#10 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

10. Plenty of other people have had mild traumatic brain injuries (concussions), and most of them are getting on with their lives.

It's not the end. It may feel like it, but it's not

It’s not the end. It may feel like it, but it’s not

Brain injury / concussion is extremely common – millions of people in the US experience once each year, and many more experience them globally.

Getting clunked on the head is something as old as the hills. If it were catastrophic every single time, the human race would not have survived. So take courage – you’re in good company.

While brain injury recovery can be time-consuming and there are no hard-and-fast guarantees, rest assured that many people have bounced back after concussion and gone on to live productive, satisfying, fulfilling lives. Those who haven’t had such an easy time are in the minority. And while I am a member of that minority, I can tell you that even the long, hard road has had many blessings along the way.

You may notice some changes in your personality and abilities, but some of the changes may be for the better. I know that in my case, overcoming all the difficulties of symptoms and blocks that were put in my way trained me to persevere and be diligent – and also to pay attention to important signals that I was screwing up again and needed to make a course correction.

Nobody wants to injure their brain. But when it happens, there’s a lot of useful lessons to be learned. And those who learn and adapt, are the ones with the highest success rate.

You can be one of the successes. No doubt about it!

What to do?

Be patient.

Pay attention.

Be the best person you can.

Put forth your best effort and learn from all your mistakes.

And remember: This is not the end.

#9 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

9. You may feel like this for a while.

It feels like no one understands... and heck if you can describe it to them

It feels like no one understands… and heck if you can describe it to them

Yep, it’s unpleasant. Yep, it can suck. And yep, it can take a while to get all figured out.

It’s practically impossible to explain to others what it feels like to have post-concussive symptoms, and it can be almost as impossible to convince other people that concussion / TBI is a thing. Heck, I have long-time friends and family who still refuse to believe I have any issues – and I’m not the only TBI survivor who has that experience.

Never mind that. Just take care of yourself and pay attention to your own recovery.

And don’t lose hope. I had just about given up of ever feeling normal again, when suddenly I felt like my old self again.

It brought me to tears.

It was amazing.

And it comes and goes.

The thing to remember is that, through the course of life, we never ever stay the same person. We are constantly changing, constantly growing, and expecting ourselves to stay the way we were “before” isn’t realistic.

It was never going to happen, anyway. Even if you hadn’t gotten injured, life would have changed you in some way. You would have lost or gained many, many things (and people) along the way, and those experiences would have changed you, too.

Just be aware, that brain injury / concussion isn’t the kind of thing you can rush. The brain will take its own sweet time.

So, buckle up for the ride of your life!

What to do?

The best thing you can do is be patient with yourself and be aware of the ways that you are not functioning as well as you would like. Make a note. Try again. And keep learning.

Don’t rush it. These things take time. Eat healthy food, stay away from a lot of junk food, sugar, caffeine, and stress, drink plenty of water, and get lots of good sleep.

Exercise can also help a great deal. It reduces stress, and it gets your mind off your brain for a while. The times I’ve felt best, are the times I’ve been exercising regularly – even light exercise for 10 minutes at the start of each day. Just don’t overdo it. Recovering from an injured brain is hassle enough, without adding an injured body to it.

#8 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

8. You might feel like you are crazy… like you’re losing your mind.

crazy-anger-794697_1280

Auuuuggghhhh!

This is another very common complaint after concussion / TBI. Your brain is working differently than before. Maybe you’re saying and doing things that don’t make sense to you – and others around you. Maybe you can’t find the right words. Maybe your body is super-sensitive to every little stimulus. And you certainly don’t feel like your old self.

Believe me, this is common. Thousands upon thousands of people with concussion / TBI feel like they’re losing their minds. Some feel that way longer than others, but for the vast majority, they get back to feeling normal before too long.

That’s how it was for me for many years. I’d get hit on the head, be dazed and confused for some time… then eventually I’d be back to feeling like myself. This last time, it took me 10 years to start feeling like myself again. But at least I’m back. For the most part.

Some days, I still feel like a stranger. And I don’t know what happened to the old me I used to know so well.

Yes, it can make you feel crazy.

But you’re not crazy. Your brain is just “recalibrating” and figuring out how to do the things it used to do so easily.

