TBI Recovery – like life on the high seas

Avast there…

I’ve heard it said that it takes about seven years of recovery for a person to start feeling “like themself” again after traumatic brain injury. That sounds about right to me. And now that I’ve been at it (actively) since 2007, I’m coming up on seven years — next year.

What a long, strange trip it’s been. From nearly losing everything, to sabotaging job after job, to watching my friends go away, to the relationship/marriage troubles and health issues, to slowly building myself back… it has been a trip. But it’s finally starting to feel like things are stabilizing for me.

When I say “things” I mean internal things. Not external things. Learning to live with TBI is like going to sea and learning to walk across the deck of a ship that’s rolling through all sorts of seas. Between the sensory issues, the focusing issues, the distraction problems, the mood swings, the irrational and literal and rigid thinking issues… if it’s not one thing, it’s another, and just getting used to the idea that this is just how things are, has been a battle in itself.

But that’s the deal. This is how things are. And there’s no sense in trying to tamp it all down and get things to chill, because no sooner does one wave pass, than another comes along.

Walking across the deck… yeah. That’s about the best metaphor I can think of. And it puts me in the mood to read some seafaring adventure stories – Captains Courageous, Treasure Island, Two Years Before The Mast… stories I remember from when I was younger, that I really loved and enjoyed. It kinda puts me in the mood to tie knots with heavy rope… 🙂

And that’s one thing that the seafaring metaphor does for me — it raises dealing with TBI issues from a hindrance and an inconvenience and a problem, to being just part of what I have to deal with on the “high seas” of life. Rather than turning the issues into problems and vexations, it turns my ability to deal with them into strengths and abilities that I didn’t have before. I’ve been deep sea fishing a few times, and I know from personal experience that “sea legs” don’t just happen overnight. It takes time. You have to learn to roll with it. I’ve never been out to sea long enough for this to “take” with me, but I would imagine that I could learn to do just about anything, given the opportunity and time.

And opportunity and time are just what I have, with regard to this stuff.

Today, I’m pretty dizzy and off-balance. I’m also having trouble keeping focused on one thing at a time. I’m working from home today, giving myself one more day to recoup before I go back into the office, and I still don’t have my full strength back. No surprises there – I was flat on my back for a week, and this won’t fix itself overnight. I just feel “off” today — spacey and tired and weakened. I’ll see how it goes, with getting my work done. And I’ll see how it goes, taking frequent breaks to just get my head settled again.

It’s not so very different from some days when I wake up after days and weeks of not getting enough sleep, and I have to work at my peak level. It’s not so very different from some days when I’m off balance and foggy for no reason that I can tell at all. It’s not so very different from dealing with the light and noise sensitivities, the headaches, the malaise… it’s not very different from that at all. And the emotional impact it has — the frustration, the short temper, the anger, the temper flashes from a very short fuse — that’s very similar, as well.

It’s all part of life on the high seas.

Of course, it’s easy for me to say all this, years on down the line after my latest concussion injury in 2004. At the very start, when nothing made sense and I was dealing with so many, many issues that I didn’t recognize and didn’t realize were a problem, the whole business made me sick. Literally. Like being out at sea for the first time, I was in a constant state of nausea and disequilibrium. I felt stupid, I felt like an idiot, and I felt so incredibly defective because I couldn’t regulate my emotions or my behavior. Everything was falling apart around me, and I didn’t know why. And not knowing made it even worse. Not knowing that I didn’t know…  that was the worst thing of all.

So many times, I look at the stats for this blog and I see people searching for “concussion now I’m dumb” or “does concussion make you stupid”. And I remember so well what it was like to feel so stupid, all of a sudden, and not know why nothing was working for me anymore. I seriously didn’t have a clue. I knew I had hit my head. I knew I had gotten hurt. But I had no idea the effects could be as big and impactful as they turned out to be. I thought it would all clear up in a matter of a few days.

How wrong I was.

What I didn’t realize was that each time my head bounced off those stairs, connections in my brain got twisted and frayed, possibly even severed. What I didn’t realize was that those connections had taken a lifetime to put in place, and now that they were disrupted, I was going to need to practice and practice and practice, rehearse and rehearse and rehearse… doing many of the things I used to do so easily, but now had to learn to do in a slightly different way. I almost wish that the differences had been obvious — things like walking and talking. But it was really the little things, like learning and managing emotions and remembering details, that had been disrupted. And those disruptions were even more upsetting, because they weren’t something that others could see or often even detect. The only one who could tell a real difference was me… And inside, I was a torn-up mess.

Of course, years on down the line, I can look back with some perspective and understand what was going on. But at the time, before I learned all I have in the past 6-7 years, I had no perspective. I had no information. And I was going nowhere fast. No, correction — I was going somewhere fast — down, down, down. I’m just lucky that I noticed something was wrong before I went over the edge and lost everything.

