TBI Purgatory

Geo Gosling
TBI Purgatory

Ever since my TBI, I have had major anger issues. Why? Well, let’s see: I lost everything I had worked so hard to gain, I am in constant pain, my speech is awful, I live by myself, I have no “career,” my friends have their own lives to deal with, I am bored, I have no social life except for the time I spend hanging-out in a coffee shop and I can’t participate in any of the outdoor activities that I had previously enjoyed, except golf. I have a very limited income. Things are not looking up at all. If anyone were in this situation, injured brain or not, they would be pretty angry…and depressed. Then throw in the fact that the person in that situation has a brain that doesn’t work quite right, and it is not surprising that anger, depression, and hate become huge issues. 

I mentioned previously that I did everything s–l–o–w–l–y, except get mad totally furious. I would become extremely agitated at the most insignificant events. I would become furious with someone if I didn’t like the tone of their voice when they asked me a question or if they didn’t understand what I was trying to say. It’s a good thing I now had physical limitations or else there would be a few less people living on planet Earth. I’m serious; I would get so mad at people I could have killed them with my bare hands.

Fortunately, the chances of me getting my hands on someone were extremely small. I might have gotten my hands on a blind old lady in a wheelchair but that’s about it. All someone had to do to escape my wrath was take a couple of quick steps in any direction or give me a slight tap on either shoulder.

The problem was, I couldn’t control my anger. I would feel it begin to swell up inside me but I couldn’t stop it. Oh no! Here it comes. Look out! There were a few people whose heads I would have loved to just repeatedly bash in, but fortunately I never would have been able to get those people into that position, mainly because I move so slow. Just thinking about my lack of physical ability would upset me even more.God they piss me off, but there is not a blankity blank blank thing I can do about it! Stupid brain injury! I hate my brain! I’ll kill ‘em! No, wait. That’s too good for them. I’ll give them a brain injury and let them suffer for the rest of their miserable life!

When someone suffers a brain injury, the law requires that his driver’s license be revoked. I had to go through all the same rigmarole I went through in high school in order to get my drivers license. After I was re-issued my drivers license and began driving, my anger issue reared its ugly head. Don’t worry, I didn’t exhibit the typical “road rage” because I physically couldn’t. I did however, let a lot of drivers know I was not happy with them. I was constantly yelling “F--- you” to people. I considered attaching a small cylinder, or some such thing to the outside of my driver’s side door and filling it with sunscreen. That way I could dip my middle finger in the cylinder and give people “the finger” without getting sunburned. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time behind the wheel with my middle finger exposed. I’m lucky I didn’t get my cute little hinny kicked at least once.

For the first few years after I started driving I would get so mad at other drivers, just driving to the local store, that I could barely function. Fortunately, I am slowly, but surely, conquering my version of “road rage,” which is just getting mad at people. I no longer need sunscreen for my finger.

I was mad at myself for being so stupid that I got myself into this mess in the first place. I was angry with everyone who worked in the wine industry because I couldn’t work in that industry anymore, and I wanted to. I was angry with anyone who I perceived as happy and “successful” because I was certainly not happy and “successful” and I wanted to be. Who doesn’t want to be happy and successful? For this reason, I truly hated everyone and everything. I couldn’t think of anyone, whose death would upset me. Well on second thought, I might have been upset because death would have been too good for certain people. I would much rather see these “certain people” get brain injuries so they could see what it was like. At the time, “My cup runneth over with hate.”

I was not happy with my life. I watched way too much TV, but there wasn’t a whole lot else I could do. I had friends but their “normal” lives did not intersect too well with me dealing with my not so “normal” life. What I mean is that I didn’t have anything in common with them anymore. I didn’t have a career. I didn’t have kids. I didn’t have a wife. I didn’t do any of the activities that I used to do and that my friends still did.

I was paralyzed with anger. I’m not exaggerating for effect. I would get so mad at the smallest, most insignificant events, that my brain would just “freeze.” I would get so stiff and my muscles would get so tense and tight that they could barely move. My mouth just would not function. Just relax. Take it easy. It’s no big deal. Everything will be fine. That’s what I told myself. However my brain, since it was frozen, would not, or maybe could not, do what I was telling it to do. It would take me a good half an hour to get “un-paralyzed.”  There is no “anti-anger” medication. If there were, I would certainly have tried to get some. I needed to release a lot of anger. Uncontrollable anger was certainly new to me.

