One of the most challenging things about a brain injury is that it seems impossible to describe to an outsider. Before my husband’s injury, I myself was an outsider. I knew very little about the brain or how important it was to our quality of life. How so many of us take our own brains for granted. But now I am forever in this exclusive club where only the secret members understand the rules.
The first rule of brain injury is…you can’t describe the brain injury.
The second rule of brain injury is…you CAN’T describe the brain injury!
The third rule of brain injury is…you get the idea.
Brain injuries are unique in the way that they affect the essence of a person. Instead of crippling ones movements or mobility like most “injuries”, a brain injury cripples ones emotions and personality. It cripples the very core of who they are…or were.
And these crippling differences aren’t obvious to the outside world. Any evidence of a brain injury occurs within the brain itself: memory loss, confusion, fatigue, impaired cognitive ability, frustration, anger, the list goes on. There is no cast or scar, no wheelchair or missing limb. A brain injury is invisible.
When my husband was staying in the hospital, I didn’t let my oldest son, K, go and see him. I didn’t want him to see his “Dadda” like that; so vulnerable and weak. I was trying to preserve the hero like persona that my son had about his father. No boy should see Superman’s red cape lying defeated on the floor. But after two and half weeks, when my husband finally came home, I saw confusion in K’s eyes. Where was the “owie?” K had been kept from his father for so long because Dadda had an accident. He’d been told by me that ‘Dadda had a big owie.’ Yet the man standing before him had no owie. To K, Dadda looked the same.
And that will always be the struggle brain injuries and their captives face; describing this invisible pain, this invisible change to the outside world.
I found myself wishing for a scar; some sort of reminder that all is not well, better, or over. If he were in a wheelchair, his limits would be noted. It would be easy for K to understand why Dadda couldn’t help out on his soccer team. In a wheelchair, the injury would be forever visible. The obstacle then would be proving to the world he could still contribute despite his injury, instead of trying to remind the world that he still had an injury.
Instead, the truth was that Dadda couldn’t help on K’s soccer team because the constant noise and commotion from so many kids overwhelmed his brain to the point of panic and sometimes rage. Tell me how a five year old is supposed to understand that? Or even remember that for the next practice. Sometimes even I forget to remember.
But I suppose that is the burden all emotional scars bear. They bind us, contribute to who we are and yet the world doesn’t see them. There is no visible scar for a Broken Heart asking the world to handle us with care. There is no noticeable mark of a Grieving Soul begging life to give them a break. And there is no clear wound of a Damaged Brain reminding the world to be patient.
Even now, so many years later, I still have to remind K of what happened. When Dadda’s tired, or forgetful or emotionally aggressive, I must remind my son that his Dad still struggles from that accident so long ago. I have my doubts as to the depths of my son’s understanding of brain injury; after all, most adults I come across can barely comprehend it.
But if I have learned anything from this life altering journey, it’s that everyone has a story, and it’s usually paved with emotional scars. If you look at anyone hard enough, you can see them…even a brain injury.
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