Surviving Moods and Roadblocks!

Introduction

​As an 18-year survivor of traumatic brain injury, I’ve learned to deal with things that cause frustrations or mood swings during my brain injury experience. I know that I havebeen in a hyper-moody space where I may have a weird outburst or become irritable.  I’ll also admit that I have responded to stressful situations a lot differently than I have previously!!  

​Sometimes my moods can begin to swing during the emotional pain of ‘not being heard.’  Don’t we all want to be heard?  The swing begins for me when my understandingemotion backfires.  How should you express emotions when frustrations are high?  This week, I will share encounters I have had that led to mood swings and frustrations.  I will also talk about my response to those things initially, along with methods to get past those times with grace.

​Statistics report it is hard to communicate with friends, family, or even strangers, after brain injury.  It’s also hard when you cannot explain pain points to your family and friends.  Whatdo you do when you are fighting for what you believe in while your emotions are elevated? How should you communicate so others hear and believe your pain?  I know it is hard, but it’s important to be calm and clearly communicate your feelings.  How can someone respond correctly when you are out of control and overreacting? 

​I don’t want to minimize mood changes because TBI doesnot take away the ability to have or express emotions, but all of our feelings should be heard and addressed.  Unfortunately, TBI has made me more sensitive, which can cause me to erupt when my feelings aren’t appropriately addressed.  Maybe I need to bebetter at getting people to understand me and my needs…

“Some people may experience emotions very quickly and intensely but with very little lasting effect. For example, they may get angry easily but get over it quickly. Or they may seem to be “on an emotional roller coaster” in which they are happy one moment, sad the next and then angry. This is called emotional lability.

​What should I do in these situations?  Do I keep quiet until I can speak to a trained counselor or doctor, hoping they can give me strategies to communicate better after my brain injury?  Do I start yelling and screaming until someone hears me out?  Or do I just go somewhere to be by myself and deal with my issues??

“What causes this problem?• Mood swings and emotional lability are often caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls emotions and behavior.• Often there is no specific event that triggers a sudden emotional response. This may be confusing for family members who may think they accidentally did something that upset the injured person.• In some cases the brain injury can cause sudden episodes of crying or laughing. These emotional expressions or outbursts may not have any relationship to the way the person feels (in other words, they may cry without feeling sad or laugh without feeling happy). In some cases the emotional expression may not match the situation (such as laughing at a sad story). Usually the person cannot control these expressions of emotion.

What can be done about it?• Fortunately, this situation often improves in the first few months after injury, and people often return to a more normal emotional balance and expression.• If you are having problems controlling your emotions, it is important to talk to a physician or psychologist to find out the cause and get help.• Counseling for the family can be reassuring and allow them to cope better on a daily basis.• Several medications may help improve or stabilize mood. • You should consult a physician familiar with the emotional problems caused by brain injury.

What family members and others can do:

• Remain calm if an emotional outburst occurs, and avoid reacting emotionally yourself.• Take the person to a quiet area to help him or her calm down and regain control.• Acknowledge feelings and give the person a chance to talk about feelings.• Provide feedback gently and supportively after the person gains control.• Gently redirect attention to a different topic or activity.”

​Frustrations can easily boil over if you let them.  They can also lead you to saying and doing things without thinking.  In my time of impulsivity, I was extra sensitive with anyone blocking my road to recovery.  However, I believe the bestrecovery is when you have supportive people in your corner!  They also need to understand that your ‘support system’ MAYhave to look the other way when I say or do something out of character.   

​While your support system may not understand yourmultiple moods, they must be understanding to them.   Here are some examples of my crazy moods and crazy responses to them:1. Crazy mood:  When I felt like my rights were being violated and I thought I was a ‘functioning adult’ who was not allowed to go places or do things I previously had.

​Crazy response: My response to this would cause me to pout, followed by retreating into ​​my room for the evening like I was given a timeout.2. Crazy mood: When I did not get my way, I would have a temper tantrum and I might say hurtful things to you about stopping my recovery.  

​Crazy response: I wouldn’t talk to you for a few hours, but time would pass, and I’d have to talk ​and be nice again, because I needed your help.  3. Crazy mood: If you promised to do something for me, and you did not follow through because life got in the way, I felt betrayed.  

​Crazy response: My response was based on the expectation that my injury was priority #1 for ​everyone who agreed to help me. To me, It was unthinkable to have an issue more important ​than mine!

​My walking road block lasted 6 months but included incremental stages before I walked independently.  Initially, I had to rely on others to push me in a wheelchair.  At this time of dependence, I did not want to yell and be mean to those who were helping me do the things I was not able to do on my own.  I tried to be gracious to everyone helping me during this time.  

​What about those who start to help you when you did not ask for it? Be gracious when you tell them ‘Thanks but no thanks’ and you’re trying to get in as much practice as possible on your own.  Here is my tip to non-survivors… When you see someone, who looks like they need help, please ask if they need your help first!  Even though we may look like we need help, some of us want to try it on our own first!

​My most challenging road block was going back to work after my injury.  At times, I personally felt I was discriminated against, as a disabled American when I did not get a job.  I especially felt this way if employers did not know me pre-injury.  I was disappointed when I applied and interviewed for positions where I knew I was qualified but passed over.  I did not understand.  Did I sound, look, or move differently?   I did not think so but, my anxiety would rise during phone interviews versus face-to-face interviews.  

Conclusion:

​I know that I have mood swings, but I also like to believe I am more in control now.  I still have my daily challenges controlling my emotions, and I also face my fair share of road blocks.  I have remembered to stay cool, communicate effectively, and give grace to anyone that helps me.  

​I hope my fellow survivors will continue to enjoy life and stay hopeful, despite the challenges thrown at us.  When challenges are thrown my way, I feel honored.  I believe God only gives us what He knows we can handle.  Jeremiah 29:11 says: “11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

“Emotional Problems After Traumatic Brain Injury | Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC).” Home | Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC), https://msktc.org/tbi/factsheets/emotional-problems-after-traumatic-brain-injury. Accessed 7 July 2021.

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