Please Note: All brain injuries are different. They will affect people in different ways. The following are my observations from personal experience with a stroke survivor, as well as what I know about brain injury. Not everyone is going to have this. My point is, lying is a complex behavior that may be unintentional, as well as organically based — not deliberate or manipulative. Some people may be manipulators, and they may become moreso after stroke, but some people simply don’t realize what they’re doing, and they need help and compassion, not judgment and suspicion.
Somebody found their way to this blog by searching for this question: “is it common for a stroke victim to lie about everything?”
I believe it’s not uncommon.
Stroke can confuse you about what’s really going on. And they may not even realize they are lying.
Either that, or it can make a person very anxious, to the point where they’ll lie to get out of trouble, or they’ll just say whatever comes to mind, to cover their tracks.
It can be a real problem, because it can keep a stroke survivor from telling you exactly what’s going on with them.
And if you don’t know, you can’t help them the way they need to be helped.
And so another small chapter draws to a close, and a new one opens. Today I am finally going to start my vacation. The past few days have been pretty difficult for me, being off work notwithstanding. Since Friday night, we have been hosting a friends, in one capacity or another — there’s the friend who showed up on Friday night and has been staying with us at the vacation rental, whipping up drama along the way and generally being underfoot. There’s the other friends who came out for the evening last night and had dinner with us. And then there are the friends who are on the phone, calling and checking in and needing something when we get back next week.
It’s been a rough several days for me, with Saturday through yesterday (Tuesday) not giving me much rest or a break from constant stimulation. And it’s been driving me nuts. I am so exhausted, my spouse doesn’t seem to get how fundamentally fatigued I am — not just today, but in general — and that I need rest and quiet for more than an hour at a time. And for some reason they don’t get the idea of long-term sleep deficit.
How ironic. When they are just a little bit tired from an exciting day, they will sleep for 12 hours and not think about it. But when I’ve been going full tilt boogie for weeks on end, with maybe 5-6 hours of sleep a night, they still expect me to be part of their late-night plans.
Frankly, it makes me want to divorce them. I can’t live the rest of my life exhausted, and I feel like they have just used me up and are ready to throw me away. I was so tired the other morning, after being constantly pushed, and being woken up at 5:30 by them being up and about after staying up all night, I just snapped and flipped out at them in that way that makes them afraid of me, and has them “handling me with kid gloves” for days on end.
I just need a break. From them. From the people. From the distractions. From the social activities that give me no enjoyment, only drag me down and make me feel broken and inept.
I need some solitude. But at the same time, my spouse still needs me to help them do the most basic things, like put on their shoes and eat regular meals, because they either cannot reach their feet from back pain, or they cannot be bothered to keep on a regular schedule.
I don’t know. I don’t want to sit around bitching about situations that I have helped to create. I’ll have to find a way to work with this, if I want this marriage to work. For the most part, it does, but there are some things that are so critical as to be non-negotiable. At least, they should be. Like getting adequate sleep and recovery time.
The real problem is not with my spouse, however. The real problem is with me – not being clear about what I need to do and have to take care of myself, and not speaking up for myself. It just depresses the hell out of me when I have to fight for something as basic as a good night’s sleep. It seems like the sort of thing that should be self-evident and go without saying. That, and routine.
But my spouse doesn’t see it that way. From their perspective, my need for structure makes me a “Nazi” and it ruins their spontaneous fun. They like to just go with the flow… as though the world were made up of limitless time and money and resources. And if they don’t get what they want, then it’s a cruel crime being perpetrated on them to make them unhappy. Everything is personal with them. And they get very peeved very quickly… and they’ve very vocal about it, as well.
The thing is, I knew a lot of this when we first met. And back in the day, it wasn’t a problem. It was just one of the things that made them… them. And I loved them for it. Time change and people change, of course, and ever since my TBI in 2004, I have had less and less patience for that kind of behavior. Also, since commencing my recovery in 2007, I have really changed a lot, becoming less and less like them, seeing how a lot of our behavior has been really unhealthy and outright harmful.
