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

Emotional Problems After Traumatic Brain Injury

From the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC) comes this great information – which especially pertains to me, today.

My comments are in Bold like this.

Brain injury and emotions

A brain injury can change the way people feel or express emotions. An individual with TBI can have several types of emotional problems.

BB: Fantastic (sarcasm). There's not just one, but several emotional problems I can have.

Difficulty controlling emotions or “mood swings”

Some people may experience emotions very quickly and intensely but with very little lasting effect. For example, they may get angry easily but get over it quickly. Or they may seem to be “on an emotional roller coaster” in which they are happy one moment, sad the next and then angry. This is called emotional lability.

BB: This just happened to me this morning. I'm still fatigued from my trip, and while I was making my breakfast, my thoughts were interrupted, and I blew up. My spouse really wanted to talk to me, go over what we were going to be doing today, plans for how to organize the house, etc. And that's completely understandable, because I've been away for four days, and they had a lot of time to think. Plus, they missed me. 

I got overloaded and blew up, slammed around in the kitchen, broke down and cried for a few minutes, then regrouped and managed to eat my breakfast in peace, then joined them in the living room to talk about the day and our plans. 

Roller coaster, for sure.

What causes this problem?

  • Mood swings and emotional lability are often caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls emotions and behavior.
BB: Brainline says:  The frontal lobe ... helps govern personality and impulsivity. If damaged, there might be no “braking mechanism” for self-control. A person may find [they] cannot control [their] anger or aggression. 

That's what happened to me this morning. I got irritated, and my irritation picked up speed like a freight train until I was pretty upset... then really furious. And then I got furious at myself. And then I got furious at my spouse for not cutting me a break. And then I felt generally broken and useless, which spiralled into a bit of a freak-out meltdown. A small one, but still a scary one, because I was slamming stuff around, and that makes my spouse feel unsafe in our home.
  • Often there is no specific event that triggers a sudden emotional response. This may be confusing for family members who may think they accidently did something that upset the injured person.
BB: It can be hard to know when I'm going to "go off", because I'll be working hard to keep it together, and I'll seem to be fine, then all of a sudden, I'm blowing up, apparently "over nothing". There is a sequence of events that sets me off and triggers that sudden emotional response, but it's all internal, so nobody can see it building up.
  • In some cases the brain injury can cause sudden episodes of crying or laughing. These emotional expressions or outbursts may not have any relationship to the way the persons feels (in other words, they may cry without feeling sad or laugh without feeling happy). In some cases the emotional expression may not match the situation (such as laughing at a sad story). Usually the person cannot control these expressions of emotion.
BB: I hate the episodes of crying. That's what happens to me most. I don't cry or laugh unless I'm feeling sad or happy, but it can come up very quickly, and it's not always clear to others just how or why I'm reacting the way I am.

Come to think of it, there have been an number of times when I've laughed for no apparent reason -- usually under the worst of circumstances... usually when an authority figure is either nearby or the "target" of my laughter. I've laughed at people telling me how their child was diagnosed with a terrible, life-threatening disease (and my boss was standing nearby and got so pissed off at me that they had to walk away). I've laughed at things bosses have said, seeming to ridicule them. I may have misunderstood their meaning, to begin with, but it could also be due to my brain mis-firing. The really noticeable times when that happened, were within a few weeks of having had mild TBIs from car accidents. I could read and write normally again, but my inexplicably jocular emotional lability was a real problem. For me and everyone arounnd me.

What can be done about it?

  • Fortunately, this situation often improves in the first few months after injury, and people often return to a more normal emotional balance and expression.
BB: I found this to be true. I did start to act and react more normally over time. However, if I don't get enough sleep, I'm back to where I was before -- sometimes worse. Sleep is the key for me. If I don't get enough of it over an extended period of time, I suffer, along with everyone around me. 
  • If you are having problems controlling your emotions, it is important to talk to a physician or psychologist to find out the cause and get help with treatment.
BB: For me, talking to a neuropsych on a regular basis really made all the difference. It was bad enough that it happened, but not understanding why it was happening, and not having a clue about how to help it made things worse. But when I learned that I need to get more sleep and cut myself a break, it really put me on the right path.
  • Counseling for the family can be reassuring and allow them to cope better on a daily basis.
BB: My spouse has a therapist they talk to, and that therapist has dealt with brain-injured people in their own practice, so it's really helpful for my spouse to have access to that information. It's rare, to find a therapist who really understands TBI, and we're both lucky that this person came into our lives. My spouse has become so much more tolerant and understanding of me, as well as appreciative of the progress I've made over the years. And that appreciation has made a lot of things easier for both of us.
  • Several medications may help improve or stabilize mood. You should consult a physician familiar with the emotional problems caused by brain injury.
BB: The problem is, brain injury can affect how you react to medications. It can make you more sensitive, or less, and some of the medications (Benzos) actually make things worse. Some mood stabilizers can make the brain more tired -- and that's a recipe for more emotional outbursts, and the pain and suffering that follows. So, your doctor needs to know about TBI and its effects on how the brain handles meds, before he/she prescribes them to you. And if you're not feeling right or you're having more trouble due to meds, let your doctor know. Be smart. Protect yourself.

