If I could sum up in one word how it feels having a brain injury it would be frustrating. Incredibly frustrating. I remember crying during one of my doctor visits. The doctor asked why I was crying & I said ‘because I remember how it felt to be smart.’ Life had become much harder since the accident.
I graduated high school with honors. I was in Honor Society & the Accademically Gifted program. I graduated from a University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in (ironically) Psychology. I made A’s in college calculus classes without ever studying. I was enrolled in graduate school at the time of the accident. I was only one semester away from graduating with my Master of Business Administration (MBA). Now I couldn’t even remember if I should wear a jacket when it was cold or hot outside.
You have no idea how many MILLIONS of pieces of information are stored in your brain until they’re gone. I would stand in front of a rack of clothes at a store & just stare at them. Purple shirts. Did I like purple? I had no idea. When do I wear short sleeves? When do I wear long sleeves? No clue. Is $10 a good price for a shirt or is that a lot? I’m still not much fun to go shopping with because I have trouble making decisions.
I would have to concentrate on everything. Mundane things that I had done thousands of times before would now feel like I was taking a college exam. I would get in the shower then think ‘ok now what?’ Sometimes I forgot to take off my socks before getting in the shower. Other times I would wash my face then get out, not remembering what else to do. Or I would get out then not remember how to dry off. Having to concentrate that hard on everything, all day is incredibly exhausting. And very frustrating.
I went to several doctors after the accident including:
– Neurosurgeon– He originally diagnosed my TBI & did lots of tests & scans. Thankfully I didn’t require surgery.
– Neurologist – She also did lots of tests & mainly helped manage my headaches & migraines.
– Neuropsychologist– She did many, many tests to find out exactly what parts of my brain were damaged & gave me homework to try to help recover my memory & problem solving skills. She also gave me lots of tips on ways to cope with my disability, which included things like keeping a journal (which is where this blog came from) & putting my medication with my toothbrush so I wouldn’t forget to take it every day. I still do those things.
– Orthopedic surgeon – He managed my many aches & pains, especially in my back & neck. He was also the doctor that I saw first after my accident, who recognized my brain issues & referred me to the neurosurgeon.
– Psychiatrist– He helped with mood/emotional issues which are extremely common after a TBI.
All of these doctors worked together to treat me (I still see most of them & probably always will). I have put together a list of what they recommended for me & my specific injury (all of these notes are from my personal journal, otherwise I would never remember them). Please keep in mind that this is what worked for me & may not work for everyone. I am not a doctor & you should get your own medical team to diagnose & figure out what would work best in your particular situation. Also remember that we tried many different treatments, some helped & some didn’t. You will likely have to go through your own trial & error to see what works best for you. This is just a list of the things that helped me in particular.
Depression was very real following the accident. I began taking antidepressants (specifically Prozac) & that helped me more than anything. The doctor said that antidepressants actually speed up the mind & help you think clearer, both things that I was struggling with. I still take them & probably always will. We tried weaning me off of them but my mind & speech slowed significantly so I stayed on them. Prozac has dramatically improved the quality of my life. There are many different antidepressants & it can be tricky finding the right medication & the right dose for you. I’m not saying everyone who has had a TBI should be on them, I’m only saying what worked for me in hopes that it will help someone else who is struggling. Don’t be scared of taking a medication that can change, even save your life. Big pharma didn’t throw me on the ground so they can make $4 a month off of me.
I started doing puzzles & other brain games as recommended by my neurologist. You can go to the App Store & find tons of games that challenge your brain & keep your mind in better shape. My doctors said to think of your brain as another muscle: use it or lose it. Some of the games that I play daily are puzzles, word searches, seek & find, & crossword puzzles. I like to switch them up so I don’t get burned out on one kind of game. Lumosity has a lot of great games but it costs money every month so I cancelled & found some random free games instead.
Rest is super important for recovering from any injury & your brain is no exception. Try to get a good nights sleep & nap during the day if at all possible.
Water, lots of water
I really upped my water intake after the accident & it helped lessen the severity of my headaches. Unfortunately I’m not a big fan of plain water so I started adding Mio or other flavored drops to my water so I would drink more. I wish I liked plain water but no matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t drink enough plain water every day to keep well hydrated.
I was also told to eat more protein since it helps repair your body including your brain. I don’t eat red meat or pork so I started drinking protein powder shakes to help get extra protein in my diet.
Luckily I didn’t have to run marathons or anything but I did make sure to walk every day. I aim for 30 minutes of some form of cardio daily: stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical, walk around the neighborhood, any of those will do. Just depends on what you’re comfortable with & what you have access too. Exercise really helps with my mood as well. I’m much happier & positive when I exercise.
Your support system
This is a big one. Try to surround yourself with good people that care about you & support you. A good support system is good for life in general but it is golden when it comes to TBI. Recovering from a TBI or any other serious illness or injury is no time to deal with added stress or negativity, you have enough on your plate.
I am still not the same as I was before my injury but I’ve learned to accept my new normal. I still have headaches everyday, my mind doesn’t work as fast as it did before the injury, I forget what I’m saying while in mid-sentence, my words often come out jumbled, & I still get very frustrated. Some days are better than others but I try to be thankful for every day that I have a second chance at life.