Letters to Myself – 3 of 5

February 2005

Hey man,

You put together some nice work last semester, how are you finding it now? All the cognitive difficulties you were warned about seem to be coming out of the woodwork, huh? That’s because up until now, you’ve been fairly sheltered at home, focusing on getting stronger and healthier, as you should have. School requires higher cognitive functions and that’s why these problems are showing up now. That’s part of the reason you feel tense, but that’s not all of it. There are more factors combining to exacerbate their individual effects, creating an unfortunate anxiety that’s worse than the sum of its parts.

The trouble you have taking notes in class is a multi-tasking issue. You’ve noticed that if the notes or outlines are on PowerPoint you don’t have a problem, and that’s because it saves you the organizing and prioritizing of the information. I’d suggest getting class notes off someone, but then you’d still have trouble trying to understand a different note system and that would take more time.

Time is another problem in itself. Not the amount of it, whether you have enough or not, but your perception of it. It feels like everything on the syllabus is due tomorrow, and it’s totally overwhelming, I know, but do you see how that’s related to the trouble you have prioritizing? Right, and then there’s the time it takes to do the actual work, once you’ve decided what to do. You’ve already made the sobering discovery of how long it takes you to do a simple four page paper now. You can’t just crank them out the night before anymore. And when you find yourself writing and deleting the first line over and over, just put it down for a while. Our brain just isn’t up to the task and forcing the issue results in little progress made, and much energy spent. I know you won’t do it, but I’ll say this anyway, and that is to give yourself a break too.

Despite the cognitive paralysis and perpetual anxiety, I think the most damaging challenge you’re facing is the lack of friends still around. That was some rotten luck that you were in a coma when many of them graduated and embarked on new careers.  And here’s why it’s so tough: we all build our self-image from the elements we see mirrored back to us from our friends. Values are affirmed, behaviour is modelled, and acceptance is extended by the people closest to us. In university those people are our roommates, dormmates, and other friends. This time around, however, you’re immeasurably more insecure, apprehensive, and lost, but you have few trusted people who can throw you a line and help you re-create a new self-image of this new self.

And when you do get together with friends, it’s different. It’s hard to sort out why this is, especially with our freshly beaten, post-trauma brain, so let me try to lay it out for you. You know you are different now. You’ve had enough emotional blow-ups, breakdowns, and battles to understand you can’t offer everything you used to in your friendships now. You can’t go on spontaneous adventures. You can’t stay up all night hanging out. You can’t function in loud environments. You can’t follow group conversations. You just can’t handle as much. You are unsure if you can trust your friends to try to understand this, because these relationships have never been tested in this way before. These are the facts, you think, but let me tell you another fact. The fact is you surrounded yourself with caring and thoughtful people. To have so many people of such high calibre within your circle of friends is uncommon, but these are the people you brought into your life.  Trust them, it’ll be OK.  Better than OK.

And here’s another fact: you continue to find high calibre friends, even with brain damage.

So hang in there.

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About jaybrandsma

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2 Responses to Letters to Myself – 3 of 5

  1. Naomi Unrau says:

    Just wondering, did you journal everything (except when you were in a coma) when you were going through it the “first time”? Do you remember the journey so far in detail? Are these the milestones that are so much a part of you that you could never forget them even if you tried?
    Jay, from the time that you phoned me at work from the hospital (I think) and when Julia and I visited you at the farm to now, I have never been able to think of you in “brain damaged” terms (just saying…not to invalidate your struggle, effort and your personal reality). I am privileged and feel honoured to know you, Jay.

    • jaybrandsma says:

      Hey Naomi,

      I didn’t journal at all. Everything was so complex and confusing, I couldn’t put words to it even if I had the energy to. What marks these memories for me are feelings. I can recall the emotional landmarks, or milestones, and coax out the the actual chronological contexts from there. I called you from GF Strong, I believe, at a time when I wanted to talk to everyone in my cell phone. It could be said that a $700 cellphone bill is a sign of brain damage ;)

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