Acknowledging Disability

It took me a long time to finally accept the monumental change that had happened in my life. In my past posts on Independence, Health, Employment and Taking Back Control, while being focused on being able to live as an independent adult with our own lives have all had a common theme of acknowledging where our strengths and weaknesses lie. In essence coming to terms with our disabilities.

Coming to terms with having something like brain damage and accepting myself as a disabled person, was a really difficult thing for me to do. However, more than six and a half years have passed since the horrible night I suffered my brain trauma and I can confidently say now, without fear “I am a disabled person with brain damage.”

Now, I used the word “fear” there. I personally think that’s interesting when I consider my brain injury in the grand scheme of things, purely on a human level. I have to then ask and analyse myself (again!) what was it that I was afraid of?

A Short Series Of Questions

So here I have to ask questions to myself, what were the things I feared that made it so difficult for me to admit that I was disabled? Was I afraid that, by admitting to myself and to others that I was disabled, I would be excluding myself from the rest of society? Did I fear rejection, ridicule and prejudice in a society that increasingly seems to be turning a blind eye to the plight of those in need? Where, in this new sense of self that I was coming to terms with, would I fit in? Finally, had I subconsciously adopted an unknown, subconscious prejudice (not vindictive, violent or exploitative, more a feeling of discomfort when in their presence) against “the other”?

A Short Universal Answer

The answer to all of these questions is yes. I realise I may be making myself seem more unlikable to you in admitting that but I feel it is only fair for me to be truthful. I would be doing you a disservice if I made up some weak, halfhearted excuse as opposed to telling you the truth that my fears were based on basic human instincts; the need to fit in, the need to have a place and a role in everyday society, the need to be “normal”. Of course these are things that everybody wants really. They make for an easier life, a life you can float through without analysing, thinking for yourself, challenging or disrupting the natural order of things. What I see when I look at all of those previous questions and the answers I have just given is that the fear that stopped me accepting myself for who I am after my brain injury is one very basic, human fear…

The Fear Of Change

The fear of change is a very basic and, quite honestly, understandable fear. As human beings we like security; we like to know when our next paycheck is coming from, that there is food in the fridge and that we have a job to do when we get up in the morning. It is obvious that this gives us a feeling of safety and purpose each and every day. So when something occurs that has the potential to disrupt that harmony, something that could take away the things we rely on to get us through life feeling contented and secure, it is only natural that we are wary, cautious or afraid of that change.

So when we ourselves are fundamentally changed from the inside to out, the organ that controls our speech, our movement, that voice in our head that help us make decisions, decide what to say or do, the consequences to our cognitive abilities is damaged so that we are (I realise I’m speaking universally here but I’m only speaking from my own experience) an almost completely different person to who we were. That is a terrifying prospect for both patients and their families. That the person you are and that they love will be different from the one that they know, have known for years and that they love and cherish.

I don’t know about anyone else who may be reading this, but I feel as though my brain has been switched with someone else’s since my ABI. I am a totally different person now. Taking on the challenge of recovering from an acquired brain injury is taking a step into the unknown; as I said it feels as though my brain has been witched with someone else’s. It’s like a game of roulette; you never know what number the ball will land on or whose brain you will get.

Carrying on from that, what do we rely on more than our own brains, than ourselves? When someone has suffered a brain injury, not even the best experts and consultants are willing to predict the ramifications and consequences until the patient is fully awake. So for those on the outside, looking at a brain injury patient it’s the fear of the unknown. Not knowing how much of the person that they knew and love they will get back.

What Do We Do?

Fear, we all suffer from just in different ways. When I look at the questions I asked myself earlier (barring the prejudice one), they are all reasonable and similar questions one would ask themselves in other more conventional life changes. For example, if they were moving to a new place, quitting their job to start a new business or getting back into dating after a divorce. Those types of fears are deeply rooted within us; the fear of change and of the unknown.

