Do You Ever Get Over a Brain Injury?
When I told someone that I sustained a brain injury (BI) almost 24 years ago, she said, “Well, that was a long time ago. I guess you got over it.” Oh, I thought, I wish that were the case. Fact is, just like being an alcoholic or crack addict, once you become one, you are always one. You may learn behaviors to help you deal with your issues, but you will ALWAYS have a Brain Injury.
Yes, your brain may learn heal to some degree, it might even have to remap itself–learning new and better ways of controlling your limbs and other parts of your body. Survivors will hopefully learn to control their urges and impulses, but that takes a great deal of time and there will always be a tendency to do or say the wrong thing.
Much of what BI survivors have to do is learn what to do to keep themselves from having more problems. That’s why family is so important to be with someone who has sustained brain trauma: they want what’s best for the survivor, and therefore will help guide the person back into socially acceptable–appropriate–ways. When survivors are left to their own devices, they are more likely to fall into the trap of addictive behavior, as often the lines between right and wrong are clouded. For me, even though my family was incredibly supportive and caring, I still found myself doing things which weren’t socially acceptable. “The frontal lobes are involved in motor function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgement, impulse control, and social and sexual behavior.”
I once had a doctor tell me that one reason I made poor decisions frequently is because my frontal lobes were damaged in my car wreck. And as many people know, the frontal lobes are responsible for things like decision-making, planning, and more of the higher, executive-level functions like problem solving. “In essence,” he said, “the frontal lobes are like the brakes on a bicycle; when they become injured, it’s harder to stop. And when you’re engaging in something which is seemingly good–like drinking or gambling–it’s like you’re going down a steep hill with those bad breaks.” It’s almost impossible to stop. That’s why so many people with BIs are smokers, drinkers and often turn to using drugs.
But do you ever fully recover from a BI? Nope. Like I said, you may learn new coping skills, but you never fully “get over” a BI. I know that many of my friends at school when I sustained my TBI sort of expected me to come back after a time without any problems at all. Almost like I had a broken leg–Take some time off, and then come back good as new. I WISH!!
When I did return and my impulsivity caused me to do some things which weren’t appropriate, my former friends would pull back and withdraw from me, leaving me with a sense of isolation and ultimately very depressed. After years of struggling to find techniques to deal with situations, I feel like I can say–for the most part–I have things under control. (Please don’t laugh, those of you who know me.)
And one thing I have learned is extremely important to getting along in the world with society is to make others aware of my injury. Not as a blank check to excuse my behavior, but rather as an explanation as to why I may behave a bit odd at times. My wife has come to realize that I get really bitchy when I start getting hungry, so when we start fighting about little stuff she asks, “Mark, are you hungry?” To which I answer in an angry tone, “Yeah, I am hungry.” Then the tension and anger dissipate.
In summary, there’s really no getting over a BI or some other trauma, just like you wouldn’t expect an amputee to get over losing both his legs. He may learn to live with it, how to deal with it, and how to get around without having his legs, but he will never truly “get over” not having them.