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  • Writer's pictureLiz

Funhouse of Emotions

I recently joined two concussion/TBI Facebook groups: 1 Pink Concussions’ Women’s Group and Concussion, Post Concussion Syndrome and Brain Injuries Support Group.

I think I’ve begun crying at least once a day after reading fellow TBI survivors' posts. I feel their pain in a way that I’ve rarely felt for others. I, like most people, have dealt with big losses in my life. My brother Rob’s death back in my 20’s, my father’s death a year later, divorce, moving away from family, bad break-ups. All the stuff we’re handed to deal with as humans.

Reading people’s stories has me thinking back to when my accident happened and the emotions attached to it…..or rather the lack of emotion.

I got whacked in the head, nearly scalped , should have died and knocked flat on my ass for months. But I carried on without a thought to “Why?” or “What did I do wrong?” or “ Was I being punished for something?” “Was this karma?”

Aren’t these typical and reasonable questions to ask after a life altering event?

I think so.

But I didn’t ask them. I still don’t see a need.

My friend….I’ll call him B. B is a shaman, an artist and definitely Woo Woo. I’m not firmly into all of the Woo Woo stuff but I’ve definitely lived my life being open to others ways of being and believing in the world.

B and I laughed a lot. I love his special kind of crazy.

Okay, so B tells me that he thinks that my mother’s energy struck out at me in order to punish me for having written a post about mothers, you guessed it, on Mother’s Day.

May 8, 2016 was Mother’s Day and the day of my TBI.

You see, I have a really crappy mother. I won’t get into all the damage she inflicted upon myself, my father and brothers but let’s just say being raised by a narcissistic, heavily religious, self-loathing parent is not good.

So, I wrote this post on Facebook in support of all the folks out there that aren’t overflowing with joyful thoughts of their mothers. And in celebration of their abilities to overcome crappy parents. I thought it was all in all positive. I was surprised when I received messages from several people who had similar experiences as I did and were grateful for the acknowledgment of their experience.

I don’t believe my mother sent out some angry energy arm in an attempt to strike me down. Though I wouldn’t put it past her. She always hated it when I spoke truth to her never ending abuse and gaslighting.

In truth, after the accident I felt nothing. No panic. No “how am I going work?”

Sometimes shit just happens and then you get on with life. It does.

Things can happen for no reason or no “big” reason.

There have been some blessings from the accident - mainly getting me out of an ever devolving fast paced, ultra demanding corporate career. Oh, poor me, right? But it’s true. Is a TBI how I would have liked to have left? Uh, no.

We all know how those of us who work in white collar jobs are essentially indentured servants. It really doesn’t matter your rank and title and accomplishments.….unless you are the CEO. The corporation and definitely most bosses, take credit for your intellectual property and revenue generation skills. That’s just the way it is.

I did discover later that I was deeply disassociated from the fall out the TBI had on my life. The emotions began to surface. All the personal things it took from me. All the things I loved doing. My interests. My hobbies. My health.

My identity.

Yeah - that’s the big one. Now, I might seem boastful here for a bit. But it’s necessary to understand I’m not sharing this with the intent to or in some sick way, to be competitive. We do all have our own gifts. This is just me talking about me. I’m certain you have things about you that are way cooler than I am.

I grew up thinking I was dumb because of that crappy mother of mine. Nothing I did was good enough. I was always compared to my brilliant brother Rob, who was a doctor. I hated school. Didn’t really excel there. I was definitely not school oriented even though others may have seen me differently.

Once I worked my way up to working with an elite insurance company as a risk analyst/underwriter and excelling there, I began thinking maybe I am kind of smart.

I’m playing with the BIG Fish. I can’t be stupid and survive with them, right?

I wasn’t just surviving. I was thriving.

Then the whole “I’m a fraud or an imposter” syndrome would eventually creep back in.

It was only after I had a neuropsychological exam by a brilliant neuropsychologist, did I finally own how smart I was prior to the TBI. My doctor got in my face about it. She’s kind and compassionate but she’s a scientist and doesn’t mess around with science.

I can’t explain the science behind how they make these determinations but she was able to detail how she can determine a person’s IQ prior to a TBI and then of course, afterwards. I was informed that my IQ was at a high level prior to the accident and now it’s average.

I gotta tell you it was so affirming for that little voice in me that tried to tell me I was good, to hear I really was competent, I was talented, I was smart.

So much of my life I felt like a fraud. Like I had to prove my skill, my intelligence, and my talent to everyone. Everyone. I worked so hard. I had my successes, for sure. But I didn’t feel those successes deeply. I didn't own them. And I did stupid things like dumb myself down so friends who weren’t maybe as successful or as capable wouldn’t feel threatened. Jesus, talk about self abuse.

After the IQ news of being so brilliant and then post TBI, "average", I became really, really sad. Just when I have this scientific evidence that I really am smart and capable, it’s taken from me.

Oh, how the insecurities fired up.

I was already feeling insecure in my new community. I had moved to Santa Fe from Denver just four months post TBI, away from long standing friends. People who knew me "before".

Was no longer working. No longer did I have the re-enforcement of daily intellectual stimulation and challenge. I couldn’t have kept up. I could barely do laundry.

I was definitely having social skills issues because of the TBI. Rages. Over stimulation. No longer being able to engage in easy conversation with new people or anyone, really. My mind was no longer quick. I couldn’t connect the dots in a conversation that creates connection with another person. My filters aka/ executive function was leaving lots of inappropriate comments on the floor as well as lots and lots of F-Bombs. Oh yeah. I think every other word out of my mouth was “fuck.” I do like that word but not that much.

The swearing was so bad that I even asked my doctor if some long buried desire to lash out had been turned on by the TBI. That I was having some kind of major emotional release.

I had to grin, nod and show no judgement to clients who said despicable things about their employees and competitors too many times in my work life. That's not an easy thing for me to hold in.

The Doc killed that reasoning. It’s simply the area of my brain - the executive function - that was injured and I don’t have those precious 10 seconds others do, to stop and decide whether “that” thought should be said. Everyone has crazy, offensive, critical thoughts about others but they are able to refrain from sharing them.

People told me they wished they had that excuse and thought it was funny. It’s not funny living with the consequences of the loss of those 10 seconds.

I was ashamed to not have control of what comes out of my mouth and at the same time seeing and “knowing” that what I said was offensive or inappropriate. The ruminating would kick in for days, some times weeks. Reliving some stupid thing I said and be horrified with myself. Horrified that the new people I was meeting and trying to develop new friendships with, saw me as this offensive, obnoxious, immature, and stupid person. Horrified because I kept apologizing and trying to explain why….I was brain damaged.

“Nice to meet you - I’m brain damaged and say stupid things.”

Just thinking of those days now brings me to tears. It's painful to re-feel that humiliation. Someone who doesn’t have a TBI simply can not understand what it is to feel like a fathom of your prior self.

It’s like being trapped in a funhouse hall of mirrors with all these images of yourself reflecting back at you but none of them are “you” and there’s no way out.

A TBI is a lonely, isolating experience. We’re held accountable for actions and inactions we can’t control by a world that is apathetic.

Those of you out there navigating a TBI and sharing your experiences on social media, I want to thank you.

I’ve seen myself in so many of your experiences.

Some I still experience every day. Some have lessened.

For a moment, your stories have let me out of the funhouse and reflected back to me that I have made some progress after 5 long years. I can’t express what I gift that is.

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