It’s not a small thing, however. This complicates life in so many ways – including your interactions with others. One way it is particularly troublesome, is with doctors. If you have trouble expressing yourself and words aren’t coming out properly, it can be hard, if not impossible, to get good medical help. In my case, I was so “all over the map” that one neurologist after another treated me like I was mentally ill and just looking for attention and pills. Needless to say, it made it hard to get help. But I stuck with it, and my persistence paid off.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as fortunate as I have been.

The important thing to remember – no matter what doctors or friends or family members say – is that the source of your troubles is your brain. It’s not something you’re making up. It’s real. And you need to reckon with it.

Remember that neighborhood I talked about earlier? The one that got hit with the microburst?

storm-damage-tree-downThink about all the wiring in that neighborhood immediately after the storm. At first it’s down, then it comes up, little by little. Eventually people can turn on their lights without a brownout. And they can watch t.v., although it takes a while for them to get their heads on straight, after working around the clock to clean up their street.

That’s what’s going on in your system. You’ve got the t.v. on, but you keep hitting the wrong buttons on the remote, and the shows keep jumping around on your mental screen. It’s just the recalibration process running its course, and until things get sorted, you’re going to feel a little crazy.

But you’re not going nuts. It just feels that way.

What to do?

Be patient with yourself. Your brain needs time to figure things out again.

Have a sense of humor. Seriously – some of the stuff you do is pretty funny, if you think about it. If your system is going to go haywire for a while, you might as well have fun with it. It’s not the end of the world. Plus, you’ll have a hell of a story to tell, on down the line.

#7 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

7. Being tired makes you cranky. It also can make you more emotional than usual.

Cranky after concussion? You're not the only one

Cranky after concussion? You’re not the only one

You may find yourself behaving in “strange” ways, or thinking “strange” things. You may also find yourself getting much angrier than before — and much more quickly than before.

A tired brain isn’t just a distractable brain – it’s an irritable brain, as well. Fatigue can cause an injured brain to overreact – to everything. It can give you a hair-trigger temper and make you unpredictable and volatile.

That’s not good for anyone.

I wish I’d known this from the start. It would have saved me so many years of real pain over watching myself blow up over nothing at times becoming a danger to myself and the people around me.

I blew up with family, friends, co-workers, bosses, healthcare professionals, and yes, police officers. I lost jobs and relationships because of this.

It was so debilitating to watch myself go ballistic over things like dropping a spoon on the kitchen floor, or not being able to understand what people were saying to me. If I had known what fatigue does to my brain – because of my injuries – I would have worried less about being a bad person, and worried more about getting to bed at a decent hour.

What to do?

Pay attention to how tired you are. And pay attention to when you have a bad day – or a bad incident. Notice any connection?

Earlier tends to be better for a lot of us

Earlier tends to be better for a lot of us

To combat this problem, you can schedule important things for the morning, when you are still fresh. And you can postpone (or avoid) doing social things when you are tired.

Important activities where you need to keep your cool need to happen when you’re not fatigued. And that means doing important things earlier in the week, too.

By Friday, no matter how early it is in the morning, you may still be tired enough to fly off the handle over nothing at all.

There are medications that can help with the exhaustion that comes with TBI. Some meds will help you think better, so you get less tired, period.

If you want to go “med-less” (that’s what I prefer), you can always have a cup of coffee before an important event. But you have to watch out that it’s not too late in the day, or it may keep you from getting to sleep. A cup of coffee at 3:45 p.m. may help for that Thursday-afternoon meeting, but it may put the screws to your Friday.

#6 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

6. All of this is going to make you feel very, very tired.

TBI / concussion can make you feel wiped out.

TBI / concussion symptoms can drain you.

The sleep thing again…

I’m repeating myself, because it’s that important.

Fatigue is one of the top complaints of people who have sustained a brain injury. For some, it resolves in a matter of weeks or months, for others (myself included), it goes on for years. Giving yourself a chance to heal up front is probably a good idea.

TBI / concussion can make you feel wiped out.

When your brain is going haywire and it’s sending strange messages to your body, and your body is hyper-sensitive to just about everything… it’s exhausting. I spent years in a near-constant state of exhaustion. I had maybe a few good hours in the morning, then I was done.

