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Understanding the trauma in traumatic brain injury

Posted Oct 18 2010 12:00am

I’ve been reading Robert Scaer, M.D.’s book The Body Bears the Burden, thinking a good deal about the role of trauma in traumatic brain injury.

Trauma in TBI, I believe (from personal experience and observation of others’ lives) happens both during the injury and afterwards.

It’s not just the injury itself that brings on the terrible sense of threat to your very existence it’s the life afterwards that emerges, when you are forced to face up to changes in your life and your personality and your capabilities that require a whole new way of working.

The repeated shocks and hurts and surprises and disappointments and the overwhelming sense that you’re not who you are anymore and your whole existence is in question threatens us on such a deep level, that the trauma of the initial injury can sometimes be dwarfed by the after-effects of the changes.

Suddenly, you’re angry all the time for no apparent reason.

Suddenly, you can’t read things and understand and you don’t find out till after your job (which depends on your reading comprehension) is in danger.

Suddenly, your balance is off, you can’t tolerate light and sound, and you’re breaking down in tears over nothing.

Who IS this person? Where did you go? And who has taken your place?

This change and the questions that arise can be abrupt and alarming and the worst part is, it’s an internal storm that rages, almost (but not quite) in plain view, vague enough to elude explanation, but pervasive enough to disrupt much about your life and throw you into a tailspin about the rest of your life which hasn’t been impacted, but might be.

If this doesn’t constitute a threat to your existence one of the chief requirements for the classification of trauma I don’t know what is.

So, as we approach traumatic brain injury, let’s not just focus on the brain. Let’s focus on the trauma, as well. Let’s help the countless folks out there including our returning wounded warriors bearing the signature wounds of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are struggling with both TBI and PTSD, and watching their symptoms get worse for no apparent reason.

Let’s stop dividing up the treatments into “disciplinary territories” and discounting the importance of body and mind and heart and spirit and how they interconnect to create the whole of us.

Traumatic brain injury has been getting a lot of press, lately, with regard to the brain. But unless we seek to understand trauma as diligently, I fear we are a far cry from a comprehensive solution for this widespread issue.

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