Posted on April 28, 2008 · Posted in Brain Injury

This week, we will focus on emotional issues after TBI.

I will begin with a contribution from an old TBI from entitled Hope For Anger by Stephanie St. Claire:

There is help and hope for out of control anger. I no longer put holes in doors trying to get through them to the person I am angry at, or kill animals in a rage. Rages used to flood me even when I was relaxed, comfortable, and walking down the hallway. Is this the type of out of control emotion you are talking about? (I hope your anger is MUCH less violent.)

What helped me was:

1. Tegretol. It took away the violence of the mood swings and gave me enough control to be able to get away and alone in a quiet place until the flood of anger passed, sometimes four or more hours later. When I made changes in my environment, lifestyle, and was able to become more conscious of my emotions as they began, I no longer needed to have Tegretol for emotional control. Some rages/anger are caused by temporal lobe seizures, which need a Doctor’s (as much as I despise them, present company excepted) care.

2. Stopped pushing myself so hard to be “normal.” I grieved deeply for the “self” I had lost and then could better accept where I was at. The result was when I was tired I rested and it was easier to do, and when I was overloaded I took time out and relaxed. My pace of life slowed down enough to accommodate my difficulties, which helped lessen the high stress I carried around inside, and helped my brain function better.

3. My senses are overwhelmed very easily so I now live in a rural area that is quiet. Overstimulation would (still does) overload me and increase the likelyhood that I would be enraged at little things. (Or cry at the drop of a hat, or laugh and not be able to stop.)

4. By paying attention to how tired, stressed, anxious, overactive, or overloaded I am I am better able to catch flashes of emotion before they flash and burn everyone in sight. Being aware of physical sensations that tell me when my brain isn’t functioning as well (such as headaches or nausea) helps too.

5. Feedback from others helped me know what I was feeling. If someone I could trust saw a strong emotion, or one quickly building, she or he would ask me if I was feeling “angry” or whatever emotion they saw. I could then check myself and began to understand that when my chest felt tight and I was energized that I was agitated. In time I began to be able to recognize it for myself, as it sounds like you are starting to.

6. When I was able to get out and interact with people it helped to limit my social contact to people who were generally positive and upbeat (no phony optimists) and who accepted me as a human being, not as a brain injury.

7. My underlying mental and emotional outlook is critical. After the TBI I no longer have the ability to keep on functioning, come what may. I look for things to laugh about, I look for and find love, and I live as relaxed and comfortable a life as I can. I haven’t been able to change the TBI, but I have found that it is in my power to chose how I am going to cope. Though there is very little I am able to do about what goes on in my external environment I have found that there IS something I can do about what goes on with my internal life. It has taken me years to learn that. Staying relaxed and laughing has helped a lot to enable me to regain control. It took me years of fighting, denying, angry at, and bargaining with this TBI for me to get to the place where I could accept it, even though it wasn’t in my game plan or something I ever wanted. When I got to where I could accept it then I was where I could better do something about it.

Some of these things don’t seem to be related to not having belches of anger and they aren’t directly related, but they do have a behind the scenes effect of calming the brain down.

After time, and these things I’ve listed, I am able to be aware when my irritability makes its appearance. I then check myself, usually I am tired and I need time out. I no longer put off taking that time out and resting my brain. Feedback from others is still helpful, but it is rare these days that I don’t see it for myself and can take action. There are occassional flare-ups of irritability that tell me I still need to take precautions but I have regained emotional control and I haven’t had a flash of rage in many years. If your anger doesn’t become rage, like I was being flooded with, you might find that your emotions become better settled down and predictable more quickly than mine.

It may take time, and more patience than you knew you had, but it is possible, I believe, that your anger will be under your control again. It might take working through your emotions about having a head injury to help you regain mastery of those emotions that your brain creates against your will. If you can deal with the normal emotions then the TBI ones are easier because then there is less emotional baggage to cope with. At least I have found that to be the case. Staying away from angry, agressive people, or people that trigger emotion is a good idea too, at least until you can get a good handle on your own.

I related very strongly to what you wrote. I hope my experience with working through this and coming out on the other side helps you. Yes, it is possible to get through this and make it better. And yes, there ARE people who relate to what you are experiencing!

Better days ahead,
Stephanie, TBI Survivor

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447