Traumatic Brain Injury
December 23rd 2009 found me in a layby trying to calm down a stranger, a young lady who had passed her driving test that day and had decided to celebrate by driving 250 miles in horrible weather to surprise her Aunt. She was hysterical with the stress. I had seen her weeping and went across, leaving my wife and friend in the car to try and help.
A car left the dual carriageway at speed, took me under its wheels, carried on down the layby, re-entered the dual carriageway and then crashed. I literally disappeared in front of my wife's eyes.
My physical injuries were catastrophic, and numerous. I also suffered subtle brain damage to my vestibular system. I am a haemophiliac. It might be worth noting if you too have the misfortune to be a haemophiliac that road accidents or being run over are best avoided. I had successfully managed that for a long time until the stranger anxious to get home early because his grandchildren had sandwiches waiting, decided to speed.
The vestibular systems functions remain largely unknown, it plays some part with the emotions, it coordinates the senses certainly but no one seemed to know much of what was happening to me. One specialist told me I had the worst visual vertigo he had ever seen. The same specialist I saw for the visual vertigo told me my brain in terms of coordinating the senses was the same as a three month old baby.
For about three and a half years, until the shock and awe of the condition wore off I lived as if in a permanent LSD trip. My hospital, a major teaching hospital, shut down the specialist unit over funding after a few months and I was on my own. I was told there was one, repeat one, specialist on the vestibular system in the UK and I never managed to see him. Of course I would need a reference from my GP, my GP practice changed its doctors almost weekly and I grew tired of the incredulous expressions on their faces. My GP told me I had developed aggraphobia and was over sensitive. I stopped seeing my GP.
My brain helpfully resized objects and people to make them fit the disjointed sensory criteria. If two twins equidistant from me were speaking, one more loudly than the other my brain would helpfully make the loudest one much bigger, since of course that one must be closer since they were louder.
I learned that my brain had, in the past toned down what I saw to emphasise perspective, always useful to a hunter gatherer. In fact at times I could see very vein on every leaf on a tree. Every bug and every insect upon that tree. It did not last long. My brain would overload and shut down so that at times I became catatonic. Incapable of thought or movement. I was a writer before the accident. I could not read and think at the same time after the accident. My eyes don't track right and the effort to recognise and follow the text uses up all my brainpower, so there is not much left to think what I am reading. Obviously that is much improved. Though I sold all my books and have not been able to read one since the accident. Text onscreen is much better. Letters through the post and forms remain a nightmare.
Voices, sounds I could not quickly identify the location of would be assigned to my chest and emanate from within. I regularly had out of body experiences that became so everyday and mundane that I learned simply to deal with them with the minimum of fuss. As you would expect, supermarkets were a nightmare, one I learned to avoid at all cost. Airports and escalators, glass and reflections, iron railings and hospitals. Floor patterns, wallpaper. movement of trees and branches. All sent me into meltdown.
Sometimes all I would see was movement, the rest greyed out so that I would barely see what was still, yet a fly rubbing its wings across room would startle me. The most bizarre effects I gave up trying to explain since no one ever believed me. You might.
At the clinic I sat facing a group of chairs. To my right there were two doors facing each other and people came and went. Since I could on those occasions, since I was sitting down, my brain getting enough oxygen, see abnormally well, like a hawk but with no sense of perspective at all. It made sense to my brain that the chairs at the front were, since they were smaller, for children. It followed that anyone sitting in them would be a child. That meant where there was conflict my brain would turn the adults into children, or little people by changing their features. The people at my right, going from door to door, since I saw them perfectly clearly with no perspective, were also little people, my brain helpfully resizing their heads and making their legs shorter. When they very occasionally turned and came my way, in front of my eyes they would metamorphise into regular sized people as they approached, their legs growing longer and their heads shrinking as I recoiled and squirmed in my seat in an effort to escape, what to me was just a weird hallucination.
I learned over time that the way out of my nightmare was to work at forcing my senses to coordinate. Any sound had to be linked to some object or movement. Any bizarre effect that happened had to be thought out and a logical explanation forced on my brain. All effects had to be tied together, seeing, feeling, hearing. When my 'soul,' kinesthetic sense of my centre drifted away like a balloon I would bang my head on whatever was behind it, it happened sitting or lying down, to make a sound and watch as my point of view shifted as my head thumped the pillow and made a sound like a drum beating, a feeling that went right through my body with my blood. The helpful picure of me on the bed or chair that my brain provided for me to explain the feeling that I was out of my body and looking down at myself I learned to detect and recognise as a construct. A fake. Gradually my out of body experience would fade as my centre returned to my body. The only sense not effected was my sense of smell. The rest were a mess.
I learned to deal with my condition. I wear a baseball cap pulled low to cut the visual inputs in busy places. I never ever try to do anything quickly. I never let myself get tired. I try and avoid over stimulating places. I try to sleep more and avoid too much screen time. If its really bad for relief I might wear ear plugs, though of course long term the aim is to recover and live in the multi sensory world as it is, not just cut down on the inputs.
That's my story I hope it might help somebody else. If there are any errors, I have no spell checker or grammar checker, its down to the fact I don't do proof reading anymore.