Guest post: Michelle Munt’s Journey with TBI

Recently, after reading many of her articles, I contacted Michelle telling her how much I’d appreciated her blog and all she does to help the TBI community and me personally. Her response was,

“Let’s do guest posts for each other sometime.” I was so surprised and honored knowing how busy she stays with her blog, Facebook group, and helping many others with TBI. Her blog has been chosen one of the top 15 websites this year!

I’m thrilled God’s given us this opportunity to share our stories together. Here’s her journey;

Picture of Writer Michelle Munt

Michelle Munt <michelle@jumbledbrain.com>

My brain injury was difficult to detect on regular MRI scanners. It wasn’t until a year after my accident I was sent to Harley Street to have the latest version which is a T3. It gives a much higher resolution and therefore more detail. They were then able to diagnose a diffuse axonal brain injury. Essentially that is where a number of pathways in the brain have been disrupted. The signals are either lost or they must find a longer alternative route. These can be seen in road traffic accident causalities, such as my case, due to the rotational forces in a shunt or spin.

I did have a large cut on my head which required 9 or 10 stitches. But as much as that hurt, it probably wasn’t connected directly with my brain injury. If you know someone or you yourself have recently been in a road traffic accident please don’t read this thinking they/you must have a diffuse axonal brain injury. It by no means happens to everyone. Whilst everyday unfortunately accidents do happen on the road, thankfully many of them do not have the conditions which result in this type of injury.

If you have heard of this injury before it may be from Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond. He crashed a jet powered vehicle while filming for the show in September 2006. He was in a coma for 2 weeks but he did manage to return to work. Although no two patients have the same injuries or symptoms, he did go on to mention some difficulties which reflected my experiences.

“It was a lot to deal with. I had a pretty tricky few years. The knock-on effects of the injury meant I was susceptible to depression, obsession, compulsion and paranoia, although I wasn’t aware of that at the time. It gave me an unnatural platform from which to observe my own mental state, which was exhausting. For a time I lost the ability to connect emotionally. I began picking away at my own personality and that was dizzying.” Richard Hammond

I found shopping in supermarkets a massive challenge. My anxiousness about “was I in the way of someone else” verged on paranoia. When I side stepped for them, they would continue to inch towards me whilst engrossed in what they were looking for. Feeling chased and harassed I would start taking fast shallow breaths and looking for an escape. Of course this is unreasonable as it is natural for fellow shoppers to browse the shelves. There will be times that you happen to be standing right by an area they want to investigate.

Being hard on myself.

The more I thought about anything I found a way to blame myself for it. I managed to berate myself so much decisions were almost impossible. If my partner asked where I would like to go for dinner I was too frightened to even try to suggest anything. I was worried that once there his meal wasn’t as good as he wanted. I would see that I’d made a bad choice which had impacted him and I couldn’t cope with that. This was unfair and unfounded as James is easy going and rarely complains, it was tiresome for him. I was unwittingly making him responsible for my entertainment and almost my whole life.

Richard Hammond went on to talk about how he needed to know if the accident was his fault and I was the same. As the last thing I remember was from the night before I was worried I’d done something wrong. I clearly remember leaving a restaurant near my work as the Managing Directors had bought the team dinner. It was a pleasant evening. I walked with the MD’s back to the company Smart car and set off home. I don’t remember the journey and even getting home that night. The following morning on my way to work was when the accident happened.

In most cases when a vehicle is rear ended by a following vehicle it is usually seen as the driver in the following vehicle being at fault.

The Highway Code (para. 126), in relation to Stopping Distances, recommends that “you should drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops.”

However that didn’t stop me from trying to find a way to blame myself. Even when a police officer visited me at home to return my handbag and give me the results of their investigation. He explained that there was no evidence that I had done anything wrong. They wouldn’t be prosecuting the other driver as they had found the dead Buzzard at the scene. Therefore they felt it really was just an unfortunate cause of wrong place, wrong time for both of us. But I found myself questioning had I just overtaken the truck and pulled in front of him, slowing suddenly when I realised the traffic ahead was stopped. There were no witnesses who saw the moments before the accident. The truck driver had not indicated that I had in any way caused the accident so this was nonsense. It was just me tearing myself apart.