And my tolerance has dropped through the floor.
Which is never good. Ultimately, as much as I carp and complain about the traits and qualities of others, the real issue is my tolerance level, and my ability to take care of myself without someone else thinking for me. It’s just part of being alive and being an adult, of course. And it’s not like I’m being held against my will in a horribly abusive situation.
Far from it. I just need to tweak a few things and more actively manage my own fatigue levels.
I need to keep myself from getting this tired, this delirious, this fragmented. Of course, the past several months have been sheer hell, and those types of conditions don’t happen all the time, so this is a bit of an anomaly. I know how to recover from this. And I will recover. It’s just a matter of managing it better.
And also making room for it, when it happens.
Some of the things that have made this time even more challenging than it has to be, are:
I haven’t made sure that I got enough rest each and every day. I haven’t communicated clearly to everyone that I need to rest, when I need to rest, and I’ve pushed myself harder than I really should have.
I haven’t worked out with my spouse the “terms” of my recovery. My exhaustion has sort of blind-sided them, when it’s come up, because they think about their own needs 99% of the time, and if I don’t tell them over and over what’s going on with me and what I need to do about it, they get very angry and resentful towards me.
I haven’t made it clear to people just how exhausted I am — most of all my spouse. I’ve just been pushing myself on adrenaline, and at the same time my gears are pretty much stripped, I’m still exceeding the proverbial speed limit — in 2nd gear. To all appearances, I’m still functional. I can still drive. I can still walk a straight line. So, I should be fine, right? Not exactly. Judging by my appearances, my spouse has been very unclear about the problems I’m having, which has made it tough to communicate to them and manage their expectations and also carve out any type of relaxation time for my recovery.
I am still pretty much in denial about living with a narcissistic borderline sociopath who lies and cheats and steals to get what they want out of life, and lives on the edge because that’s the only way they can every feel truly alive.
The last point is the main one, which makes things difficult. I just need to face up to the fact that I am married to and living with someone who has been deeply, deeply wounded in the past, and is still hobbled by their scars. I cannot even imagine the hell they went through as a child, even from the partial details I know (which is not everything, because they can’t remember a lot, themself). Their old wounds refuse to heal — in part because from what I can tell, they cannot bring themself to face the whole truth about their family situation. And they keep going in spite of it.
That last bit is what I need to focus on — the fact that they keep going, no matter what. Because as difficult as it can be for me to live with them, they actually do a lot of great work with people. The work they do with others to help them heal has literally saved lives. And there are countless people with a similar background, who have been helped — really restored to life — by their influence in their lives.
And this is what keeps me in this marriage, continuing on, despite the harm and pain and struggle. Because what comes out of this marriage is life-giving and restorative for many, many people far beyond the domain of our relationship. And as much as I complain about their negative traits, the positive traits are what help keep me alive. I wouldn’t still be here, if it weren’t the case. In fact, this blog is happening and helping people, because of the stability and support that comes out of the good parts of this marriage. My spouse doesn’t know I maintain this (as far as I know), but the support they offer and the help they provide does keep me going.
So, this marriage isn’t just about us, it’s about the work that we both do. And the stability of this marriage, for all its ups and downs, makes it possible for us both to do our work.
The main culprit in this dynamic is intolerance, judgement and fear. It’s me getting uptight when I hear them making up stories to make other people feel better, or to get their own way. It’s me focusing on the negatives instead of the positives, and making things much worse than need be. It’s me not taking care of myself, not accepting the fact that I need to sleep — a lot— and I need to be proactive in my management of my own issues. It’s me not including my spouse in my recovery and recruiting their help in getting me back on track.
Yes, they do have some serious mental health issues. But at the same time, they do an awful lot of good in the world and they help an awful lot of people on a regular basis.
Nothing is 100% good or 100% bad. There are up-sides and down-sides to everything. I just need to find the up-sides and stick with them.
Because ultimately, making room for the “bad stuff” helps the good stuff happen all the more.
