends/partners, self-loathing
  • Rewards: I’m rarely alone, continuous relationships, popularity
  • Outcome(s): String of “good things gone bad”, decreased self-esteem, long history of interpersonal lessons learned

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents


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A Perilous Relief – Risks I Took that I Barely Escaped

I believe that smart risk-taking should be a learned skill. Danger-seeking may come naturally, early on in life, but it needs to be properly learned, in order to be survivable. History is full of examples of people who either could not or would not learn how to survive their own need for stimulation. Fighter pilots, rock climbers, base jumpers, extreme skiers, stuntmen… and more.

I’ve teetered on the edge myself, and there have been a number of times I came close to being harmed, but miraculously managed to elude disaster. Sometimes it was dumb luck that I got out in one piece, while other times it was the learning from my past experiences that I had to thank for my continued existence.

Social Danger-Seeking

I have always been an assertive, even aggressive, individual, and as a young kid, I had a tendency to engage strangers in conversation and provoke them. I relished the experience of challenging someone to a duel of wits or interacting with people who (I thought) were up to no good. I was a bit of a crusader, when I was a kid, and I had all the best of intentions. The problem was, I usually lacked the ability to successfully negotiate the entire social transaction, and there were a lot of arguments I started but couldn’t finish — or that ended in me being attacked or threatened in some way. Many of them I managed to get out of… barely.

When I was about nine years old, while walking to school, a (female) schoolmate and I were once chased by young (high-school aged) men who drove by in a car. I yelled out to them and baited them, itching for a fight (okay, I wasn’t the brightest kid at times, clearly), and when they pulled the car over and started coming after my schoolmate and me, we were barely able to elude them by hiding in the underbrush. I endangered both myself and my schoolmate, who could have been seriously injured (including raped), as a result of my brash behavior. We both escaped, but I believe the girl’s mother refused to let her walk to school with me, after that. I still feel terrible about the role I played in that scenario.

Throughout my grade school years, I had numerous run-ins with other kids who were bigger and stronger and angrier than I, running my big mouth and pushing limits of our social dynamics, till they struck out at me. On several occasions, my provocation was enough to get me physically attacked, or ganged up on and bullied for an entire year of school. The summer after 6th grade, I chose the wrong kid to take on — they were a year ahead of me in school and they had a lot of friends who were as angry and as aggressive as they — and I spent my whole 7th grade year hiding from this gang with a long and vengeful memory. I didn’t get beaten up, but part of me wishes I had, so they could have gotten their aggression out of their systems. That bullying seriously impeded my social progress for years to come. If I’d only kept my mouth shut, that hot summer day in 1977.

  • At Risk: Personal safety
  • Dangers: Interpersonal strife, Attack/assault
  • Rewards: Heightened sense of self, thrills, sense of adventure
  • Outcome(s): Quarrels and altercations, social “near misses”, Narrow escape from possible assault

A few years later, as a rebellious teenager, I was also a trouble-maker who drank and smoked and challenged authority for no better reason other than to do it. I sold drugs out of my high school locker, I bought and sold liquor out of the trunks of cars, and I brazenly tucked my pack of cigarettes in the sleeve pocket of my winter coat, not caring who saw — even my coaches and teachers. I sneaked beer into school, in my gym bag and drank it in the bathroom before first period. I drank — and drove drunk — on back roads, and I ran with a pretty rough crowd of drug dealers, thieves, and felons-to-be. I was never in trouble with the law, however, and I eluded detection for the most part. The times when I was detected by authorities, I got off with a warning. I’m frankly amazed, at times, that I didn’t end up in juvie hall, for all the crap I pulled off. I think the fact that my parents were respectable, church-going members of their segment of society got me off the hook, and a lot of adults around me weren’t looking at me very closely, because — as a “brain” — they were more concerned with my oddly substandard grades than my social/behavior problems, and they didn’t want me to have a record. But if someone had just looked a little more closely, they would have found a lot of misdemeanors and actual felonies I was committing without so much as a moment of hesitation.