The hardest part about trying to recover from a brain injury is when you start to notice what’s wrong. To begin with I knew my memory and language skills were affected as was my walking. Part of my spine compressed and damaged some nerves affecting the strength and balance on my left.

But it wasn’t until I got back some self awareness that I was able to reflect on some situations and see how my behaviour wasn’t normal.

Often those with brain injuries can have so many different things they are trying to cope with. They can over look some symptoms which you would think should be glaringly obvious. Months after the accident I started to complain of either double vision or what I named “one and a bit”. I can only describe this as the two images from the eyes not lining up properly and having an overlap. I might have had this immediately after the accident. But its possible that as there were so many things my brain and body were trying to deal with I just didn’t bother to take any notice. Brains that have been injured are having to work so much harder than before. To do the simplest task they will prioritise what to worry about next. And the order of priority doesn’t always make sense.

I was someone I didn’t like very much.

Even now I have days when I will reflect on something I did the day before. I regret it because it wasn’t normal for me. This can be something as simple as my response to a recruitment agent sending me an email. One agent had copied and pasted to everyone they could find on LinkedIn. The email was about how they can send “my company” some CV’s. I angrily fired off a reply. Not even bothering to address them, pointing out that my profile clearly shows my last employment has ended. Therefore I’m not connected to a company needing staff.

This was both unnecessary and unprofessional. As a former recruitment agent myself this person was clearly demonstrating why recruitment agents have a bad name. But all it achieved was to make me look like a nasty moody cow. I usually would have just ignored it. Believing that they only want replies from those who are interested in their services. Thinking they won’t even remember contacting half the people as it would have been so many.

But I see this blog as a part of me accepting what happened and what I’ve got now. I hope that as I continue to learn I can try to help others and their loved ones as they go through their own journey. Actually I want to let you all witness in real time what the next chapter holds for me. I don’t want to just talk about the injury and be all woe is me, I want to push forward. I’m going to share with you things I’m interested in. I hope that as I achieve things, no matter how small, I might inspire someone else.

My journey begins with Starting recovery.

http://www.jumbledbrain.com

A Time To Heal

About one year ago, I went to an eye specialist because of the extreme light sensitivity and pressure in my eyes. After examining my eyes and conducting numerous tests he concluded they were healthy but I was in need of special lenses for the glare and light sensitivities. He also told me from his experience with brain injury that it would take a “long time” for my brain to heal. He said this with big eyes to add emphasis to his words.

I could only think at that moment, “I hope he’s wrong!” I didn’t get it. I didn’t want to get it.

Who has time to heal nowadays? I certainly don’t. There’s too much to do with four kids, a home to run, and every day life with all it’s constant demands. Having an impatient nature and a type A personality wasn’t helping matters either. Yet….

The brain heals slowly.

I’ve dedicated hours of researching and reading information about brain injury and the time required for it to heal. Most doctors say 12-24 months but did my brain get that memo? Some may take years upon years to heal like Jennifer Barrick who is still healing 10 years after her horrible car wreck. She has made huge progress but still requires lots of TLC and therapy for her injury. Also, Michelle Munt from the UK who is still healing three years after her accident that required airlifting to the Royal London Hospital in England, with a serious injury most people don’t recover from. She still suffers from many symptoms daily.

No two brain injuries are like. Because of the complexity of the human brain and the fine tuning required for the neurons to heal, some will heal faster than others.

It’s seems to me in our fast paced society that we AREN’T accustomed to allowing our bodies time to heal. We want bandaids and quick shots of this or that.

The beauty of God’s word says there is a season and a TIME for every purpose under the sun….later it says A Time To Heal. God wants us to know that He has created us fearfully and wonderfully in His own image. We are His works of art, and His masterpiece. Our bodies are beautifully designed to heal. Healing is a gift to us. God says in His word, there IS a time to heal. Sadly, we don’t want to take the time to heal because we don’t want healing to take time.

Some brain inuries may take decades to heal or even a lifetime. Some may only heal to a point.

I struggle with thoughts like, “Am I going to heal? Will I be back to my old self again? I will never be the same.”