What family members and others can do:

  • Remain calm if an emotional outburst occurs, and avoid reacting emotionally yourself.
BB: This is one of the biggest challenges for me. I always prided myself on how even-keeled I am, and how I kept my head on straight during a crisis. Watching myself get all emotional and overwrought over things that I don't believe warrant all that emotion can be very upsetting for me. And I know I'm not alone. We may have injured brains, but we still have our pride.
  • Take the person to a quiet area to help him or her calm down and regain control.
BB: I have to take myself to a quiet area and let myself calm down. I need to remove myself from the situation and get my system leveled out. Then I can rejoin civilized society. But not before. If I go back too soon, I can freak out even more, the next time.
  • Acknowledge feelings and give the person a chance to talk about feelings.
BB: I need to talk about my feelings in terms of "I". As in "I feel upset because I feel like everything is spinning out of control, and my brain can't keep up, and then I feel stupid and helpless."
It does no good to lay blame -- to say "You made me feel bad because ____________" Especially because the other person usually has NO idea what they did to provoke me. The fact is, they may not have provoked me - my brain provoked itself, and I need to talk about how I feel in a way that doesn't blame the other person who already feels defensive and vulnerable to my emotional over-reaction.
  • Provide feedback gently and supportively after the person gains control.
BB: It often helps, if I can come up with a clear explanation of why I freaked out (I'm tired, I'm frustrated, I'm overworked, I'm hungry), and then I come up with clear steps to fixing that. I tell whoever I freaked out at, what I'm going to do, to stop my behavior ASAP. And I make sure they know I'm going to take more steps to fix it over the long term. Sometimes it helps if I tell someone how they can help me in the future. Like my spouse helping me to get to bed at a decent time. And take naps during the day, when I can.
  • Gently redirect attention to a different topic or activity.
BB: I just shift my attention to other things. I do something I've been wanting to do for a while, and that makes me feel better, because I'm using my overabundance of energy for something productive. It always helps, when I channel my energy into other things that have productive uses, like cleaning and organizing. And when I'm done, I have something to show for it. 

I just need to make that shift, which isn't always easy.

Read the rest of this great article at: Emotional Problems After Traumatic Brain Injury

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Driving After Traumatic Brain Injury | From the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center

Driving is an important part of a person’s independent lifestyle and integration into the community. Because we take our driving skills for granted, it is easy to forget that driving is the most dangerous thing we do in our everyday lives. A brain injury can affect the skills needed to drive safely. If and when an injured person may safely return to driving should be addressed early in recovery. The injured person, family members, and health professionals should all be included in this important decision. If anyone has concerns that that driving may put the injured person or others in danger, health professionals may recommend pre-driving testing.

How can a TBI affect driving ability?

A brain injury can disrupt and slow down skills that are essential for good driving, such as:

  • Ability to maintain a constant position in a lane.
  • Having accurate vision.
  • Maintaining concentration over long periods of time.
  • Memory functioning, such as recalling directions.
  • Figuring out solutions to problems.
  • Hand-eye coordination.
  • Reaction time.
  • Safety awareness and judgment.

Read the rest of this great article: Driving After Traumatic Brain Injury at the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center

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Hello officer – the tremor you’re seeing is not fear. It’s fatigue.

transportation security administration officer screening a bagI recently had to fly halfway across the country for a work commitment. I had to fly out early, which meant I had to get to the airport really early… and that meant I had to wake up really really early.

Not much fun, to be honest.

But I did it.

I hadn’t been sleeping well, for several days prior to that – I was getting maybe 5 – 6 hours a night, which is no good. But that’s what I had to work with, so… that’s what I worked with.

