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Chasing adventure & living mindfully while parenting through mental illness


Brain Injury Awareness Month: How My Concussion Helped Me Understand My Son

Brain Injury Awareness Month: How My Concussion Helped Me Understand My Son

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June is brain injury awareness month. Mental and brain health are linked, and mental health disorders common following mild head injury.

Facts and Stats

A few quick facts about acquired brain injuries:

Facts and Stats

A few quick facts about acquired brain injuries:

  • An acquired brain injury (ABI) is an injury that is not hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or induced by birth trauma.

  • They can be traumatic (concussion) or non-traumatic (stroke)

  • Approximately 1.5 Canadians live with a brain injury

  • Estimates put the brain injury rate among First Nation peoples at 4-5 times the rate of the general population.

  • Experts estimate that 60-80% of people in prison have untreated acquired brain injuries, most injured before ever committing a crime.

  • ABI's affect thinking, sensation, language, and emotion; different symptoms arise based on where in the brain the injury occurred.

  • Brain injuries are known for causing extreme stress in family and interpersonal relationships.

Back in April, after Olin had just turned 3, I ran into the top of a covered slide while chasing him. The full speed collision resulted in a (thankfully minor) concussion.

A brain injury is so disrupting to your life. I didn't realize how many balls I keep up on the air at any given moment. I didn't value the work I was doing until I couldn't do it. Suddenly, I realized how all the meal planning, school and preschool routines, housework, budgeting, paperwork, and childcare functioned in the smooth running of our home. Without my juggling, a lot of it fell apart.

Add to that, I had to rearrange our adult-only Mexico trip to a kid-friendly trip, get the kids passports updated, onboard to a new job, and keep track of medications and treatments for Breccan. Suddenly I had to delegate all of that while my communication, logic, and concentration skills were impaired, my anxiety and depression worsened, and I was overwhelmed by light and sounds.

It was sure a humbling look at what my child with Sensory Processing Disorder and ADHD deals with on a daily basis.

Obviously a minor concussion pales in comparison to larger neurological differences or significant brain injury. For more knowledge on those, check out the resources below. But I believe in taking lessons where you can, and man, did my concussion ever teach me some big lessons in compassion, for myself, my son, and others.

Here are a few things I've learned:

Sensory Issues = Major Overwhelm

I had not realized how paralyzing sound sensitivity could be. My concussion made me extremely noise sensitive. Noisy places like the mall or school drop-off were completely overwhelming. That wasn't a surprise. But what was surprising was sounds I would normally find relaxing and soothing were also overwhelming. Listening to meditation or white noise had the opposite effect and made me very stressed out.

Because of that, the outdoors was absolutely a haven. I still had to watch the boys most days, so I pushed myself and my kids outside a bit more because I was calmer there. I have more understanding for why Breccan can be calm and directable in the forest or at the beach, and overwhelmed and impossible at school or even our house.

I also understand why he acts out around his brother. Olin has many sweet and loving moments, but lately he is in full three-nager mode. His scream has always been ear piercing, even when it's a happy one. I felt so terrible that my own child overwhelmed me, but I absolutely could not handle his shrieks of joy or anger. I can better understand why a child with poor impulse control would be triggered by that.

Too Many Words Is Infuriating

Another reason meditation tracks were suddenly not relaxing: it was too many words. They are constantly narrating and describing things, and it felt like words being hurled at you like weapons. Too many words, words, words!

I am 100% guilty of this. I am an extrovert, I think out loud. I think by talking (or writing). Directing my kids often involves way too many words - I explain why, I revise my request, I add background context, etc. It is overwhelming to decipher the direction in all those words.

I can't say I'm perfect at using fewer words and deciding what I will say before I say it. We have learned to use a direction formula:

[Name], [request] now please.

It is really really hard to simplify requests down to small tasks. I'm still struggling to even remember it 50% of the time! With the knowledge about how it feels, I have more patience for B's difficulties.

Social Interaction Can Be Exhausting

At school drop off the day after my concussion, one of the other moms started talking with me on my way out. I normally find this kind of quick chit chat nice. But that day, following the logic of a simple conversation was so hard. There were so many steps!

First, I had to follow what she was saying (“Isn't it great that it's sunny out!” Brain confirms yes, it is sunny, and yes, I like that). Then I have to devise something to say back (“Yes, it's finally into spring!” involves remembering it is spring and that the past weather has not been pleasant.) Then I had to convey interest and congeniality with my facial expressions. Meanwhile I am also walking and managing Olin and trying to track her voice out of all the hollering school kids.

I was so relieved after we went our separate ways, even though I normally enjoy hanging out and chatting.

Normally these processes are natural. But I function with a fully developed, generally typical brain. For Kids, these kinds of pathways are still being formed and are in some cases resistant to forming. I am trying to remember this and give my boys quiet, non-structured time to decompress after school and preschool.

Give Yourself (And Your Kids) A Break

Just let things slide. You will catch up another time. This is especially the case if you are expected to return to normal function. Just lower your standards and expectations for awhile.

Ask for deadline extensions. Lots of people have experience with concussions and understand that you really can't push it. Streamline kids meals even more than usual. Rent a few extra movies to stream, or pick up a new streaming platform for a month or so while you recover. Let your inner dialogue sound like your best friend, not your worst critic. Good advice all the time, but especially after a brain injury.

Resources

If you'd like to learn more about brain injuries, check out the following sites:


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