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Jack Sisson's TBI Blog

A hug is duct tape for the soul.

 
Years ago, I remember, I read some quotation to the effect that "just because somebody's handicapped doesn't mean he can't be a jerk."

I myself am hearing-impaired, and understood exactly what the quotation meant: the handicapped, or the disabled, or the special-needs individual, or whatever polite term you want to use -- all such people are people first, and handicapped second. They have the same kinds of neuroses that other people have; the same things (plus a whole lot more) make them angry; and so on. They can be just really difficult to live with.

Ditto, those who live with them. Being a caretaker doesn't somehow magically endow you with superhuman powers of forgiveness, patience, generosity. It doesn't require you to be a saint, and it won't make you one.

Graphic evidence of the clash of human failings -- exaggerated by a disability -- comes from Jacqueline L'Heureux's article, "Do We Have to Crash Our Marriage, Too?" from the Fall 2007 issue of The Challenge, a print publication of the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA). BIA has graciously permitted us to post a copy of that article (599KB PDF) here on sossisson.com. The article begins:
I never saw the truck coming, stopped on a freeway under a knock-your-eye-out blue sky. My back would freeze for months from the monster grille I never felt mount our car.

I want that day back, to live repeatedly, like the characters in "Our Town" -- every part of it right until the crash. Not because it was special, but because it was so ordinary, effortless -- as no day has been since. I want to start with rising early, clear-minded and happy to make breakfast for my son, who hardly ever touches it, then joke quietly, scruff his hair and send him off to school. I want to say the same thing I have said as he leaves every day since preschool (and his three brothers before him). "Remember, no matter what happens out there, you are loved." He waves me off, smiling at the silly ritual that he is too old for on this day his mother changes forever.

After that day, I was in rehab most of the rest of his high school in another city. His father swung from being angry to coldly withdrawn in response to my traumatic brain injury (TBI), seizure disorder, and chronic pain from my injuries. Rubble continued to rise under the truck long after that Indian summer evening. The debris eventually included my clinical practice as a Ph.D. family therapist, my life's work treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients and their families, a center I founded and directed, my university teaching, and the necessary, but wrenching dissolution of my 33-year marriage.
Think non-TBI'd family relationships are harrowing? Wait till you read the rest of L'Heureux's story.

Note, though, that the piece is not unrelievedly grim. L'Heureux concludes with some helpful tips, among them these:
If You Have a TBI and Your Marriage Is in Trouble:
  • Find a therapist -- it's okay if it takes several tries before you find a fit.
  • In the first 24 months post-injury, advocating for yourself in your marriage, or even using sessions well in therapy, is difficult. You will have problems processing and retrieving information, assessing your own experience, using judgment and finding energy. If your spouse is angry, and the therapist does not monitor the stimulation in the room, you can be "cooked" easily. The most important thing is to ask for help from others. Ask for help in all tasks. Things will get better.
  • Many changes happen in the first two years after the injury and sometimes after that. Don't try to judge how things will be in your marriage by how things are now. Your brain is still healing (and body, if physical injuries are present). You may not be stable on medications due to the changes. If you have PTSD symptoms, get help. It is highly treatable. Look up EMDR [certified clinicians] on the web. Ask if they work in stages, starting with grounding and stabilization.
  • If you are working with a couples' therapist who has no brain injury experience and your therapy is not progressing, call your state brain injury association for mental health providers who work with brain-injured patients.
  • When you call, ask the therapist to send intake forms before the visit. Write things down between sessions as you think of them. Speak up as soon as you get lost in the processing part of couples' sessions -- it's too important. If you need a short break, that's okay, too.

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Comments:
EXCELLENT post... Thank You!
I am referring folks to your page to read it...
 
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