Not everyone is as fortunate as I am. Not everyone manages to get it as quickly as I did. A whole lot of people struggle in silence and tell themselves to just push on through… never getting the help they need. And that’s a terrible, awful waste. Not everyone understands that the high seas they are on, are going to always be there… that once you’re on the TBI / PCS  ship, you’re not getting off. You may have some calm days, you may have some serene days, but you’ll also have fog and shoals and doldrums… and the storms will always come up again — you can bank on that.

Not everyone is stuck for all time with post-concussive issues, and thank God for that. But for those of us who are, probably the best thing to do is just settle into the daily routine of sailing the high seas… get your sea legs… and get ready for adventure. You never know, you might just come across some treasure, along the way.

Ahoy….

84 ways TBI can make your life really interesting

Some time back, I compiled a list of possible issues TBI can introduce into your life. I combed through a bunch of sources and then put them all together, took out the duplicates, and came up with a list of common complaints related to traumatic brain injury. I’ve refined the list over the past couple of years, and I’m sure there are more issues I’ve missed, but this is what I’ve  been working with, thus far.  These apply to mild, moderate, and severe. And a lot of them are problems I have dealt with on a regular basis throughout the course of my life.

Here’s the list, broken down by category:

Behavioral
1. Impulsiveness
2. Aggression (verbal/physical)
3. Raging behavior

Communication
4. Trouble being understood
5. Trouble understanding
6. Trouble finding words
7. Trouble communicating in general

Emotions/Moods
8. Agitated, can’t settle down
9. Angerrrrrr!!!
10. Anxiety – Feeling vague fear, worry, anticipation of doom
11. Depression, feeling down
12. Excitability!
13. Everything feels like an effort
14. Feeling unsure of yourself
15. Feelings of dread
16. Feeling like you’re observing yourself from afar
17. Feelings of well-being
18. Feeling guilty
19. Feeling hostile towards others
20. Impatience
21. Irritability
22. No desire to talk or  move
23. Feeling lonely
24. Nervousness
25. Feelings of panic
26. Rapid mood swings
27. Restlessness
28. Tearfulness, crying spells
29. Feeling tense
30. Feeling vague longing/yearning

Day-to-Day Activities
31. Being overly busy (more than usual)
32. Feeling like you can’t get moving, you’re stuck
33. Feeling like you can’t get anything done

Mental
34. Altered consciousness
35. Aura or weird reverie, trance
36. Trouble concentrating
37. Trouble making decisions easily
38. Trouble reading
39. Analytical skills suffer
40. Trouble telling what’s real or not
41. Being easily distracted
42. Being forgetful, can’t remember
43. Nightmares
44. Worrisome thoughts

Physical – Eating
45. Food cravings
46. Eating less / more than usual
47. Heartburn / indigestion / upset stomach
48. Losing weight

Physical – Head
49. Headache(s)
50. Stabbing pain(s) in your head

Physical – Hearing
51. Hearing music others don’t
52. Ears ringing (tinnitus)

Physical – Pain
53. Backache or back pain
54. General body aches
55. Joint painf or stiffness
56. Neck pain
57. Touch feels like pain

Physical – Sleep
58. Waking up too early
59. Being fatigued / tired
60. Difficulty falling asleep
61. Waking up during the night
62. Sleeping too much

Physical – Vision
63. Trouble seeing at night
64. Being sensitive to light
65. Double/blurred vision
66. Spots, floaters,  or blind spots

Physical – Sensations
67. Your skin feels like it’s crawling
68. Feeling like you’ve gained weight
69. Sensitivity to cold
70. Sensitivity to noise, sounds
71. Smelling odors / fragrances that others don’t smell

Physical – General
72. Feeling dizzy / have vertigo
73. Your heart races or pounds
74. Hot flashes or sudden feelings of warmth
75. Losing consciousness / fainting
76. Metallic taste in your mouth
77. Muscles spasms or twitching
78. Muscle weakness
79. Seizures
80. Nausea
81. Sexual desire feeling “off”
82. Skin breaking out / acne
83. Hands or feet swelling
84. Vomiting

Now, some of them might look like they are duplicates — #3. Raging behavior should be grouped with #9. Angerrrrrr!!!, right? I’ve actually split them up because one is behavioral, and one is emotional/mood related. Just because you’re angry, doesn’t mean you’re going to have raging behavior, but anger can still be a significant problem.

One thing that struck me, as I was compiling this list over the past few years, is how many of the symptoms are physical. It almost doesn’t make sense. You injure your head, you hurt your brain, and your body starts acting up? Where’s the sense in that? Well, considering that the brain is like the command center of your body, I guess it does make sense.

The other thing that has jumped out at me, as I’ve considered this list over the years, is how the non-physical issues can often arise from the physical. Being dizzy all the time can really mess with your head, and it can make you cranky and mean and short-tempered. Likewise, having constant ringing in your ears can shorten your fuse and make you much more temperamental. And chronic pain has a way of depressing the heck out of you.

Now, not everyone with a TBI will have these issues, but lots of people will have one or more of these problems, and lots of them can come and go over time. It’s just one more handful of pieces to the puzzle that is TBI. A big handful, actually.