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Untangling the Vine of TBI

June 19, 2017

Untangling the Vine of TBI

A greenbrier plant grows rampantly all over my side yard. Heart-shaped leaves might incline you to believe that this is an innocent green vine, but look a little closer and you see the fragile-looking tendrils that wind around tree branches and squeeze with the strength of a cobra. These reedy tendrils allow the vine to keep wrapping branches until they smother the sturdy arms of live oaks and there’s nothing left but a thicket of brambles. The tree underneath slowly dies.

And the thorns along the greenbrier vine are needle-sharp. I need “evening glove” length garden mitts to reach in and try to yank away this vine from my trees, or there will be blood. Greenbrier is not what it appears to be. It’s innocent looking while invasive. It comes raging back after you cut it down, and it can choke what’s underneath.

If this sounds a little bit like traumatic brain injury, it is.

Traumatic brain injury can look like something it’s not. It can look innocent or invisible. Perfectly normal-looking people have serious TBIs with complicating symptoms, but because there is no visible scar, no gaping wound, TBI is often mistaken for other injuries or worse, mistaken for someone just acting weird, lazy, or behaviorally challenged.

One of the biggest problems facing some people with TBI is that others don’t believe the injured person is “as bad” as he or she claims to be.

Classic remarks to this effect are, “You look fine to me,” or “You’re getting better every day. Soon you’ll be back to 100 percent.”

I have to admit, I just love the 100 percent remarks. My husband has heard variations on this theme a thousand times, usually in the form of a question: “Is he a hundred percent, yet?”

In order to end this line of inquiry, I say, “I think he’s close.”

When people ask Hugh directly, “Do you feel like you’re 100 percent back? Do you feel like your old self?” He usually says, “I’m a hundred percent me.” This is the perfect answer. It’s the only answer. He doesn’t remember what he used to be like, so how can he say? What does this percent tell anyone anyway?

Back to greenbrier … it’s invasive. TBI invades every aspect of a person’s life including physical, mental, emotional, and recreational, from work life to relationships. And it can smother a person and family until the life they once lived feels buried under the thicket. So how can individuals and families untangle this vine?

Stay present

Work with what you have in the moment remembering the love and life you hold inside. Nothing is lost, it’s all in your memory, and even if there was no TBI, each moment in life is our only moment. Each moment is new and holds possibility.

Keep digging

TBI can bury you. Stay active and keep working at getting better. Move, speak, share, and engage. This keeps the vine from thriving.

Try new things

There is potential everywhere. Seek it out and be open to trying new therapies, strategies, routines, and practices. Here are a few ideas: meditation, yoga, walking meditations, reading, escaping, dreaming, dancing, music, acupuncture, drawing, visualization, massage, guided imagery, and exercise. All of these approaches provide some relief if you use them with intention.

Remember what’s underneath

You are fighting for your life, for your loved ones, for your joy, for your peace. Let these reasons keep you strong. Don’t let TBI bury you.

Don’t let the setbacks stop you from trying

Yes, the thorns hurt; they draw blood; but tomorrow is another day. Don’t stop trying to achieve what you want to achieve.

You are 100 percent who you are at any given moment. We are all capable of finding meaning and purpose as long as we draw breath. We may feel sad, depressed, or buried at times, but eventually, if we pull out the garden shears, we can cut the line that feeds our grief and make up our mind to work our way back. Don’t let the vine take over your life. Fight back.

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