Navigating Life with Brain Injury and PTSD

David Grant blog, PTSD, treatment, frustration, lifelong issues

When I was struck by a teenage driver while cycling almost 14 years ago, not once did I think that I would face medical issues that would challenge me for a lifetime. But as I’ve learned in the years that passed, both a brain injury and PTSD are chronic conditions that require a lifetime of attention.

My challenges with brain injury have become fewer. Some have all but disappeared. I no longer struggle with vertigo like I did during my first year post-injury. Other challenges have become easier as well — some because they are less problematic, others because I’ve simply come to accept them as part of this new second life I live.

But living with PTSD is an entirely different story. PTSD often comes roaring back with a vengeance.

Last December, after a particularly brutal period, I made the difficult decision to get back into treatment. Life at the time was unsustainable, and I knew I had to reach out for help.

Over the last few months, my PTSD care team grew to three different providers: an EMDR specialist, a therapist, and a prescribing psychiatrist. I feel very grateful because to each of them, I am not just a number. I believe they “see” me as a human being in need of help and they all have my best interests at heart.

This makes my current situation even tougher. It’s been more than three months, and I am experiencing no real relief. At the time of this writing, I’ve had four consecutive nightmare nights, nights in which I woke up either sobbing, whimpering, or yelling out, always in complete and utter terror. If this sounds horrible, it is. And now, several months into aggressive treatment, I am unclear as to what my next steps should be.

"I'm starting to feel burnt out by treatment," I said to Sarah recently before bed. It's not the first time I've said this. Over the last couple of weeks, I've mentioned it a few times. I just don’t know how to continue to handle all these bad nights.

My entire care team — my therapist, my EMDR specialist, and my psychiatrist — tell me how well I am doing. But nine hell-filled nights last month don't feel like I'm doing well at all.

Over the last couple of weeks, on more than one occasion, I thought about quitting treatment. I can't even begin to describe the frustration that goes along with this. Every week I'm in someone's office talking to a professional. What makes this particularly tough is that I really like my providers. They are authentic and trying to help.

Speaking with my wife, Sarah, she asked if I just planned on living with "it."

Isn't that kind of what I'm already doing?

When I started treatment again, I said that I'd give it 90 days. No sudden or irrational decisions, just a three-month treatment test drive. Ninety days have come and gone, but here I am, still not seeing any relief. What do I do?

As challenging as the nights are, it's the days after one of those nights that are particularly egregious. Bad nights exacerbate my TBI challenges. Pea-soup-thick brain fog, slow processing, trouble speaking ... the list goes on. It feels like I'm spending 30 percent of my life recovering from getting my legs knocked out from under me, only to get knocked down again. I'm not one to give up easily, but my ride on the Treatment Bus seems to be getting me nowhere.

Lest I forget to mention, today is the eight-week anniversary of my dad’s passing, something that clearly does not help.

There are no easy answers, no quick treatments, and seemingly, a lifetime of trial and error in the hope of finding something that works. As of today, I am still buying green bananas, and not cancelling any of my appointments. I am holding on to hope with both hands.