Skip to content

An anniversary: three years on

April 14, 2013

I have been celebrating. Yesterday was the third anniversary of my head injury, so my husband and I cracked open a wee bottle of bubbly and drank a toast. Perhaps I should explain…

I haven’t written about my brain injury for a while now, which is in itself a positive sign. As the months have passed, my recovery has continued to creep onward and other life events, both good and bad, have taken the foreground.

 All being well, I probably won’t write about it again. I am so lucky: I am basically absolutely fine. You would not know on meeting me that I had ever suffered a brain injury. Nonetheless, the ‘new normal’ of my life today is subtly different from normal life before my accident.

 When you hear the words ‘traumatic brain injury’, you probably picture the worst. Someone in a coma in hospital. Someone in a wheelchair, head lolling. Dreadful cases like these are the extreme ones, requiring intensive medical attention and long-term care. Of the estimated one million people in Britain who suffer a traumatic head injury each year, however, around 85% will be classified as minor cases. (Source: https://www.headway.org.uk/key-facts-and-statistics.aspx ) That means there are an awful lot of people out there who look fine but who are living with their own ‘new normal’.

For me, there are certain symptoms of head injury which have not yet disappeared. I may be stuck with them – this may be my normality from now on – but their gradual diminution gives me hope that they will one day dwindle into insignificance. By now, I have learned to understand them, to work around them or just to ignore them, as required.

 Because minor head injury is not immediately apparent – you can’t walk around with your brain in a sling – it can be hard for others to understand. Sometimes, even (especially?) people who have suffered their own head injury find it difficult to comprehend why the experience of others should be any different. For example, a relative of mine was in a nasty accident a few years ago and suffered a head injury which gave her months of problems. She feels fully recovered now, thank goodness. When she heard that I still have symptoms three years after my own accident, she made it pretty clear that she thinks I am making it up. And this is one of the most demoralising aspects of a mild head injury: the added insult of insinuations that it is, literally, all in your head. To be honest I have wondered this myself. Could I be making up the stutter, the headaches, the bouts of mental and physical fatigue, the nausea and disorientation caused by flash photography and strobe lighting? If other people have recovered so much more quickly, could I just be exaggerating it all, playing the victim? 

I asked my neurologist for his opinion on all this last time I saw him. He told me very firmly that every case is different. Sometimes an apparently quite serious head injury can have no lasting consequences, whereas an accident that seems relatively trivial can result in years of difficulties. There is, evidently, no set pattern of recovery from brain injury.

Similarly, it used to be thought unlikely for there to be further recovery from a brain injury after a year. We now know that the brain’s powers of recovery are greater and less predictable than that. Whether modest, like small improvements in memory, or phenomenal, like a coma patient waking up after twenty years, the repairs that a brain can make on itself are truly wonderful. In my own case, I used to write down every tiny improvement, inching my way impatiently towards competence. Now I need hardly think of them as I go about our normal family life. My husband says that he has ‘got me back’.

The constant pain in my head that once drove me almost to distraction is now, usually, little more than an occasional throb, managed by medication. It’s there on a daily basis, but it really troubles me only when I have overdone things. My neurologist explained that these headaches are neuropathic in origin. Contrary to some assumptions I have encountered, that doesn’t mean that they are made up! It means that they are caused by nerve damage. In very simplified terms (and bear in mind I’m only the patient, not the brain surgeon) the brain has a couple of options when it encounters damage. It can repair the damage, which may take months or years, or if this proves impossible it can work out a way to ‘re-route’ around the damage. The third possibility is that it can’t manage to do either; but I am hopeful that my brain will carry on working on itself, and that the pain will eventually disappear and I will be able to stop taking daily pills.

While neuropathic pain is very real – as sadly some of my readers understand from their own experience – it would be foolish to deny that psychology also plays a part in recovery from injury. Last time I wrote about my head injury, I was hopeful that post traumatic stress counselling was going to ‘cure’ my difficulties with light and noise. In brief, yes, I have been helped enormously by the meetings I’ve had with a clinical psychologist specialising in trauma. She was able to unravel the panic and stress I felt, and to dissipate my extreme reactions to stimuli. Once the panic was dealt with, however, I was still left with physical reactions to flashing light and loud noise: nausea, dizziness, disorientation. These are caused by damage to the brain, not by psychological reactions to injury, meaning I am stuck with them unless/ until my brain can repair this damage. So I may not be watching any more action movies for a while after all (sorry, Arnie!) and I have to avoid flash photography and dance floors with disco lights bouncing off the walls; but funnily enough that’s fine. Now that the stress has been diffused, it’s much easier to be practical and philosophical about such symptoms. From what I read on the Headway community forum I know that there are others with similar problems, and I’d urge anyone who is suffering from panic and anxiety following an injury to ask their doctor about the possibility of post-traumatic stress. It’s not something which can vanish by just trying to ‘pull yourself together’, but it can be helped enormously by the right specialist.

