Life After Brain Injury – Changing the Inner Narrative

David Grant, March 2018: Life After Brain Injury – Changing the Inner Narrative

We've all got it, that inner voice that constantly narrates our lives.

Stumble in public, and most of us hear the same thing, "I hope nobody saw that!" Speed past a police officer well above the posted speed limit and that inner voice becomes a bit more urgent, "Maybe he didn't see me," or, "Not another speeding ticket!"

Having our life narrated often keeps us safe from harm and can validate our choices on a day-to-day basis. It is simply part of being human.

But as many of us know, brain injury can complicate things. Gone can be the ability to know intuitively when and how to handle things. Without warning, our inner narrator takes on a new power. 

For many years, even while making significant gains in my brain injury recovery, my inner voice was not my friend. Well-intentioned friends and family would tell me how great I was doing. I would smile and offer a courteous "Thank you," but I was not drinking the Kool-Aid. 

Not even close.

"You just want me to feel better. You don’t mean that, and we both know it," sounded off the voice from deep within.

This was not an occasional experience. Almost daily, I was plagued with negative thoughts and a negative self-image. It was hard not to be. My words would simply give out when I was tired. My processing speed slowed to a snail’s pace by 2:00 p.m. on most afternoons. Occasional vertigo often made me stumble.

Having these challenges at home alone is one thing, but being out in the world at large while compromised is not particularly conducive to a healthy self-image.

Sustaining a brain injury is the toughest thing I have ever experienced. There is no close second. I've had days that I wished that I never woke up, days thinking about how to end my life without devastating Sarah, and days where just drawing my next breath took a Herculean effort. 

It should come as no surprise that negative thoughts were commonplace for me. The tragedy in all this is that I started to believe the lies I was telling myself. 

"I'm never going to get any better."

"Life sucks, and then you die."

"I just can't do this anymore."

It was no way to live. Like a rudder steering a ship, my negative self-talk was steering me in the wrong direction. It was stealing the joy from my days and making what was already a heavy load to carry even heavier.

There was no real ah-ha moment when things changed. I just got tired of it. Negativity is exhausting.

Last year was a significant year in my recovery. I began sleeping better, my memory lapses were less frequent, and I began to string together longer stretches of good days. I began to feel more alive than I had in many years.

At some point, I decided to replace "I can't" with "I can, and I WILL!"

It was no overnight process. I began to listen, really listen, to my ongoing inner monologue. When negativity tried to creep in, I would immediately try to replace it with something positive. This took effort on my part, but it has already shown to be effort well spent.

Case in point: I can have two back-to-back tough TBI days. On one day, if the inner monologue leans toward the negative, it is a fast track to a bad day. Take a similar day and wrap positive thinking around it, a bad day becomes tolerable, and in some cases, it becomes a good day.

I don't kid myself for one moment. I will always have challenges because of my brain injury. You cannot wish away occasional speech problems. Positive self-talk will not take away neuro-fatigue. While I am forever changed by my brain injury, I steadfastly refuse to be reduced by it.

I cannot change what happened to me, but I can change my perceptions and my outlook. Choosing to focus on the positive inner narrative makes me feel better. And in the end, isn't that a big part of what brain injury recovery is all about, feeling better?

Comments (5)

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Dude... You just gave me the BRIGHTEST light in a dark tunnel. This sucks though... I am in a town where the MH people either don't give a "what" or don't believe in or understand TBIs. This is so hard. I am 35, I have numerous TBIs-from mild to extreme, have had them ALL my life, and NOBODY seems to care... I feel like I'm in hell. No, really. Just without the flames. After my accident in 2016 (I was run over), I had an experience. I went almost all the way up into the clouds, then halfway, then my eyes were shut and I was sucked backwards with cool wind blowing on my arms and face. SO scary. SO scary... Then after the tests were run at the hospital and a couple weeks waking up in the MH unit, I could swear I was in hell. I have been through so much since then. I am really having trouble shaking this feeling. I have 7+ months sober and am still shocked at everything. Are we in hell? How do I recoup from this? Somebody please help. I have so many hopes and dreams. I WANT to live.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is very hard for me to make peace with my injury. I compare myself to others and feel ashamed. Fortunately, I also have an understanding spouse.

Hi David, and thank you for your words. Yeah, life can suck post TBI. Mine was 16 years ago. I have made vast improvements. But my spouse left. And she took away so much time with my one now-adult child. And I don't see that relationship ever meaning much other than pleasant memories. I am trying to move ahead, and find my next "new family" but that is harder than I ever thought over the age of 60.

David - In a search today I found your words. I have been going through your posts and so much of this hits home.

I thought I was alone. I felt I was crazy. I have had so many conversations in my head that sound like what you've described, sometimes exactly those things.

I sat at my desk at work and cried, tears that are so complex in nature that I can scarcely describe them. Joy, relief, sorrow, fear -- these are just a few of the things that cover where I'm at right now.

Thank you for bravely sharing the rawness of all this. Some days I feel like I can do no more. You've given me hope. You've given me a reason to keep fighting.

Thank you for this David. This post came at just the perfect time for me. Cheers x