I have to give it over to God constantly. It’s too hard to try to glimpse into my perceived scenarios of the future. I must take one day at a time. When I give my worries over to the Lord, it gives me a sense of peace. I can envision a cardboard sign with each and every fear I feel written on it, sitting at the foot of the cross where Jesus calls me to cast my burdens.

Trusting in God’s perfect timing is my hope.

Psalm 31:15 says; My times are in thy hand..

That verse is so freeing to me because my healing and the time my body needs to heal aren’t up to me, but to God. There are plenty of things I can do to enhance my healing but really, it’s in His hands. He wants me to work at eating right, rest, get loads of sunshine, take my supplements, keep my appointments, etc. But actually, He is the one blessing those means which my body is using to recover. He wants me to trust Him and rest in His perfect timing for my brain to heal.

Will my family and friends be around after I’m healed? Some will. Some have already drifted away. Yet Jesus will be here because He will stay by my side during the process and be faithful to complete in me the good work He’s already begun. I’m trusting as far as timing goes that my times and healing are all in His magnificent and wonderful hands.

Brain Injury and Social Life: Isolation Hurts

I know a beautiful, amazing disabled woman who has been home bound now for a year. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant and suffers from severe pain, chronic fatigue, and legs that don’t work. Her wheelchair is old and tattered but her spirits are up despite the life of isolation her disability brings. Friends flock to her for fellowship constantly and her life is full to the brim of visits, phone calls and constant interaction, yet she can’t leave her home.

I know another equally beautiful woman whose story goes the same in numerous ways yet varies immensely. Her disability is a severe neurological disease that gives her constant seizures, migraines and nervous system dysfunction. On top of that, she suffers from numerous stomach and kidney problems that keep her in horrific pain every day. Lights from the computer screen worsen her seizures greatly so she is cut off from all social media, her main channel of socialization these days. She can’t get out much at all anymore and only sees her husband and dog daily because visits or phone calls literally hurt her head. She knows isolation.

Since healing from a brain injury has cut me off from most of the world, I can now relate to those powerful woman who have touched my life.

My eyes hurt if I’m on my phone or tablet too much. The blue light makes my brain and head hot or feel intense pressure. Phone calls are difficult because my head can not tolerate the noise and if I don’t keep conversations brief, I go into nervous system overload. Church is the hardest. There are so many conversations and they are all simultaneous. The hum of voices plus people engaging me in conversations make it difficult to think. Then, if someone’s talking to me, and someone else comes along and joins in, I get dizzy and tongue tied. I begin to stutter and an alarm goes off in my head that says its time to shut up. It’s hard to be normal when my brain is acting like a sloth and can’t keep up. It’s embarrassing. Because of how hard it is to go to large social gatherings, I’m now tending to shy away from church, events, etc. and await for better days again. There will be better days ahead. Brain injury is isolating. Chronic illness is isolating. How do we cope?

I’m learning, by God’s grace, that He has given me a gift. The gift of alone time with Him. Would I have chosen this road of brain injury to achieve this gift? Probably not. No one wants a brain injury. I didn’t stand in line for it and I certainly never would. Yet, God is faithful. He cares more about my broken spirit than my broken head. I’m not saying He doesn’t care about my injury, He certainly does. What I’m saying is that He cares more about using the horrific things in my life to achieve what He sees as for my ultimate good and for the good of others. He turns a bad event like a car accident causing brain damage into something beautiful like a mother who lives more for God and less for herself and has a strong desire to share Jesus with others. Romans 8:28 says that all things will work together for good to those who love God. Does this mean all our problems will go away and life will only be rainbows and sunshine? No. It means that ultimately, God will work every event out in our lives for some spiritual good in our life or maybe in someone else’s life. His thoughts and our thoughts about life are very different. We can’t see the big picture here but He does and has promised to those who love Him, that all things, even a head injury, will someday be a good thing because we will see that He is good. Someday He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and all this sad business of sickness, injury and pain will vanish into a far and distant memory.

Back to the two women I mentioned before. The first is my beautiful mom, my best friend. The second is my mentor, a pastor’s wife and someone I care about greatly. These two women’s lives have touched others by their love for Jesus, even in their sufferings, even in their isolation. God is working out something enormously beautiful despite the pain. My prayer is that this post offers hope to the isolated one. God sees you, and He cares. You are never ever alone.