Is Brain Injured, Brain Damaged?

Brain Injury Blog by Mike Strand

December 26, 2012

Brain injury or brain damage – what’s the real meaning?

It used to be, years ago, that those who had disabilities or were different in some way, were categorized and named in ways that were insensitive, if not downright cruel and hurtful. Gimp, cripple, harelip, lung (for TB sufferers), and many more terms too improper to bother printing. Fortunately, that was then and this is now.

These days there are forums and other vehicles to discuss how these individuals would like to be called. In these modern days we have an avenue to make it known how we would like to be referred to in public. The internet allows for many voices to be heard. It is important that those affected get involved or the terms chosen are still liable to be inappropriate or offend.

Putting the person before the disability

The latest best term for those have suffered a brain injury is “person with a brain injury.” This is preferable to “brain injured person” because the emphasis should be on the person, not the condition. The popular term “survivor” has problems because it is too general. People survive a lot of things, someone whose cancer is in remission is also called a survivor. We also need to avoid creating an overly technical term like neurophysiometrically compromised. We don’t want to obfuscate brain injury the way I just did with this sentence, by using a word like obfuscate.

Can you tell?

Can you tell?

I’ve been giving the term “brain damaged” some thought. Although “brain damaged” is technically accurate, it implies a permanent state, which of course it most emphatically should not be viewed as. And yet at the same time, brain injury is forever. I’m not ever going to be “not brain injured.” Perhaps it is more accurate to say that “brain injury” is an experience; “brain damaged” is a state. The two are not incompatible, yet they are apples and oranges.

Similarly, imagine if you had a broken leg. Strictly speaking, you are “leg damaged.” Yet, no one ever says that. Some still have an occasional limp that they will refer to as “an old leg injury from a car accident.” Maybe next time when I have trouble word finding or following directions I’ll explain it by saying, “My old brain injury is acting up again.”

The phrase “person with a brain injury” is more descriptive of an experience than a condition. When a person’s injury is relatively new, they may justifiably resist this label as their intention is to recover from it. That is why they go to rehab. If they are lucky, they may regain their former preinjured state of being. That is a really cool thing, if it happens to be your lot, you lucky duck. For the rest of us, the journey is different. Once you experience something that changes your life you can never go back and “unexperience” it. Just like you can never unmix the chocolate powder you just mixed into your milk to make hot cocoa.

Nobody who has a brain injury wants to have another. Although statistically, if you have a brain injury, you are much more likely to suffer another, that is not from any personal desire. However, those who have lived through something like that tend to feel they are better for having made it. Basic training in the military is something that is challenging and unpleasant, and yet anyone who has gone through it will be proud of the fact they did it.

I am who I am!

I am who I am!

I am who I am and I have a brain injury

Which leads me to the final conclusion for which I’m proud, inwardly, for having gone through what I have gone through. Other things, even if they are more difficult to do now because of my brain injury, I don’t shy from doing. I am not a better person because of my brain injury, but I am because of what I’ve done in spite of my having a brain injury. I wouldn’t choose to be this way, but as best as I can remember, no one ever asked. The fact is, I suffered a severe brain injury in 1989. Ever since then I have been crawling and struggling, fighting and groaning for every inch, to get to where I am today. And I smile, sometimes I smile through my tears, but I smile. I am here, and that is my victory. 

Recommended Reading

Read more blogs by Mike Strand on

Sense of Self after Brain Injury

Understanding Your Anger after Traumatic Brain Injury

6 responses to “Is Brain Injured, Brain Damaged?”

  1. Mike Strand says:

    Thanks for your comments everyone! Sometimes the hardest thing about writing what I do is this fear that nobody will relate and then I will feel really alone. It’s never happened, people have always been so kind, but it is my own insecurity. Even after all I’ve shared over the past (almost 20) years of writing about brain injury, and the nearly 30 years of living with brain injury, I still can feel very alone.

    Of course, most of the time I buck up and get over it. On a certain level everybody feels alone in some way, hence the quote from Blaise Pascal, “Everybody dies alone.”

  2. thank you so much for your comments. Every day is a new journey with a brain injury.
    Marilyn Lash

  3. jennifer chorn says:

    Great article. I have a Tbi. Fell from the second story in my house on to the tile floor and had to be life flighted to the shock trauma center. This was on August 15 2010. I have recovered reasonably well and am blessed to be alive. I am unable to return to work and most people don’t realize my daily struggles. My day has to shut down by 4. I take Ritalin multiple times a day to be able to function. When I get tired my husband says I get mean to him and the kids. I don’t even realize it. Sometimes a brain injury is like trying to function in life while being extremely intoxicated. I react differently, am tired, my thinking speaking filter is out of whack while I am trying to act sober to the rest of the world. It is almost impossible, but I keep trying day in and out. Sometimes trying to act normal is exhausting and the cycle continues. Sometimes accepting that I will never be the same person that I was before is a difficult process. I have 3 teenage daughters and I am aware of how much more I wish I could do, but at least I am here. Sometimes I even joke with them when I come up with the correct answer, ask the brain injured lady, she knows and we all laugh. It’s journey.

  4. D.Simone Wright says:

    It is as if you were inside my mind and wrote my thoughts as clearly as I would have liked to. I am so tired of hearing people say that you look okay to me. The other thing I get a lot of is, “When are you going back to work?” I am who I am now. I have accepted that completely. I am so grateful to be alive a functional. I now many people that aren’t. To all of those who don’t get it…..tough I have nothing to apologize for. I am alive and thankful.

  5. Tracey Johnston says:

    Well said! My son in law is one year into his injury and his parents are still in denial. He lives with us, thank goodness, and our daughter realized right away that she would be married to this man (post injury) much longer than she was married to the pre-injury man. His parents continue to believe that he will be his old self. I believe I am going to share this with them. Hopefully it will help them understand a bit more.

  6. Julia Pratt says:

    Very eloquent. yes, describes this well…..I am more than a brain injury, but yes, would not have chosen to have this experience, because it’s so hard to explain to those around you without seeing in their eyes, confusion – “but you look normal…..”

    thank you for your thoughtful words – Julia Pratt, Indianapolis, Indiana (MVA 12-28-01)

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