I think the best thing I can do to help people who have suffered a head injury is to increase the general awareness about the effect of this type of injury. My best description (today at least) is that recovery from head injury is an endurance event. No recovery can be rushed, so if you’ve hit your head and you’re still dizzy after a couple of weeks, you might as well take some time to make some sense out of this injury. That’s my purpose with this blog. I write from first hand experience, and hopefully you’ll be able to see that many things are still possible after a head injury, it just takes time. If you have entered the world of head injuries from the other perspective, worrying about a loved one who has had a head injury, the best thing you can do to is to be patient and to help out with the things that aren’t working so well. It might take some time to notice any long term effects of a brain injury, so patience is the best kind of support you can give.
Initially, it’s hard to notice what is different after a head injury. I think this is because the injury to brain tissue causes a functional change, not a physical or visible change. The injured brain may be slower to integrate new information, to make connections to previously learned information, and sometimes there is just too much incoming information to process in the moment. This is very difficult to articulate, but when your brain has been disturbed enough to impact neural function, everything feels different. Everything, that is, except your personality. A person with an injured brain can still have their original knowledge, memories, talents, values, none of these core aspects of a person change, it’s their sensory and operating systems that have changed. This is why a head injury is a severe injury. The disconnect that I have experienced and observed is in continuing attempts to interact with the world in way that feels normal,when symptoms, limitations and confusion keep interfering. It can take some time and repeated missteps to realize that things have changed, and the last person to realize this is likely to be the person with the injured brain. I now understand why the best medical advice after a head injury is to rest, then to wait and see.
Instead of trying to fix the brain, it’s best to focus on everyday functioning. There may be times when a person with a brain injury is functioning well, and times when things just don’t seem to make connections. This is where endurance comes in. It takes practice and learning through mistakes to figure out how to function after a brain injury. The best source of help I have found in adapting to the changes in my own brain has been through Occupational Therapy. I’m slightly embarrassed, or maybe I should be proud to report that I have had the pleasure of working with seven Occupational Therapists over the past two years. The information I try to convey in this blog is from a gradual integration of the information I have gained through these wonderful, caring professionals. If I meet anyone who is having trouble making sense out of the changes in the way their brain operates after a head injury, my best advice is to get an Occupational Therapist.
I hope that an increasing general awareness of the nature of brain injuries will allow more people to access the help they need. When I hear terms such as epidemic and long term disability associated with head injuries, I still can’t believe I have had one (given the fact that I can write a blog.) Well, I can write, but it’s hard work for me now, this took a few hours. I will continue to push my own limitations because that’s what I’ve always done and I’ll share here because I know how scary it can be when you can’t just shake off the effects of a blow to the head. I will leave you today with a picture from a sailing trip we took a few years ago. We met this man rowing his boat from Washington state, up the entire coast of British Columbia. He had a good raincoat and hat, some camping gear, really strong arms and incredible endurance. ( and he looked a lot like Santa Claus!)
Maybe his image will help inspire you with your own endurance today.