Jon Johnston

Brain Injury Awareness – Symptoms And Painful Explanations Part Two

Brain Injury Symptoms

This is the second of a two-part post on Brain Injury Awareness – Symptoms And Painful Explanations. Part one is here.

We continue on discussing a list of issues from a graphic I found on twitter. You can find anything on twitter, but this one seemed particularly suited to a brain injury awareness discussion.
We continue at #6, Aphasia.


The formal definition of “aphasia” is as follows:
loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage.
A Disney princess (or not, but it certainly sounds like Aphasia could be one)

I have never been told I have aphasia. I wasn’t familiar with the term, so I read about it and watched some Youtube videos to get an idea of what it’s like. I’ve come to the conclusion that those diagnosed with aphasia have more acute problems with speech and communications than I do, so I’m not going to label myself with this malady.
I have problems with speech and communication but my problems are not as severe as the examples I’ve seen on Youtube. My problems are sporadic and typically occur when I am mentally fatigued.
This leads to the question – what problems do I have when it comes to communication?

Sometimes when I’m writing I cannot recall the definition or meaning of a commonly used word. I look the word up on the internet, and even then it will be as if I’ve never heard of it. I’ll skip the word and use something else. Later, I’ll come back to my writing, look at it, and think, “Why didn’t I just use (commonly used word I had forgotten) in this sentence”, then add it in, forgetting about forgetting about it in the first place. It’s like forgetception. Remember, the movie Inception? A dream within a dream? Forgetception?

Terrible joke, right?

Let’s move on.

My problems with language happen frequently during speech.
When we talk, we form sentences in our mind. They’re fully constructed, unless we’re blurting, then out of the mouth they go. In my case, they go out the mouth, then the glitch occurs and one word disappears, rendering the sentence I was about to spew unintelligible. Sometimes the words in the sentence I am speaking come out in the wrong order. Sometimes the consonants are in the wrong order.
I have had this problem most of my life, at one point saying the word “Kotex” instead of “co-tangent” in front of my math class in high school. Another famous blather – screaming “incompete plass” in a bar while watching college football. On time it took me 15 minutes to correctly say “Arnold Palmer” while my national speech champion roommate insisted I repeat it until I got it right.
The problem is much worse now that I have the brain injury. You might have recognized my speech issues while listening to one of my podcasts or watching a Youtube video. Those are only minor flubs. The ones in which I utter entirely unintelligible sounds that may be words but aren’t are typically edited out.

Not being able to handle overstimulation

I would prefer the world “distraction” here in place of “overstimulation”, although perhaps I am nit-picking.
This problem fits in with the neuro-fatigue issue, but deserves its own section because it needs its own understanding.
Basically, overstimulation causes fatigue. In my case, it also causes severe headaches. I’ll give you a couple examples.
One of my favorite things to do is shooting collegiate sports events. I get credentialed as a photographer for my website, I love college sports. I love being a part of them even more. There’s nothing like being court side during a basketball or Big Ten volleyball game, on the sideline at a football game. The action is amazing. The athletes are amazing. When it comes to college football, there is so much happening on the sidelines it’s incredible games go on without more hitches than they have.

You can easily get run over if you’re not paying attention during football games by players running out of bounds. You can get blasted by a volleyball, and those young women hit hard. I’ve stood next to plenty of photographers who wear helmets while shooting baseball because a hard-hit foul ball can kill a person. You damned well better being paying attention or you’re going to get injured.
I leave nearly every sporting event exhausted and with a severe head ache. It’s because of the overstimulation. I don’t notice it during the event because there is so much happening I don’t have time to focus on myself. It’s probably why I love the events so much – I don’t think about “me” at all. All my aches and pains go away for a brief moment in time.
I feel the same way when I am talking on the phone and someone is making noise in the background. It doesn’t take long for me to develop a headache because of the distraction. I get fatigued very quickly. I hate being on the phone unless I’m in an environment where I can concentrate. Zoom meetings aren’t as bad because I can concentrate on faces along with the audio. They’re still very tiring, unfortunately. (That’s been my experience during this pandemic.)
Overstimulation is exhausting. When I get exhausted, you I short-tempered. I bite at people. I am abrupt and rude to them on the phone. They don’t understand and get upset with me.
That is why it’s important you understand this issue.

Anxiety about the slightest things and depression

We’re going to lump these two things together. Human beings experience anxiety and depression even if they don’t have a brain injury. The brain injury just make these things worse. Then there’s the crippling self-doubt. I will cover that in another article.
I am rare in that my anxiety and depression are less than before my heart attack. I used to have moments of despair that were suicidal. I no longer sink into darkness that far. I am lucky. I believe also that I’m not indicative of what happens to most people after a heart attack/brain injury.
I have talked with others who have suffered heart attacks, strokes, and TBIs. Nearly all of them suffer more than I do in this category. (BTW, if you’re reading this and have a TBI, I would like to hear from you.)
Many heart attack survivors worry that it will happen again. I am lucky (perspective) in a way that I don’t remember anything that happened to me. Others recall amazing amounts of pain and the dread that they were in life’s last moment. Any type of flutter in their hearts can set off anxiety, which leads to depression. The same is true for TBI survivors, who are constantly reminded of their incidents because of the deficits they experience from their own brains. It’s constant. It can be hell.
Anxiety and depression in any form can be crippling. Most HA/TBI victims probably won’t tell you about it.

Chronic pain

I wake up every single day with a headache. The severity differs from day to day. Some mornings it is a “2”. Some it is an “8”. (If you’ve been in the hospital or ER, certainly a nurse has asked you to rate your pain from 1-10, right?)
It’s five and a half years after my heart attack and I have yet to discover what causes the days I wake up in severe pain. The only consistent trait I’ve found is that if I don’t get a good nights sleep I will most certainly wake up with a more severe headache. This is because our brains need rest. They need to clean themselves and replenish. I’m not making that up. My speech language pathologist told me that sleep is when the brain “gets rid of the tangles”. Apparently it’s true. Don’t believe it?

Here’s some articles:

How Sleep Clears the Brain
Scientists Now Know How Sleep Cleans Toxins From the Brain

I hope these articles have introduced you to what it’s like to have a brain injury. More will be coming soon.