The drive to the airport felt like it took forever.

And just getting from the parking garage to the terminal was another slog. One of the wheels on my carry-on was “wonky” and it vibrated really loudly, as I pulled it along. Not the best thing, when your hearing is already over-sensitive.

Anyway, by the time I got to Security, I was a little shaky. I was operating on maybe 2 “cylinders” (out of a potential 4), and I hadn’t had my full breakfast like I usually did. I was off balance and out of sorts, and when I handed my boarding pass and ID to the security officer, my hands were shaking a bit, like they do when I’m overly tired.

The officer gave me a look, and I tried to exchange a few words, but I was “off kilter” and my voice was shaky. I started to get nervous, wondering if they were going to alert others that I was a sketchy character. They gave me another look, and I just shut up. I sounded a little drunk and discombobulated, and my hands were trembling. That’s never a good sign, when you’re trying to board a plane. So, I did my best to gather what dignity I could and just moved on to the x-ray screener – hands over head – and then walked on through.

Fortunately, my luggage made it through without incident. At the last minute, I remembered to pack only small bottles of liquids and creams. That was a last-minute change, because I was going to take full tubes of toothpaste and a special skin cream I need to use for my beat-up hands. At least I got that right.

In the end, it all turned out okay. But I really hate that feeling, when my neurology is acting up on me, and I’m interacting with someone who can flag me as a risk, take me aside, pat me down, possibly strip search me (worst case). The worst case didn’t happen – not even close. So, that was good.

And the trip went pretty well, from that point on.

So it goes.

And so I go… onward.

Nine years ago, I started this brain injury recovery blog

9 year blogging anniversary emblem
Emblem reads: Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com! You registered on WordPress.com 9 years ago. Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging.

And it’s been one of the best things in my life – ever.

At the time, back in the “wee hours” of 2008, I was so confused, so anxious… and afraid. I couldn’t believe I had been injured as much as I had, in the course of my life, and nobody had ever noticed. Nobody had ever thought anything of it. I know I was good at covering things up — but was I really that good? Doubtful. Rather, people saw there was something “wrong” with me, and they attributed it to:

  • laziness
  • poor character
  • sinfulness
  • being young and “unformed”
  • lack of proper training
  • rebelliousness
  • anything else you can think of that blames a person for how they’re behaving

The fact of the matter was, I’d been clunked in the head — a bunch of times. And those injuries, which were never properly recognized or treated (or even just factored in) shaped my life and personality and behavior in certain ways that made me look either like a flaming idiot, or just plain “trouble”.

Part of the problem was, I appeared to be pretty smart in certain ways. I could do some things really well — like memorize a whole sheet of vocabulary words in an hour’s time, and then not only test well on them, but also be able to use them in conversation… or be a great track team captain, motivating my teammates to do their best. But for some reason, under various circumstances (which could never be predicted by people who weren’t paying attention, anyway), I’d “fall apart”. Become a discipline problem. Become combative, resistant, defiant, and disruptive in class as well as group activities.

Looking back now, I can see how tired I was, so many times, and that fatigue flipped the switch on my issues. It was like flipping on the lights in a lecture hall — all of a sudden, my issues were lit up bright and glaring.

But of course, I was just being rebellious. Sinful. Willfully difficult. I was just being bad.

Now, I know better. And I’ve forgiven myself for so many things I did wrong when I was younger. The fights, the conflicts, the drug and alcohol abuse, the poor grades, the times I screwed up great opportunities during my youth and young adulthood, because I couldn’t put two ideas together.

Looking back over the years, I can see so many times I came up short — I didn’t live up to my abilities, or to others’ expectations. And I’ve been pretty hard on myself, all these years. And I need to keep forgiving myself, because it’s so easy to forget there was an actual reason I screwed up, when I “should” have done better. It’s a daily practice, this forgiveness business. Even to this day, I still have old habits of thinking about myself in pretty task-master-ish terms. And I need to keep practicing. Because it’s oh-so-easy to fall back into the training of my youth, and tell myself I’m just slacking or I’m taking the easy way out, or I’m being a total loser… when I’m really just in need of a good night’s sleep and a different way of tackling my problems.