Summary: Brain injury and lying can go hand-in-hand. First, there is confabulation, where the brain-injured individual genuinely thinks they are telling the truth, but they have their details confused. Second, there is the outright lying, which can come from experiencing an intensely emotional “catastrophic response” to situations which seem insurmountable. This is an account of how a good friend of mine changed from a basically honest person to a compulsive liar after experiencing several strokes.
I’d like to write this morning about a friend of mine who had several strokes back in 2007, a couple years after I had my last TBI. In fact, I’d say that working with them after their strokes really make me aware of brain injury issues… so that I could recognize and deal with my long-standing issues, at last.
I have known this individual for more than 20 years, and we’ve worked together on a number of occasions. We have common friends and we have similar senses of humor, so it’s been pretty easy to become – and stay – friends with this person. I am friendly with a lot of people and I make a lot of effort to really be a good person, but this particular friendship is closer than most others I have. This individual knows things about me that I wouldn’t tell most other people. And I know more about them than most others do.
The one exception to this is TBI. When they had their strokes – two of them, a week apart – in 2007, I was one of the few people who didn’t back away from them and run. I have actually known a number of people who had strokes and TBIs, and even before I knew that I myself had traumatic brain injury issues, I was willing and able to hang in there with them. So, this time was no different really. Different strokes for different folks, y’know? 😉 But when I was dealing with my TBI stuff, they just couldn’t deal with hearing about it. It was like they thought that it meant I couldn’t be there for them – and since I was one of their main supports after their strokes, the idea that I had neurological issues must have been pretty frightening for them.
Anyway, despite not getting any support from them, I really went out of my way to make time for this friend, to help them get back on their feet and rehabilitate. I have always been a firm believer that the human brain and body and spirit are incredibly plastic — and they can and will recover to a much greater degree than the “experts” believe, if you give them a chance, keep working, and don’t give up.
Working with this friend, we got them on a regular eating and sleeping routine… we got their weight down about 30 pounds… we managed, changed and then regulated their meds… we restored the strength and coordination in their right side… we got their speech and organization together… and – together – we got them back to functioning again.
We had to do it ourselves, and we had to do it alone. Because even though the MRI showed even more damage to their brain than “just” the strokes — they had other evidence of brain injuries that they couldn’t remember having — the doctors never gave them any indication that they needed any neurological or neuropsychological help, and their strokes weren’t “disabling” enough to warrant official rehab.
The impact was pretty noticeable to me, though. Their processing speed had really slowed down. They got confused a lot more than before. They had extreme emotional reactions to things that are sad or frustrating but aren’t exactly the catastrophes they thought they were. They had trouble keeping a conversation going. Their ability to multi-task was pretty much out the window. They basically went from having six gears, to having two, one of which was reverse, and when pressed to do more, they blew up or broke down in tears. But since I’m not an “official” family member, there was only so much the doctors could offer me. Unfortunately, they and their family weren’t really emotionally or logistically able to deal with all of it. They just wanted things to go back to normal.
Out of everyone, I turned out to be the only one who was A) able to deal with the fact that they’d had several strokes (and evidence of previous TBI), and B) willing to do something about it. I’ve worked with relatives who had strokes and TBIs in the past, and this time was a repeat of those past experiences.
It took several years to get them back on track, but we did it. And it was really gratifying to see. Plus, in the process of helping them, I realized I had my own set of issues I needed to deal with — which I’ve written about plenty in the past. Again, it’s taken me years to get back on track — more years than my friend, actually — but I’ve done it.
The only thing is, this friend of mine didn’t continue to take care of themself. They didn’t have the support of their family and friends, and I couldn’t be with them 24/7. One of the reasons that I’ve “gone off” on therapists in the past, was that I was being actively undermined by their friends who were therapists, who kept telling them that their issues had to with their terrible father, their hell-on-wheels mother, or other past relationship issues. When I tried to get support from these therapist friends, to deal with the neurological issues, I got either blank stares or active opposition, because they were so sure it was an emotional thing, not a neurological thing.