  • At Risk: Social standing, reputation, relationship with authority figures, health, well-being, future prospects, academic performance, personal and interpersonal maturation
  • Dangers: Trouble with authorities, worsening reputation, legal action (arrest), physical harm from dangerous associates
  • Rewards: Thrills, sense of adventure, financial reward, social reward (from socially marginal associates and “customers”), relief from social pressure to conform, defiant independence, self-assertion
  • Outcome(s): Drinking problems, reduced academic performance, social alienation, health problems, poor relations with authority figures

When I was a junior in college, I went to Europe for a semester abroad. I purchased a one-way ticket to Switzerland and borrowed $1,000 from a family member, not having any idea how I was going to make ends meet in Europe… or even pay for my way home. While overseas in the European Union (where non-EU residents are effectively barred from ‘taking jobs from Europeans’), I managed to land a job working for an American expatriate, and although I was really struggling with getting along there, I stayed on and turned a semester into a multi-year stay. I never managed to complete my college degree, but I got an unparalleled education in living an independent life.

  • At Risk: Personal safety, future professional prospects
  • Dangers: Personal harm, financial difficulties
  • Rewards: Sense of accomplishment, self-esteem, improved professional outlook, lots of great stories, good life experience
  • Outcome(s): Several years overseas, unique take on life thanks to my time abroad

These are just a few examples of how I’ve courted danger, socially, throughout my childhood and young adulthood. There were a lot more instances than that, but the bottom line is, I have a lifelong history of taking social risks.

Physical Danger-Seeking

I also took physical risks, when I was younger. As a teenager, I was a tree climber, and I often climbed well above where it was safe to go. I well remember the sensation of climbing 50 feet up, into the uppermost branches, which sagged and swayed beneath me, creaking and threatening to break beneath me. I persisted in climbing higher, even when my heart was in my throat and my pulse was pounding and my head knew it was not safe to go any further up. I only fell once; after that, I stopped climbing trees. Lesson learned.

  • At Risk: Physical safety and well-being
  • Dangers: Falling from great heights, being injured while alone in the woods
  • Rewards: Sense of adventure, ability to remove myself from the rest of the world, sense of accomplishment, self-esteem
  • Outcome(s): Solitude and solace, minor injury

Interestingly, at the same time that I was acting out with drugs and alcohol and challenging authority as a teenager, I was also a medal-winning athlete who was a team captain on several sports, and I lettered each season in my chosen area. In my quest for excellence, I routinely pushed the limits of my physical endurance and really punished my body, driving it relentlessly beyond its capabilities. I played injured, time and again, and even when I got hit hard and was slow getting up — in retrospect, I now understand that I sustained multiple concussions throughout my high school sports activities — I was back in the game, keeping on keeping on. All that mattered, was the game.

  • At Risk: Health and safety, physical well-begin
  • Dangers: Injuries, concussions, mild TBI
  • Rewards: Social approval, team membership, medals and ribbons, heightened social status, sense of accomplishment, self-esteem
  • Outcome(s): Longstanding health concerns due to injuries, acquired tendency to ignore warning messages from my injured body and “play injured” in other aspects of life

When I was sixteen, while traveling with my family across the country, after a whole day in the car, I got out and literally sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon, with nothing other than my sense of balance keeping me from plunging hundreds of yards down to a rocky death. After being in that close space with all my siblings, rolling across the countryside with no break, no respite, no escape from the noise and din of my family, I was so out of it, so stir-crazy, so aching for a little fresh air, I actually literally sat on the edge of an abyss. I didn’t even realize what I was doing, until a little while had passed, my head had cleared, and I’d gotten enough of an adrenaline “pump” to realize where I was. It really made no sense for me to do that — I am mortally afraid of heights, including precipitous drops to a canyon floor hundreds of yards below. But I needed that little while, perched on the verge of my own destruction, to bring me back to my senses. Once I had them back, and I realized where I was,  I got up very slowly, I can tell you.

