I’m not necessarily slower – I just have more to think about

Choices, choices…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about concussion/tbi making you “dumber” – slower, etc. When I had my neuropsychological exam, it became painfully clear that my processing speed was slower than expected. And it really bummed me out for quite some time. Plus, once I was aware that this was happening, it seemed like I couldn’t do anything without being painfully aware that it was taking me a little longer to process things than I (and others) expected it to. For some reason, everybody just expected that I’d be able to respond immediately to their questions or comments or conversation starters. But it just wasn’t happening.

After thinking about this from a bunch of different angles, I had a bit of a revelation this morning. It was something I’ve thought about before (and maybe I’ve written about it before – I can’t remember), but this morning it really made a whole lot of sense:

It’s not that I’m necessarily slower or dumber than I “should” be — or than I used to be. The thing is, after my TBI(s), I became so much more sensitive to a lot of different stimuli, and my brain has to work harder to sort through a larger amount of input, than before. It’s like the injury/-ies put holes in the filters that are usually there, allowing in a whole lot more input and information — sensory, like light and sound and (sometimes) smells and touch/feeling — and all that has to be factored in. It’s like my brain has to work harder to shut those things out, and since concussion/TBI has a way of activating your sympathetic nervous system fight-flight activity, you’re even more alert to all the stimuli around you…. constantly scanning and checking things out and sensing for danger, where it may or may not exist.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this.Maybe someone else can confirm/affirm this for me?

Think about it – say you give someone a deck of cards to shuffle and sort. Then you give someone else two decks to shuffle and sort, while they’re having a conversation with someone and an important piece of news is playing on the t.v. behind them. If the two people race to get done with their shuffling and sorting, the person with the two decks of cards are is going to take longer — because they have more to sort through, in the first place. And they have these other distractions going on around them.

That’s what it’s like after concussion/TBI – so of course I’m going to seem “slower” than others — when in fact, my brain is actually working harder, and perhaps even more efficiently than others, because it has so damned much stuff to sort through.

I think this can also explain why folks after TBI have the same IQ level as before, only now their processing speed is slower. I’d like to challenge the idea that processing speed is actually slower, in fact. Because regular measures probably don’t factor in the distractions and added sensitivities that have to be filtered and processed. Heck, if you look at the sum total of all the activity, it could be that post-TBI, your processing speed actually increases — but your brain is so busy trying to sort things out and re-categorize them and figure out what it all means (all over again) and re-learn the old past familiar things… not to mention battle against the rising dismay that things “don’t work like they should” and the wondering “what the hell is wrong with me?!” … that the end result and net effect looks like you’re stupid and slow and not keeping up.

That’s my theory, anyway. Although it’s almost purely anecdotal, it’s consistent with my experience, so I’ll have to go with that.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that we go through these things that actually make us stronger and more active, but people who don’t understand and don’t share our experience (including researchers and doctors and therapists and other certified experts), will label us as “weaker” and “less active” and “stupid”… all because they just don’t get it, and they can’t see why they should change their opinions.

I’m not sure what it will take to change this, but for the time being I feel pretty good in my own changing understanding, and it’s giving me some relief from that nagging sense of being stupid and slow and (excuse the expression) retarded.

Anyway, it’s a beautiful day, it’s Memorial Day — so, here’s a big THANK YOU to all who have served, and are serving, and to all who have paid the ultimate price out of love and service and duty. I probably wouldn’t be sitting on my back porch watching the dragonflies making their rounds this morning, if you didn’t do what you do. So, again, thank you.

But enough of the talk. It’s time to get into my day and enjoy myself with friends and family. Here’s hoping you can too.

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From TBI to stupid and crazy and back again

I checked my stats this morning briefly, and as is often the case, a lot of people have found their way here by searching for information about tbi/concussion making you stupid or crazy or both.

Can tbi affect intelligence? Why does concussion make you crazy?

These are questions that people search on, time and again… and they often end up here.

So, if you got here through that kind of search, welcome. You’re in good company.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, lately — why and how does concussion/tbi affect your intelligence, your mood, your state of mind? Well, obviously, when your brain starts to behave unpredictably, it can lead to all sorts of upset. And since the brain controls the body, and tbi can lead to pain, insomnia, balance issues, etc., that can lead to depression. Because you can get so intent on just keeping things “normal” that you run up a huge adrenaline tab, and you end up really wearing yourself out — which can cause your mood to plummet into the basement, as well as affect the quality of your thinking and make you really feel/act stupid.

Most people I know think that depression is a psychological condition. But I really feel it’s much more physical than a lot of people will admit. Of course, with all the psychologists making their living off treating depression, the idea that exercise and regular rest and decent physical fitness (not to mention a bit more stamina) will resolve a ton of problems, isn’t going to be very popular or widely publicized. But I’ll repeat what I’ve heard someone else say (can’t find the quote to attribute right now) that a brisk walk will solve more problems than many hours in a psychologist’s office. And with all the research being done about the connections between exercise and cognitive/behavioral performance, there’s more and more science to back it up.

Personally, I know that after my own TBI in 2004, I became incredibly stupid and deeply depressed. I was hell to live with. I lost my job. I almost lost my marriage. I lost my self-respect. I lost most of the things I used to love, including being able to sit down and just read a book, memorize information, and recall it when I needed it. The rage and behavioral issues have abated considerably since then — and they really started to improve when I started exercising regularly, first thing in the morning.

I’ve gotten a lot more intelligent and sane since then — in large part because I started really taking better care of my physical fitness. It works. If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot. And keep at it. It’s worth the effort.

Anyway, I’ve got to get going. I slept in a little today — well, more like laid in bed for a few extra hours — and I have some things I’ve got to get done. I picked a doozie of a topic to blog about quickly, but I had to say something. More on that later.

Gotta run…