When someone has suffered an illness, there is usually a time at which they become “all better”, when recovery has ceased because the person is well again. Same applies to the standard injury. How’s your broken arm? oh, it’s all better.How’s that cut where you sliced yourself at dinner? oh,fine.
How’s your brain injury? Are you all back to normal? Um…no.
If you knew me before TBI, stand here and talk with me a while and you’ll probably recognize the changes. If you didn’t know me before, stand here and talk with me a while and you’ll probably wonder what is wrong with this crazy lady. I just recently read a thing trying to dispel myths about the brain, and it said that brain damage is reversible. No, no it’s not. If they’d like proof, they are welcome to hang out with me for a week.
The damage to my 3rd Cranial Nerve is the one physically noticeable sign that I’m not back to the way things were—and never will be. Nerves don’t heal. Guess what your brain is? A whole big smooshy bag of nerves. I cannot make my left eye look in certain direction, and I cannot think in some of the same ways I used to. And, so, just like I compensate for the limited mobility of my left eye, I have to compensate for the limitations of my cognition.
I’ve caught myself often of late saying things that I’m pretty sure will make people who don’t know me wonder what my problem is.. And, I’m hopeful that when those things happen around people who do know me, they know me well enough to remember that it’s just a moment, and it will pass and I’m sorry that I said that and I probably don’t even know I said something at all, let alone said something like that. And if I do know I shouldn’t have said it, I can’t apologize or fix it because it literally won’t occur to me, even as I’m thinking “I shouldn’t've said that” it won’t occur to me to apologize. I’ll think of it later, but not in the moment.
Dysexecutive Syndrome: The joke has been since early on in my recovery that since people with TBI suffer from impulse control and saying inappropriate things, I was in deep trouble because I’ve always been that way. So what would I be like now? It’s kinda like having a built in excuse for saying inappropriate things to people that I want to say. Although sometimes, I really didn’t want to say it, even if I was thinking it. And, the joke is getting less funny. My impulse control and inappropriate comments are no longer humorous and in the realm of the ridiculous, but often cold and in the realm of darkness. The frontal lobe just doesn’t always work as I wish it would.
After my last neuropsych eval just over a year ago, the doc’s primary statement was that the concern is not about what I can do, but about how much I can do. And, I guess that’s the truth. Generally speaking, I can get done everything I need to. Unless I have 15 other things to do and then suddenly even mundane tasks I’ve done for years become difficult.
My first year back at work after my wreck was great. Sure, there were struggles, but it was great. I joked with kids, I actually taught them a few things, and I knew I could do this teaching thing,even if it was going to be a little different. Some things were harder, some days were rough, but I knew I’d figure it out, just like I’d figured everything else out so far. I was thrilled to be back in the classroom doing what I’ve loved doing for so long. Even when things were tough, I never felt like I was alone, in a dark forest, on a moonlit night, fighting through the underbrush, wearing flip flops, carrying a giant rock.
My second year back in the classroom was, well, non-existent really: only 3 months before M was born. And I was unmedicated, so it’s largely a blur. I know I was there those months, but not real sure what I did.
Now, 3/4 of the way through year three. I’m in a big, dark forest all alone. Wearing flip flops. Fighting thick underbrush. There is no moon. And I’m carrying a big rock. sigh….I know I can do each thing I’m being asked to do, but I just can’t do all of it at the same time. I can hear the river, so I know which way I need to go. I have a head lamp, so I can kinda see through the under brush. The flip flops aren’t helping, but I can make it work. But there’s this big rock. Wait, why am I carrying the big rock again? I don’t need to? But how do I put it down? And I’ve already carried it this far. Hold on, am I supposed to be going towards the river or away from the river? I should go down hill, right? Wait a sec, I lost a flip flop. And wait, why am I carrying this rock again? Technical term: cognitive overload.
There is a saying in the TBI world: “You never think anything about brain injury. Until it becomes the only thing you think about.” It sounds sort of co-dependent, but it’s true. Brain injury influences every aspect of my life. I mean, it is my brain we’re talking about. Brains are pretty important in even the day-to-day of life. It is a daily struggle, but everyone has their struggles; this is just the one I’ve been given. I do love my flip flops, but I am a little afraid of the dark. I’ll find my way, one step at a time.