Updated: Feb 18, 2022
Every brain injury is different. Call it a stroke, Post-Concussion Syndrome, Traumatic Brain Injury, brain tumor or a myriad of other reasons your brain is injured. Everyone’s injuries are different because every person’s brain is different. Getting back to life looks different for everyone.
However, there are commonalities in the question I have heard over the years.
Here are a few:
When will I get back to normal?
The most frustrating answer that you’ve likely heard before is there is absolutely no way to know. Every person’s brain is different so every journey to recovery is different. Here’s the key: your brain will never be the same as it was before. Will it heal? Yes, but “healing” is a relative term. Will you get better? Absolutely. But you cannot go through the experiences you’ve been through and go back to the same normal before the injury. Brain injuries are traumatic emotionally as well as medically. There is so much grief, loss and adjustment that happens in this journey, for you and for your family. “Normal” will change, and it will be different.
Why do I keep getting so exhausted?
Your brain is healing. My favorite analogy of an injury is this: your neural pathways are like electrical cords that are plugged into the wall. After an injury, they all come unplugged and there is an electrician up in your brain trying to re-plug those neural pathways back in. Some of the plugs may not work and the electrician must find another plug. Can you imagine all that work? Your brain is trying to plug back in and that takes a lot of work and a lot of energy.
No matter how much I push myself, I don’t seem to be getting better. What’s up with that?
Brain injury is a journey. There are no quick fixes and miracle cures. And no matter how much you push yourself, the brain heals at its pace, not yours. Our culture tells us that if we work hard enough, we will be rewarded. But the brain doesn’t work this way. If you push your brain too hard, you hit a wall. And you’ll just keep hitting that wall without rest. The key is to move the wall – not move through it. Find the patience and the right professionals to help you recognize the wall and understand how to move it – gently.
My family/friends are telling me they see big differences after my injury, but I can’t see it.
One of the oddest things that happens with brain injuries is that your ability to be self-aware can be diminished. This is because of the injury, the grief process, the brain not having enough mental energy to recognize the changes or a host of other issues. One of the first question I ask during assessments is “what do you notice about how your brain is changed?”. When the family is available, I ask them the same question. Most of the time, I get different answers. The ability to be self-aware is a higher-level executive function that is also sensitive to emotions. Even without an injury, it takes people in our circle to help us realize when we’re not acting like ourselves. If you are hearing a pattern of behaviors from your family and friends, listen to them. They are likely noticing changes that you are not.
My doctors are telling me that nothing is wrong, but I don’t feel like myself.
Yep! This happens a lot and it is so frustrating! Some Neurologists are looking at brain scans. Primary Care doctors don’t often understand how the brain functions after an injury. Medical injuries are often easier to diagnose. Here’s the thing: you know your brain and you know your body. Don’t stop advocating for yourself. There are doctors and medical practitioners that understand, but you have to find them. Contact your local brain injury alliance or association and ask them for help. Get a copy of the checklist from the Arizona Governor’s Council on Spinal and Head Injuries and take it to your doctors. Keep advocating. Look outside the traditional medical field for answers. If you have naturopathic doctors in your state, find one that understands brain injuries. This road is long, but it’s finding the right team that gets you on the right path.
Mattie Cummins is a brain-loving neuro-social worker/journey coach/counselor and owner of Cerebrations LLC. She specializes in helping clients with neuro-issues and anxiety live their best life through functional coaching and brain education. By empowering you to harness the power of your brain and body connection, Mattie can help you understand what is happening in your brain, rewire your thoughts and reactions, and find your best life.