Before my TBI, I was very mellow and easy going. Prior to my crash, I was given a shirt that said “Whatever” on the front. It was my favorite t-shirt because it summed-up my attitude towards events, thoughts, and actions that I didn’t like, or disagreed with.  I never got all that upset because I would think, “Oh whatever” and then continue on my merry way. However, for the first ten or eleven years after my bicycle crash, it would have been accurate to give me a T-shirt that said “Revetahw” (that’s “Whatever” spelled backwards), because I would react to situations the exact opposite way I previously had. As of this writing, my shirt should say “Wahtevre” because I’m getting closer and closer to my pre-TBI disposition, but I’m not quite there yet.

Also before my TBI, when I would get mad at someone, I wouldn’t yell and swear at him or call him names. I would calmly make an observation or well thought-out comment about him or what he had done. I would essentially insult that person or what he or was doing, and that person may not even realize it until much later.

After I suffered my TBI, when I would get mad at someone, which happened quite often, I would immediately insult that person,swear at him/her and call him/her names.I would use nothing but four-letter words. It was obvious I was mad at the person. It was an ineffective tactic on my part because it would make whomever I was yelling at less cooperative. They would become more resolute in not doing what I wanted or helping me.

Post-TBI, when something upset me, I would skip being a little upset or annoyed and go straight to pure rage in about a milli-second. After that milli-second, everyone near me had better look out because I would verbally abuse anyone and everyone whether or not they were involved in what had upset me. Of course that would tense up all my muscles and I would fall over, my speech would get worse and as a result, my rage would just intensify. It was a vicious circle. Thankfully, I am getting back to my old self. I don’t yell and scream at people as I did earlier in my “TBI life.”

To this day, I’m still angry, not nearly as I was but still pretty angry. However, I have gotten my anger under control…pretty well. I still get really mad at seemingly insignificant happenings, but nothing like I used to. I’m certainly not going to physically harm anyone now because: A) I don’t usually want to, and B) because I still physically couldn’t hurt a fly. No, that’s not true. I probably could hurt a fly, a small one.

I’ve actually learned to use my anger to my advantage. I use my anger as a very powerful motivational tool. When I get mad, which is a common occurrence, I get motivated to do…I don’t know…anything constructive. I organize where I live. I put things where they belong. I do some therapy exercises. I ride my bike on a trainer. I read. I write my thoughts down, which incidentally turned into my first book: “TBI Hell: A Traumatic Brain Injury Really Sucks.”

All this talk about “anger” reminded me of a traumatic “event” that I forgot to put in my first book. The fact that I forgot to put this traumatic “event” in my first book is proof positive that I have an injured brain. If one looks up “traumatic” in the Oxford American Dictionary it is defined as “of or causing trauma.” That is not very helpful until one looks up “trauma” in the same dictionary. “Trauma” is defined as “emotional shock producing a lasting effect upon a person.” The traumatic “event” I am referring to is when The Department of Rehabilitation (or D.R.) in Napa, CA hung-up on me twice because they thought I was a crank caller.

The part of my brain that deals with regulating the speed of my speech was, and still is injured. The result is that my brain is telling my mouth to talk faster than my mouth can physically move. That leads to speech that is often unclear. Anyway, back to the D.R: I was living with my parents and I was looking for a job so that I could hopefully move out of my parents’ house. I was told by the hospital staff, therapists, psychologists, support groups, etc. that I should contact the D.R. about finding a job, so I did. I couldn’t drive at the time, so my mom drove me to Napa to their office. I filled out all the necessary forms, talked to whoever I needed to talk with, was told to call back in a couple of days, and my mom and I went on our merry way. Now it gets traumatic.

I called back in a couple of days to see what, if anything, I needed to do. I dialed the number and the phone was answered. I said, “Hello, this is Geo Gosling.” That is as far as I got. The lady who answered the phone said, “Who?” I repeated myself, and so did she. I tried, I really did, to talk slower and more understandably, but all I got was, “What? Who is this?” I repeated myself, and so did she. I repeated my name slower, and rather loudly, a fourth and fifth time. All I then got was a dial tone because she had hung-up on me. This was before I had gotten my anger under control, so I was furious. It took me three or four days before I could call back. When I did call back, it was the same result. When the lady didn’t understand after the third time I said my name, I just screamed into the phone, “Don’t hang-up!” She did of course. Now I was beyond furious. A couple of days later, my mom was going to Napa and I convinced her to drop me off at the Department of Rehab office. I went inside and told the lady who I was, she understood me just fine, and that I had called twice recently and that the person who answered the phone hung-up on me. I then asked why the person had hung-up on me. A different lady at a desk behind the woman I was talking to said, “I thought you were a crank caller.” I just shook my head, said “That’s terrible”, and walked out. You’re the Department of Rehab; don’t you deal with “messed-up” people often? You must realize that some people who have speech problems will need your help. You must realize it. It’s that simple. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be working there. I haven’t had any dealings with the D.R. since then, by choice of course. It was very traumatic. As of this writing, I don’t call anyone who doesn’t know me, or my situation. As one might guess, I don’t make many phone calls. Fortunately for me, anyone and everyone I need to contact has an e-mail address. I love e-mail.

