“Traumatic Brain Injury”- for me, the words themselves conjure up images of someone running around with a dent in their head, or of a brain sitting by the wayside with a bandage on. And I have traumatic brain injury!
It’s weird to read the words, “traumatic brain injury” and associate that with my own Control Center, weird to think of how freaky that sounds but really, how very non-freaky it really is.
Weird, too, to think of the thousands of people that are going to acquire this disability, that are acquiring this disability right now, this very minute, as I type. Because you know what? Out of all the disabilities out there, this one is just about the easiest to “catch” – it’s as simple as a swerve, as uncomplicated as a fall. Getting a brain injury is a piece of cake.
I think that since it’s such a breeze to acquire a brain injury, we all ought to understand a little more about it. I mean, if I, someone who has a brain injury, think it can sound freaky and scary, how much worse must it be for someone who doesn’t even have it? Right? Okay, so:
What Is Brain Injury Anyway?
Brain injury is just what it sounds like: it’s when you have hurt your brain by rattling it against something. Super common ways of acquiring it are through car accidents or head-banging sports like football. Bicycle accidents, motorcycle accidents, anything, really, that will bang your brain up good and solidly against your skull.
It’s not one size fits all
There are a lot of commonalities among people with injured brains but there are plenty of differences too. A lot depends on where you hurt your brain, the specific area, and how hard you hurt it. But all brain injuries are classified as either “mild” or “severe”. “Mild” is defined if “loss of consciousness and/or confusion and disorientation is shorter than 30 minutes’ ; “severe” is defined as a brain injury resulting in a loss of consciousness of greater than 6 hours and a Glasgow Coma Scale of 3 to 8.
The spectrum for what Traumatic Brain Injury - TBI - looks like in action is huge. Enormous! People can have slurred speech, altered personalities, or just be really scattered with no memory to speak of. Really typical areas that are affected though are:
Speed of Processing
What is hard about traumatic brain injury
I think what is ultimately hardest for most people who acquire a brain injury, as well as for their loved ones, is that unlike other acquired disabilities where you are suddenly unable to walk or talk or see, etc, with brain injury you are all of the sudden different from your very self. Your complete orientation can and often does change, because the motor that drives you has been swapped out. Instead of driving a Ferrari convertible, for example, you are driving a VW bug. You are still driving, sure, but it’s really different.
The changes are difficult to deal with. It’s difficult to switch gears.
Life doesn’t end with brain injury though, and accommodating a brain injury can be surprisingly easy. It’s really a matter of understanding exactly what the issues are with the brain.
In my own life, I use many tools to help accommodate my own injury. For example, I use multiple calendars – both paper and electronic. I use timers and I have reminders programmed into the i-Phone and computer. So far, so good, right? A lot of people do this!
I schedule everything I need to do in a time that will allow for concentration. Music helps me to keep my focus, and flow charts help with organizing. Fluorescent lights used to trigger brain shut-downs on my part (- I would just fall asleep when I was around them), but I have healed a lot from my injury. I just get distracted with them now, so I avoid them. Lots of accommodation ideas on the Job Accommodation Network
Which brings me to a final important point: you can heal from brain injuries. The brain, like any another organ, is remarkably resilient and is capable of healing.
Brain injury sounds scary and no doubt about it, it can be. It can also be interesting, because you sure do learn a lot about yourself, how you function, and how important environments and tools are when you have a brain injury. Of course, first you have to get over the hump of adjusting and learn how to function with your altered brain before you are likely to find much interesting, but it will happen.
More Info & Support:
Books on Brain Injury:
Who Am I To Stop It (documentary about isolation, art and transformation after brain injury)
Short pieces provided by the Brain Injury Association of New York State