Understanding Brain Injury

During a diving excursion, my brother was living aboard a medium sized boat for a week. A big wave struck the boat the wrong way, which caused him to fall, after bumping his head against the wall, while he had been standing in his room. He ended up with a mild concussion. A couple of weeks later, we were talking on the phone. During our conversation, he told me, “I now understand what you have been telling me all along about those headaches, dizziness, and brain fog”. He added, “I had no idea that’s what it felt like.” For most people, it is hard to imagine brain injury symptoms, and how it impacts those affected, especially when CFBI appear normal on the outside. This is the biggest dilemma for brain injury survivors, especially CFBI.

Brain injury can be caused by medical problems like a stroke, a tumor, hereditary or other illnesses that affect the brain. These are called acquired brain injuries, or ABI. But most often, brain injuries are the result of a blow or jolt to the head, with or without penetration. These are called traumatic brain injuries, or TBI. In either case, the severity of brain injury and consequences can vary with the type of brain injury, and from person to person. In fact, each case is almost unique. A mild brain injury may be temporary, with symptoms lasting days or weeks, like headaches, confusion, memory problems, nausea, etc. In a moderate brain injury, additional symptoms may occur, and can last longer and be more pronounced. Some patients recover in weeks or months, others may take months or years. With severe brain injury, however, the person may suffer all sorts of life-changing and debilitating symptoms, including cognitive and physical disabilities.

Whatever your symptoms are, you are not alone. Living with those symptoms day in and day out can be overwhelming and often debilitating, and may lead to one or more of the following general moods:

Feeling slower –

People with brain injuries are not stupid, things are just running differently than usual upstairs. The brain happens to be using much of its resources to manage essential functions, sometimes overcompensating, or for repairs and rewiring. Also, during this time, audio and visual messages from the outside world are usually received and processed more slowly than usual. Things we could see and hear casually before brain injury can become overwhelming and feel like an overload after brain injury. For anyone who has never experienced those feelings, it is difficult to comprehend. So, feeling slow and sluggish can be common.

Feeling Lazy –

My daughter Sarah has been sleeping at least 10 hours a day for years now. That was not always the case. Sleeping longer, having lower energy, and becoming tired faster is common. While there is no exact root cause to point out, feeling lazy can be the result of many things. Whether it is the result of an overworked brain, or the exhausting consequences of the struggle through headaches, brain fog, and nausea, or the process of brain repairs and rewiring. Any and all of these problems will make you exhausted. Most activities can be taxing, especially when adding mental and emotional stress. All this can cause a reduction in overall stamina, and lead to unusually tired and lazy feelings.

Feeling Anxious and Edgy –

Brain Injury results in the disruption of normal brain functions, which can lead to all sorts of symptoms. This can lead to shying away from your favorite things, or favorite people. Anxiety is common in the general brain injury population. Anxiety may look different from person to person, but most people with anxiety have fear and worry. Some people also have physical signs of anxiety. For example, they may have a racing heart, rapid breathing, sweating, shaking, or a butterfly sensation in the stomach. They may not know the reason for feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed. Stress can make recovery more difficult. People with a brain injury may have anxiety in situations that did not bother them in the past. They may feel anxious being in a crowd, when they are being rushed, or when adjusting to sudden changes in plans. They may feel overwhelmed in situations that require attention, fast thinking, or processing a lot of information at the same time. So, feeling anxious and edgy can be common.

Feeling irritated –

Those with brain injury will appear to be difficult at times. You are not the same person as before, you are changing, and things are happening differently. This includes the way you perceive the world around you, and all the adjustments that are needed in order to cope. So, things like feeling irritated, canceling plans abruptly, mood changes, abbreviated speech, etc. can be common.

Limited higher thoughts –

Deep and intellectual thoughts require higher order brain function. In order to dive into deeper thoughts, the brain must work harder. When the brain is injured, basic functions can be taxing already. So, it is not hard to understand that higher thoughts can be very difficult at times. My daughter Sarah reported feeling dizzy and sometimes nauseous, when she was trying to access those deeper thoughts and higher brain functions.

Shutting down –

Those with brain injury and their support can be challenged when it comes to keeping up the pace. This challenge comes to life when the gap between what needs to be done and what can be done gets bigger and bigger. Continue this for a while, and you may feel frustrated and exhausted, then overwhelmed and anxious. In extreme cases, aborting tasks and shutting down may be the only natural reaction the brain has, as a way of self protection.

These are just a few moods resulting from brain injury and the consequential brain function disruption. They need monitoring in order to keep track of progress, and you should report concerns to your physicians and/or psychologist. You are now dancing to a different beat, a slower beat, a more complex beat. These issues mentioned above are the common ones, and not a complete list. Recognizing your limitations and making adjustments to accommodate this new normal is a must. Slow down the pace and try to simplify your environment. This will help during the healing and recovery period. Improvement will come slowly, others around you may get impatient, and you may lose relationships with those impatient few. Lastly, be patient and be kind to yourself. Remember, this will take a while, for everything in brain injury is measured at a slow pace.