Decision Making Post Brain Injury
Updated: Jul 19, 2022
For each action there is a consequence. An action or decision can result in a positive outcome, a negative one or anywhere in between those two. Once you have been affected by a brain injury, you’d be surprised to find out the amount of planning and thinking that goes into making decisions. As I sit in from of my laptop thinking about life before encephalitis “e” and brain injury, the one thing that comes to mind after nursing over a week of debilitating headaches is how heavily potential negative outcomes have to be weighted and considered for the most simple decisions, for decisions that used to be simple no brainers. I miss the simplicity of that aspect of life before “e” so dearly.
Background story to the decision making part
Our adorable youngest son Sebastian had been talking about moto cross riding for probably a couple of years by the time we finally succumbed and decided to purchase him that kid’s “toy”. We took a while to make our minds up about this one. For a while, we thought it might be just a phase and we wondered how committed to this sport he would actually be. However, during those 2 years, Mr. Sebastian has never diverged from that idea of his, he was going to be a moto cross rider. He probably watched hundreds of tutorials online about “How to ride a moto cross bike” and he used his pedal bike to put all of those tips into practice. Bike rides were absolutely full of chatter about how he’ll be SO prepared for when he gets his own moto cross bike. He had proven to be pretty skilled on his pedal bike too…although too many scary stunts for a mom’s heart. He was even busy looking up New Zealand’s most popular auction website to get indicative pricing for us. It was actually pretty darn cute…how could we not give in into this passion of his? Eventually, we started doing our own research and finally found a moto cross bike for him. The deal was, we get the moto cross bike, but you have to save money to purchase the protective equipment gear. His paper run money and upcoming birthday came handy to help him achieve this.
The poor little dude only had a handful of opportunities to try his very own moto cross bike before COVID-19, isolation and a couple of months of restrictions set in beautiful Aotearoa. Fast forward through this period of time, you can only guess how eager he was to ride his moto cross bike once again. Luckily, the local moto cross track didn’t take too long to open after that so he finally got to try it “properly”…not just on the grassy bits. The confidence and pride that this young little fellow exudes in regards to his abilities to ride his moto cross bike are absolutely priceless and a tad funny to witness too. So he eventually had his first practice run on the local track and he decided to enter his first competitive moto cross race. Of course, we wouldn’t miss it either. Such excitement in his eyes, we all had to tag along, support him from the side line and cheer him on.
Now, keep in mind that for anyone recovering from a brain injury, loud noises and dirt bikes flying here, there and everywhere rhymes with absolute nightmare. Possibly one of the worst places to find yourself. But it was my baby’s first motor cross race so of course it was sort of a no brainer decision. I had to be there, I had to watch every moment of it. Over the last few years I had already been part of his journey by seeing him nurture this passion, witness his prowess on his pedal bike and heard so many stories about all the great things that he would do, that I think I grew just as passionate about moto cross as he did. Plus, I’ve always been somewhat of a daredevil myself so of course I’ll be his most fervent supporter…always.
No brainer decision = big consequences
That being said, I went into watching him compete with A LOT of strings attached. In order to limit the impact on the brain (noise, movement and crowd), I arrived 15 minutes before the competition started missing out on the building of his own excitement. Ear plugs were in from the get go, but even then, I quickly realized that it wouldn’t be enough and that my brain would drain out at lightning speed from having to process all that noise. My sunglasses were on the whole time in the hope that it would limit some of the visual stimulation…FYI, I’m not sure that it helped one bit. I avoided talking to anyone (apologies if I came across as rude). I wanted to keep the very few words I could string together for my little moto cross star. In between races, I’d try to remove myself as much as possible from the event, but even then, watching the third race was an absolute mammoth effort.
The atrocious headache had started taking over soon after the first race, so by the third one, NOTHING was registering anymore. On what was a nice sunny NZ winter day, my Weird Wonderful Brain found itself in a fog, another fog and more fog…apart from those 9 minutes races where I watched my little moto cross star.
Once he finished his last lap, I ran towards him, gave him a huge hug, somehow managed to mutter “so proud of you little dude” and headed home with no further ado. Once home, a gobbled the maximum dose of painkillers I could, shut all the curtains, ear plugs in once more and I was nowhere to be seen for 3 hours straight in the hope that sleep would make what was now a terrible migraine go away. I was guttered, I missed out on all the after race stuff and given my now very poor brain condition, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I had made the right decision.
The following day came and the foggy brain, fatigue and headache remained. I could function slightly better than the previous day, but the 6 hourly pain killers were still only just taking the edge off this headache. To make matters worse, over the following days the trigeminal nerve flared up sending electric shock type of pain down the left side of my face, the headaches persisted, I was completely empty of any energy and I just felt so sick most of the time. I got back to the basics of fatigue management, drank more water than a fish does, had 2-3 hours afternoon sleeps, followed up by early nights in bed, I tried getting a bit of fresh air to oxygenate the brain every day and minimized any possible stimulation that you can think of. I stuck to that regimen for more than a week before I started feeling as though I may finally be coming out on the other side. A week can go by pretty quickly when you are in a happy place, but it tends to drag on for what seems to be forever when your safe place is limited to your bed or the couch. I remember thinking on several occasions during that week…gosh, I don’t see anyone else walking around like a complete zombie from attending ONE moto cross race. I tried so hard not to let these negative consequences take the shine off that fabulous first experience that my baby boy just had, but with consequences that debilitating, it was hard not to second guess a simple decision, a no brainer decision that all moms would make in a heartbeat.
No simple decisions
I knew there was always going to be some sort of consequences on my brain for me attending Sebastian’s first moto cross competition. I had planned ahead to some degree, brought along my own brain PPE gear and stuck to all my go-to coping mechanisms, but I either underestimated the level of consequences or thought that I was much further ahead with my brain recovery compared to where things really sit.
I felt absolutely torn. Seeing him compete so well was my absolute joy of the day, but how can something so positive and exciting be followed by a week of misery? How can I envisage going to his next competition? What will I need to change to make sure that the price I pay for attending isn’t so hefty next time around? I miss going into life without having to overthink every simple decision.
This blog is a pretty drastic example that I’ve shared with you, but the reality of life post “e” and brain injury is that it applies to so many other aspects of my life and to so many other simple but necessary decisions. Everything has to be measured and thought through. On the fly decisions are a story of the past. I’ve become quite inflexible and I can really struggle to cope with unplanned changes…the total opposite of the me before “e”.
Coming back to Sebastian’s first moto cross competition, of course I would never change my decision to attend because it was such a precious moment in both our lives. Seeing the excitement and nervousness in this little 7 years old eyes prior to the race, noticing how he was improving from one race to another, seeing his confidence rise along with the speed at which he was riding his moto cross bike, seeing him cross the finish line with the twinkle in his eyes and filling us and himself with absolute pride…I couldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else really. If only I could find a way to minimize the effects of this same decision next time around…because let’s face it, this little dude isn’t planning on hanging up his helmet anytime soon I think. If only that Weird Wonderful Brain on mine could recover sufficiently one day to be able to sit comfortably on the fun side of the fence.
Other Related blogs:
Brain injury, the hidden struggles
Sitting of the fence of a brain injury
How best to deal with the fun side of a brain injury
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