Especially at the start, when your brain is figuring everything out – it feels like for the first time – you can end up feeling fried before you get half-way through the day. I drank way too much coffee for years, just to keep going. I didn’t understand what the problem was. I just knew I was exhausted, and I had to keep going.

You may need to sleep more than usual. If you can get it – take the opportunity. I functioned for years on exhaustion, because I had no choice. I had no access to public benefits, and if I didn’t work, I didn’t eat or have a home. So, I worked. Through the exhaustion. It was no fun at all – for me, or for my loved ones. We all paid a steep price for my fatigue.

What to do?

Sleep is precious. It helps your brain clear out the gunk that gets released when it gets injured, and it restores your sanity. Get as much sleep as you can, whenever you can.

You may feel like a loser for needing so much sleep, and/or others might call you a “slacker”, but they don’t live with your brain. You do. Give it a break. Give yourself a chance to feel human again.

no-x-outAlso, consider cutting back on all the stuff you think you need to do.

A lot of us stay busy, just because everyone else does it, or it makes us feel more productive and needed. In the end, you might be productive and needed, but you still feel like death-warmed-over. It’s up to you, but I’ve found that cutting back on all my customary activities was a magical relief.

All the “friends” I used to have? They’re still running on their hamster wheels. And they’re no happier now, than when I departed from their midst.

How things change

Getting it all sorted out

Getting it all sorted out

I’m cleaning up my home office, getting rid of a whole lot of junk stuff I have collected over the years.

To be fair, it’s not actually “junk” — it’s just leftovers from years gone by, which are no longer needed. I used to need these things. Or, in some cases, I thought I was going to need them, but it turned out, I didn’t. Lots of scrap paper… lots of cardboard I used to use for packing, when I was sending things to people. Lots of old equipment that needs to go to “technology heaven”.

And look… there’s the coupon for $10 off my next $50 spent at the hardware store. It’s good for another 3 days. That will come in handy — especially if I actually make it to the hardware store this weekend. I should. I have a number of things I need to pick up, and my garage needs to be cleaned out for the impending fall. Right now, it’s got too much stuff — and junk — taking up the space that my car should fill.

I’m feeling a little frustrated, right now. A lot of what I’m finding is a reminder of how much I have had to let go of. Or all the things that I had such hopes for, and never managed to make happen. I was really convinced, for so many years, that I was going to make all these dreams come true. But I never reckoned with the reality of fatigue, confusion, frustrations, and the constant toll that TBI-related stress and distraction takes on a person, day after day after day.

A number of objects in my office are from my spouse, and looking at them all, seeing how many things I’ve been given, which don’t actually suit my personality… or seeing how many of them were given to me in good faith (which I never followed through on)… that’s a little depressing, too. It’s a little disconcerting to have so many reminders that your significant other has never really understood you — and probably never will.

Then again, who ever really understands anyone? And in the midst of the sorting, I find one reminder after another of our bond — birthday cards, Valentine’s Day cards, little notes left for me that say “I love you!”… that’s really what matters. Everything else seems a best guess to me, anyway.

And I realize I am at a significant juncture in my life. I’m finally at a place, where I can relax and settle into my work, because it suits me, all across the board. For decades, I was not committed to my “day job” other than as a way to make a living and pay for the expenses of everyday life. I wasn’t invested in the least. I mean, it was hard to feel invested about anything in technology, back when the Web was first starting up. Nobody knew how it was going to go, if it would last, if it was “a thing”. It took many years for that to be proven, and now it’s a given.

And now, after so many years of work and pioneering and opening the frontier, the world I helped to create — as one tiny cog in a massive machine that has an intelligence all its own — I finally feel invested in it all. Because I connected with a company that’s invested in me. It really is remarkable, after so many years of being treated like I’m disposable, expendable, interchangeable. Like I didn’t matter, and nobody cared. The people around me cared, sure, but at the management level, it was all too Darwinian and it wasn’t at all conducive to getting the best performance out of the people who were committed to doing the work.