As a result of these experiences, my anger was growing into hate. I started hating everything. I hated my speech. I hated being the way I was. I hated having no job and living off the taxpayers. I hated the constant pain in my gums. I hated not being able to even talk to women. I hated living alone. I hated myself for being so lame that I could put myself in this awful position. I hated being alive.

I never believed in God before my accident, but I did now and I believed that he (or she) must hate me. I couldn’t figure out why God hated me. He (or she) just did and he (or she) was informing me of that fact. I also figured that God was, in fact, a woman because all women hate me. I’ll give a brief account as to why I thought this way:

I continued getting physical therapy for a couple of years after I was released from the hospital. One of the physical therapists where I was doing my therapy was an absolutely gorgeous blonde. This particular therapist had said and done things that I mistook for “flirts.” After many months of therapy, I had convinced myself that this therapist had the “hots” for me. After repeated attempts by me to contact her, outside of therapy, and failing, I got mad and wrote her a not-so-nice letter. She called the police, they talked to me, and nothing more came of the situation, except that I figured women hated me and that there must be something wrong with me. The reader must remember that I have seriously injured brain and therefore don’t think too rationally on occasion. As a result of this incident, I became even angrier. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.

When someone or something upset me, I could literally feel anger growing inside of me, and it grew by leaps and bounds until I was all consumed by it. Fortunately for me, and everyone else, I physically could not act out that anger. However, that, in turn would just piss me off even more. As the reader will most likely surmise, I was a pretty pissed off individual…all the time. Being angry all the time is not good for your mental, or physical health. I hesitate to use the word “angry” because that word does not seem capture just how mad I was at everything. There is no word in the English language that even comes close to describing how angry I was. So I made up my own word: FURIADAGE. It’s FURIous + mAD + rAGE. I was furiadage 99.99% of the time. The .01% of the time when I wasn’t totally furiadage was when I was on my bicycle, connected to the bike trainer of course.  As I said before, this amount of anger began to motivate me to do activities that were constructive, and that did alleviate some of my furiadage.

The “powerful engine” that was my hate did motivate some constructive endeavors. One constructive endeavor I did was to write the book I mentioned earlier. I also started taking classes, one evening per week at the local Junior College. I started playing golf once a week; I didn’t keep score because that would have required me to carry a laptop computer. I rode my bicycle, on a trainer, four or five times a week. Those last two physical endeavors themselves aren’t too “constructive” but they put the person doing them in a better frame of mind to then do something constructive. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting off the couch and doing something…anything. I’m serious.

Before I channeled all my anger and hate to constructive endeavors, I was frustrated with everything, and I hated everything and everyone, but being in that frame of mind does nothing for you. You have to change that mindset. So I channeled my hate to constructive endeavors and my outlook on life improved.

When I first was able to move out and live on my own, all I did was go to therapy, do therapy at home, rest, watch TV, listen to music, and drink coffee. It was extremely boring and as a result, I felt pretty useless and worthless. That is no way to be, especially when you are in your twenties and trying to get some resemblance of a “life” back.

The very first thing I did was to plant a couple of marigolds in a very small area outside my apartment.  I had to dig a small hole, put the plant in the hole, re-fill the hole, and then water the plant. It took me nearly an entire day just to accomplish that simple task. It wore me out, completely but it actually gave me more energy. I know that sounds impossible but somehow it did. I think the reason was because I felt like I had accomplished something and so I wanted to accomplish more, after I rested of course. It just felt good to accomplish something that required physical effort, albeit small effort. Before my TBI, I would have laughed at some dude who had told me he had spent an entire day planting a few marigolds outside near his porch, but that was then; this is now. Now I thought planting a few plants was a great accomplishment. As I said, someone with a TBI has to make adjustments. My marigolds have all since died but…whatever. With taking classes at the local junior college, riding my bicycle on the trainer, playing golf once a week, and just having a better outlook on life, I don’t find the time to plant marigolds.