So, with family pressuring them to just get back to how things were, their friends telling them that they just needed to make peace with their parents, and me not being able to be around as much as I wanted to, because I had a lot of work commitments, they just went back to how things were before.
They stopped eating the right things and they stopped eating at regular hours.They started eating the wrong things, too — lots of sugar and fats and junk food, which has put the weight back on them — and is how they got into their situation to begin with. They let their sleeping schedule go all to hell, and by now they are pretty much nocturnal and they are rarely available during daylight hours.They stopped cleaning up after themself, and they live surrounded by piles of stuff that they can’t seem to figure out how to clear away.
It’s been really weird — it’s like they just got to a point where they decided, “Oh well, I’ve had some strokes, and I’m getting old like my parents did (my friend is now in their 60s, and their parents both died in their late 60s/early 70s)…. so I really don’t feel like doing all this work anymore. I’m going to take a break, because I’m going to die pretty soon, anyway.”
And it hasn’t had good consequences. A lot of times when I see them these days — which is more rarely than before, because I’m on a “real world” sleep-wake schedule — they look more and more like a “stroke victim” — and less and less like the person I know they are. I try to bring up their progress with them, but they always shut me down. I try to hint that they may want to take better care of themself, but they either start to yell at me, or they change the subject, or they start to cry. It’s that catastrophic response, for sure — a reaction that is just dripping with the emotion of fear and overwhelm.
Fear that there is something terribly wrong with them.
Fear that they are damaged beyond repair.
Fear that others will hate and look down on them because of the strokes.
Fear that they will never be “normal” again.
Fear that they’re going to die a horrible death and go to hell forever.
Fear that it is all TOO MUCHto handle.
So, even though I have seen changes in their behavior and their functionality, I am helpless to change any of it. I can’t even bring it up – not with them, not with their family, not with their friends. People tell me that I have no control over others, and that I should take care of myself first, but it is so painful to watch them do this to themself. Not only do they have physical and logistical issues, but there’s more.
There’s the lying.
I’ve written before about confabulation and how traumatic brain injury can mix things up in your head and make you think you’ve got it right, when you have it completely wrong. I have a had a long history, myself, of accidentally “lying” about things — it wasn’t my intention to lie, and I didn’t actually think I was lying, but I had my facts all turned around… which looked a lot like lying. I still do it today — I miscalculate, or I get things turned around — but fortunately I have a lot of people around me who genuinely care about me and want to help, and they don’t hold it against me. So, the consequences are less, even if the problem persists.
I have seen confabulation happen with my friend, as well. They were so sure they had things exactly right… but they didn’t. Not even close. Over the past few years, however, I have seen their accounts turn into outright lies — some of them more extreme than others. They know they’re lying, but they either can’t seem to help themself or they just LIE, and then make excuses.
It’s getting really bad. On a number of levels.
First, there’s the routine lying to people about what they do with themself all day — they paint a picture that makes them look quite functional, when the opposite is true. They talk about doing things that they aren’t even close to doing — like running errands or working on important projects and going about their business like they’re “supposed to”. They’re just thinking about doing them, but they tell others that they actually have done them.
And then there’s the deeper sorts of lies — the adulterous affairs, where they aren’t only sneaking around behind their spouse’s back and flirting with people who seem intriguing, but they are actually having sex — a lot of it, and really wild stuff — with these adulterous interests, lying about it, getting hotel rooms, visiting the long-time family vacation spots with the object(s) of their adulterous affairs, and openly talking about their affairs with people who know both them and their spouse. I found out about it by accident, and I got a lot more details than I wanted to. I almost wish I’d never found out, to tell the truth.
And that’s a pretty extreme turn of affairs. Not only are they spending money that they (and their spouse) cannot afford to spend on hotels and meals and entertainment, but they are also doing it in plain view of people who know them andtheir spouse. But when I have confronted them about it, my friend has lied right to my face about what was going on. They have sworn – up – down – left – right – that there was nothing untoward happening, just a “close friendship”, and when I have pushed them, they claimed it was just for “emotional support”.
Right. Emotional support. Unfortunately, I know differently.
