1492475023004 - Life with traumatic brain injury

Life with traumatic brain injury

We all do it – trotting from the garage or the garden or the car into the house with our heads down in the rain.

Unfortunately for me on one drizzly January night, my attempt to escape 30 seconds of wet hair resulted in one excellently executed knock to the head when I slipped on my deck steps and my skull caught my fall.

A week or so later, I was diagnosed with a concussion, also known as a traumatic brain injury.

This ain’t my first rodeo. In 2014, I received a concussion when my head went into my windshield in a car crash.

I went undiagnosed for a few months because I also fractured my kneecap in the crash – it wasn’t until I returned to work and experienced dizzy spells that medical professionals picked up on the fact I had received a knock to the head. My brain took months to recover from that particular incident, and I was warned not to hit my head again.

READ MORE: * Southland referees get new card up their sleeves * Steve Tew: We’re changing rugby with zero tolerance culture towards concussion * Neck strength could influence concussion

Fast forward to now, and I’m four months along the road to recovery post deck post hit.

And I’ve realised that, despite being 25, I’m basically a teenager again.

Here’s how:

I’m self-conscious about how I look.

I’ve been given blue-lensed glasses to help with visual fatigue – they help with light sensitivity, and reduce glare from computer screens. While I forget I’m wearing them from time-to-time, others tend to remind me… “Do people ask you about your glasses?” a well-meaning colleague asked me the other day. Well … no. They don’t really. But cheers for the reminder.

It works the other way around too – I’m aware that I don’t look injured. People don’t realise I’m a little slower than usual, or that I’m battling a screaming headache, and I get nervous about whether they’re wondering what’s wrong with me.

I have to have (self-imposed) curfews.

Parties are a no-go, social gatherings have to be kept to a minimum, and kept short. I stayed too late at a recent casual games night with workmates. The next day was close to a write-off, I was that tired. I’m also missing out on events with my closest friends, and my partner goes on his own.

Last weekend they went to the speedway. Absolutely not possible for me. Noise, crowds, and hours in a deck chair with no easy way of taking rest breaks? Out of the question.

Temper tantrums.

New things are hard. Coping mechanisms have gone out the window. I attempted to cook a roast a couple of weeks ago only to discover, three hours in, I’d had the temperature too low. There were tears. There was cursing. I vowed never to cook a roast ever again (and I would throw this one out while I was at it). Fortunately, mum was on hand to save the day and calm me down. An hour later we were eating a delicious lamb leg, perfectly cooked. I’m going to try again next weekend.

Not to mention anything you say could set me off. My partner asked if we could add some items to the shopping list after I had already done meal planning for the week. I exploded, and he looked bewildered (the poor guy).

No alcohol.

Not because of age restrictions, but because 1. I might be a light-weight all of a sudden, and, 2. It can slow the healing process. (Although one might say teenage years aren’t entirely teetotal.)

I’m obsessed with Harry Potter (again).

When living with a traumatic brain injury, getting to sleep can be hard. Cue Harry Potter audiobooks, read by Stephen Fry. I know the story so well I don’t keep myself awake trying to hear what happens next. The problem with this is my partner must listen to them too. He says I’ve ruined Stephen Fry for him, he’s sick of hearing about Ron and Hermione, and there’s no way I’ll get him to watch the films with me ever again.

Restricted driving hours.

Driving is exhausting! What was once an auto-pilot kind of thing for me in my little turbo Mazda now takes quite a lot of effort. Driving in the rain is next to impossible (the window wipers complicate things), and driving at night is extra hard.

Anxiety and loneliness.

Of course, because of all of the above, I’m at home a lot.

While I have two gorgeous dogs and one cute cat who keep me company and are great to talk to, they don’t talk back much. It’s important to me that my partner doesn’t miss out on hanging out with our friends, and no doubt he needs a break after dealing with my sporadic emotional outbursts. But it’s hard. And it’s frustrating. It’s hard explaining to your friends, colleagues, and family what exactly it is that you’re going through when you don’t exactly know what it is yourself.

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There is no estimate for how long my recovery from concussion might take. Everyone’s brain is different.

It’s not obvious to other people – I’m not wearing a sling and I’m not on crutches.

But the hardest thing is perhaps that sometimes it’s not even obvious to me.

With almost any other injury, it hurts when you do too much. You can’t walk on a broken leg, or undo a jar with a sprained wrist.

With a brain injury, it’s not until after you’ve completed the task and your body cries out for rest that you realise you overdid it.

I’m lucky to have supportive people surrounding me, even if they don’t really get it.

But just a reminder everyone – if I snap at you or seem like I’m daydreaming – remember I’m basically like a surly teenager all over again.

Please don’t ground me!

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