  • At Risk: Physical safety
  • Dangers: Plunging to my death in the Grand Canyon
  • Rewards: Relief from being cooped up in a loud vehicle, getting away from everyone (who didn’t dare come near the edge)
  • Outcome(s): Cleared my head… but also realized I was perched on the brink of an abyss

A Perilous Relief – Table of Contents


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Throwing nuts at the cheetah

I had a really troubling dream just before I woke up this morning.

I was walking through the woods with two friends of mine. It was almost like a jungle or rain forest – the air was very humid and the trees were huge and spaced apart, and the forest floor was quite open — not a lot of underbrush, but springy underfoot. We were walking along a wide path that was well-worn, and we were talking about this and that. I believe we were discussing possible dangers from big cats that had been seen in the area.

If I remember correctly, the woods had been cleared of all dangerous wild animals a while back, but some big animals had escaped and had returned to their habitat, so hikers were warned to be very careful and not engage them.

We walked and talked for a while, and I was picking up stones and nuts and old pieces of tropical fruit that had fallen from the trees. I was tossing them around, and my friends were getting irritated with me. They wanted me to stop, but I didn’t feel like talking with them. They were just running at the mouth, and I was getting overwhelmed with all the words.

We were passing by an open clearing that was raised up above the path, when we looked up and saw a cheetah sitting in the sunlight. It was a beautiful animal, so sleek and strong. It also looked very dangerous and wild. My friends said we should walk by it slowly and not bother it. They were both terrified of it.

I was thinking that I knew how to deal with a big cat. I’ve learned (for real, not only in the dream) that with big cats, if you come across them, you have to face them down. Make yourself as big as possible and stare them in the eye. You cannot show any fear, and you cannot turn your back on them, because when they hunt, they go for the back of their prey’s neck. If you do show them fear, or you turn your back to them, they instinctively attack and go for you. This is why joggers and cyclists are often attacked by mountain lions in California — they have their back turned to the animal or their heads are down, exposing the backs of their necks, so the big cats attack.

I wasn’t afraid of the big cat, and I felt like I needed to show it who was boss. I also felt a kind of rush from the imminent danger — Here was a cheetah! A big cat this close! We were in danger for our lives! I felt that familiar rush of adrenaline that sharpens my senses and pumps me up and makes me do things that I would not do under normal circumstances. Something in me surged with daring, and I took a nut I’d been holding and threw it at the cheetah. I felt a thrill of danger course through me, and I cursed myself for having thrown it at the cat. The nut bounced near it, and the animal flinched, and it looked like it was going to back off and leave us alone. My heart was pounding and my mind was calculating what I would do in response to it. I was watching it very, very carefully, to see what it would do, and for a few moments, it looked like the big cat was going to withdraw into the woods and leave us alone.

But then my friends got very frightened that I’d thrown the nut at the cat, and they started to freak out and panic. My one friend started to shake and quiver, and my other friend, who is a bit overweight and doesn’t move very quickly in real life, took off running down the trail. In my dream, I was thinking, “What are you doing?! You’re going to catch its attention! Why are you running from a cheetah? You can’t outrun it! You have to stare it down. You have to stand your ground!

I looked up at the big cat and saw it had suddenly spotted my friend. in an instant, it recovered its composure, sprang into action, and raced after my friend. It looked so beautiful in motion, all its sinews taut, its coat shining in the sunlight that filtered through the canopy above us. But my admiration was short-lived, as it caught up with my friend, grabbed them by the back of the neck, and started to run off with their body dangling from its jaw.

Frozen with horror for a moment, I took off running after the cheetah, yelling at the top of my lungs and willing myself to run faster. I was convinced I could catch it and wrestle my friend from its grip.

The big cat was very fast, though, and it was way ahead of me, with my friend’s body hanging from its jaws. I was horrified and mortified, and my other friend was screaming at me for throwing the nut at the cheetah and making it angry. In my head, I was trying to calculate how far the cheetah could get, carrying my friend’s heavy body, if I could catch up with it because it would be slowed down by the weight, and if I could get to it in time to save my friend. I suspected that my friend had been killed instantly, or that even if I did catch up, the cheetah would be eating them, so there wasn’t much point in my running after them.