This, dear readers, is very out-of-character for my friend. For as long as I have known them, they have been stable and loving and committed to their spouse. And they’ve at least tried to be honest. Until the strokes. Since the strokes, and especially they stopped taking care of themself, their behavior has become so erratic, so chaotic, so extreme — with the cursing and laughing and crying and lying — that I frankly don’t want to be around them much. I can’t just abandon them, but it’s hard to be around it all. And when I try to bring this up and discuss with them, they just can’t hear anything about how their strokes have affected them. It’s too much. It’s just too much for them to handle. And they pitch headlong into yet another mother-of-all-catastrophic-reactions. Yelling, cursing, crying… and more lying.
Watching someone who used to be level-headed, strong, secure, and self-confident burst into tears or blow up in a rage or come up with some cockamamie fantastical version of “reality”, because you’ve drawn their attention to something that everyone else on the planet can see clearly… something that is really and truly wrecking their life (how long till their spouse finds out about the affair(s)?)… well, that’s a pretty bitter pill. Trying to reach out and help one of your best friends — only to have them freak out on you and become threatening… it’s a hard one.
And it’s complicated. There are a lot of factors in play. And I can understand why a lot of this happens. But the lying doesn’t help matters any. It’s one thing to confabulate, but outright telling a falsehood deliberately is something that doesn’t sit right with me.
It’s just wrong. And to see them do it so compulsively… that’s pretty hard to take. I am almost neurotic about telling the truth — I get myself in trouble all the time, because I’m not willing to lie to people. And when someone who matters this much to me just runs around lying through their teeth, left and right, to everyone — including their spouse — it really works on my nerves.
But when I look at this in terms of catastrophic reaction, it starts to make sense. It’s like there’s all this conflicting stuff rattling ’round in their head that they can’t make sense of, and it puts them on edge. They have a history of trauma, too, with a father AND a mother who were each a real piece of work, so that personal history has biochemically primed them to go into fight-flight over just about anything that looks like a threat. From what I’ve seen, they are geared towards a fight-flight response to life in general… andtheir blood sugar is out of whack, so that it’s making that fight-flight even worse, and every little uncertainty looks like an enormous THREAT!!!
So, being on edge, and having the perception that there are things that are too big for them to handle, and they’re not going to be able to handle them, and they are in DANGERbecause they can’t handle them… well, that sets up the perfect “petri dish” for growing lies. Because lying is the one (and only) way they can immediately cope with an imminent threat — which of course everything looks like, especially when a social situation calls for the kind of quick thinking they cannot do anymore.
When I look at this whole business through a neuropsychological “lens”, I can understand the reasons for their behavior. And bottom line, knowing what I know, I actually don’t blame them. Yes, they are an adult, and yes they are responsible for their actions, but this is a neurological condition, not a psychological or emotional one. I’m not letting them off the hook — lying is still wrong, and I am still very uncomfortable with it.
At the same time, I’m seeing the real reasons behind it. I’ve discussed this a few times with my neuropsych, and they propose that their brain might be experiencing further vascular damage, because not only do they have a history of strokes, but their blood sugar is on the diabetic side, as well, which can cause more vascular “insults”. And that’s a whole other ball of wax to deal with.
But still, the lying… I keep coming back to that. It’s really tough to watch, really hard to handle. One of my best friends is self-destructing before my very eyes, and I am helpless to do anything about it. All I can do, is learn from their actions and their mistakes, and do what I can to help them as best I can. To be honest, it motivates me to take even better care of myself and better manage my physical and neurological health, because I don’t want to end up like them. I have noticed myself lying at times, when I felt cornered and felt I couldn’t handle everything that was coming at me. That is something I DON’T want to make a habit of, and seeing my friend go through everything they’re going through, is lighting a fire under me to do better. To be better.
None of us has control over others, which is probably a good thing. But we do have control over ourselves, which is an even better thing.
You can get away with treating your brain pretty badly and it still works okay, as long as you don’t have a head injury. That rule changes dramatically after a head injury. The brain malfunctions under any kind of unfavorable operating conditions.
