Is the inevitable question when we leave a store larger than a 7-11. It’s not dementia, it’s traumatic brain injury. This isn’t dementia talking, this is traumatic brain injury. It could be the result of stroke, motorcycle wreck, or an IED blowing apart a Humvee in Afghanistan. It’s misunderstood, taken too lightly, and exacts a toll on survivor and caregiver alike.
TBI survivors can be perceived as bitter, angry, stubborn, moody sons-of-bitches that just want to make everyone around them miserable. To this day, my sister cannot be in the same room as Mother, a stroke survivor, so she does the next best thing and pays Mom’s cable bill. Guilt alleviation by cash register. It’s often easier to write off the emotional storms as mere personality traits than it is to dig for the underlying causes. Sometimes, it’s not just pure meanness that TBI survivors exhibit: The vast dark spaces in their brains where old memories flit by and new ones refuse to form are enough to drive anyone batshit crazy.
Picture it. One day, you wake up and you intend to drive to work, but when you get in the car, you don’t know where to put the key, and in fact, you don’t know where you are going until you find your list with directions on how to get to work. Or you look in the refrigerator and don’t recognize any of the bottles, cans or food containers. Sure, you know what work is, and you know food is stored in the big cold box, but you can’t draw out what to do with any of it. Hundreds of everyday mundane actions can spell panic to a TBI survivor.
I am learning how to ask questions appropriately, how to approach situations delicately, and how to step in the do the necessary things without infringing on the survivors’ clinging to a sense of self when all is the unknown, even in their brains.