They didn’t even seem to realize that we were committed to doing the work. They just treated us like we showed up each day to earn a paycheck, and that was it. Eventually, no matter how much more it may all mean to you, if you’re treated that way, day in and day out, you can end up slipping into that mindset, yourself.

What a waste.

And for years — decades, really — my life was driven by a profound need to be more than just a cog in the machine, a plug in a hole that would have leaked if it weren’t plugged. I spent so, so many hours trying to fill that void left by my day job, seeking with every fiber and ounce to actually express myself in a way that made me “me”. It was a constant struggle to prove my identity, to prove my worth, to know that I was more than what I was treated like, day in and day out.

I wanted more, I needed more. I had to have it.

So, I created it myself. I carved out a niche for myself in my own life with constant work, constant writing, constant creation. I volunteered. I got involved in groups. I had an active life outside work, and I crammed a whole lot of stuff into it.

And for years, that worked. It just felt normal and right and free. As long as I was free, that’s all that mattered to me.

But then I fell and hit my head. And the freedom went away. It just seemed to evaporate overnight, and everything that had felt smooth and sensical, just turned into mush. I lost my spark. I lost the joy. I lost the passion that comes from within — it was replaced by a manic stress response that was fueled by pure adrenaline that came from post-traumatic stress, life-and-death choices, a long series of bad decisions that either trashed or threatened to destroy so much that I had worked so hard for.

The energy and passion I’d had before, which was always accompanied by hope, was replaced by rage and fear and anxiety. On the surface, it looked like I was still engaged and energetic, but inside I was a tangled mass of nerves.

Big difference from before. My fuel was not hope, but desperation. Confusion. Frustration. And the need to have enough stress in my life to keep my attention focused on what was in front of me.

The last 10 years have been a chaotic blur. A blur, because everything has seemed to happen so fast – and yet so slowly – and chaotic, because I could not figure out what was going on inside my head and outside of it, too. So much confusion. So much dancing on the edge of disaster — often without realizing it. So many poor decisions, so many knee-jerk reactions that cost me so much. Since 2004, I had 11 different positions – more, if you count changing roles within organizations. That’s more than one job change a year – I hopped from one position the next four times in about a year, back in 2008, without knowing why. Part of it was just bad decision-making, part of it was anxiety, part of it was not being able to function and needing to “skip town” before people found out how incompetent I was at the job I’d signed up for.

In the meantime, there were the marital troubles, the money shortage, the creditors knocking down my door and blowing up my cell phone, the logistical troubles, the health problems and cognitive decline of my spouse… Yeah, it’s been a wild ride.

And looking around me at my office, I see so many relics of the years before 2004, when everything seemed so simple and straightforward, and I was content to be living as I was. Back when my spouse was still healthy and working. Back when I was good with where I was, and everything just progressed and unfolded without concern for the future. Back before everything started to fall apart.

I’m cleaning up, now. I’m getting rid of the old stuff that I no longer want or need. And I’m saving what I can still use. The post-it notes that were given to me at a past job, when the company changed its branding and they had all these extra supplies to get rid of. The paper clips and butterfly clips. The pens I can still use. The notes I made, some time ago, about ideas that still interest me. Much of this I can still use.

But in a very different frame of mind. A relaxed frame of mind. A state of mind that makes it possible for me to settle in and concentrate — and not worry constantly about the outcome. A frame of mind that  have not had in so many years. It’s more than relaxed. It’s at ease.

Finally, I can settle in and just enjoy my life again.

Not that things are completely event-less. Lately, there have been unfortunate losses in my family, a bunch of my friends lost their jobs, and things are not hunky-dory, all across the board. But my frame of mind is very different, now. And while I don’t much care for the tragedy, I can handle it without going off the deep end. I can walk through the crises without letting them wreck me, too. Whatever happens now, I feel as though I’m up to the challenge.

I know how to think things through.

I know how to break things down and take my time and work through them from start to finish.

I used to have that ability, years ago, then it went away. Now, ten years later, it’s back.

And that makes all the difference.

So, the day is waiting.

Onward.

#5 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

5. You are probably going to be more distracted than usual.

Everything looks important

Everything looks important

Brain injury can make people very distractable. In my case, I am very light and noise sensitive, so on bad days, every passing shadow or bright light or sound catches my attention. With all the excitatory neurochemicals loose in our brains after concussion, our brains are on high-alert, and that can make us instantly notice tons of details that don’t mean a thing.

