Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven
Three weeks later, Enzo was diagnosed with ADD, and my immersion into this new world began. I began recognizing the tell-tale patterns of ADHD in my own psyche that had been there all along. At the time, however, they were confuddled with the symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS) that I was experiencing.
PCS is a lingering condition that arises when a concussion doesn’t heal. At the time of the accident, I had been in the final throes of polishing the manuscript of The Bullying Antidote and going a mile-a-minute preparing for the next project, trying to figure out the bad report cards, and grieving from the sudden death of a dear auntie. Rest, schmest. The stress of life didn’t stop — bills to pay, food to make — but I could no longer stay in control of my time. I would have a few good days a week and then the wheels would fall off. I struggled to keep teaching my Zumba classes; exercise keeps me focused and productive like nothing else.
Symptoms of PCS include attention deficit, impulsivity, irritability, a low frustration threshold, mood swings, memory problems, impaired planning, communication difficulties, socially inappropriate behaviors, self-centeredness, and a lack of insight, concrete thinking, and poor self-awareness. (Sound familiar?) Another thing that happens with a concussion is your blood pressure can go haywire, since an injured brain can’t regulate things as well. When I realized exercise was bringing on symptoms, I had to give up my daily sweat.
With the dull ache in my head, all of my other stabilizing structures became more difficult, too:Meditation would just put me to sleep; I couldn’t remember to take my herbs and vitamins; and I didn’t have the energy for my organizing routines. With caffeine off-limits, I couldn’t reach for a cup of focus.
Episodes of inattention began to mess up my life in big ways — like the time I didn’t go through all the steps properly when moving into my new computer, and lost my data when the robbers (yes, there was a break-in, too) dropped it on the way out.
Suddenly, my life was capital-D Disordered, and I could see how inherently un-regulated I was without my usual structures. I realized I had been living (somewhat successfully) with undiagnosed ADD all my life...but I couldn’t get the help I needed until my head had fully healed. Every medical professional I approached diagnosed me with capital-A Anxiety, which I most certainly was suffering, due to the not-raining-but-pouring challenges in my life.
Now that it’s all behind me (PCS sufferers, have hope!) I see what a valuable experience I had. I have so much more understanding and compassion for head injury now. The hardest part about a brain injury is that you can’t put your head in a cast, so people can’t see that you’re injured. Like mental illness, it’s “all in your head.” You can’t function like a normal human being, and you feel invisible and misunderstood.
I ended up doing eight months of counseling about feeling invisible and misunderstood. It was good to have somewhere to go and cry once a week, but my therapist could not really see or understand the ADHD connection beyond the trauma in my addled brain.