My Latent Self Anne Ricketts

My Latent Self

Recovering My Soul After Brain Injury
Recovering My Soul After Brain Injury


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We can all recognise procrastination when we see it. We can identify with it when we see it in others because we are able to appreciate that we can also pull the reins when it comes to making decisions. Sometimes we defer even our initial assessment of a situation in favour of another priority, and sometimes we hold back because we are delaying making a choice to see what happens next.

Now and then fear halts us in our tracks; we are anxious and worried that we will make a wrong choice, and we are afraid that we will be led into more trouble, that the position we are currently in will become worse. Occasionally we tell ourselves that we are listening to our gut instinct, and will use this as justification for putting things off.

It is said that life works in spirals, in circles, so somewhere deep inside we will often understand that suspending a decision, is possibly only ever going to be a way in which we can buy some time and put off what we often see as the inevitable. We do this whilst we think, ponder, and muse over our conundrum. We all know that sooner or later something must be done.

Watching procrastination in others can be frustrating, especially when whatever choice they make will also affect us in some way. An example of this would be that your mother usually cooks the Christmas dinner. This year you have offered to do it with the best intentions of giving her a day off with her grandchildren. She is procrastinating and hasn’t come back to you with a decision and so, the nearer it comes to Christmas, the more frustrated you become. You can be frustrated with yourself at the same time as being frustrated with your mother, and all the time you don’t know what is going to happen, is all the time you can’t make a clear plan in your head. It seems that everything else is going awry because you feel you can’t make other plans until this one piece of the puzzle is slotted into place.

Just thinking about procrastination sparks awareness of the fallout it can create – chaos in the madness!

When someone you love is living with a brain injury it can often seem as though they are commonly putting things off. They won’t tell you if they want their lunch, or what they want, or even if they are hungry. They won’t tell you if they would like to go to the shops, or if they would like a friend to come around for a visit. They won’t give you an answer when you ask if they would like to go and see a movie. You get the picture!

Living on the inside of a brain injury is just about as alien to the norm as you can get. People are often aware that their brain works differently, but they generally have no idea how, and often have no idea why. Behaviours change because the physical tool that drove them is broken. The thing is that a dead brain cell is a dead brain cell. A severed neural network is a severed neural network. All people with a brain injury can do is to start rebuilding from scratch in the areas affected.

What we can view or judge as being procrastination in someone living with a TBI can often be so incredibly far from the truth that it is impossible for an uninjured person to work what this truth is, or to work out what is really going on. There was a scene in Star Trek where Spok is discussing a recent death experience with Dr McCoy. I can’t recall exactly how it was worded but Spok was telling McCoy that it was impossible for him to explain his experience to someone who had not experienced it for themselves. This is just what it is like to live with a brain injury; it is as though an entirely new vocabulary needs to be invented to describe the inner world injured people are now living in.

For example, when someone with a brain injury says that they are overwhelmed they are not describing the same experience of being overwhelmed as an uninjured person would have. It is vastly different – so much so that it really does need a new or better word to describe it. ‘Overwhelmed’ is simply the best option we have, but it doesn’t by any means insinuate that it is an accurate option.

One of the major frustrations the people living closely with an injured person have is that it often feels as though they too have been shipwrecked by events. They feel out-of-sorts and confused because everything they have ever known to be true about their perspective, gets thrown in a blender and whizzed without mercy. You end up feeling as though you can no longer trust your own judgements, and as though you can no longer rely upon all the experiences life has shown you so far have always worked…

It is a mammoth task to gain any insight into this new world you have been thrust into. You ask the Doctors, you research on the internet, and you still can’t find a way of understanding. The fact is that even though the text books will describe outcomes of a brain injury, we are still back to the Dr Spok scenario – even for those who specialise in the neurological professions. There are a few who have managed to get a glimpse behind the iron curtain, but information that will truly help remains sketchy at best or, difficult to find.

We understand then how normal procrastination works. What we also understand is that it can be extremely difficult for us to really understand the language being used by our loved one with a brain injury. What we need to get to grips with is what is actually driving what looks like procrastination in someone with a brain injury.

Imagine for a moment all the skills you need to be able to make a decision. Problem-solving for example, requires that you can break down an issue into understandable parts, and that you can process each of these parts through your own arsenal of previous experiences to be able to best judge the safest route forwards. We are often juggling with multiple and complex issues – including how our decision will affect other people.

Now imagine that the part of your brain, the frontal lobes in this case, have been damaged and you can no longer break down a problem into its parts. For someone with a brain injury all they have looming in their perspective is a black hole. A simple question like, ‘do you want an ice cream?’ becomes unbelievably furred and fuzzed. If you no longer know who you are, can you even say if you like ice cream? What is worse is if you don’t know that you don’t know who you are, and then add to this that you have no memory of eating ice cream before. How do you make the decision? How can you even understand the question when you have no information available about ice cream in your memory banks? The brain will literally halt. Nothing happens. It is as hard for someone with a brain injury to understand this question, as it is for an atheist to believe in God.

There is no lack of willingness, no missing desire to please – these parts of your loved one will have remained intact because they are part of their genetic code. It can seem as though the personality has changed because the behaviour you are witnessing appears to be one of stubbornness or a disinclination to participate on a social level, and this is just not what they are like! It is confusing to watch because the observer is only able to use their own database of previous life experiences to draw judgement from. Sometimes, creeping around beneath the observers’ consciousness is an unread or hazy understanding that two and two are no longer making four, but, to remain sane yourself you have to choose an option – to trust what you have always known, or to use attitude to overcome the immediate situation. Without training and understanding why would it ever occur to the onlooker to say, ‘We are all having ice cream Fred. You have always liked ice cream, and your favourite flavour was strawberry. Shall I get you a strawberry ice cream?’ You won’t need to do this forever – eventually Fred will learn that he likes strawberry ice cream.

What looks like procrastination in this scenario where Fred didn’t respond to, ‘do you want an ice cream?’ is actually nothing of the sort. What is being witnessed are the very real cognitive disabilities caused by very real injury.

We are all reliant on our previous experiences to be able to make decisions. How we have created our own thoughts and beliefs about the unique way we understood a situation in the past is totally personal to us, and in turn, these histories that we keep create habits in our future thinking – the ‘blind driver’. All or ‘parts of’ these experiential memories can be wiped out after a trauma to the brain, but, regardless of this, some of the outside behaviour looks fine because the auto-pilot is still flying along without any accord that anything is different. It is this ‘blind driver’ of the ego which causes you believe that there is little wrong with your loved one, and so it becomes natural and easy to continue to rely on your own previous understandings. Very often it is only after some time has passed that not getting four from your two add two really rises to the surface, and it finally becomes blatantly obvious that things really aren’t adding up at all.

The fact is that there is an array of complex possibilities which could be singularly or variously causing difficulties for your loved one. Your choice of language stemming from your new understandings can make a huge difference to your relationship with your loved one following their TBI. In this you have a choice yourself, to grow and adapt and remain flexible, or to lose your loved one because the frustration has led to a point of no return…

Acceptance is key; when things change, when life changes, we do or die…

Anne E Ricketts





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