Arrrrrgh!!! I can’t unsee that!
I’ve picked up this recent wise crack and used it with a wry chuckle in my throat many times. I’ll give you a little chuckle of your own here. This was me last weekend just before trying to go to sleep for a sleep test. Since the crash my sleep has deteriorated and my wife pushed me to get it examined. Talk about uncomfortable and silly looking with all those sensors attached to you. Lasting images are what this post is all about. So instead of displaying some shocking picture of a TBI survivor in their hospital bed I took pity on you, gentle reader, and chose this embarrassing one of me. As you can see I was so looking forward to the experience. I also really don’t have any pride left.
Do you have some images like that in your mind? Of you just after your TBI? Of your loved one right after their TBI? I mean some of those pictures of human wreckage are too sickening to put up here, for me at least. I know some survivors who proudly display those photos. Badges of honor, proof of just how much they’ve overcome and they want you to know it. That’s really not my scene but then again I did not go through the terrible trauma shown in those pictures. Sure, I still have the picture of my helmet up on the top banner but that is nothing compared to what you know I’m talking about.
Alright, back to you. Can you let it go? I’m not talking about forgetting the survivor experienced the injury; I’m asking if you’re able to set aside those thoughts that the person will be that damaged forever. Will you ever not see your friend, your child, your lover, your spouse or your parent like that? Or will you, the survivor, ever not have the thought of that trauma as the bedrock of your consciousness, the core of your new being? That’s what I mean here. The people around you may not be able to unsee you in that way.
This is a different animal from the one who doubts there is anything wrong with you. No, those folks may have seen you like that but they now see you perhaps looking just like you used to look – and they wonder why you just can’t get over yourself and stop using your “brain injury” as an excuse. I don’t really know how to make air quotes in text so the real ones will have to do for now but you know what I mean. While they’re at it maybe they’ll also come up with a way to make printed words drip with sarcasm.
Even though I may have made remarkable strides in adapting to this new life, I am finding that some people have put me in a particular box. Maybe for good. Do you feel that, too? Or have you mentally done that to your survivor? Marital relationships are the ones that probably won’t break down, for a while at least, but their dynamics are different now. We all talk about it, but even wrapped in those idyllic gestures of devotion those new ground rules put in place right after the injury often get set in stone. Regardless of whether they’re needed anymore. Now the survivor, trying to make sense of their world and maybe get back to the way they were, is caught unaware that the people they have relied on are changing the landscape.
Try imagining you’re a teenager in a noble European family in feudal times. Marriages were often arranged to create advantageous family alliances in that era. Heck, this kind of thing still happens in some cultures today. You may not even get to meet your match until a few weeks before the ceremony. Well, it isn’t the same thing by any stretch but the fiancé or spouse of the TBI survivor has suddenly been put into an arranged marriage. And let me tell you, the dowry is not something to brag to your friends about. These two people have to get to know each other all over again to some degree. And if that image of the person soon after their injury does not fit your vision of a soul mate, well too bad. You’re already committed.
Can you work with this new reality? Can you look to the future with the conviction that you’ll grow closer or will you wind up convinced the damage is forever and that you’ll always look at the survivor the same way? As a TBI survivor will you be able to understand the struggle your life partner is going through to love you again like a lover or will you be constantly thinking you’re their obligation, reluctantly accepted?
I’m reminded of the two times my wife and I dealt with the death of our dog. We really bond with them as many people do and it has utterly crushed us. It took us a long time in both cases before we could even consider another dog. Even though we knew we would get another, the only dog we wanted was the one we couldn’t have anymore. My wife said that one day to a friend and I’ll never forget that feeling of Oh My God! That is IT in a nutshell! When Keegan passes, after having been with us through so many huge challenges, we may cry for months straight. Years maybe. Even if we have one or more other dogs already in our pack. In the end though, he’s still just a dog. But this is your treasured human we’re talking about, only they’re not dead. Like knowing your spouse is gone and you now have to try to make a life with this other person who looks a lot like them.
As you can surmise, the thought of what has/may become of my marriage looms large on my emotional horizon. Yes, I know that I’m at least a little different now. We’ve been over that already but I’m sensing that my wife has adapted to the situation NOT the way I’d hoped. She seems to have come to terms with the new person she thinks I am and he doesn’t quite match the person I now think I am. We talk past one another in some difficult conversations and those treasured moments of marital harmony are now few and far between. And yes, I know that she’ll probably let me have it if and when she reads this. She already can’t sleep in the same bed with me now because of my atrocious snoring. What else do I have to lose? At least if she reads this she might understand something I can never never ever never explain clearly in a conversation with her. I really miss her sometimes.
Throughout this post I’ve asked pretty much the same question in different ways. I’m also implying a somewhat hopeless outlook at that. I usually try to offer some thoughts of mine that might help someone. Maybe trigger a thought process in someone else that will advance the discussion.
Tallis Consulting Limited out of the UK has a more detailed discussion of the relationship changes that can occur after a brain injury. I hope some of that will help shed some light on what has happened or what’s maybe to come.
‘Cause I got nuthin’ here.