I have come an incredibly long way, in these past 9 years. I’ve gotten a lot of help along the way… which is now pretty much gone, because my main supporter moved halfway across the country. But I’ve learned a tremendous amount from those years we worked together, and I am eternally grateful for their help. I’ve been seeing another neuropsychologist, since they left, but this new one is not nearly as experienced or insightful — or as patient and compassionate — as the other one was. I’m kind of on my own with this new one. But they serve a purpose, and you do what you can with what you have, so…

Anyway, since I’m now into my 10th year of active mTBI recovery, there are certain things I want to do, to commemorate the progress I’ve made. Like looking back at my past blog posts and elaborating on them. I’ve written a lot, in the past 9 years, and there’s still some food for thought there. I’d like to put that to good use.

So, I shall. And keep moving forward. Always. Onward.

It’s a new year — Happy New Year to everybody!

Let’s make it a good one.

Sharing: Saba’s tips for holiday survival — Brain Injury Society of Toronto

BY: SABA RIZVI

The holidays are a tough time for everyone, and this is especially true for brain injury survivors who are often dealing with issues such as chronic fatigue, pain and cognitive fatigue.

Here are some tips I’ve come up since acquiring my brain injury a few years ago on how to get through two of the more challenging parts of the season: holiday dinner and shopping.

Read the full post here: Saba’s tips for holiday survival — Brain Injury Society of Toronto

Nearly there – on the eve of Christmas

Christmas wrapping
The final push is on…

I’m supposed to be shopping, right now. I intended to get up early and head out to a local department store to pick up the last of the gifts I’m giving. Then I was coming back to deal with one of the cars having a nearly-flat tire. Then I was going to run some last-minute errands, followed by a nap, followed by gift wrapping, followed by making the Christmas turkey, followed by preparing the trimmings, followed by more gift wrapping… and then finally supper.

It sounds like a lot, only because I have it all broken into different pieces. But breaking things up into different pieces and then scheduling each one in its own time slot actually makes it much easier to take care of everything.

Because it’s all got to get done. It’s not like it’s optional. The gifts need to get wrapped, and the food needs to get cooked. The car needs to have sufficient air in the tires, and I have to have my nap. It will all get done… so long as I keep my cool.

Yesterday, I talked about how I need to keep my cool around my spouse when tensions get high. And it’s true. As much because of their cognitive issues, as mine. Last night, I was feeling really rushed, and I was having a lot of trouble keeping my thoughts straight. I have not been good about keeping on my sleeping schedule. My spouse has been especially needy/demanding, this year, and they have also been having more trouble thinking things through, which makes them more emotional and more volatile.

So, to calm them down, I have been staying up later in the evening, watching television, and adapting more to their schedule, as well as their eating habits (I’ve been eating a lot more bread than I should, which is messing me up, because my body can’t handle the gluten/wheat as well as it used to). It’s great for them, but it’s terrible for me. And it wears on me, after a while.

I was feeling really pressured, and I said something that my spouse took the wrong way. They took a lot of things the wrong way, yesterday, for some reason. They’re feeling depressed and isolated and not that great, physically, so that’s an added stresser for them. And they take things the wrong way, getting all riled about things I say and do, which I’m trying really hard to not do wrong.

So, painful awkwardness ensued, and it took most of the evening for things to even out again.

Man, oh man, I cannot wait for Christmas to just be over.

Well, anyway… I’ve got a week and a half of time off ahead of me (oh, except for a few hours I need to work, next week, to balance out my vacation/work schedule). And I need to be especially protective of myself, my time, and my energy, while I’m home. We have a number of scheduled activities we have to go to — doctors and social gatherings and errands to be run — so I need to keep balanced, and keep my system in good shape.

That means exercising as usual, each morning. That means being smarter about what I eat and drink (making sure I drink enough water). That means being firm about the times when I got to sleep, and not being pressured to shift my schedule later, just because I’ve had a nap.

I felt sick all during the Thanksgiving holiday, because I wasn’t keeping on my sleeping schedule. And I don’t want to do that all over again. I’m feeling a little sick, right now, actually. I just have to get everything done. And then do it.

Could be, I have to call AAA to add air to that tire, since it might not be safe to drive on it. But I can easily do that while I’m taking care of everything else at home. I just call them, and they come. Or I may need to change the tire, period. Either way… as soon as I get back from my department store trip, I’ll have the rest of the day to sort everything out. So, onward and upward. I can do this.

I just need to be diligent about it, act like the adult I am, and keep my eyes on the prize — a wonderful week off, when I get to relax and actually do some of the things I never get to do, otherwise, while I have more than one hour of uninterrupted time to focus and concentrate.