When I first moved to my apartment, I started seeing a skinny, mangy, feral cat running around the yard. Then one day I was out getting the mail and I saw the cat lying dead in a ditch. Gee, that’s a bummer. Oh well. A few days later, as I was eating breakfast, I saw three kittens out on the front lawn. Cool! Three little kitties! Since I didn’t have anything to do, except water my marigolds, I figured I would take care of the kittens. It took me weeks to get the kittens to even come near me, let alone eat any food I gave them. Eventually they did, and I had three little kittens. I’ll make a long, dull story short. One kitten was killed on the road. I gave one kitten to my parents, but it had physical problems and did not survive. The third kitten I kept and still have to this day. I named it “Kitty.”

Taking care of that kitten gave me a sense of worth, and that improved my self-esteem, and that decreased my depression, and that made life better, and that made me slightly less angry. I think it is impossible to be angry when you are holding a cute, little, furry kitten. I suppose one could be angry with one if it peed or pooped on your couch, but I couldn’t, at least not for long anyway. I know because my cute, little furry kitten did pee on my couch. Oh well.

The reader may be asking, “What’s the point of all this?” I’ll answer that question. The point of all this is: now that I am managing to keep myself amused and do not feel so worthless, my cancerous tumor of hate is getting smaller. A cancerous tumor is a good metaphor for hate. Previously, my cancerous tumor was just growing and growing and it was slowly killing me. It was sapping me of energy, joy, pleasure, and everything else that made life good. It totally occupied my thoughts and feelings. It dictated how I responded to nearly every situation. I was stressed and angry nearly every waking moment. Keeping busy was like chemotherapy for my “cancer”, except it was better because I did not lose any hair, I did not vomit, it was a heck of a lot cheaper, and the results could be seen instantly; no waiting for improvements.

My body did not, and still does not react well with anger. When I get really mad about something my body does not, or maybe simply cannot, react well. This is difficult to understand and more difficult to explain, so I’ll give an example: I park my car in a carport that is above my residence. One day I did not see my sunglasses in the spot I always keepthem. Oh, I just left them in the car. However, when I got to my car, they weren’t there. I panicked. They were nice sunglasses and I couldn’t afford to buy a new pair. I absolutely had to have sunglasses because, as I alluded to in the preface, my injured brain couldn’t close my pupils like it should. That would invariably result in a terrible headache and a tired face from squinting. What a complete idiot I am! I can’t believe I lost my sunglasses! Did I leave them in the restaurant yesterday? Well, I can make it back to the restaurant and I’ll see if they are there. If they are not there, I can just walk over to the bike store and buy a new pair right now. I won’t be able to afford to play golf for a few weeks but I absolutely need to have sunglasses. I did not want to just simply call the restaurant because I’m extremely hesitant to make phone calls as a result of the Department of Rehabilitation’s phone shenanigans.

So I was angry — surprise, surprise — and as a result, my muscles became extremely tense. Consequently I didn’t move too fluidly and my balance was off, more than usual. If I don’t move fluidly and smoothly, nine times out of ten I fall over. Then the result of that, ten times out of ten, is I get infinitely upset and depressed. Well, I’ll just suck it up and call the restaurant. It can’t be that bad, can it? I started to walk back down the little hill to my residence in order to call the restaurant. I was still quite mad and apparently my injured brain couldn’t tell my muscles to calm down and relax. As a result of me being in the tense condition I was in, my muscles were not shifting my weight properly while I navigated myself down the driveway. My foot slipped and I fell down…hard. I landed on my elbow and butt.

Fortunately, the only physical damage I incurred was a scraped elbow and a sore butt. However, there was minor emotional damage. I’m sick of this crap! I never get better. I keep falling down! It was depressing. After I got up and brushed myself off, I continued down to my residence. I was still steaming mad because I had lost my sunglasses. I went inside and gee, there were my sunglasses on the kitchen counter, right where I left them. Oh yeah. That’s right, I did leave them there this time. I felt kind of stupid that I gotten all “worked-up” over…nothing.That is why I put my things away in same place every time so this doesn’t happen. Fortunately, for me and everyone else, I am slowly but surely getting my anger under control.

I can summarize what has to be done with all of the anger that someone who has suffered a TBI undoubtedly possesses. That person must learn to harness all of their anger and put their “anger energy” towards improving their situation. It took me ten to twelve years to figure that out (I’m not really a genius.) Once I figured out how to harness all my “anger energy” I made big improvements in my situation. I don’t how, when, or where I learned this, or if it was just from my brain doing some healing over time, but whatever it was, it had to be learned.

Excerpted from TBI Purgatory: Comes After Being in TBI Hell by Geo Gosling. © 2010, Geo Gosling. Used with permission. For more information on TBI Purgatory, go to http://outskirtspress.com/tbipurgatory.

Posted on BrainLine November 4, 2010.