Traumatic Brain Injury: The 4 Concepts That Are Always All Around Us

ThinkingBy John Hatten, Rehabilitation Counselor, TBI Survivor

I find that I learn as much from putting together these presentations as I hope you do from reading them. I’m also going to put a TBI spin on each to explain how these ideas can help us Survivors come to grips with our situation.

The four words I am talking about today are the 4 “givens” to human life: these 4 concepts are always all around us and they ‘form’ the way we view and approach our lives. They are Death, Isolation, Meaninglessness and Freedom.

Death: Yep, we came mighty close with our TBI to “buying the farm. But considering Death has its positives. As Samuel Johnson famously said, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” The truth is that we with TBI are at increased danger of another TBI, and the next one could well kill us, and as successive TBIs seem to have a multiplicative, rather than an additive result, we are faced with a potentially reduced amount of time to “finish our life’s work”. Thinking existentially helps “…concentrates his mind wonderfully”.

Isolation: When it really all comes down to brass tacks, we humans are all in this alone. And we Survivors are more keenly aware of our aloneness than most anybody else, because no one knows the experience of having a Traumatic Brain Injury like a Survivor. I have read very much about brain injury from all sorts of experts: physiatrists (rehabilitation doctors), neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists, philosophers; not one of them (with the exception of the rare professional who has sustained a TBI) has even an inkling of the experience of TBI, the confusion, loneliness, anger, etc. that we know so well. None of them has “lost” themselves for a long time, then after spending years regaining oneself, be faced with not liking that person we have found.

Meaninglessness: “What’s it all about, Alfie?” I can say that meaninglessness has played a major role in my life. “Why am I left here, in this broken body (I was in exceptional physical shape at the time of my TBI: this saved my life as the muscle mass “fed” me while I was in coma: I was very skinny when I left the hospital), with this broken mind and this oh, so fragile emotions (although I did not realize that my problems were due to my brain injury, I knew that something was seriously wrong: I just couldn’t figure out what was the cause of it all).

Freedom: This was the hardest of the four for me to accept! This puts it all back in our laps. Sure, we’ve had this horrendous thing happen to us that no one around really understands; and yeah, we can’t do anything to undo the problems we now have; and now you tell me I’m free? Yes, we are the only ones who can rebuild our life from the rubble that our TBI has left for us. It’s quite a task, and it’s our freedom to choose our response to this challenge that defines who we are.

Footnote: These four concepts are taught by Psychiatrist, Viktor E. Frankl in his classic best selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

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