Plus, I ran out of steam after a few hundred yards, and I had to stop. I was so upset at what had happened. On the one hand, I was upset with myself for throwing that nut, but I was also upset with my friend for not having better sense, and I was upset with the whole chain of events that was probably killing my friend.

I woke up very disturbed around 5:00, and I haven’t been able to get back to sleep.

I think that this dream has something to say about a lot of aspects of my life, these days. I have a lot of people around me who are very frightened for me, as I talk to them about my TBIs and the issues that go along with them. They’re like the friends in my dream, who just want to walk along quietly along a well-worn path in the woods, chatting about this and that, not really bothered by anything… cognizant that there are things amiss in the world, but not really eager to confront them.

There’s also a part of me that’s like that. I don’t want to be bothered by dangers in the woods. I want to just go along my merry way and not have to expend a lot of energy on things like dealing with large dangers that I come across.

But there’s also a part of me that gets bored with all that safe stuff, and I need to occupy myself. So I do things like picking up rocks and nuts and old pieces of fruit and tossing them around. I get bored pretty quickly, so I start casting about for new things to learn and do.

And sometimes my casting about uncovers big dangers along the way. Like this diagnostic imaging I’m going to have done — an MRI this weekend, and an EEG in another week or so. Who knows what will be uncovered as a result of that? Sometimes I cast about a bit too freely, and I can end up stirring up things that are unexpected and potentially dangerous… but are actually authentic pieces of my human experience.  (The interesting thing is that the cheetah in my dream actually belonged in the woods — it was its home, and it had just returned to its rightful place.)

Sometimes I cast about too carelessly, too — like tossing a nut at the cheetah. Or, I take a calculated risk and push the limits. In my dream, I didn’t just toss the nut at the cheetah for fun — I did it partly to show it that I meant business, and I wasn’t intimidated by it. I also wanted to scare it away. And it almost worked. But my friend with the weak nerves had to take off running — doing exactly the wrong thing, in that situation. They didn’t have the same information as I, apparently, and they let their fear get the best of them. And then all is lost.

This is pretty significant to me, in my real life experiences with others, because as I move forward, I’m going to have to educate the people around me about my condition(s) — TBI, etc. — so that they learn how to respond appropriately to the situation I’m in. I really don’t need them to freak out and get all worked up over things that A) we don’t know for sure, or B) are big and dangerous but are totally manageable with the right information and the right team of caregivers. I don’t need them to lose it and put themselves — or me — in danger. I need them to be cool, be present, be able to help in a substantive and constructive way.

As I go through this next phase of diagnostic testing — maybe it will show something, maybe it won’t — I need to keep my head on. I need to take care of myself and take things slowly, and not only know why I’m doing what I’m doing, but be clear with others why I’m doing it. Everybody needs to be in the loop, and that includes the parts of myself, too, that are prone to freak out and make poor choices out of fear, rather than knowledge and courage.

But at the same time, I also need to be cognizant of my tendency to court danger, as some kind of reflex, some inner/neuropsychological/biochemical need to sharpen and brighten mylife experience… to wake me up and keep me engaged in life. I need to be aware of my tendency to overstep my bounds, when I’m bored or tired or in need of some stimulation. I need to remember that, when it comes to taking on new challenges, I’m not always as smart as I think I am, and I’m not always up to the task of overcoming what I’m presented with. I can’t afford to forget that I rarely know as much as I need to know — either about myself or the situation I’m presented with. In my dream, I couldn’t chase down the cheetah, once it had hold of my friend. And I can’t always overcome my cognitive and behavioral issues as well as I’d like, once they take hold of me and get a ‘running start’ ahead of my logic and innate abilities.

