I awake to a world full of possibilities. The darkness of the night has just begun to lighten, and I stretch in satisfaction as my alarm starts playing Everything I Need by Melissa Ferrick. The music is pleasant background noise reminding me that I have… well… everything I need right here in my hands. I think about the day ahead with anticipation, and the Universe seems to cup me gently in her supporting hands.
That is my reality when I wake up after a good night’s sleep, like last Wednesday.
Here is another possibility.
The alarm starts blaring, jolting me out of a fitful doze that I had just managed to fall into. The noise is overwhelming, grating, and I can’t move fast enough to make it stop. My body is heavy, tired. My mind is foggy and my head pounds slowly to my heartbeat. The darkness reminds me that I should still be sleeping, and resentment rises in me chest at the fact that I have to [I know – “choose to”] go to work for many hours today. No fun, no time for me, just work – nothing is possible.
Same time of day, same day of the week… the only difference is that I didn’t sleep well the night before.
Yes, everyone feels a bit belligerent when they don’t get enough sleep, but my head injury has taken my experience to a whole new level. My view of the world radically shifts from life-is-pretty-good to something like the-world-sucks-and-is-out-to-get-me. Instead of a mild smirk of frustration when Mary’s coffee grinding makes it impossible for me to reach my cereal bowl, I seethe with a deep anger. Instead of an interactive discussion about a minor story from the news, I believe Mary is trying to wear me down with bad news and excessive talk. Instead of a unexpected bill causing me to write a note to follow up on such-and-such, I quickly fill with anger, yell, and pound the table in frustration.
I think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were misunderstood. Yes, perhaps they had a chemical experimentation habit, but I think they/he really just had a brain injury. In fact, I have been doing a good impression of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on a regular basis since my brain injury. Mary will vouch for that.
Mr. Hyde usually shows up on the scene late at night – just when my ability to cope with the world ends and my reactions blossom into dramatic extremes. Mr. Hyde doesn’t like bright lights – neither do I nor do many people with PCS/mTBI. Mr. Hyde doesn’t have good grooming habits – really hard to find the motivation when exhausted to your core. Mr. Hyde is socially reclusive – as I have been since my head injury. Mr. Hyde forgets social niceties – which is easy to do when tired and foggy. Mr. Hyde isn’t articulate – as I wasn’t for almost a year after my head injury. Mr. Hyde has an anger management problem – so do I when my resources are low. Mr. Hyde acts in strange or unusual ways – not hard to do when easily confused and low functioning.
Dr. Jekyll is well groomed, intelligent, competent, socially adept and passes as normal. So am I, on my good mornings. So am I.
To me, it is clear that Dr. Jekyll slipped on the ice one day on his way home from work, hit his head, and experienced an mTBI. In the 1800s, there was absolutely no understanding of the effects of this type of simple injury. It would have made much more sense, to people at large, that such giant changes in mood and ability were caused by a monster taking over one’s body. So clearly that rather than the fact that a simple bonk on the head can cause such changes. A hit on the head that you didn’t lose consciousness from, that didn’t split your skull open.
But something had changed for Dr. Jekyll. Something subtle but insidious and undeniable. Something those of us who have experienced an mTBI and now pass in polite society understand. Most of the time, I look fine and can pass as “normal”. But I am not okay. No, really, I am not. Is it getting better? Yes. Will I ever be Dr. Jekyll full time? I have no idea.