It’s what I have come to learn. Life itself is an unknown thing, full of change. We can’t control everything all the time and we never know what is waiting for us right around the corner. Whether that is meeting the girl of your dreams in a café on your lunch break for example, or suffering a brain injury on a night out. Life is peaks and troughs. If we can accept that life is an unknown, that it has good and bad elements and if we can embrace the fear that comes with that and confront it head on, we can move forward accepting ourselves for who we are.

I can safely say that I have fully accepted that I am a disabled person. Confronting the fact that life will change and it will throw bad things at you has made me a stronger person. Now that I have suffered my brain injury and have seen what is truly the harsh side of everyday life, because of the strength and the determination it has given me to prove to everyone that disabled people are incredible, brave, valuable and talented, despite the disabilities I have now, I wouldn’t go back to the person I was before.

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The last of the pseudo-science…

My Name is Tom and I am the survivor of an ABI.

In the last post, I covered the injuries to the brain that I suffered (as I understand them in layman’s terms). In this post, I will be looking at the different sections of the brain, what they do (again, as I understand it), and that will lead us on to the next few weeks where I will discuss the problems I had when waking from my induced coma. Trust me, I am doing my best to get away from the medical stuff, the neurology, and move quickly on to my experiences and the real meat of this blog.

From the research I did through my medical notes, it seems that most of the damage was done to the temporal lobe, the occipital lobe, and some minor damage to the frontal lobes (and I’m sure other places suffered some minor damage due to the midline shift/increased ICP). Now, finding out the function of the different parts (or lobes) of the brain has been interesting to me as it has allowed me to put the after effects I still suffer from in some kind of context. I had done little to no research prior to this blog on what effect the damage to different parts of my brain has had on me. It is much easier to not address it: to live in denial of something is a lot easier than accepting it and taking steps to address and overcome it. After all, it is only really in the last year to eighteen months where I have started to truly accept my ABI and what it has done to me.

Now, the different lobes of the brain and what they do. This is how I understand it and the picture below should give some clarity on the locations of the different lobes.

Colour coded and labelled picture indicating the different lobes of the human brain.
Colour coded and labelled picture indicating the different lobes of the human brain.

The main section of the brain is called the cerebrum and provides the tools for thinking that we use in every day life. It is divided into right and left hemispheres: The left hemisphere is responsible for the logical side of thinking, numbers, words, lists, logic, sequence, linearity etc. and controls the right side of your body. Whereas the right hemisphere controls the left side of your body and is responsible for the more creative endeavors such as rhythm, spatial awareness, colour, imagination and daydreaming. The cerebrum is then split into four different lobes, each of which has a different function.

  1. The Frontal Lobe – The frontal lobe controls so many different aspects of what we do and what our brain does. To include just a few, it controls creative thought, problem solving, intellect, judgement, behaviour, attention, physical reactions, muscle movements, smell and personality.
  2. The Parietal Lobe – The Parietal Lobe mainly focuses on comprehension, monitoring things such as language, reading, visual functions, internal stimuli and sensory comprehension. It is also home to the Sensory Cortex and the Motor Cortex. The Sensory Cortex receives information from the spinal cord regarding the position of our many body parts and how we are moving those body parts. The Motor Cortex helps to check and control the movement of the body.
  3. The Temporal Lobe – The Temporal Lobe controls our visual and audio memories. Located here are sections that help us with speech and language as well as hearing. It also has an effect on some of our behavioural factors. The Temporal Lobe also houses Wernicke’s Area. Little is known about this area by even the best doctors but it is known to help us formulate/understand speech.
  4. The Occipital Lobe – located at the back of the head, it helps to control vision. The Occipital Lobe also houses Broca’s Area, the area of the brain that controls the facial neurons as well as our understanding of speech and language.

So theses are the four main lobes of the brain. I promise you, that that should be that on the science jargon. But I felt it to be important to include some of the scientific/neurology stuff as it places my future experiences in a proper context. So I hope to see you here again. Would love it if I could get a few more followers on Twitter (follow me @ABIblogger) and maybe follow my blog while you’re here. I assure you I am doing this with the main aim of helping people. Any feedback I can get would be amazing! Thank you so much everyone. Stay strong!