Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Confessions From a Brain Injured Introvert..

March is Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness month,  I experienced my brain injury in October of 2002, so this year it will be 15 years since it happened.  People have told me that they can't really tell now that I have had one, and I attribute that to what I have learned since it happened.  So, what have I learned in the past 15 years?

First of all, what a traumatic brain injury is. A traumatic brain injury is usually an event similar to other injuries, but that is where the similarity ends.  One moment the person is normal and the net moment life has changed, sometimes dramatically.  In most other ways, a traumatic brain injury is very different.  Our brain defines who we are, and a brain injury can affect all aspects of our lives, including personality.  A brain injury is different from a broken bone or a punctured lung.  An injury like that limits the use of a specific part of your body, but your personality and mental abilities aren't changed.  Brain injuries do not heal like other injuries and no two brain injuries are alike.  One of the results of a brain injury is that the person often does not realize that a brain injury has occurred.  That was me, I knew I hit my head badly but until Ryan pointed out that I was repeating my words and slurring my speech, I didn't think anything was wrong with me.

I was already an introvert before my brain injury, but afterwards, I became even more introverted. Sometimes people think that I am being anti-social or a snob because I don't want to go to their gathering/party, but that is not it at all.  It all has to do with the brain injury.  They call it the "Meijers Effect", and it has to do with the brain becoming overloaded and not being able to process all the information that is being thrown at you.  When my brain gets overloaded, I can't concentrate or focus on what I am trying to do.  I need to get out of the situation and get into a quiet area where I can process information.  At the beginning, I couldn't even go into our "married couples" Sunday school class until the class had started, because all of the conversations going on around me would make my brain shut down.  The same happened with going into the sanctuary at church.  I would have to wait until everyone was seated and church had started before going in to sit down.  Today, if I'm having a bad brain day or had very little sleep, I still have to slide into church at the last minute and sit down.  This is also another reason why I try to avoid large groups of people, I can't focus on the conversation that I am currently having if there are other groups of people having conversations around me. If I wind up in that situation, it exhausts me because I'm so focused on what the person is talking about that my brain shuts down when it is over.  I would love to be in a group of people and not get overwhelmed, and it's easier for that to happen in the summertime, when I haven't been teaching all day.

I have been asked why I can teach but I can't do large groups.  I will be honest with you, it is a totally different situation.  When I am up in front of the classroom, my students are listening to me, taking notes and asking questions when called upon.  It isn't one big free-for-all.  However, lab days wear me out.  Students are moving at various paces through the lab and I am bombarded with questions left and right.  On those days, by the end of the day I want to change my name and by the time I go home I am mentally exhausted.  It is even worse if it is a brand new lab that I have never done before.  When that comes up, I always make sure I do the lab on my own so I can try to anticipate any questions that might come up during the lab and get them out of the way when students are sitting in their desks prior to going back into the lab (I am not always successful at that).

Something that I still struggle with is being easily distracted when I am working/grading.  I usually need to be alone or if I am in a group of people I will have to put on headphones and music (some people think that I am a snob, but what I am trying to do is stay focused).   I can waste time with the best of them if given the opportunity, but most of the time I choose to focus.  

I also have no filter anymore.  The phrase, "think before you speak," carries a lot more meaning for me now, especially when I am tired or if I am angry.  At the beginning, I used to just blurt anything that came into my head and I hurt people because of it.  15 years later, I have more control.  I still am a "blurter" but I have learned to slow down my tongue and think before I speak (Ryan may say differently, however).

I have learned to compensate for having a damaged short term memory.  If I have to remember something, an appointment or meeting, it goes into my phone (it used to be my color-coded calendar before I had a smart phone) with a reminder that will pop up when it's time.  A few days before my brain injury, I had been in a good friends wedding.  I have no memory of that and it is really weird for me to look at pictures of me at the wedding and have no memories.  I also have no real memories of the 2 weeks after my brain injury, and if I do have any they are fuzzy.

All in all it has been a learning experience for Ryan and I, and our relationship has grown stronger as a result.  Honestly, I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the support of my family and close friends (you guys know who you are).  The brain injury may have changed me, but I didn't let it define who I am.  Something I would like you to remember if you have made it all the way through this blog, is that a brain injury isn't a visible injury and a person may appear fine on the outside but on the inside they are not.  They still need your love and compassion.


  1. Thanks for sharing that. You've explained it before but this is the clearest I've understood it. I think you do an amazing job! Thanks for having an open heart!! - tristi

  2. I'm so glad you have a great hubby and family who have helped you with this. And your last point is so important - we have to remember that when others are rude or maybe stand-offish, there can be legit reasons for that. No one knows what another person is going through. Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. Your mom doesn't know what to say...I am sorry you have to go through this my oldest baby. You are something else and I am proud of you. Love, MOM