As I promised at the beginning of the month, I will be writing a few articles during March for National Brain Injury Awareness Month. You can read my previous articles on the Huffington Post by clicking the links at the bottom of this article. Thank you for reading, and I hope that these stories bring more awareness to the world about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as it is vastly misunderstood by many.
My TBI story is pretty simple. I was walking down the inclined driveway at my apartment building when I slipped on a patch of sheer ice and landed smack on the back of my skull. I was knocked unconscious for what we suspect to be about 30-90 seconds (we will never know for sure, as no one was around to witness the fall).
I saw the proverbial stars in my vision and was totally and completely dazed and confused. If it weren't for a good friend who advised me to go to a specific doctor who specializes in concussions, I am not quite sure what I may have done. A person who has just taken a severe blow to the head is in no place to make any major decisions (not to mention I probably shouldn't have driven...).
I left my doctor's office and attempted to use the ATM at my bank, I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do with my card. Later that evening I attempted to use my microwave and had no idea how to make it work; there were just too many buttons. It was scary to say the least. These simple things that I used to do every day without thinking, now required relearning and major effort.
Now, here I am a year later, I still have a lot of cognitive issues such as finding the right word, mixing up words, and short term memory problems. The more fatigued or stressed I am, the worse the symptoms become. In addition to these cognitive problems, I have a lot of issues with over stimulation and being in low-light environments. I also get confused easily when in an unfamiliar place or forced to make quick decisions.
It is frustrating to say the least when my friends get annoyed with me because I forgot mid sentence what I was telling them, or completely forget an appointment I was supposed to have with them. If I don't answer a text message or email right away, there is a strong chance that I will completely forget about it and never answer it. I have told them repeatedly what my symptoms and problem areas are, yet they think I am simply being a flake. They just don't understand. Or perhaps they are afraid to face the situation at hand; the fact that I have a brain injury.
There are times when I pull up google on my computer to look something specific up. By the time the page is loaded, I have forgotten what it was that I needed to look up. It is incredibly frustrating for me, and telling me i'm just being a flake doesn't help the situation any.
Martha Gibbs from Richmond, VA suffered a TBI in May of 2013 when she was a passenger in a car that hit a tree at 50mph. She talks about some of the effects of her TBI and how they affect her cognitively:
Almost 2 years post-accident, I still suffer short-term memory loss and language/speech problems. I have learned to write everything down immediately or else it is more than likely that information is gone and cannot be retrieved. My brain sometimes does not allow my mouth to speak the words that I am trying to get out, which makes writing a much easier outlet for my thoughts.
When I lose the word I was going to say, or get up to do something and forget half way there what I was doing, please don't say to me, "Oh, I do that all the time too!" I can't differentiate if you're saying this in an attempt to mean well, or if you're trying to say that there's really nothing wrong with me. Because there is. Before my fall I had similar experiences to what you're referring to. However, these experiences I am having now are totally and completely different. There is literally a black hole, the mind is blank. I can't recall the information. It's gone. POOF!
Amy Pilotte from Manchester, NH sustained a TBI in July of 2014 after being rear-ended at a stop sign. She explains how the cognitive issues have changed her:
I can not stay focused. I can't complete a task if involves more than a few steps. I'm easily overwhelmed and distracted. My memory works when it feels like working and not a moment sooner.
When I tell you at the last minute that I am not feeling 100 percent and won't be able to make it to your event, please don't get upset with me. When I wake up in the morning, I don't always know right away what kind of day it's going to be. There are many days that start out fine, and go downhill quickly. The brain fog rolls in, the headache emerges, complete fatigue takes over, or my physical pains get the best of me. There are days when over stimulation is just too much for me. If you have invited me out to a crowded restaurant where I know there will be a lot of noise and dim lighting, I may have to choose to stay home instead of fighting to understand a word you're saying to me.
It is hurtful when friends tell me i'm being flakey or flighty, or that what I am experiencing is just a part of "getting older." I wish they would take a moment to truly understand what I am going through, what it is like to live with my Traumatic Brain Injury... every single day. I don't like being this way, but it is who I am now and I have come to acceptance with it. I have made it my mission to help bring awareness to the world about TBI, and be a voice so the many survivors who can not speak out about their experiences. I have also started a Facebook group for survivors who want to hang out in an environment with other survivors who "get it"!