by Linda W. Arms, June 22, 2014
What is a brain injury like? It’s not like a broken leg. It’s not like most other medical conditions or diseases. It’s not getting old and experiencing “senior moments”. It is very different although many people look at it as “oh, you’ll get over it” or “I have that too, it’s what happens when you age.”
A brain injury, whether from trauma, stroke, aneurysm, lack of oxygen or other cause, happens quite suddenly – out of the blue. You are fine; everything works; your mind is active and full of ideas and dreams and thoughts; you walk about without a problem. You can speak and comprehend what someone is saying while you cook or do something else. You read, watch TV, drive, cook, solve problems, make decisions….. Most likely you don’t think about your brain at all but it is what is making those things all possible.
After a brain injury, you suddenly are unable to move about or think like you did before. Brain injuries vary in their effect on a person depending on the severity and which parts of the brain were damaged. In many cases after a significant brain injury, your mind is blank without any thoughts unless you force them to be there. You have to concentrate on thinking through a simple thing in your head because you lose your focus very easily. You are in a fog. When you try to think through a simple thing you feel like your head is full of thick mud or dense cotton that muffles and gets in the way of thinking clearly. Sometimes it’s impossible to think even about the simplest thing, the blankness just returns.
There is a sense of other worldliness around you. Your senses are muffled. Your sense of presence is gone. You feel you are not really part of what is happening around you. You can’t experience everything going on around you. Your view into the world around you is very small like looking through a little tube. Your awareness is missing. You often just stare off into space with emptiness in your head and in your eyes.
You have problems understanding what people are saying to you. You have problems talking and explaining something you want to say. You can’t find the words, the words don’t come out right, and sentences are hard to form. You have few emotions, there is no joy, there is no happiness, there is no anger, there is no sentimentality, there is little except maybe some sadness and nothingness.
You have to hide in a safe, quiet place because the world is too chaotic for you. You can’t go to stores, you can’t hear sounds, you can’t have too much movement around you before you feel so overwhelmed, you can’t see straight or walk right. You have to move slowly because you don’t have the strength or energy, you have to be careful walking through doorways or passing by things because things aren’t really where you see them to be. You have odd sensations in your head, you have odd tingling in parts of your body, you may not feel pain the way you used to.
You’re cold all the time, it’s hard to get up out of a chair or out of bed because you are so weak. You are tired, always tired. You sleep and sleep for sometimes 14 – 16 hours a day. You get up in the mornings and it takes hours to feel alert enough to function. You sit there waiting for the disturbing sensations in your head to settle down while your brain is adjusting to being awake. Sometimes you can’t get there… you have to go back to bed and sleep after getting up just an hour or two earlier.
You have a sense of great loss. You are not the same. For so many reasons, the essence of who you are is gone. You don’t do what you used to do like work or drive or be with friends. You almost don’t care sometimes because it’s all you can do to think about getting through the day with the chaos that is now part of your world.
You feel fragile, broken. You feel damaged. How do you pick up all the pieces and make progress.
You think “what has happened?”, “did this really happen to me?”, “is this all my life is going to be like?” “am I ever going to get better?”, “it’s been 6 months and I’m still not better”, “this is terrible but I have to be grateful it’s not worse and that I’m alive”.
It goes on and on and on for months, for years but gradually you get better. You make progress but it is very slow. It takes years. Sometimes you encounter relapses. Sometimes you have symptoms you thought were gone but they are back because you are stressed or tired or over-stimulated or sick.
Someone very close to me recently asked me about my brain injury recovery and said, “When did it all end?” I said, “It didn’t end”. It never ends. It’s always there sometimes better, sometimes worse. There are more days now where I don’t think about it because I do quite well. I am grateful for the progress I’ve made and most people who didn’t know me before wouldn’t know the difference. But I know. I remember how I used to be. I haven’t gotten it all back but I’m still working on it. Like so many of you with brain injuries, I realize how strong I have been to have gotten through all this and I am grateful I am doing as well as I am. I am proud of myself and the hard work I’ve put into my recovery. I’m sure many of you feel the same way.