by Linda W. Arms
One evening recently I was walking through my house and was frightened by my own shadow. It was a big reminder of my earlier years after my brain injury when I was often frightened by things. Often I think I could not process things quickly enough to understand what it was I was seeing. Part of it also was that I was often hyper-vigilant as a result of PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome). Whatever the cause, these responses of fear are a bit unnerving and zap some energy from my brain. It even affects my physical energy for a few moments; there is a wave of physical weakness.
In the last weeks I’ve had many things on my mind and I am less aware of my surroundings. A few days ago, I walked around the back of my house and saw the reflection from the water in a tiny pond that’s been there for the last 20 years. When I first saw the reflection I was frightened because I didn’t know what it was. It didn’t fit in with the rest of what I saw like grass, trees, and plants. I don’t think it was a PTSD thing this time. I think my brain could not process the visual input fast enough to tell me “it’s OK, it’s just light reflecting on the water”.
How many of you have had these experiences after your brain injury? I remember some of my rather strange reactions that now I can even laugh about. A couple of years after my accident, I moved my car out of the garage and parked it in the driveway. I wanted to sweep the garage. After sweeping for a few minutes, I looked up and saw a car in the driveway. It frightened me because I thought “who is parking there, what do they want?” A few moments later I realized it was my car that I had moved out there less than 10 minutes ago.
Another time I was walking through a home goods store and I suddenly saw something that really scared me and I even made some sound. Again, a few moments later, I recognized that it was steam coming from a room humidifier that was on display. It sounds crazy and I felt embarrassed by my reaction since there were other people around. The incident caused me to have more difficulties getting through the store. The scare zapped that fragile brain energy.
I’m not sure what causes these responses; only the brain fairy knows for sure. I think in the earlier years, PTSD played a role in my moments of being frightened by something. Today I think it’s mostly that my brain still can’t attend to too many things at once. If my brain is busy thinking about a problem then it can’t also be processing a lot of visual input or other things it should be doing. I have to say I’m rather disappointed that I have had this response so frequently in the last weeks but I realize it will get better. It makes me realize I have to be extra careful doing things that require a lot of attention. I have to remind myself to stop thinking about the problems, put them aside, and focus on what I have to do at the moment.