President’s Day marks a year since I landed on my head from a bad trapeze dismount. I have been cleared medically and cognitively. People look at me and don’t remember that I ever had a traumatic brain injury. I am grateful for good medical care, and a good enough pre-concussion baseline that I can compensate now to appear fairly functional. I am thankful that most people don’t know that inside my head I am still struggling with cognitive deficits. Some friends have asked how I’m doing with the brain injury. This is how I’m doing:
I drop words from my sentences when I’m typing/writing. This happens much more frequently when I’m tired. When I start to feel better I swap out words so that my sentences make no sense. Most days my spelling is atrocious, when it used to be one of my strengths. If I forget to proofread everything, I look careless, distracted, or not very intelligent. To appear competent, work takes twice as long now.
I can’t find the words to express myself. I know conceptually what I want to say, but I literally cannot find the words to convey that idea. I can sense what I want to say, but it remains an amorphous blob of a feeling that never throws back the curtain to present itself. For someone who loves using her words, this is remarkably frustrating. I feel very trapped inside my head. It saddens me that I cannot express myself anymore. I have many blogs that will never be written. I sit quietly as friends converse around me and over me because I’ll never be able to add to the conversation.
I can’t plan or organize or execute an idea anymore. I can’t drill down deep into concepts or analyze issues anymore. It’s like I’ve lost depth and dimension to my executive functioning. My brain literally stops. I start to process something, and I feel it stop, and I can’t force it to go one step deeper. I used to be a strong planner. Now, I can’t even pack for a weekend trip. I know I have to. I know how many days I’ll be gone. I know what the weather will be like there. And I literally stand there looking about, unable to make my brain do anything. It becomes a mad dash to throw things into a bag last minute now. Party planning is like this now. Mornings getting everyone out the door to school and work are like this now. Everything that involves more than one or two cognitive levels of thinking is like this now. On the bright side, this all helps with living more mindfully, in the moment. The flip side of that however is that I haven’t been able to balance my checkbook in a year–I literally have no idea how much money I have, or don’t have.
My short-term memory is shot. I recall general ideas and events, but oftentimes the details are lost. I used to have the most amazing memory–so much so that I never went to class and still excelled in school. It has affected my friendships because I can’t follow-up and ask about things we’ve discussed, because I don’t want to get the details wrong or appear as if I wasn’t paying attention. And after one glass of wine, it is impossible to remember details.
I don’t think my personality has changed (you tell me?). But these deficits make me really frustrated and irritable at times. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to my original baseline. As the months pass though and there’s no improvement, I don’t have any high hopes. I had hoped to get back on the trapeze. I’m not scared of getting back up there. I’m not scared of falling again or failing. I am concerned though that if I fall again, there is a very real possibility that I will lose even more of myself. That scares me.
Why am I sharing all this? Because as there is more research on brain injuries, and the public is more aware of brain injuries, and parents make more informed decisions for their children on what sports they are allowed to play, I want people to understand the hidden residual losses and risks of brain injuries. I’m still by most accounts functional and “normal.” But I’m not entirely Me anymore either. I want people to consider that when they make decisions for themselves and their children.