Your brain can get confused and not always know what details it should be paying attention to. It can get confused about what it really important and what it can safely ignore.

And because you have so much rattling ’round in your head, you might have more trouble remembering things — especially important things, like dates and schedules and appointments.

It actually takes a lot of brain power to notice lots of details and know what to pay attention to, and it takes special attention to commit things to memory. If your brain is so busy noticing everything and categorizing it without understanding what’s really going on, it’s not going to have a lot of bandwidth to devote to memorizing critical things.

Concussion / TBI is stressful, and stress make us more distracted than usual. It puts us on “high alert” where we think everything is important and needs to be noticed. This is a huge energy drain, and it tires you out even more.

A tired brain is a distractable brain.

And distraction makes the brain work harder, as it tries to “track” all the different pieces of information and put them in some kind of order – which makes it even more tired.

See the irony?

Yes, you’re right. It does suck.

What to do?

Again… sleep. Get plenty of rest. Your brain needs to heal, and pushing the envelope isn’t going to help. A tired brain is a distractable brain, so the less tired it is, the better your chances.

There are exercises you can do to increase your focus. Puzzles can help, and some online training supposedly helps, as well.

Meditation and mindfulness are highly recommended. They can literally alter the structure of the brain and strengthen the areas for focus.

Be careful of medication. Some meds actually make the brain more tired (some anti-depressants), which doesn’t help with concentration after a brain injury. Other meds will get you cranked up to high speed, which can fry your system. Be careful with meds, even over the counter ones. And talk to your doctor, if you’re concerned.

#4 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

4. Your ability to plan and follow through may be affected, and you might not be able to make good judgments.

You may think it's safe to drive... when it's not

You may think it’s safe to drive… when it’s not

One of the worst things about TBI is that it can hide itself very well from the very people who are having trouble. An injured brain doesn’t always know it’s injured, and it usually wants to jump back in the action before it’s ready.

But it doesn’t know it’s not ready, because it can’t tell that it’s injured.

If you remember nothing else, at least remember this:

... And then this happens

… And then this happens

After concussion, your brain will usually over-estimate your ability to do regular things again. And it will often tell you that you can do things even better than before… but you can’t.

I wish someone had told me about this danger after so many of my concussions.

Of course, even if they had, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. I interviewed for jobs that were far, far above my professional grade. Somehow, I was convinced that if another person could do the job of a C-level executive, I could, too. I told interviewers that I was capable of becoming an executive at companies where I had little to no experience because, “If they can do it, so can I.”

If you think I got a lot of strange looks at job interviews… you’re right.

I also had many close calls after making poor judgments around people carrying guns.

I nearly got myself killed while walking down a deer path in the early morning hours during deer hunting season, wearing no bright colors, and actually wanting to blend in like deer, so I could catch sight of one. I was nearly shot by a hunter, who pulled up before he pulled the trigger.

I also got into numerous scrapes with police officers, because I misunderstood what they were saying to me, and I got aggressive in response. I’ve resisted arrest, went out of my way to get confrontational with armed officers, and I’ve barely escaped a number of close calls with jail, thanks to lack of impulse control and terrible judgment – thanks to all those TBIs I’ve sustained.

And that’s just scratching the surface. I can tell you from plenty of personal experience that brain injury screws with your ability to think clearly and make good decisions.

This is to be expected. It’s completely normal for people who sustain concussions / TBIs.

Planning and good decision-making are some of the top casualties in brain injury, for a number of reasons:

A) You’re not getting all the info you need to make good choices.

B) The thinking process that decides what’s good or bad may be impaired.

C) You might not have the energy or patience to sort through all the details and come up with a good plan.

D) Your impulse control might not be great, so you jump into things before you think them through.

E) You may be extremely anxious, which makes you do things too quickly – or not at all.

There are plenty more reasons, but these are the Big Five that cause many problems.

Basically, you may find pieces of information missing, here and there… or you may not pick up on every detail that you need to make the right decisions.

