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Back to a Teen's Brain After Brain Injury

All of a sudden, my baby boys are becoming teens in our household and I recently thought that it might be wise to attend a training on “the Teen Brain” in the hope of being better equipped to face the next phase of my “babies” lives.

Since being sick with encephalitis which resulted in an acquired brain injury, I’ve read A LOT about the brain. I feel like I’m already very familiar with some of the jargon and the roles that specific parts of the brain play, but the way this training was presented drew so much similarities between a teen's brain and an injured brain. I was simply astounded!

As the presenter was talking and explaining what is happening during the teen years, so many times I felt like raising my hand to say...gosh this is me down to a tee after brain injury.

See, it turns out that teens do not use much of their frontal cortex during their teen years and they often revert back to their limbic brain to make decisions and in their interactions with others. As the presenter put it, the cortex is shut for maintenance for about 90% of the time over the course of 3 years or so. When a brain injury occurs, the outer layer of the brain, the cortex, is often damaged and as it is the case for a teen's brain, it sort of goes dormant too while recovery occurs.

I’m sure that many brain injury survivors will agree with me saying that we can experience major adult tantrums and that we are often all emotions since our brain injury. Pretty much like it is the case for a teen's brain, while our cortex is under repair, it appears that the limbic brain may be taking over and leading the show. Even though I've probably spent thousands of hours reading about the brain since my own acquired brain injury, this was such an ah ha moment for me.

Rational thinking has gone out the window so many times since my brain injury and made way to emotional thinking. I feel like I’m aware that this may be happening, but I also feel like I have very little control over it. Just like a teen's brain, to engage or re-engage the frontal cortex, I’ll have to find a way to calm myself down first, acknowledge the feelings and emotions that are on display, and then I might have a fighting chance at talking some sense into myself and seeing things more rationally.

I’m telling you, pretty much all of the topics that the presenter addressed in regards to a teen's brain could be used to raise awareness of how an injured brain works. From our cortex going “dormant”, to our ability to read and respond to facial expressions, to feeling misunderstood, to anxiety and depression, to our need for additional sleep, to our tolerance to alcohol and drugs and to us being able to manage our “new brain” following brain injury, it just crossed so many “t”s and dotted so many “i”s it wasn’t even funny.

What really wasn’t funny though, but also kind of funny, is that I realised that my poor partner has been dealing with a teen's brain for a few years already...and he probably still is dealing with one when it comes to aspects of the new persona that has emerged from the brain trauma.

Unlike a teen's brain that eventually grows out of it as the adult brain completes its development, I was left wondering how long it might be before the injured brain recovers sufficiently to stop dipping so much into the limbic brain? Since the insult, I’ve become more aware of my emotional brain and learnt lots of tools to better manage my emotions, but when fatigue sets in, it still feels as though very little can be done to stop those crazy fluctuations from happening.

Perhaps I need to be more patient and give my Weird Wonderful Brain room to heal and regenerate itself? After all, several research now demonstrate that neuroplasticity allows for the brain to create new pathways. In the meantime, let’s hope that my injured brain/teen brain gives me an ace up my sleeve when it comes to managing my “not so much babies” brains in the coming years!

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