Chapter 2: Getting to know the bear (March 2019)

For the next few months, I do my best to stick to the rules.

Although I step outside of them fairly regularly – I’m only an apprentice bear fighter at this stage, remember – each time I do, it helps to embed into my brain the importance of sticking to them. Life is still very hard – still too hard at times – but at least I have found a method of coping.

To help with hammering the message home, I get some t-shirts printed up to wear around the house and during exercise. Although my verbal memory is now pretty poor as a result of my brain injury, my visual memory is still very good so this really helps.

An aid to remembering the rules!

But despite the fact that sticking to rules is clearly working for me, I have no idea why. This means that whenever I try something new or even a little bit different, I am always expecting the worst – though to be fair, rule 8 is proving to be pretty reliable.

Then, the penny drops for me. I have been mulling over applying for a Brain Injury Identity Card for a while now – until I reached the end of the notional 2-year recovery period for a brain injury, I had been hoping not to need one – and eventually I decide to take the plunge.

The application form requires me to pick out all the symptoms of my brain injury from a long list, choosing the 4 that I feel are most significant to appear on the card:

Brain Injury Identity Card application form

In doing so, my curiosity gets the better of me and I decide to cross reference these symptoms back to my well-thumbed head injury book (a “welcome home” gift from my wife on my return from hospital).

I am shocked to discover that the majority of the most significant symptoms arising from my brain injury relate to the frontal lobes – and when I check back against my medical records, this is the primary area of my brain that was damaged. Who’d have thunk it!

Armed with this revelation, I now realise that the rules work because they help me to avoid or minimise the effects of the 3 things that I find most cognitively challenging, namely:

  • Planning and organising
  • Processing information
  • Decision making

For example, rule 7 works because it avoids planning. Rules 4 and 5 work because they help me to reduce the amount of information I am having to process and decisions that I am having to make at any one time.

Now that I know this, things start to make a lot more sense. For example, why I find unloading the dishwasher challenging cognitively (because there are lots of choices with no clear right answer) but I have no problem loading the dishwasher (because it is about making things fit together, so to my brain there are no choices – just a single right answer for each item). Similarly, I find that my brain fatigues when walking on the flat (again, there are choices to make as to where to put your feet) but I can scale a rocky hill at pace (because there I can pick out a single best route).

For me, this is a real step forward – it helps me to anticipate how hard a given task is likely to be, which means that I can reduce my cognitive demands by being more selective about which tasks I take on, rather than just by doing less of everything. So, faced with 2 similar looking tasks – vacuuming and sweeping – I would choose sweeping every time as it involves bringing everything back to a single point rather than having to decide what route to take around a room.