Luxury. Pure luxury.

Okay, enough mooning about this. Time to get a move on and get this show on the road. I’m nearly there… I’m nearly there…

From Ken Collins: When we injure our brain, we injure an important part of our body.

Piecing it all together
Piecing it all together

When we injure our brain, we injure an important part of our body. Our brains control our ability to think, talk, move, and breathe. In addition to being responsible for our senses, emotions, memory, and personality, our brain allows every part of our body to function even when we’re sleeping.

The brain can be hijacked by the Amygdala in the limbic system after our brain injuries as outlined in this source:

Wikipedia: Daniel Goleman speaks about Amygdala hiijacking – Amygdala hijack is a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.[1] Drawing on the work of Joseph E. LeDoux, Goleman uses the term to describe emotional responses from people which are immediate and overwhelming, and out of measure with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.[2] From the thalamus, a part of the stimulus goes directly to the amygdala while another part is sent to the neocortex or “thinking brain”. If the amygdala perceives a match to the stimulus, i.e., if the record of experiences in the hippocampus tells the amygdala that it is a fight, flight or freeze situation, then the amygdala triggers the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis and hijacks the rational brain. This emotional brain activity processes information milliseconds earlier than the rational brain, so in case of a match, the amygdala acts before any possible direction from the neocortex can be received. If, however, the amygdala does not find any match to the stimulus received with its recorded threatening situations, then it acts according to the directions received from the neo-cortex. When the amygdala perceives a threat, it can lead that person to react irrationally and destructively.[3]

Goleman states that “[e]motions make us pay attention right now — this is urgent – and gives us an immediate action plan without having to think twice. The emotional component evolved very early: Do I eat it, or does it eat me?” The emotional response “can take over the rest of the brain in a millisecond if threatened.”[4]HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala_hijack”%5B5%5D An amygdala hijack exhibits three signs: strong emotional reaction, sudden onset, and post-episode realization if the reaction was inappropriate.[4]

Goleman later emphasized that “self-control is crucial …when facing someone who is in the throes of an amygdala hijack”[6] so as to avoid a complementary hijacking – whether in work situations, or in private life. Thus for example ‘one key marital competence is for partners to learn to soothe their own distressed feelings…nothing gets resolved positively when husband or wife is in the midst of an emotional hijacking.'[7] The danger is that “when our partner becomes, in effect, our enemy, we are in the grip of an ‘amygdala hijack’ in which our emotional memory, lodged in the limbic center of our brain, rules our reactions without the benefit of logic or reason…which causes our bodies to go into a ‘fight or flight’ response.”[8].

Understanding the role stress plays on triggering the limbic system fight or flight response is critical for people to learn about after our brain injuries. Brain injuries are often described as either traumatic or acquired based on the cause of the injury.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an insult to the brain, not of a degenerative or congenital nature, which is caused by an external physical force that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness, and results in an impairment of cognitive abilities or physical functioning. It can also result in the disturbance of behavioral or emotional functioning.

A TBI can affect our ability to, think and solve problems, move our body and speak, and control our behavior, emotions, and reactions.
Acquired brain injuries are caused by many medical conditions, including strokes, encephalitis, aneurysms, anoxia (lack of oxygen during surgery, drug overdose, or near drowning), metabolic disorders, meningitis, and brain tumors.

Although the causes of brain injury differs, the effects of these injuries on a person’s life are quite similar.

This is why understanding about the consequences of stress on the limbic system after a brain injury is so important.

Understanding the Sympathetic Nervous System in the brain injury recovery process is seldom talked about to us after our brain injuries by doctors or health care professionals because they only treat the symptoms.

The following information is critical to understand and has great value for people with brain injuries and their families to understand.
The Sympathetic Nervous System – “limbic system is autonomic” and creates many problems people with brain injuries face during our recovery process. If people with brain injuries don’t understand the Sympathetic Nervous System and how it works – our family members and friends react to our emotions and unwittingly create more stress for us for us to deal with.

This stress triggers the “limbic system’s fight or flight response” into action.

We do not have any control over what we are reacting to because of the stress that is being generated by our emotions shuts down the thinking part of our brain – pre-frontal cortex.

What happens next is – we react and they react, the stress builds and we lose control, get angry and have emotional meltdowns or worse.
During any stressful situation our loved ones react to our “actions” and we react to theirs – which increases our stress during those hard and difficult times.