It’s kind of like a contestant in a beauty pageant who has a salad for lunch and then is so caught up in thinking about her hair and her dress, that she doesn’t check her teeth in the mirror before she goes out for the next round on stage. The camera pans across the line of smiling contestants, and there she is with a big piece of dark green spinach on her teeth.

Not good. Chances are, her shot at the title is gone.

Even if you really, really want to do the right thing in the right way, your brain might not be up to the task of doing it… yet. Here’s why:

The frontal lobes – the very front of the brain in your forehead above your eyes – is the part of the brain that helps us plan our lives, follow through, and make wise decisions. And because it’s out there in front, it’s especially susceptible to injury.

Double-whammy

Double-whammy

Even if you get hit in the back of the head – like when you get rear-ended in traffic – your brain can smack up against the inside of the front of your skull. This is not good news for anyone, because the inside of the skull is sharp and bony, and the brain is soft like Jell-O.

When your executive function is impaired, your brain can get you into a ton of really bad scrapes. That includes telling yourself that you’re ready to get back into playing, working, or learning long before you’re ready to. It also includes telling yourself that you’re a lot better at something than you are.

Impaired executive function can go hand-in-hand with impaired risk assessment (where you can’t really tell how dangerous a situation is before jumping in), so you can put yourself in real danger without realizing it.

Some examples:

  • Getting back into extreme sports when your coordination and timing are not nearly as good as they used to be.
  • Starting classes again and taking even harder ones than before, when your brain isn’t processing info as well as it once was.
  • Taking up a new sport you never played before and trying to jump to expert level participation right away.
  • Getting involved with illegal activities.
  • Confronting an armed motorist who’s caught up in road rage.

These can all get you hurt. They can also get you killed. But if your executive function is impaired, you’re not exactly qualified to make those kinds of decisions.

One of the biggest problems with brain injury / concussion is that it also tricks you into thinking that there’s no problem at all with your thinking. You’re sure that you’re fine!

This special brand of confusion is so common that there’s even a word for not knowing that you don’t know you’re impaired: anosognosia.

Your brain can be so injured that it’s literally incapable of telling how good or bad it is at…well, anything. This is common after stroke, as well as more serious brain injuries.

And it’s very, very dangerous. Combine poor judgment with the impatience and anxiety that often comes with TBI, and you have a powder keg just waiting to go off.

It’s nobody’s fault, and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, if you keep making bone-headed mistakes.

It just means that part of your brain that’s responsible for “executive functioning” is impaired and needs some help.

What to do?

In many concussions, poor judgment is either temporary or it can be offset by some help from other people or tools you can use.

The most important thing is to understand that your brain can – and will – play tricks on you after a concussion or TBI. It doesn’t mean you’re permanently damaged, it just means you need to re-train that part of your brain to A) slow down to notice the right details, and B) get in the habit of thinking things through.

If you’ve got friends to bounce ideas off, this is the best time to use them.

If you don’t have friends in the “real world” (they may have ditched you after your injury, or you might be isolated by your problems), you can find online support groups who can help you sort things out.

Also, there are professionals who can help you with your decision-making. You may be able to find a counselor or neuropsychologist who can help you retrain your brain to think more systematically and come up with better solutions to problems.

The best thing you can probably do, is reach out for help. Because your brain is going to tell you some interesting things – many of those things may be 100% wrong… but you’ll never know it, because your brain doesn’t.

#3 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

3. Your brain has changed.

It's like this

It’s like this

Concussion changes the brain.

First, it floods it with chemicals that aren’t supposed to be where they go. And sometimes those chemicals can actually damage healthy cells.

The connections that used to get information from one place to the next can be altered.

Depending on the type of concussion, there can be bleeding, twisting, or shearing of connections, that make it harder for information to get where it needs to go.

Concussion is like a microburst that suddenly appears in a normally quiet neighborhood, blowing out windows, uprooting shrubbery and trees, pulling down power and cable lines, tossing lawn furniture into the street, and seriously rearranging the garbage cans that were neatly lined along the driveway. Even a quick hit or a “ding” can do some real damage.

Clearing out the gunk that gets loose in your brain is a lot like clearing the wreckage after a microburst. First you have to pick up all the loose trash, then you have cut apart the trees that pulled down the power lines. Only after you get the big trees out and stand up the poles, can you tell if the electricity and phone lines are still any good.

