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Negotiating The Foggy Intersection Between Between Traumatic Brain Injuries And Mental Illness

NEGOTIATING THE...Maddening Frenetic Malaise.      

                                                                                                               © 2016

For almost 30 years I unknowingly labored under the effects of traumatic brain injuries; documented, undocumented, and some, only uncovered decades later after suffering yet another traumatic brain injury (TBI).  Even after waking from a brief coma and being given CT scan images of pre-existing brain damage, my wife and I remained ill-informed about my injuries, uneducated about the severity and recovery, and left unknowingly to travel along the very same, progressively worsening path that would have me twice involuntarily hospitalized several years after my 4th TBI. 

Each of my brain injuries is considered medically mild to moderate, but the consequences have been anything but moderate, exacerbated by each additional trauma.  To this extent, my recovery did not begin until I found several thousand individuals with similar injuries from all walks of life, including medical doctors, located within private Facebook Groups. Only then, through reading, responding, posting, and sharing experiences and symptoms with survivors of trauma, stroke, tumor, drowning, etcetera, did I truly start to understand that the injuries manifested in my head were anything but invisible or character flaws.

Brain injuries can cause mental illnesses, most commonly severe depression. However, under no circumstances is that fate a forgone conclusion, nor is there a conclusive list of mental illnesses that brain injuries can cause.

It is imperative to understand that the majority of the approximately 1.4 million Americans that annually experience a traumatic brain injury, will recover and resume their normal lives. Nonetheless, approximately 20 % or 275,000 of those annually injured will find themselves at a foggy intersection, with or without mental illness. For these millions of individuals amassed over the years, the symptoms are bewildering, destructive to their own lives as well as marriages and family, and provide a never-ending patient pool that is poorly understood and often misdiagnosed by the medical and psychological professions. 

It is critical that we as parents, survivors and caregivers understand that brain injuries impact millions more than our professional football players, whose stories now grace the silver screen.  More newsworthy, traumatic brain injuries are not restricted to a singular sport or level of achievement.  Rather, they are an integral part of being human and can be caused by falling off a roof, motor vehicle accidents, domestic violence, playing soccer, slipping on ice, cheerleading, drunk driving, riding a bicycle, skiing, etc..

Moreover, brain injuries are not restricted to the 1.4 million who annually suffer trauma.   Every year within our borders, an additional 1 million individuals suffer an acquired brain injury (ABI), causing many of the same symptoms. These result from brain tumors, strokes, drownings, aneurysms, smoke inhalation, meningitis, seizure disorder, and so forth.

Our children, our families, and each of us need to understand that brain injuries do not occur in vacuums nor are they mutually exclusive from all of life’s other injuries and ailments, including mental illness.  Thus, it may be impossible to clear the fog from the intersection, leaving many unable to determine if mental illness preceded a brain injury or if brain injury brought about a mental illness, such as Bi-Polar Disorder.

Survivors of any brain injury, along with their doctors, are, thus, often left treating a myriad of symptoms most of which exist silently within a person’s brain, yet govern all their emotions, pain, behavior, judgment – all that encompasses the human experience. However, we can do much better by encouraging collaboration, communication, and the exchange of information between the numerous medical sub-specialties and various psychological camps.  Furthermore, I implore the medical profession to provide better written information about what a brain injury encompasses, including how to best maximize short and long-term recovery and what future warning signs a survivor, and especially their family, should be aware of.

Last, an injured brain may result in a diseased brain.  However, I refuse to accept that my injured brain cannot be successfully treated. Even when utterly hopeless and consumed by desperation, hope remains, if only we commit to steadfastly searching.  In addition to the kindness and compassion of my family and friends; much of the hope that I desperately cling to came from complete strangers living with brain injuries and/or mental illness, most of whom I met online.


Resources Used:, the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI),  TBI Hope and Inspiration,,   BP Magazine, ADDitude magazine, Centers for Disease Control (CDC); and my deepest gratitude to authors Gae Polisner for her editing prowess and kindness, and David and Sarah Grant.