There are some regrets I have about the past three years: chiefly the effect of my injury on my family. My younger son was at kindergarten when the accident happened, and now he is half way through primary school. He can scarcely remember a mummy who wasn’t irritable about noise, who didn’t stutter when she was stressed, who wasn’t taciturn with exhaustion at afternoon school pick-up time. Somehow he has remained sunny throughout, thank heavens, and I have managed to build strong bonds with him and his brother, but I would not have wished any of this on them or their father.

There are some fears I have for the future, like the long term effect of traumatic injury on my brain power as I grow older. Some scientific studies have made a link between brain injury and the development of dementia. But as the saying goes, sufficient unto the day (are the troubles thereof). There are more important things to concentrate on, like my children and my wider family and community. Having been a recipient of so much care and kindness throughout my recovery, it feels good to have the energy now to give a little back, for example through fundraising and voluntary work, and just through trying to be a better wife, mother and friend.

Last year was a leap year. Walking in the woods on the 29th of February, the ‘leap-day’, I thought that – against all logic – it did feel as if one had been granted an extra day of life. Then I thought that, since my accident, every day has been an extra day of life, a free gift. 

All in all, then, there is plenty of reason for my husband and I to have drunk a toast last night. We drank one for ourselves, and I raise a glass to wish the same to you. Ladies and gentlemen: your very good health.

Image

 

Some other posts (apart from those linked above) on aspects of the same subject include Convalescence, Tree girl and Speechless in two languages.

Advertisements
33 Comments leave one →
  1. boyd hussey, (Douglas Ontario Canada) permalink
    April 14, 2013 1:59 am

    thank you for your kind wishes for the future. Please allow me to return them. i had no idea of the problem you have been having but i can say that i fully understand especially about the neuropathic pain. i guess Dancing Beastie has been both a painful effort and bit of self-treatment as well. Believe me, your calm perception of the things around you have helped others cope with the day as well. Thank you for your help and continued best wishes and improving health.
    boyd

    • April 14, 2013 11:16 pm

      What lovely things to say, Boyd, thank you. I’m sorry you understand about the pain though, if you see what I mean…

  2. hmunro permalink
    April 14, 2013 2:52 am

    There is so much wisdom in the post, DB. For those coping with a brain injury, your post offers hope that our bodies *can* heal and that our psyches can accept and adapt. And for everyone else, well … a call to greater understanding, among other lessons. My hope for you is that you will continue to heal, and that in another three years hence your fears and lingering symptoms will be behind you. In the meantime, I raise a wee dram to your beautiful mind and your good health.

    • April 14, 2013 11:21 pm

      Oh, Heather, I hope the same for you! Thanks for your lovely words – and slàinte mhath (cheers/ good health) to you too, as we say in the Gaelic when a dram is involved!

  3. April 14, 2013 11:04 am

    I don’t remember reading about your injury before now (I must have joined your blog at a later date). I can barely imagine what you and your family must have gone through. It sounds as if you have had every right to be sad, grumpy or fearful, and I am so glad that the outcome has been as good as it has. And I am sure that it takes a lot of courage even to write about it. But writing, as I have found myself, is an amazing therapy. Your good wishes are returned, and we raise a glass to you, too.

    • April 14, 2013 11:24 pm

      No, I haven’t written about it for months and will probably shut up about it from now on! Thanks for your kind words, though. As you say, writing can be very effective therapy. (Hmm: is blogging, in fact, one huge group therapy session, I wonder?! 🙂 )

  4. April 14, 2013 11:45 am

    I raise a glass to you too. Congratulations (is that the right word?)
    It is exactly two years since I had a brain tumour identified, removed and some serious complications. I have emerged relatively unscathed with the best possible outcome .

    However so many of your words struck a chord with me. I also have begun to learned to ” understand them, to work around them or just to ignore them, as required”. and have a “new normal” I also recently just stopped documenting everything that happens. I am trying not to get too blasé about being healthy. When I read your words or look at my diaries or drawings at the time (my therapy) it feels like yesterday. And that is a good thing ! Appreciate everything

    • April 14, 2013 11:30 pm

      Goodness, once you start talking about this stuff, it’s amazing how many of us turn out to be dealing with similar challenges. I’d say congratulations are a fine thing to give, and I offer them to you too, for your recovery after what must have been a very frightening and difficult time in your life.

      It’s really helpful, isn’t it, to have kept some kind of journal. I was looking back over my posts and notes on head injury as I wrote this one, and it made me understand just how far I have come on in the past year. I hope that you can also enjoy your ‘new normal’.