Maybe some of them are fine.

Maybe others got pulled out of their connections, and utility crews need to just tighten them up.

And maybe some of the wires got so frayed and torn that they need to be replaced. That replacement takes time. New crews need to be called in. Maybe a crew isn’t available, or they don’t have the needed parts. The neighborhood is going to be out of power and cable for a bit.

That’s basically how it is after a concussion / TBI. Sometimes that proverbial microburst does damage to the actual connections in your brain.

And if you’ve had a prior concussion (or two or three – or nine, like me), your brain can have an even harder time getting information from one place to the next.

Imagine a neighborhood that’s had a lot of storms that knocked out power. Utilities crews have patched up the connections many, many times – and each time the connection gets a little easier to damage, because all the loosening and tightening and adjusting puts a strain on the materials used. Screws get stripped. Casings on cables get thin. Wires get twisted and re-twisted, weakening them in the process. Connectors get overloaded with additional cables. And while the system does restart, with each new storm, the power goes out that much more easily.

That’s pretty much what it’s like with repeat concussions.

Connections in the brain aren’t the only thing that can suffer after getting your bell rung.

When the information crosses the wires and actually gets where it’s going, the “microprocessors” that used to figure out what to do with it may have altered.

Our brains are incredibly complex, and they process billions upon billions of pieces of data on a moment-by-moment basis. When our neurochemical process is messed up, it can make it harder to figure out what to do with the information that comes through over our stressed “wiring”.

Too much for our systems to take at one time

Too much for our systems to take at one time

Let’s go back to that neighborhood that got hit by the microburst.

When the utility crews finally have the electricity back on, and cable is restored, can life go back to normal immediately?

Not if everyone in the neighborhood is exhausted from the cleanup. Even if you do have electricity and cable, surfing the channels is going to be a challenge, if you’re wiped out from all the hauling and cutting and cleanup efforts. You’ll have cable back, but when you use the remote, you fingers will hit the wrong buttons and you might have trouble reading the listings on your t.v. screen. If you’re getting on Facebook, you might have trouble typing or understanding what others have posted, because you’re so tired.

Even though you have electricity and cable, you still have trouble using them.

And that’s how it can be in your brain after concussion. Even if the information is getting through from synapse to synapse, once it gets there, the synapses may not know how to handle the info correctly.

As a result, your noggin isn’t processing things the way it used to.

It can feel a lot sssssllllllllooooooowwwwwerrrrrrrr.

You can feel like life is moving in slow motion.

And in a way, it is. Because the thing that observes and interprets your life is not firing on all cylinders. Not yet, anyway.

You can feel like you’re walking around in a fog. And you are. Remember the “gunk” that got released in your brain? It takes a while to clear it out, and in the meantime, your brain is struggling to connect the dots in your daily life – with connections that don’t work like they used to.

What to do?

Again, getting plenty of sleep, water, and nutritious food are really good for you.

Probably the most important thing is to avoid stress.

Stress is a killer. It limits the brain’s ability to learn – which is exactly what it needs to do after a concussion / TBI. Stress can put you in fight-flight mode that makes you aggressive and combative – which can get you into even more trouble with people like the authorities or other people who just want to fight.

Whatever you do for yourself after concussion, you’ve got to take it easy on yourself and give yourself plenty of time to get back. You can get back. Lots of people have gotten injured like you, and the majority of them have returned to their regular lives. TBI and concussion are extremely common, so rest assured you’re in good company.

Unfortunately, stress goes hand-in-hand with TBI and concussion. I can’t tell you how to stop the stress, but I can tell you how to limit the negative effects.

Deep Relaxation has been unbelievably helpful for me, over the past years. For a long, long time, I had no interest in relaxation. I hated to relax, in fact. Turns out, I just didn’t know how. But I found a recording for progressive relaxation that I could listen to, and it helped me train myself to let go of all the stress and feel normal again.

You might not be able to stop the stresses of life, but you can stop the negative effect it has on you.

Take your injury seriously and give yourself time to recover. And learn to offset the stress to your system with rest and relaxation.