When (not if) I meet a proverbial big cat on the path through my own “woods,” I need everyone with me — the parts inside and the people outside — to remain calm, make informed choices, and keep their heads. I need to focus on the basics — take care of my body and my mind and my spirit, with adequate rest and activities that feed and sustain me and build up my strength (not to mention common sense). And I need to be aware of my limits and not push them carelessly just because I need a thrill. I need to be aware that I do have a tendency (perhaps thanks to my PTSD) to court danger, just to feel awake and alive. And I need to remember that I’m much more use to my friends and family alive and healthy, than injured or dead. No matter how dangerous a situation may seem, the right information and the intention/willingness to intelligently proceed in the proper way can mean the difference between keeping on my path and making progress, and disaster.

Note to self: Get plenty of rest over the coming days and weeks. You’re going to need it, to do a decent job of handling all this.

Help for a teen-age girl who had a brain injury

I recently received this comment from someone looking to help the daughter of someone they work with.

I was wondering if you could give me some advise a woman I work with has a 13 year old daughter who was shot in the head at the age of 7. She has more or less fully “recovered” physically and mentally as according to her physicians.

Recently she has been getting in trouble at school when she gets stressed out about tests and friends and one of her problems at school is that when she gets stressed she involuntarily scratching her forearms which is alarming school officials . But when the officials approach her she becomes more stressed and scratches her self more.

So I gather you see the problem — the school has ordered my friend (who I will call Stacy) to take her daughter to a psychiatrist and to her PCP. The PCP says that there is nothing physically wrong with her so he can’t do any thing. The psychiatrist wants to medicate but is unsure what the side affects will be as seeing that she has had severe brain trauma and suggested Stacy to contact her neurologist; which she is doing but it takes awhile to get an appointment.

While they are waiting for the neurologist appointment I suggested getting her daughter involved in a support group with others who are going thru the same kind of emotional and psychological healing that she is going thru so she doesn’t feel alone and this is where I’m drawing a blank can you or can any one else get me in contact with a support group that may meet this girls needs if you can

Bless you

Thanks

I’m worried for Stacy also, I think she needs some one to talk to who is going thru what she is.

And here is my (slightly modified) response:

Hi Mel –

Thanks so much for writing and thanks for helping Stacy!

It sounds like Stacy’s daughter is using (negative) sensation as a way to calm herself down. This is not uncommon — some folks with seizure disorders will do it to stop/interrupt their meltdowns — they hit their heads or they hurt themselves in some way. Other folks who are overwhelmed will use pain to focus their thinking. They will scratch or hit themselves, bang their heads, or do something else to “get themselves back into the present”.

It could also be that she’s using it as a way to get people to back off of her — I have been known to do some kind of bizarre things — unconsciously and consciously — that caused people to back off of me. Things like twitching and behaving strangely, that made people look at me strangely, but got them to stop coming at me so hard. I didn’t WANT to act like a freak, but I found that my involuntary reflexes had the (negative) benefit of putting some distance between myself and the person who was yelling at me, so it actually helped in a way. Additional Note: I’m not saying Stacy’s daughter is intentionally doing bizarre things — I’m just saying I can relate, and the negative reactions I myself have displayed, have contributed to my own behavior and social issues, over the years.

Also, with me, my tbi’s have slowed down my reaction time, so when I have gotten into trouble with authorities in the past, and I haven’t reacted as quickly as they wanted, they acted like I was intentionally defying them, and they came at me all the harder. I wasn’t deliberately being bad, I was just “slower on the uptake” and they mis-interpreted my response as defiance. That may be happening with Stacy’s daughter, and if she’s like me, the increased attention feeds my confusion and I get even more overloaded — A Real Problem, which Stacy’s daughter may be having.

It also could be that — like me, when I was a kid — Stacy’s daughter is (mis)interpreting the school officials’ attention and concern as being in trouble and she thinks she’s being punished or disciplined, which — if she’s like me — just adds to the overwhelm. When they approach her, the school officials need to say explicitly that she is NOT in trouble. They are trying to help her. They may think she knows, but with tbi, it’s never safe to assume anything. Now, if the school officials ARE treating her like she’s in trouble, that’s another issue — a problem with the officials, themselves.

