“DO LABELS MATTER?” Written by Vicki Homes, a Brain injured survivor.

Do labels matter? For most of my life I was never much for labelling people. Typically I would look at a person and get to know their heart. Race, religion, sexual orientation, those suffering with mental illness were all labels that were unnecessary for me. I have always wanted to get to know the person beyond the outside.

Having said all of that, I have been struggling for a long time to identify my “new normal”.
A broad based definition is this. I am a person with a brain injury. But for me that has never been enough of an explanation. I have had people say to me, “ you don’t sound like you have had head injury”.

Other survivors have heard similar statements that just DO NOT APPLY to our condition. Statements such as…

  • oh you seem to be doing fine now
  • oh don’t worry about that, it is an age thing
  • forget about it, we all get mixed up sometimes and so on.

And my most recent encounter, “ you don’t sound like you have had a head injury”.
What on earth does a brain injured person sound like?

I want to answer them and say…

Live with me for a couple of weeks and you will understand!

Although I say that, the truth for most of us, is that we ourselves do not understand. There are times when we are extremely overwhelmed. There are times when we are extremely tired. Flat out exhausted tired. There are times when we stutter and can’t get our sentences out. There are times when we wonder if we will ever get better. We wonder if we will always be in danger of episodic depression. We wonder if we will have bouts of deep emotional sorrow for the rest of our lives. There are times when we wonder if we will have the strength to carry on.

So what are we? We are more than just a brain injured person. We are the same person with a brain impairment caused by our head injury.

If we look at this in a physical context imagine a person who has lost their leg. They used to do so many things and now they are living with a physical impairment. Imagine the young woman who lost her sight. She has a visual impairment. The word impairment is defined as such;

… the state of being diminished, weakened or damaged, especially mentally or physically and cognitive impairment in older adults.

As Brain injured people we are, at our core, the same people we were before. The difference is that the injury to our brain has impaired our ability to function. One glaring example that I deal with is lack of sleep. I was always a great sleeper. Now sleep is hard for me. My brain gets overwhelmed and over stimulated and I can’t shut it down. That part of my brain has ben affected. I used to be very social and enjoy lots of activities and now I prefer to be in a much quieter setting.

Head injuries affect our ability to reason. Head injuries affect our emotions. Head injuries can impair our thinking. Our emotions are impaired which can lead to depression, anxiety and hopelessness. It’s that one week I feel great and then a few stressful things happen and I can’t cope.

I am sharing this today for all brain injured survivors. But I can only share what I believe and have come to learn.

Just as the blind person is visually impaired, and the man with no legs is physically impairment, brain injury survivors deal with an impairment.

WE DEAL WITH AN IMPAIRMENT OF OUR BRAIN FUNCTION…as a result of our injury!

Depending on our injury the spectrum of impairment varies greatly.

  • cognitive impairment
  • speech impairment
  • memory loss impairment
  • anxiety and panic disorder
  • depressive thoughts
  • sleep deprivation.

We are unique, we are the same BUT these impairments we live with everyday, impede our ability to work and function on a consistent day to day basis.

So what can I do? What can you do? Love ourselves a little more, recognize that these impairments do not define you or me. They are a a result of an accident that has changed the way we function. It is as simple and as complicated as that.

Enjoy your day! Vicki