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.