I have an event from my past which impacts my life every day. People who don’t know me sort of take these characteristics as me just being who I was – absent minded, forgetful, or high. I actually don’t use any drugs and even have to carefully monitor alcohol intake because of my experiences since this event. My friend Nancy Tracy on Associated Content wrote a piece the other day which inspired me to write this piece. For all of my adult life I have been living, struggling, and coping with Traumatic Brain Injury.
In February 1995 I was a high school sophomore and living in Connecticut, I would often be the beneficiary of the “snow day.” On this one snow day morning (the only snow event of the 1994-1995 school year) feeling restless and hyperactive as most 15 year olds are, I was looking for any way to get out and enjoy this free day off. I had met this new kid, Alan, who was two years older than me, lived in my neighborhood, and had a car! Jackpot! My friend Scott & I called Alan up and we all went out to cruise Danbury Connecticut on a weekday in winter and see what’s what.
Ice was the reason for school closings this day so unsurprisingly when we hit the top of a hill stop sign at greater than average speed, flipped over, and came to a crashing halt at a leveling off point of the hill, we were stoked. Scott & I were already unconscious and it was three weeks and many well wishes later that I even opened my eyes. Traumatic Brain Injury; I’d never heard of it, but now I was a sufferer from it. I suffered no external damages; nary a cut or bruise or scrape; but this new injury, Traumatic Brain Injury, would go on to inform my life from this point onward.
Nancy Tracy’s article was about middle aged memory loss. Many of the problems which Nancy described in her article are things which affect me to a much more pronounced degree. There are times in middle age when simple words escape you; there are times in my life where I can’t even form the first words to get to the complete thought. For years I had “flashes” – intense feelings of concentrated elation which would render me unable to open my eyes, speak or even move. I call it “elation” just because that’s the only thing I can think to liken it to, but I assure you, it was not a good feeling.
This happened for years as my wonderful doctor would adjust the levels of my medication. For years I took Tegretol to control my dopamine levels. Dopamine is something which needs to stay regulated; too much dopamine is a characteristic of schizophrenia; too little dopamine is what people who have Parkinson’s suffer from. Dopamine levels are also altered when people take drugs; cocaine and amphetamines work directly on stalling and flooding the brain with dopamine. So what I was experiencing was in effect a drug user or schizophrenics “high” or a drug user or Parkinson’s sufferer’s “low.” This is of course in very basic terms; there are plenty of other things which go into a Parkinson’s or schizophrenics case, but needless to say, when I was just walking and talking with fiends or sitting in afternoon rush hour, this rush to the system came as something of a shock to me.
The end result of my experience with Traumatic Brain Injury is an ongoing discussion. That is, I won’t really know the end until they perform my autopsy (hopefully) years and years from now. I will say that I stopped taking Tegretol a couple of years ago. I had been seeing my doctor every six months and had all but weaned myself off of the pills (not that I’d recommend this to anyone else! If I’d have been 20 years older and this exact same thing had happened, I may have been bedridden for life. My doctors always told me it was my relative youth which carried me back to functioning normalcy. So take your pills if your doctor tells you to!) But the pills I found were not stopping these dopamine events from happening and may have even been the cause of them. I say this because since 2007 when I got the green light from my doctor to stop taking my pills, I have not had any of these big dopamine rushes. They still happen but they are far less severe and less frequent.
My experience with Traumatic Brain Injury has been largely my own. This is because, with all the knowledge and advances in medicine we have, we still understand relatively little empirically about the brain. Traumatic Brain Injury still stifles my memory (one reason of many I feel so fortunate to have found my life mate who nicknames herself “the elephant” because she remembers everything in such exacting detail) and affects my life, but Traumatic Brain Injury does not define my life. I have been able to carve out a niche for myself, made my way well enough in the world, and remain a relatively functioning, well-adjusted, happy member of society in spite of suffering every day with the after affects of Traumatic Brain Injury.