  5. Toffeeapple permalink
    April 14, 2013 12:30 pm

    It is heartening to know that your brain is still improving. I wish you all the best for the future and hope that the pain will disappear.

    • April 14, 2013 11:33 pm

      Thank you, Toffee apple. I’m hoping this brain of mine will keep getting a bit better before it gets worse! Better start doing crosswords or something to keep it ticking over. 🙂

  6. April 14, 2013 12:51 pm

    I’ll raise my cup of tea and plate of cake to your recovery! I’m so glad you have made such good improvement. I can empathise about how others may “pooh pooh” our symptoms. Even though I know the science that we are all different, it IS demoralising when others brush off one’s symptoms. I’m so pleased you are able to manage the symptoms and hope in time you realise one day that they have diminished too!

    • April 14, 2013 11:37 pm

      Now that’s my kind of toast: the cake kind. 🙂 Thank you, Sian. One thing this experience has taught me is just how lucky I am in my general health. And also that you are much more stoic than I am!

  7. April 14, 2013 4:08 pm

    Here’s to your very good health!

  8. April 14, 2013 9:42 pm

    I hope it continues to lift away from you, DB. Mine is near six years ago, and the after effects are diminishing, but I am not the same. Also, I believe I was much older than you were at the time of accident, and I think that makes a difference. Sounds like you have good, caring doctors to attend you. To your good health!

    • April 14, 2013 11:42 pm

      Thank you so much, Gerri. I’m sure that recovery is harder the older you are; indeed I have read medical research that says as much. (Clearly I was far too old to be doing something as juvenile as snowboarding!) I’m sorry that you have had such a long haul after your own experience. Your visits and thoughtful comments are always very welcome here.

  9. April 14, 2013 9:52 pm

    Best of health and recovery to you, DB. My injury was more than 40 years ago and I have had to structure my life around some of the after-effects. I rarely speak of it to people because, like you, I have received the “it’s all in your head” look too many times to count. But you will grow stronger, more resilient, more self reliant and resourceful, admittedly sometimes because you don’t have a choice. Not everyone is granted that privilege.

    • April 16, 2013 10:49 pm

      You are so right to look on this as a privilege: thank you for this perspective, Miriam. I am sorry that you speak from hard experience, nevertheless.

  10. Barbara permalink
    April 15, 2013 2:51 am

    A lovely, thoughtful and positive post. God bless you and your family xxxx

  11. Liz Davey permalink
    April 16, 2013 1:16 pm

    Cin cin!

  12. April 16, 2013 4:27 pm

    I too will raise a cup of tea (and later a glass) to your continuing recovery, DB. 🙂 Having read your previous posts on the subject it’s so good to see how far you have come, though I’m sorry that you are still experiencing after-effects. Like any injury to any part of the body, the effect on you depends on exactly which bit of your brain suffered the damage, which is why your relative is sadly wrong in her attitude to your ongoing symptoms.

    Just think, why would news presenters warn that items contain flash photography if it weren’t now common knowledge that it can adversely affect rather a lot of people for different reasons? You have made a valiant effort to cope with the effects of your injury and it’s wonderful that you are feeling so much more positive. But it has changed you and the changed you is dealing rather well with it all.

    • April 16, 2013 10:54 pm

      Well, you are very kind, Perpetua, thank you. I am feeling a little self-conscious now, but I appreciate your common sense approach to it all.

      • April 16, 2013 11:15 pm

        Oh, please don’t feel self-conscious, DB. This post would be so helpful to someone who has suffered a similar injury and it’s very brave of you to have written it.

  13. April 19, 2013 10:56 pm

    Great news. Everyone is rejoicing with you.

  14. Erika W. permalink
    April 20, 2013 12:46 am

    i am so pleased to read this entry. every person with such injuries who has the courage to write about it, with details, gives a gift to others beginning to deal with it or further along the road to recovery–good or not so good. I have printed out some of your previous information, and now this, in case I meet other people who are battling in the same way. It could eb enormously encouraging and comforting.

    You are a brave and kind woman and your family are most lucky to have you a part of them.

    • April 20, 2013 11:30 pm

      Erika, you have always been so supportive; thank you very much. Part of the point of writing about this stuff is that it might be of some use, sometime, to someone else. I’m therefore grateful that you should have gone to the trouble of printing it off, and I do hope that some good comes out of my experience. All the best.

Trackbacks

  1. Whirling and paddling: just another week in a castle | Dancing Beastie
  2. A mid-life cycle | Dancing Beastie
  3. After the bluebells: the woods at midsummer | Dancing Beastie
  4. Finding balance at the Equinox | Dancing Beastie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: