All of the Above is True

Brain Injury Blog by Janet Cromer

March 3, 2011

All of the Above is True

Have you noticed that living with brain injury sometimes involves contradictions and inconsistencies? My husband Alan had a severe anoxic brain injury following a cardiac arrest. When friends asked how Alan was doing in his recovery my answers often started with,” Well on one hand…”

What I meant was that on one hand he was making steady progress in learning to do familiar grooming routines. He was a whiz at showering and combing his hair the way we always wore it. But, on the other hand, he puzzled out the correct order to put his clothes on every morning. And whether a tee shirt should go over his head or his legs.

Alan’s moods could also be very variable. When he had enough rest and time to play with our dog he was upbeat and happy. But when he was tired or angry he became sarcastic and yelled.

Alan’s memory was also better under some conditions than others. His family was puzzled by how smart he sounded during their Sunday long distance calls. Yet when they visited, they remarked on how confused and irritable he could be.

The difference was that before Alan made the Sunday call, we set up his log book for the week to “stage” the call. Every day Alan wrote three sentences about what we did or a news story he liked. When his brother asked if Alan went out for Chinese food that week, Alan looked at his notes. “Oh yes,” he replied, “I had moo shui shrimp on Tuesday.” If Alan wasn’t up to the call, we just waited until Monday.

Sometimes people asked me, “Which one is the real Alan- the confused one or the smart one?” I just shrugged and gave my standard answer: “All of the above is true. They are both the same person”

And I had as many contradictions as Alan did. Some days I felt confident and hopeful about the new direction we were taking. Other days, I got swept up in the losses and changes and felt overwhelmed. Some days I spruced up my appearance to lift my spirits. I tackled responsibilities productively. Other days, (okay, weeks), I lived in yoga pants and a sweatshirt and just tried to make it through the day.

In time, we came to understand that healing from brain injury doesn’t involve a lot of black and white certainty. Different parts of the brain heal and train for new jobs at different speeds. No one can accurately predict how much progress a person will make, or how long that will take. On one hand, that uncertainty can be stressful. On the other hand, we can let go the stress of needing absolute answers and be open to the possibilities that come with ambiguity.

For example, Alan made much more progress in regaining language skills that his treatment team predicted. He made gains in specific cognitive areas for three years after his brain injury. Three years! If we had given up hope during the times when he plateaued or needed a break, he might not have gone so far. We all have many facets to our personality and functioning, even without a brain injury. Let’s try to be patient and flexible while working to be the best person we can be.

There are certainly parts of this new life that benefit from consistency and structure. In my next two posts, I’ll share some ways we practiced cognitive rehabilitation at home.

2 responses to “All of the Above is True”

  1. Janet Cromer says:

    Hello Rodell,

    I was invited to be a founding member of the Boston Acquired Brain Injury Support Group in 2001. The group was started by a group of professionals, families, and survivors who saw the need. Until then, there was no support group for survivors and families who lived in the community. I facilitated the group for family members and made many good friends. Your State Brain Injury Association will have a list of support groups.

    I relied on friends who stuck by us (fewer as the years go on), and worked with a great therapist. At times I found it helpful to take antidepressant medication. I also found it helpful to develop a few new interests outside of the all-consuming caregiving.

    Thank you for writing.

  2. Rodell Benjamin says:

    My husband is just starting his third year of anoxic brain injury from cardiac arrest. Just wondering where you get your strength and support for your self. Is there a brain injury support group that you have found beneficial? I understand your ups and downs.

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