For dealing with sensory overload… Other people with sensory integration issues will do things like rub a coarse surface, tap a rhythm, hum, or do some other action which brings a single point of focus to their attention. It’s called “stimming” or “self-stimulation” and there are many different kinds that people do in different ways. If you Google “stimming” you may find something useful.

Additional Note: Stimming is often used by folks who are autistic or have some other developmental delay — I AM NOT saying Stacy’s daughter has become autistic as a result of her head injury, only that understanding stimming behaviors (as they are used by folks on the autistic spectrum), may help Stacy understand her daughter’s need to scratch her forearms.

I have been known to hurt myself (slightly) to “get out of” a downward slide into a meltdown or when I feel like I just can’t handle all the outside stimuli coming in. Before I knew about how even a mild TBI can affect the brain, I used to bang my head when I was too overwhelmed to function. (Note: since I learned more about tbi, I’ve stopped that behavior — I’ve got all the head injury I can handle, thank you very much.) I have also hit myself, grabbed my forearms really hard and squeezed long and hard enough to bruise myself, I have punched myself, and I have done other things to get a little pain into my system to clear my head. I have never severely injured myself — like cut myself or banged my hand in a drawer or something extreme like that. I just needed a little bit of pain to chill myself out and stop the chaos in my head. I have used sports in the past to create “managed pain” in a positive way — I would push myself really, really hard in practices and competitions, to the point where I was in real physical distress. But then I was able to chill, and life went on.

I’m not an expert in this, but I believe it’s because the pain triggers endorphines (and other stress hormones/adrenaline) which can help clear the mind and help someone get a single point of focus back, when they’re being bombarded with stimuli that they cannot sort out. (Interestingly, this ties in with the research I’m presently doing about how people (unconsciously) create stress and really difficult situations to help themselves function better, when they’re totally overwhelmed.) From personal experience, I can say that there’s nothing like a little pain, sometimes, to help me focus. NOTE: I am NOT advocating self-injury as a coping mechanism, I’m just observing that — on a very limited scale — self-administered pain/stress has helped me cope throughout my life. And in fact, I still use it, now and then.

Anyway, to avoid real injury and help myself focus, I use other techniques that are less stigmatized — more like stimming than self-injury. I usually have a rolled-up paper napkin or towel in one of my pockets that I carry around with me to rub and clench in my fist, when I’m feeling overwhelmed. A rolled-up napkin really works, because it’s coarse, and it fits in my hand, so I can carry it around without people noticing it. I find it very soothing. Also, I do things like rub the seam of my jeans, tap out rhythms (working on a computer keyboard is very soothing for me), and press my thumbnail into the sides of my fingers or palm. I do these things secretly, so no one will see, because if/when they do notice, they become worried and agitated, and it makes the situation worse for me.

For Stacy’s daughter, I would strongly recommend regular exercise, like getting involved in sports. I had real sensory issues and I was a total wreck, when I was a kid. Bit when I got to high school, I started getting involved in organized sports, and that made all the difference. But I couldn’t do every sport — team sports like basketball and softball and field hockey were too chaotic for me, so I ran cross country and track. I did individual sports as part of a team. If I hadn’t been so afraid of water, I would have gone out for the swim team, but I had a lot of trouble coordinating my breathing with motion when I swam, and I was (rightfully so) afraid of drowning.

If Stacy’s daughter is not athletic, I would really encourage her to do some sort of rigorous physical activity that she can do alone or with a small group. But find something physical to do, that lets her really work out her anxiety and channel all that energy. With each successive head injury I’ve had (8+), I’ve often noticed a sudden surge in my physical energy — and I felt more blocked, like I didn’t know what to do with it. That’s been a real problem over the years. But if I can find something really physically demanding to do, I’m usually able to get myself back on track.

If Stacy’s daughter can find something to do that is safe, as well as physically challenging, and not terribly expensive (running cross country and track are about the cheapest sports you can participate in), I really think it could help. And being in organized sports in school was great for me, because it gave me structure and guidance from coaches, as well as well-defined rules to play by — very important for me, after those injuries and concussions.

