At my first doctor visit, after it happened, I was like a scared puppy trying to hide away and lick my wounds. Being a professional in consumer product goods sales for the past twenty-five years, I have learned never to let them see you sweat. I also very much did not want to be hurt. I wanted it not to have happened and denying I was hurt somehow at the time made it feel not real.
I never like to be a baby about things that happen in life, and most importantly, I am a firm believer that EVERYTHING that happens in life if perfect — even the shitty parts. That said, my brain was injured. My brain received multiple brain traumas the day I suffered a life-threatening attack. This ended up being a super shitty part of being attacked that I had to learn about and eventually accept so strategies could be built around my new deficiencies.
When your brain is injured, you do not necessarily know immediately that you have a traumatic brain injury. There are probably millions of people walking around with undiagnosed brain trauma. There could be as many as 20 million people in the US suffering from TBI. I frequently speak to people openly about mine. They look at me funny as if they were connecting the dots having an ah-ha moment. As if what they thought was normal may not be. I thought I was normal at first; I so badly wanted to be normal as if nothing happened; I was not even close to my normal.
It’s not so easy to figure out or figure your way out of brain trauma. My doctor told me my headaches were from emotional pain for the better part of three months after it happened. While I could appreciate that I was in a lot of emotional pain, this was true. What was also true was that I had legitimate injuries to my brain that were causing all sorts of symptoms, and emotions were only a tiny part of my problem. Not being able to regulate your feelings was part of my brain injury.
I have learned that you must advocate for yourself in healthcare; otherwise, you do not get the right care. I had to get myself to a neurologist because my doctor had a hard time looking past how my brain got injured, and he knew very little about strangulation injuries. But what I have also found is that it is tough to find a good neurologist or any doctor to help you find a wellness path. When I went to see my neurologist, I made the mistake of telling him how I got hurt.
It truly is a bizarre story, and so not an everyday thing that happens. A woman attacking a woman is just weird, to begin with, if you ask me. A 50-year-old mother attacking the stepmother of her kids is even more bizarre. Right off the bat, people think I wasn’t really hurt, a mean seriously, a woman did it. This woman that did it, however, is much larger than most men. Six feet almost 200 pounds. When you are 70% smaller than your attacker chances are you are going to get very hurt, and I did badly. Life crushingly bad, three job losses bad, 90 days of migraines bad and to this day spinal dysfunction bad.
The bizarre thing about brain injury is that you look totally normal from the outside and if you can speak intelligently than you are going to have an even harder problem getting the care you need. My headaches were so severe though I had to get to the bottom of it or my life would not be manageable. I don’t take drugs, like refuse most times, but I would have taken anything during those days to help stop the pain. I told the neurologist that I needed to see my brain. I need to see that it is not hurt and this is “all in my head” or “emotional” or “muscle tension.”
He told me that chances are we would not see anything because the type of migraines I was having generally do no show-up on an MRI. Boy was he work, not only did I have a traumatic brain injury, I had SEVERAL traumatic brain injuries. Goes to show you that you can’t judge a book by its cover! So many of us suffer from invisible injuries. I encourage people never to stop advocating for your health. Doctors are like people; there are good ones and bad ones. You know your body better than anyone, and with the right support, we CAN heal our bodies.
I had the adult version of Shaken Baby Syndrome. The violent shaking made my brain slosh around inside my skull causing a diffuse axonal injury which is the shearing (tearing) of the brains long connecting nerve fibers (axons) this happens when the brain shifts and rotates in the skull. This injures multiple parts of the brain. For me, this affected my executive function skills, and it was like the CEO left the building for my life.
It took me about two years of shaming myself about not being able to get things done like I used until I realized how this brain injury was impacting my life. I had not done my bills for the better part of two years. I would just let all my bills go on autopay and never look at them. Granted, because of this attack, I accumulated an incredible amount of debt, so it created extreme anxiety about our finances, but I could not make myself do what I need to do. The motivation for action was gone.
In addition to shaking, I had blunt force trauma that gave me a classic coup and contrecoup injury, which gives a focal injury or one spot as opposed to a diffuse injury that is widespread. This occurs when the head is moved violently forward and back. I was grabbed by the neck, shook violently then slammed to our car. The impact of my head hitting the car resulted in a quick forward and back slooshing of my brain. I had two separate lesions on my brain from this trauma.
This part of brain injury caused memory issues and auditory processing issues for me. I could not remember anything short term in the beginning. I still have problems with it. But what makes life extra hard is when you cannot process what you hear or remember it. This is 100% of my business world hearing, processing, and reacting is a massive part of life in general. I learned this was one of my most significant deficits. During my speech therapy, if I was read a short story, I could not repeat back to you the details.
The last impact of my brain was lack of oxygen due to strangulation, which is similar to a stroke. Without a continuous supply of oxygen to your brain, brain cells can quickly die. This brain trauma gave me something called phonemic paraphasia. I would recall the wrong word. It always starts and ends with the right letters, but it is the wrong word. Like fault or fart, commuter or computer. I also lost all two-letter helper words like an, it, be, if, is, etc., makes for some wacky sentence structure that ultimately makes zero sense.
With all these injuries to my brain on the outside, I looked totally fine. Even right after it happened, I looked fine outside of having marks on my neck, a bleeding ear, and severe swelling. The parts that were swollen like my neck are so small, to begin with, that the average person would not see anything wrong with me. This was precisely why Senior City Prosecutors Casey Gwinn and Gayle Strack pushed for the most extensive study on strangulation in the mid-nineties. Most women show no visible signs of strangulation, but it can cause severe long term injuries to the survivor IF they survive.
The last part of my brain trauma is PTSD and an extraordinarily long time of elevated stress levels. My attacker is the mother of my husband’s children. We had their minor daughter in our house as there was shared custody. She was part of lives, and we needed not to have ever to see or hear of her again. Her constant twisting of the truth and trying to turn these children against us meant constant stress. Going through criminal court for a year and a half was stress. Going to family court and dealing with her outrageous lies was stress. When we are stressed, we cannot heal.
Non-fatal strangulations survivors have long roads to recovery. It impacts all relationships we have. The people in our lives do not always remember we have brain trauma that changes how we interact. We lose our jobs. We feel we fail as mothers. We think we fail ourselves and everyone around us. We get depressed and develop anxiety. We lose our sense of safety. We lose touch with our core identity. We are required to rebuild our entire lives while we are injured. I thought for a long time that it would have been easier had I not lived that day.
It took me a long time to understand what happened to me and even longer to figure out how to heal from it all. I did heal in many ways, and the others I am still working on. You can never give up; vibrant health can return to you. So much can help your brain heal. I look forward to sharing my strategies. Everything matters when healing your brain. How you sleep, what you eat, how you rest your brain when working to meditation.
Healing your brain takes a lot of discipline. What I found most helpful was not accepting what my doctors gave me as solutions which were not very helpful. I had to push them to help me. I would not accept their answers. I would not accept that the rest of my life would be like this. I fought so hard for my brain, and it is so worth it.
#domesticviolence #mentalhealthawareness #TBI #PTSD #stress #braininjury #lajolla