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.
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:
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.