For example, if you skip breakfast and eat fast food for lunch, expect your brain to get sluggish. Having a healthy breakfast, including some kind of meat or other protein, is strongly recommended.
You should not subject your brain to any kind of nutritional deficiency. That means drinking plenty of water, and avoiding starving yourself.
There are many theories about nutritional effects on brain function that recommend avoiding sugar, white flour, or both. These are major ingredients in fast food. Although science has not reached agreement that eating a diet which is heavy in fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread, and healthy sources of protein (fish and chicken) helps your brain to work better, enough nutritionists suggest this kind of diet to make it worth considering.
Lack of sleep is a major source of reduced brain ability, especially in people who have had head injuries. To the extent that you can do so, you should make sure to get enough sleep. If you have difficulty in sleeping, this topic will be discussed in an advanced chapter.
If your injury makes you prone to getting tired, there are “energy management” techniques that allow you to make best use of the capacity you have.
Try to do your most difficult and important work early in the day.
Try to avoid working under tension as much as possible, as that burns extra energy.
Try not to do one kind of activity for long periods of time. Switch off from one activity to a completely different kind. For example, after reading something difficult for half an hour, switch to doing dishes or gardening. When you do this, you stop draining the last chemicals out of the reading systems of your brain and start using other, different systems. Switching activities like this can allow you to get a great deal done without getting completely exhausted.
If there are stresses where you live or spend time, work on reducing those stresses. For example, after living or hanging out in a messy room for a long time, some people find that it actually reduces stress to straighten it up. If your living area is infested with bugs, and that bothers you, take steps to get rid of them. Any reduction in stress is likely to make everything work better.
Getting some physical exercise every day seems to help the brain to work better.
Looking back on my life and comparing notes with others, I realize more and more how much my experience has been impacted by the TBI’s I experienced. I was a pretty wild child — hard to handle and harder to discipline. I tried to be a good kid, for the most part, but I got turned around a lot, and it didn’t work in my favor.
I had real difficulties with keeping facts straight — I thought I had things right, but I was turned around and/or missing vital pieces of information. And in the process, I often looked like I was making things up to get attention or just plain lying.
Head injuries sometimes result in a phenomenon called Confabulation — the formation of false memories, perceptions, or beliefs about the self or the environment as a result of neurological or psychological dysfunction. When it is a matter of memory, confabulation is the confusion of imagination with memory, or the confused application of true memories.
I couldn’t tell jokes to save my life. I would usually forget the punchline, or I’d get the joke all turned around. I would get mixed up in the middle of telling long stories, but I wouldn’t realize it, and my brain would fill in the blanks, itself, so that each time I told the story it was a little different — but I didn’t realize it. In some cases, I actually believed that the inaccurate details I was providing were very true.
I have very clear memories of my parents questioning me over and over about the details of a story I just told them, but I would get confused, the more they questioned me, and they would end up — gently or brusquely — telling me that I wasn’t supposed to fib or lie. I wasn’t intentionally lying. In fact, I had no awareness that the tale I was telling was anything other than the truth. But I came across as an intentional “fabulist” instead of a confabulating kid.
I also had a perception of myself as being really good at sports, when I was little. But I was actually very uncoordinated and klutzy, and I was often picked last — or almost last — at schoolyard games. For some reason, this didn’t sink in, and I was able to convince myself that I was very, very good at the sports my other siblings found easy to play. I wanted so much to be good at sports, to be part of things. Both my parents were athletic and active, and I wanted to be, too. All the other kids could kick the ball in kickball… why couldn’t I make contact? It didn’t make sense to me. As far as I was concerned, I was perfectly athletic and able to perform.
