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Anger, the dark side of a brain injury

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

We’ve got 3 young active boys so tantrums are far from being unheard of in our household. As a parent, you learn to deal with those oh so wonderful crisis and find strategies that work for each child. To add to the mix, what works best for one may not work for the other one therefore you need to figure out which approach is likely to produce the best outcome...peace in the household! Adults can also have mini tantrums from time to time, but I never thought that i’d be one of those parents that could turn into our favourite green guy aka ‘The Hulk’. Lots of my key personality traits have changed following encephalitis “e” and the resulting brain injury that came with the encephalitis survivor title. Getting used to a brand new personality doesn’t happen overnight and it is still very challenging. After all, we humans are creatures of habit and having a virus scramble your brain and rewire your brain with things that have never been your “go to” definitely takes some getting used to. Following a brain injury, your physical emotional control center may have been affected or you may simply be struggling to come to terms with all the changes that have taken place in your life. Consequently, anger is often classified as a common emotional response that can be directly or indirectly related to the brain injury. Brain injury and angry outbursts I’d love to be able to say that I’m still a composed person, that I can still step back to ensure a situation is handled in the best way possible, but the reality is that post “e” I’ve found that at the drop of the hat and sometimes for no particular reason, anything and everything can fire me up. Like next level short wick, like going from 0 to 100 on the anger scale in a split second. I don’t like it, I can sometimes feel it coming but it’s like if all control is lost and then the adult tantrum (more like adult tantrum on steroids) emerges...just like The Hulk really. Contributing factors I know that the main contributing factor for me losing my shit (excuse my French) and me turning into The Hulk is fatigue. Fatigue seems to reduce my tolerance level, to diminish my level of patience and to alter considerably my behaviour in lots of weird and not so wonderful ways. Other contributing factors apart from fatigue can include overstimulation, stress/frustration, loud noise, trying to operate at a level that your brain can no longer achieve, anxiety and cognitive fatigue or distress. Once the brain stops being able to process and/or cope with what is put its way, it feels like if it reverts back to its most primal state...taking my usual good thinking skills completely out of the equation. It is scary honestly, particularly because I’ve always been someone who could, for the most part, keep my emotions in check. Managing anger post brain injury So how do I try to keep my inner Hulk at bay? In my case, I find that I am generally able to recognise and acknowledge that anger is about to take over. This alarm bell is the first sign that allows me to try to step back or remove myself from a situation altogether. Taking a few deep breaths, distracting myself with something else, voicing to others that my tolerance is reaching its limit or that I’m currently working really hard to channel my inner Dr Banner to avoid having the green guy take over is sometimes enough to help diffuse the anger. Sometimes this won’t be enough, so I may have to simply walk away, give myself my own time out, meditate or even send myself to bed in order for the brain to recharge. I found that giving the brain a good break works a charm every time and is by far the best way to diffuse the anger bomb for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, depending on the situation I find myself in, allowing the brain a good rest isn’t always at times, in spite of my best efforts, all my anger coping strategies will fail. I truly hate when The Hulk comes out. It makes me feel like I’m first and foremost failing the people that I love dearly and I’m disappointed for having lost all control over my good thinking process...I’m an adult, I know that adult tantrums are counter productive on all levels.

Why can’t I act on my anger and stop myself from Iosing it? I fundamentally know the reasons why but somehow I find myself being a spectator in all this watching all the safety barriers fall one by one.

I feel stink, I am ashamed of my behaviour, I am highly disappointed in myself, I deeply hate my new acquired brain and I feel extremely guilty. All those emotions and feeling further deplete my brain of energy but from this point on, all I can do is work on turning the situation around and developing other strategies to avoid this situation from occurring again. Most sincere apologies, spending time discussing how best to handle xyz situations going forward, identifying the triggers and putting the emphasis on open dialogue about how my adult tantrum affects everyone's own feelings is quite helpful and healing.

Where to next? Since the acute phase of the brain infection, I have learnt lots from my inner Hulk. He also has a kind side...he really does. I’m not just saying that because I feel like I have to justify his occasional appearance, he’s truly been kind enough to teach me a lot.

All of us have made mistakes or taken the wrong decisions at one point or another, all of us have let some situations escalate past a point that we consider reasonable, but acknowledging these things and being willing to work hard on implementing the right strategies also takes a lot of courage. It takes courage to admit that you were wrong, to face the music and implement changes. Therefore, I like to think that just like in the Avengers movies, Hulk has his place and can be an important member of a kick arse team. With some guidance from his teammates, he too has learnt his strengths and weaknesses and learnt to make the most of them.

I’m lucky to have a great team on board to support me at every stage of my ongoing recovery and we too have made great progress in dealing with anger post “e” and ABI. Boundaries in regards to anger are still much narrower than the Véro before “e” and ABI but I thankfully have got much better at handling and managing them. It’s a team effort as I sometimes need someone to flag the changes in behavior. There is still room for improvement but I’m confident that alongside my own superhero team that things will keep getting better and better. That all the strings that we have added to our bow will pay off in one way or another.

This site is also pretty good at explaining the link between anger and brain injury

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