by Linda W. Arms
After a brain injury, everything seems to take so much energy out of you. One of our most basic needs, nourishing ourselves, can be a lot of work. Obviously cooking involves a lot of cognitive activities but even eating can be challenging. After my TBI, it was difficult to sit at a table and eat. I would often eat part of my meal and be so exhausted that I would have to lie down.
Think about everything that is going on at the table while you’re eating, especially if others are with you. Another person is moving their hands to pick up the fork, cutting with a knife, moving food to their mouth, reaching for a dish of food… They are picking up glasses to drink. They talk. Maybe a radio or TV is on in the background. There are plates, glasses, napkins, and other things on the table and all around you. All of this is being processing by your injured brain. On top of all this, you have to feed yourself. All those little actions that have to be handled by your brain. Can you see why it’s exhausting?
I had visual problems after my brain injury that took a few years to be resolved. It was very uncomfortable for me to sit at the table and eat. I wasn’t particularly hungry and then adding the stimulation of being at the table was too much for me. Even my own hand movements of eating and cutting the food were too much visual stimulation. I would sometimes feel nauseous from the hand movements. For some reason, clear glassware on the table caused a problem for me also. I think my brain couldn’t quite figure it out, looking through it or whatever but the more there was on the table the more difficult it was for me to look at it.
I also had a sensitivity to sound and light. Think of the sounds at the table that your brain has to process. Bright lights around you add to the level of stimulation. I used custom fitted musician earplugs to muffle the sounds around me but, unfortunately, having them in my ears while eating did not work very well. The sound of me chewing was very loud which was disturbing. The chewing sounds would also drown out anything someone was saying to me. I knew I had to eat but the experience was not comfortable or enjoyable. I’d eat a bit and then take a rest. This is a lot for an injured brain to deal with just being at home where your surroundings are familiar, imagine the additional burden when you are out at a restaurant! Just remember it gets better as your brain heals. Know your limitations, and try to control your environment to keep things that trigger your symptoms from taking over.