The True-er Reality of Brain Injury
I’m recovering from a brain injury. But there’s more to me than that.
I wandered to the local shops this morning, the world spinning with vertigo, a cabin fever pushing me out and about. I bumped into a friend. I am socially deprived, forced to live like a hermit so I love these random meetings. We hadn’t seen each other for years. She knew about my condition from social media. She remarks: “You look GREAT! No one would ever know you have a brain injury.”
My friend is kind and sincere. Her comment encourages and concerns me. She is accurate. I do indeed look healthy but the reality of living this life is a different story. How do I show an invisible injury? How will anyone understand what I’m going through unless I tell them?
Invisibility has been a burden since the beginning. In the hospital I was treated for heat stroke after a triathlon race. The medical professionals found it difficult to believe me because I looked fit and healthy. A few months earlier I had represented my country at the World Age Group Triathlon Championships. When the neurology tests all came back negative, including a spinal tap and a MRI, the doctors decided it was best for me to be assessed by the clinical psychiatry team for mental health issues. They transferred me to the psychological ward for evaluation, sedatives and counseling.
I discharged myself before I got trapped in that never ending rabbit hole. I sought other tests which revealed brain inflammation and swelling. It makes me wonder, if doctors don’t understand what I’m experiencing, then how will my family and friends?
The reality of brain recovery is this: the extra effort that goes into everyday activities is a nameless beast which adds another layer of stress to my situation.
The effort it takes for me to shower and get dressed in the morning. The amount of energy I need to remember the day of the week or to complete a simple mathematical task, 80 – 55 = ?
The focus I need to eat a meal because the left side of my mouth was paralyzed and is only just waking up now, two years later. How I can’t hear myself talk, so I whisper softly. How every sound makes my brain rattle like a pinball machine and I have to concentrate so hard to hear above the racket.
And, how I lean on my family. My dear dad vacuums my room. My mum drives me to doctor’s appointments. My sister chooses and buys my clothes. Friends drive me to yoga and take me out for lunch.
In a fortnight, I’ll be tested for a mild form of dyslexia. I have noticed I found it hard to think of words. I’m adding letters from other words to others, writing p’s as b’s and my handwriting is messy. I forget the correct pronouns or leave them out altogether. I have trouble reading books. The characters blur and mumble on the page. This is all new to me. Pre-injury I was a speed reader. During the summer holidays, I could read a book in a day. I aced my university degree hardly attending classes.
These struggles are all hidden behind the end product: No one knows I can’t remember to touch type so I use a speech activated microphone to write. Nor do they know the amount of drafts this post goes through until it reaches the final copy. No one sees that I send each piece to a friend who kindly corrects spelling and grammar errors before it’s published.
No one counts the hours I spend on dictionary.com looking up definitions and synonyms to rebuild my vocablity after memory loss. No one can tell how my eyesight is constantly doubled and blurry so I type with my eyes shut. No one sees the constant ringing in my ears from tinnitus. No one sees me collapsing into bed, dog tired with notepad in hand, scribbling down my day so I don’t forget what happened during this time of my life.
It is not my intention to hide these struggles, but how do I demonstrate the extra effort I go through?
I could leave all the spelling mistakes in this post. I could slur my words when I speak to friends. I could trip over my feet when walking up to yoga because of the vertigo. I could stop washing my hair and look like a grub.
I could do those things, but I’d rather not. I persist with mastering these everyday tasks because I want to teach my brain how to work properly again, I don’t want to stay injured. I hold myself to a high standard because that’s where I want to get back to.
I carry on as I have been for the last two years; when I walk through the local shops, I look normal like anyone else. No one will ever know, unless I tell them, and I’m happy to tell them, if they ask or read my blog. I’m not intentionally hiding my injury or the efforts that accompany it. Brain injury recovery is the complicated duality between striving to be normal on the one hand and hiding the efforts to recover on the other.
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