Talking from the head
What is Brain Injury?
A Brain Injury is damage to the physical tissue of the brain, a brain injury can be caused by many different things. But they are put into two categories:
- Physical Trauma TBI - This is a physical external trauma that causes the brain to move within the skull, Often caused by some sort of blow to the head.
- Acquired Brain Injury ABI - This is and where damage is caused on a cellular level. Very often caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain or from pressure caused by a tumor, for example. Can also be caused by some sort of neurological illness, and even from a drug overdose for example, alcohol.
What changes following injury?
Well firstly that depends on the severity of injury, the more severe the injury, the bigger the changes.
Following Brain Injury, the affected area of the brain will never be used again. When brain tissue has been damaged it will never be able to be used again. So thinking about this, it is clear that the brain will need to re-learn, re-programme etc. around the damaged tissue. Something that, in theory, sounds much easier than actually plays out in reality.
Drawing from my own experience(read more detail here) if I look back to day one (after awaking from a coma) I was unable to walk and talk never mind anything else. Motivation played a big part for me(read more about my experiences with motivation here) So at first, in a very controlled environment (hospital) recovery was simple, combined with my motivation things moved along at an accelerated speed.
However the recovery following the acute stages in hospital have proved much more difficult as I have been faced with much more variables coming from everyday life. Not to mention the fact that the following problems were not as easily identified as speech and movement.
With the human brain being so complex and every person being different it is logical that no two brain injuries with be equal, having said that usually similarities can be drawn across the board.
For me the biggest and longest lasting changes were my emotions. This comes with the most affected part of my brain being the frontal lobes, which is the part of the brain that controls emotion among many other things.
Emotional changes can effect everyone following injury
It was clear to see at first that I was emotionally different following injury, primarily void of all emotion. But emotion did not just come back to me it was and is a sluggish yet erratic journey that is incredibly debilitating.
Across the board on brain injuries emotions can be troublesome, these can be for reasons more than just the part of the brain that was damaged dealing with emotions.
-Following injury the brain needs to 're-program' and re-create neurological pathways this could use the frontal lobes, the part of the brain used to control emotion.
-It's very easy for me to share my experiences in hindsight however at the time dealing with changes at the time is difficult. Often depressing, overwhelming, disheartening, surprising.
My second point here is something that probably every brain injury survivor I have had a deep conversation with has experienced.
An example from my own experiences that probably encompasess all of the above causes of trouble with emotion would be when I can to realisation that I would need to look at another career path different to the one I was successfully pursuing prior to the injury. This realisation came to me as I was having a shower in my parents house several years ago. I was feeling a precarious mixture of anger and upset which came to a head when I dropped a shampoo bottle on my foot. I erupted! I was overwhelmed with fierce emotion which caused me to lash out. Throwing soaps and shower products and anything close at hand. Something heavy which smashed the double glazed window on the other side of the bathroom. Along with that the curtain pole was torn down and in its demise several gashes taken out of the wall above the tiles surrounding the shower.
Dealing with emotions
Have you experienced trouble with emotions?
Brain injury and mental health
Dealing with emotions and associated problems is something that is probably covered in mental health (read my mental health blog here) not that I'm particularly encouraging all these things being compartmentalised as with a complex organ such as the brain there are many things that cross over.
Talking of mental health, many mental health 'problems' come about following brain injury in many cases. I covered lack of understanding of these issues in another blog (click here to read)
Moving on from mental problems, damage to the brain can have big effect on physical abilities. Physical problems are hard but possibly more socially accepted as they can be seen. However with brain injury most people suffer both.
My physical problems were very debilitating at first however I made a very good and very quick physical recovery. After 2 months in hospital following the injury I was allowed to leave with one crutch as a walking aid, when I had started in a wheelchair.
My physical problems then continued in the form of fatigue as when I arrived home from hospital around 23 of 24 hours per day were spent in bed.
The toughest part of physical problems in my opinion is dependance on others, I know several people who even years after injury still need a wheelchair to get around and others who wear a splint to aid walking. For many people, prior to injury they live completely independently something that is robbed from you when you need assistance to get around.
Good days and Bad days
Moving on from physical problems everyone who I've spoken to that has survived a brain injury knows exactly what I'm talking about when it comes to 'good days' and 'bad days'
Good days are when you are able to go out, go to events, go to work etc. However on the flip side of this are the bad days. Something that only other brain injury survivors and their immediate family have a real understanding of.
A 'bad day' can be caused for many reasons ranging from things such as an epileptic seizure to just being active one day.
To me a bad day just feels like my brain has just given up, in need of time to recuperate. Thinking is slow, basic tasks take often ridiculous amounts of time if they can even be carried out at all. While being in this state, this then has a knock on effect on mood. Often making you feel stupid, useless etc.
The most important thing that I have learned over time is to be able to recognise when I am having a bad day and make an effort not to be hard on myself. Then soon after, when I am feeling a little sharper, I need to do what I can to lift how I feel to get back on with...life!
Things take much more effort
Following an injury everything is a little harder. Everything is that little bit more effort, or some things a considerable amount of effort. In comparison to prior to injury that it.
Even things like the common cold become quite debilitating as your limited energy has suitably diminished. With that comes the emotional burden of at times feeling useless and at times, helpless. I used an example of a cold but this can cover many things such as viruses and other small illnesses. So if something bigger comes up health-wise the problems and ability to cope can become devastating.
For me things in everyday life are much more draining than ever before, much more rest time needs to be planned. Something that is easier said than done as it can be tough to predict when I will feel the need to rest and when I will feel that I want to continue with what I am doing. At times I can push myself to keep going but this just means that the next day or more will be spent resting. Which sometimes involves doing nothing, where I mean nothing. Which can be incredibly boring.