Battery Life

The months since the crash have had a lot of ups and downs. My doctors have told me to sleep as much as possible, and initially, I was sleeping 12-14 hours a day. That has since turned to periods of insomnia. I haven’t found any medication that helps me sleep through these episodes, and I’ve tried a lot.  There is a big difference between being tired and being unable to function. Trust me, after making it through veterinary school, internships and residency and years of working at overnight emergency clinics, I know how to function while sleep deprived. I’ve gone days without sleep and still handled emergencies and performed surgeries. It isn’t ideal, but I could do it. However, with a brain injury, there is no longer any functioning without sleep. More than once I have sat crying on the floor of my closet because I can’t figure out what clothes to wear and have then simply spent the next 3 days in pajamas. I’ve gone without eating anything because I have stared into a refrigerator full of food and not been able to pick something. Decision paralysis goes into full swing when I can’t sleep.

My daily symptoms are highly dependent on how much sleep I get. My cognitive therapist talks about the “battery life” of my brain. If I don’t sleep, my “battery” doesn’t charge and I am completely worthless until I can sleep again. Even when I do sleep, that battery has a limited charge. As I write this blog I literally have a timer set for 10 minutes and then I have to take a break. There are lots of errors, as I randomly insert words, can’t remember words, or can’t spell them. I will spend an entire week writing one page in short 5-10 minute intervals.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) affects everyone differently. I know people that can watch movies, read, or play video games.  My symptoms are very visual, and a lot of screen time would never work for me. However, with running I don’t have to focus up close and my brain goes into more of a meditative state. Many TBI sufferers are not able to perform physical activities, and I am thankful for this outlet as my refuge

More than once I’ve been asked, “So how is it that you can run, but not work?” Or maybe, “When are you going to be able to go back to work?” I guess my answer is – whenever my doctors tell me I’m ready to try. Not working doesn’t pay very well. I don’t have any disability insurance, I’m not getting any insurance money from the accident, and the only reason we are still in our home is because of the generosity of family and friends. A wonderful friend set up a fundraiser for us, and with this money, I am able to continue all of my rehabilitation, most of which is NOT covered by insurance (gotta love the system!)

We are eternally grateful for that support.

Right now in cognitive rehabilitation I am slowly working on improving cognitive stamina – or my ability to think for longer periods of time. Currently, I can do games or problems for 15 minutes. What are simple puzzles to start with, are often impossible for me by the end of that time period. The brain just throws in the towel and gives up. Until that stamina improves, there is no possibility of me being able to work again. Regardless of if I can return to work as a veterinarian, there aren’t many employers who would let me take breaks every 20 minutes and call in sick day after day when I haven’t slept and can’t think at all. Unfortunately, I can’t go out and buy a new battery, so I simply have to wait and work on improving the one I have.