We (family members/ people with brain injuries and friends) get caught up in a reactionary mode instead of being proactive to keep the limbic system in check.

If we set up daily routines, have structure and find purpose and meaning in our lives we have a better chance of controlling stress and the situations that trigger the limbic system fight or flight response.

If we do not control the stress, our families and friends will constantly be reacting to issues we have little control over. Learning relaxation techniques like mindfulness-based stress reduction can help to stay calm so the limbic system is managed.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction can help with this and I encourage you to look this up on the internet because there is a lot to learn about this tool that can help us rebuild or lives after a brain injury.

After our brain injuries “emotional outbursts, anger, and memory issues” are an expression of the problems caused by our limbic system fight or flight response under stress. By understanding how our emotions can get out of control we will have a better understanding of why we react to things that don’t make any sense to us.

There is a reason for all this madness and by learning the role the sympathetic nervous system plays in our recovery, the better chance we have to live full and rewarding lives again – after our brain injuries!

Then again, the weeks after the election have given us plenty of reason to be concerned

person sitting on a park bench looking at a coming storm
Photo credit: Myshelle Congeries

A little while ago, I posted that I wasn’t going to be whacked about the election anymore.

I was wrong.

I am whacked. Way whacked. And very, very worried about what’s transpiring before our very eyes.

If you’re not whacked about it, you’re not paying attention. And you’re not really thinking this all through.

A lot of people are going to get hurt, because they believed a classic con man. Bait and switch. Ditching his promises, left and right. And putting exactly the people in place he said he never would.

Of course, it’s all very predictable.

People have been predicting this for months and months — much longer than anyone has been paying attention.

So, I’m back to being whacked about it.

But I’m not stopping there. I’m really taking the time and making the effort to think things through and reach my own conclusions. It’s tough, because we are in unprecedented waters, and it’s like none of the rules apply (either because people are refusing to follow them, or others are refusing to enforce them, or both). And there’s a whole lot we don’t know about how things are supposed to work, because the people whose job it is to make sure they keep working fell asleep at the wheel. Or they became corrupted by outside influences, themselves.

The most important thing, right now, is to not let my thinking process be overtaken by the slogans and the jargon of this rising gang of spin-meisters. They’re throwing around different words like “alt-right” and “unity”, to cover up the truth of white supremacy and fascism.  It’s all a big thought-control campaign, as far as I’m concerned. So, I’m going out of my way to keep myself from falling into using those words.

I’m also taking good care of myself, which is really important. I have to keep my head level in these times of danger, and I’m not doing anyone any favors, letting myself get over-tired and bent out of shape.

So, maybe it’s still true that I’m not letting myself get whacked about this. Yes, the democratic process has completely broken down, and it appears that the very party that said they could do better than Trump has turned tail and run. I’m not sure they’re ever going to recover their legitimacy, after this. They’re certainly not going to get my membership. I dropped all political affiliations a few years ago, and since I live in a state where I can vote for anyone I like, if I’m independent, I’m actually better off.

But in terms of the country – this bait-and-switch scheme may turn out to be pretty painful, in the end. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot — in the short term, anyway. But long-term? Who knows? If nothing else, I hope we learn to not take for granted something we just always assumed would work: Democracy.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Okay, I’m done being whacked out about the election

Snoopy sitting on his doghouse, which has been shot up
I’m feeling a little shell-shocked from this week.

It’s been a week, since the election happened. And now the dust is starting to settle.

Time to get back to work, doing what I do. Writing about living life, in spite of all the hurdles that get in the way.

I have no idea what’s coming down the pike, but whatever it is, so long as I take care of myself and keep myself headed in a direction that is true to ME, I will be fine.

Case in point: Over the past week, I haven’t gotten as much sleep as I needed. This is brutal. I get progressively worse, over time.

So, last night after supper, I lay down on the couch and took a little nap. I slept for about an hour. Then I went to bed and got nearly 8 hours of sleep. Then, today, after I spent most of the morning at the dealership getting my car serviced, I took another nap in the afternoon – I got a little over 2 hours of sleep. That means, in the last 24 hours, I got 11 hours of sleep.

And I needed it.

Now I can deal with … well, anything that comes my way. It’s raining. I have to go get groceries for supper. My spouse is sick with a bad respiratory infection. It’s cold and it’s dark. But I got 11 hours of sleep, and I feel more human than I have in a week.

So, off I go…

Onward.