We all have that inner voice that speaks to us. Sometimes welcome, often uninvited, it’s there in our head and in our own voice. Some call it inner guidance, others call it a conscience. Regardless of what label we use, it’s something we live with; it’s part of being human. There are times when that inner voice becomes our internal cheering squad but on the flip side that small voice is not always friendly, especially after brain injury, as I’ve recently been reminded.
Though it’s tough for me to admit, I’m getting older now. A younger man of 49 when I sustained my traumatic brain injury, I’m now in my early 60s. Between the natural tendency of time to pass more quickly as we age, and my own loss of the ability to discern the passage of time since my injury, it often feels like I blinked away more than a decade of my life. Like an odd parody of Rip Van Winkle, I went to sleep in my 40s, and woke up older, much older.
Over the years since my injury, I’ve made it a habit of becoming a lifelong student of all things brain-related. Because of my nightly reading choices, my news feed is invariably full of brain-related articles. And because the internet seems to know my age, I see more than the occasional article about aging. But the articles that, for me, are most cringe-worthy touch on the challenges faced by aging adults who live with brain injury. Just last week, an article informed me that my risk of dementia increases exponentially because of my medical history. Let’s not leave out the risk of stroke and other rather dreadful conditions that shall remain nameless. The findings are enough to make one recoil and balk about getting out of bed in the morning.
Over the last six weeks, I’ve been battling a bit of pneumonia, which in turn makes me feel less sharp cognitively. In fact, I googled possible connections between pneumonia and adverse cognitive effects and since the internet does not care about my feelings — or anyone’s for that matter — it let me know that cognitive issues do indeed occur alongside pneumonia, but generally only with “older adults.” As I now qualify as an older adult, I am quite eligible for said cognitive challenges.
I can’t tell you when it happened, but of late, I “feel” slower. I seem to be forgetting things I should remember, things like important conversations with my wife, Sarah. And here’s where the inner narrative can get crushing. Speaking to me in my own voice, thoughts like, “Maybe this is the beginning of dementia,” take root. My mom passed away from dementia back in 2019, so it’s possible. But it doesn’t stop there. “You are becoming a burden to those close to you.” “What an idiot you are for not remembering that.” How about, “You are beginning to slide backwards. Your best years are behind you, and it’s only going to get tougher from here.”
Listening to ceaseless inner monologues like that can bleed the joy from even the sunniest of days. Living in a state of uneasiness and fear can be incredibly exhausting. And although I am someone who thrives on being a source of hope in the world, I am beginning to have a really deep dread when I think about tomorrow. I can lose all real perspective. That inner narrative can be paralyzing.
While most of the time I am okay with the unexpected path that my life has taken, my acceptance of my life as a brain injury survivor has never really been particularly high. But the take-away is this: because of the pneumonia, I’ve been legitimately under the weather for a while now. And I’m weary of being sick. And in that weariness, I lose perspective — which is not good for a brain injured guy like me.
My guided meditation yesterday focused on how to acknowledge negative thoughts, and work toward replacing them with positive thoughts. It was well-timed. So, as I moved through my day today, I rewrote the script. “David, you will bounce back from this.” I reminded myself that prior to getting sick, the self-doubt that has been consuming me wasn’t an issue. And the most poignant reminder of all — This too shall pass.
Living with a brain injury is, by far, the most complicated thing I have ever done. There have been great joys, stunning victories, and, somehow against all odds, I’ve carved out this amazing life. Sometimes, I just need to remind myself that just because I think something, doesn’t mean that it’s true.