Now, if she cannot under any circumstances participate in sports, she may benefit from developing other (hidden) stimming techniques — like carrying a “worry stone” with her — a rough stone or some other texture that will keep her attention focused on something other than her confrontation and/or overwhelm. Or like me, carrying a rolled-up napkin to squeeze and rub, when things get a little ‘tight’. If she can be shown other ways she can dissipate the stress that don’t attract a lot of attention, that could help.

Above all, I would recommend that someone work with her in a non-judgmental way so she can develop other coping techniques. Like an occupational therapist. Since she was obviously head-injured by a gunshot wound, she must have medical records which show she is a tbi survivor, so she may be able to get help that insurance will pay for. Rather than sending her to a shrink or medicating her or treating her like she’s mentally ill, if someone can just explain to her that her brain is not processing information the same way that other people’s do, and it’s getting turned around (no fault of hers — it’s a result of the injury), and then work with her to constructively and positively deal with her unique situation, I think that could really help. Again, I’m not a trained professional in this, but as a multiple tbi survivor with sensory issues, I know it would have really helped me, when I was a kid.

As for Stacy, I would recommend that she spend some time reading about tbi online — check some of the links on my blog and learn about it. Even though her daughter has appeared to recover physically and mentally, she will likely have a bunch of issues that she needs to work through — many of which may look like “bad behavior” but are really neurological. Also, the young lady’s age tells me that because she’s going though puberty, her hormones are changing, and that can alter your neurological experience. Women with seizure disorders are known to experience changes in seizure activity which are directly related to their hormonal condition. Stacy may wish to keep a log about her daughter’s monthly cycles so she can track any kinds of behavior changes around the time of her ovulation/menstruation. That way, she can discuss it with a neurologist, and/or help her daughter prepare for times that may be tougher, due to hormonal fluctuations, and use that information to really be pro-active and common-sense about these seeming inexplicable behaviors.

I would recommend, also, that you give Stacy a copy of the self-assessment form(s) I have available on my blog, so she can see what kinds of symptoms can come with TBI. It could be that her daughter is having more problems than anyone realizes – but because of cultural bias, people think that her daughter is just being badly behaved. Or that Stacy is being a “bad mom”. I can’t tell you how many people were really hard on my parents — especially my mom — because they thought their bad parenting was responsible for my behavior. It wasn’t my parents — it was my tbi’s that caused me do do the things I did!

The more Stacy knows about tbi, the better. And her daughter’s school officials should be educated on it, as well. If nothing else, Stacy should make sure they know about her daughter’s brain injury, so they can respond appropriately and work constructively to develop positive approaches that don’t stress out the young lady. Stacy should NOT be afraid to tell them her daughter was brain injured. If she educates herself, she can advocate more effectively for her daughter.

Oh, AND — THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT!!! if Stacy goes to a neurologist, she should make sure they know about traumatic brain injury. Not all neurologists do. I went to one who specialized in carpal tunnel and multiple sclerosis — not really helpful with tbi, I can tell you! Her local Brain Injury Association should be able to point her in the direction of a neuro with tbi experience.

Stacy may also find support through her local Brain Injury Association. Please tell her not to be afraid of the “brain injury” stigma — there are plenty of people who have had one. The association will probably have support groups she can attend, for survivors’ family members. Her daughter may be able to find support, also. On the surface, it may look like her daughter is all better, but the brain is mysterious thing. And especially since she’s going into full-blown puberty, she may find her “neurological landscape” changing, because her body and her hormones are changing, too. So, she’s going to need new and different help for her tbi, which will affect her in new ways as she matures.

Anyway, I hope that Stacy’s daughter can find other ways to relieve her stress, other than publicly injuring herself. I hope that Stacy can learn more about her daughter’s condition in a constructive and positive way. I hope that her daughter’s school can find ways to deal effectively with this young lady. And I hope you find more ways to help Stacy. It’s wonderful that you’re reaching out like this, and Stacy is lucky to have you as a friend!

Peace
BB