Now, on the up-side of this “athletic confabulation”, this skewed perception of my physical skills, my oblivion to how uncoordinated and klutzy I was made it possible for me to keep at all the practicing, until I acquired some skill. One thing I will say for my parents is that they never discouraged me from playing sports, even when I looked like a dork and made a fool of myself. They just told me to get back in there and keep trying. Eventually, I would get it. And when I moved on to high school and started running cross country, I was the team captain two years in a row and led my team to the districts and state championship competitions. We didn’t win states, and we didn’t win districts, but we placed high enough to be serious contenders. And this at a time when running was not all the rage, and we were just a rag-tag bunch of kids in shorts and sneakers out on the open road…
When I was little, I also got roughed up a bit by kids who were bigger (and meaner) than me, but I told myself they had done it by accident. I wasn’t very good at deciphering what other people were thinking/saying about me — I was a lot slower in many ways than I admitted. But looking back now, I realize that a whole lot of social information went right over my head because I had such a skewed view of myself — I didn’t realize that I wasn’t following, so I never stopped to ask people what they meant when they were talking to me. If I hadn’t been head-injured, I might have been considered delusional. But I’d fallen and gotten hit in the head, and that definitely had an impact.
It had an impact on my perception of myself. It had an impact on my ability to track information and keep it straight in my head. It had an impact on my socialization, as I was often seen by my peers as a bragger or an exaggerator and ostracized over the years… simply because my brain was giving me false information.
I remember one time, in particular, when I was in fifth grade. My family had recently moved from a small city to the country, and I was acclimating to a rural environment from an urban one. I was desperately homesick for “the city” and I was angry a lot with kids around me for not having the same mannerisms as I. One day in class, I was telling everyone about my favorite thing to do — drive across a bridge that spanned a wide river. My dad had told me that it was very long — I think he said it was something like a mile wide? But my brain translated “very long” to “seven miles long” and I was convinced that the river was seven miles across and the bridge was too.
When I told the class that, my teacher tried to correct me, but I refused to be corrected. My brain told me the river is very wide — very wide means seven miles across, and that’s how it is. Nothing that anyone said could convince me otherwise. Not logic. Not reasoning. Not authority. I was convinced that I was right, and there were no two ways about it. The rest of the class thought this was hilarious, and didn’t hesitate to laugh at me. I wasn’t sure what I’d done wrong — only that everyone was mocking me, and once again, I was an outsider without a clue.
Looking back, I think that this confabulation business made my childhood a lot more difficult for me than I ever realized. My whole family is full of story-tellers, and they love to share their experiences. I’m the same way. I love to tell a good story, and I have lots of unusual experiences under my belt. I always have.
But time after time, when I would tell stories about my day in school or something that happened to me, I would get turned around, miss details, turn facts around, get mixed up, and generally make a mess of things. On good days, people realized I was just confused. On bad days, they clearly thought I was lying. And I could happily go the rest of my life without my parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, (and nieces and nephews) looking at me like I’m making stuff up “again”.
Yeah, it was kind of rough, living with that undetected weakness. And being treated like I had done something wrong (intentionally) when I honestly didn’t realize that something was wrong, has probably stymied me more than just about anything in my life. In fact, one of the dominant themes in my life has been feeling like I was being punished for no reason that I could understand — and being disciplined for “lying” and having others laugh at me, roll their eyes at me, and generally treat me like I was a pathological fabulist who couldn’t be trusted with the truth was a regular part of my childhood experience. I wanted to tell the truth. I wanted to tell a good story. I wanted so badly to do the right thing and get it right, just once… But I failed. Time after time, my broken brain failed me.
And the times when I did get it right, well, that didn’t really count, because that’s what I was supposed to do. What did I want — a medal for just doing things the same way everyone else could?
Now, I’m not looking for pity or sympathy — please just understand what that experience was like. Especially if you know a kid who has had a head injury … or who just looks like a pathological liar/fabulist, but doesn’t appear aware that they’re doing anything wrong. Chances are, they are not trying to lie. They might be, but then again, they might just be confabulating. Like I was.
Again, they might have no clue that they’re doing anything wrong. They may just need some extra help understanding that they’re turned around and they need extra help figuring out the way things really are… the way things should really be said/told/expressed. If they’ve had a head injury of some kind, it could be that their broken brain is hiding from them the fact things are amiss… and they can’t figure out why everyone is always laughing at them.