Stress and Brain Injury

David Grant and his wife smiling at the camera.

It’s a safe bet to say that as a whole, we’ve all been under a little stress lately. Well, maybe I understated that just a bit. Not that you need to be reminded, but we’ve all been living under the shadow of a global pandemic. Let’s not forget protests, a contentious political landscape, natural disasters in the West and in the Gulf.

Oh, and how about those brain-eating amoebae?

I’m not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to liken 2020 to living through the chapters of a Stephen King book. While all of this weighs heavily on most anyone, it is those of us within the brain injury community that pay a higher premium on stress.

Well-intentioned friends and family will ask how Sarah and I are faring with all that is going on. I am happy to say that overall, we are doing well. We lean decidedly toward the conservative side, staying close to, and most of the times staying exclusively, at home.

In my case, I’ve been working from a home office for close to twenty years, and Sarah is now in her fifth year of working from home. Suffice to say, we are grateful to not have the work from home learning curve that so many others have. Food and other staples are now brought to us by Walmart delivery, or other local delivery services. We’ve maintained our mental health by staying fit and taking on a new activity — walking in cemeteries. Unlike our local people-packed walking trails, local cemeteries are void of the living, at least most of the time. We’ve spied out deer on several occasions, listened to screech owls, and spent hours and hours meandering quiet roads.

But as hard as I try to outrun stress, at times it catches up to me and crashes over me like a wave. It’s at that point that my response as a brain injury survivor is different than the uninjured.

“How so?” asked someone without a brain injury. Anyone else in the Brain Injury Club already knows what I am talking about.

I’ve found in the last few months that stress pushes my memory back to the way it was in the first year or two after my accident. I just can’t seem to retain things. Nowhere is this more evident than in trying to hold down a conversation with Sarah.

For years, she would say, “You’ve already told me that.” As time progressed, I would hear those five words less often. Part of this was because my memory was slowly improving, and the other part was because Sarah simply accepted that I repeat things. It goes with the TBI territory. But as 2020 deepened, my memory challenges blossomed like pansies in the spring — to the point where even I noticed that I was forgetting things.

I’d like to say that it doesn’t bother me, but it does. I am not a fan of backsliding, irrespective of the cause. One of my biggest fears for many years was that I was going to get worse over time. This has proven to not be true. Better still, I can easily see the correlation between what’s happening in the world and my reaction to it.

My memory challenges have a cause, and it ain’t me!

If anything, I’ve learned that time is my friend. I will get my feet back under me again. I can say this with complete confidence and not just hopeful wishing. Like so much that has come to pass, the present moment, if it happens to be uncomfortable, becomes more bearable knowing that it will eventually pass.

Please be safe and be kind. We could all use a little more kindness in today’s uncertain world.