#2 Thing I wish they’d told me after my concussion(s)

2. When the brain is injured, it can release a lot of chemicals that do strange things to the connections that help you think.

Everybody up and out there! GO-GO-GO!!!

Everybody up and out there! GO-GO-GO!!!

Concussion / mild TBI causes the brain to go hyperactive. It’s been injured, and it starts sending out all sorts of messages to the cells without any particular order. It “knows” it’s been injured, and it starts telling itself it needs to Get Going! Go! Go! GO!

It’s like a commander in war, or a coach in a critical game shouting at the team. The cells themselves start firing on all cylinders – in any and every direction – like soldiers pinned down and desperate to fight their way to safety, firing their guns in all directions with no thought of who or what they might hit. The panicked cells start sending out impulses and communications to each other in no particular order.

In the process, a lot of chemicals that should really stay inside cells, get on the outside. And a lot of chemicals that should stay on the outside, get inside the cells. It’s like a panicked football coach telling every single player to get on the field for a play – offense, defense, special teams, and even the kicker, athletic trainers, and support staff end up on the field, running in all directions, none of them quite sure what’s supposed to happen, or what they’re supposed to do.

All they know is, the coach is yelling GO! GO! GO! and they’re going.

Scientists call this process a “neurometabolic cascade” — a chain reaction that releases all sorts of interesting biochemical substances into places of the brain that normally shouldn’t have them there. Cell walls get “breached” and the stuff that used to be inside gets outside, and the stuff that used to be outside gets inside.

In concussion / mild TBI, your brain is literally flooded with chemicals that shouldn’t be where they are. If you’ve ever had your basement flooded, or you’ve seen pictures of a flood aftermath, you get the general idea of what happens to the brain.

Even after the initial excitation is over, it takes a while for the brain’s processes to return to normal. Just like a flood leaves a coating of gunk behind it, all the chemicals in the wrong places leave gunk on the connections in your brain.

Depending on the concussion, there may be a lot of “gunk” that your brain needs to clear out before its connections can begin to heal and be repaired.

During that time – sometimes it’s days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months (it varies from person to person) – your brain has to work extra overtime to clean up its act. The problem is, it takes extra energy for it to do that – and the metabolic energy-producing process involved is negatively affected by concussion.

So, just at the time when the brain needs more energy to clean out and heal, it’s less able to produce the energy it needs.

Feels like a fog - 'cause it is

Feels like a fog – ’cause it is

The net result? You may feel like you’re walking around in a fog. And you are.

Your brain’s connections are “fogged up” by the extra gunk that got released when you got “dinged”. It’s a terrible feeling – especially if you’re the kind of person who’s always on the go, always active and involved in life. If you “just bumped your head”, it might not make any sense to feel the way you do – but you feel this way for a very good reason: your brain is still trying to clean itself out, so it can get on with the healing process.

You’re not stupid – it just feels that way. And chances are good that you won’t feel that way forever.

Think of what happens when water gets in your gas tank. The engine doesn’t much like it, and it lets you know. It sputters and coughs and can sound like it has a nasty cold. Likewise, when all those neurochemicals clog up your system after a brain injury, the engine inside your head starts to behave strangely, too.

Depending on your injury, some of the connections themselves might actually be frayed or broken… but you won’t be able to tell, until after the neurochemical gunk has been cleared away.

What to do?

Sleep, clean drinking water, and nutritious food have all been shown to help.

Some people take supplements like fish oil to help, but some people (like me) have reactions to it, so it’s really best to keep things super-simple.

Just resting and taking a break from all the screens, and not doing a lot of mental activity are highly recommended. T.V., reading, video games, Facebook, surfing the web, emailing… all those things get your brain riled up, so you need to step away from them for a while, so your brain can catch up with itself.

Sleeping is actually one of the best things you can do for yourself, because it’s been shown to help clear out gunk from the brain. While we are asleep, the brain is literally washing itself, so one of the smartest things you can do after a concussion is give it plenty of opportunity to do the work for you.

Trust me, it’s no fun. Your brain is telling itself (and your body) to Go-Go-Go, but remember, it’s been injured, and it has no idea what you’re supposed to do. That’s just the neurotransmitters talking.