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Bitter Brain Injury

What happens when unjust treatment after brain injury hits the tipping point?

Bitter: "(of people or their feelings or behavior) angry, hurt, or resentful because of one's bad experiences or a sense of unjust treatment." From Google's word definition.

Source: geralt/Pixabay

I entered the land of healing from damaged neurons with my hope for recovery and joy in others' accomplishments intact. I couldn't feel the joy, only my intellectual appreciation.

As the years wore on and desperation for recovery consumed me, that appreciation didn't diminish. I treasured the fact that my injury hadn't damaged that aspect of myself.

Oh sure, I used to be competitive, but I still cheered people on. I enjoyed being the beneficiary of others' skills and talents and plunged in enthusiastically to share mine. That part got hard after brain injury; I couldn't share what had been lost. It was confusing, then disheartening, then grieving when I realized that without radical medical treatment they weren't coming back.

Still, I remained not bitter.

Screwtape writes to his nephew junior tempter Wormwood:

"The Enemy [God] wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour's talents -- or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall." (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 14)

What Lewis is describing through his fictional character Screwtape is the opposite of bitterness. It's a sweet feeling that tastes good when, despite brain injury killing off your talents, you can still drink in the achievements of others or the stunning blue of a Canadian sky at high noon.

Bitterness isn't sweet. It infects every cell and colours one's perceptions with bad flavour.

I know several people whose childhoods weren't the best. Okay, they were pretty darn traumatic. Some included financial instability in addition to traumatic events or sexual abuse or parental neglect. Yet not all became bitter. Of the one that comes most to mind, their bitterness blighted their enjoyment of their successes in life.

It didn't matter that their adult life was stable, under their control, marching along in concert with their dreams, acting out their purpose every day. They always felt under siege, unappreciated, and deprived. It was like their childhood was more real than their present.

I became bitter when it finally penetrated my brain that doctors in teaching hospitals who treat brain injury are simply not interested in thinking outside the box, in learning from non-MDs, in working alongside their patients -- in helping me recover fully if it meant having to read research by psychologists or other health-care professionals, learn and adopt clinical methods outside the chemical-treatment or dramatic-procedure box, work with me on a peer level, and, most of all, leave the DSM-V on the shelf.

I felt unappreciated, under siege, deprived, unjustly treated, and, worst, abandoned to the unremitting asphyxiation of brain injury with PTSD. Bitterness appeared suddenly, violently, when I realized that despite all my persistence, my exhausting efforts to hang on to my learning long enough so as to help myself, my thinking around obstacles, that if psychiatrists didn't want to come alongside me -- just like my family and friends hadn't -- I was screwed permanently.

I didn't like the bitterness one bit. I fought it, but it's like the worst hanger-on, always there on the periphery, waiting for your guard spirit to leave so it can bite you.

It jeered: How can you remain optimistic and hopeful when the medical professionals tasked to help you won't read and learn? Do you really think you can change their thinking?

It fed on the almost nineteen years of trying to get laypeople around me to understand brain injury. My mother did eventually, but would be dragged back by those who didn't want to face reality, only for me to talk and talk until we were back where we'd been in her understanding. Really, if people want to sit in judgment, can't they just shut up?

It flippantly dismissed my success in changing my neuro doc from one wanting to have nothing to do with helping me recover my reading, to the one person making sure I don't fall away from daily practice and challenging my visuals and recall so I don't lose what I learned at Lindamood-Bell.

"If new people engage with your movement & your instinct is to put them down or ridicule them or make the movement exclusionary, that's not organizing. That's not movement building. That's about ego." (Tweet 15 July 2019, Bree Newsome Bass)

That's bitterness infected, too. The bitterness of having to hoe the first row of wokeness while having person after person attack you, belittle you, doing their mightiest to hold you back, including psychiatrists, in the case of those of us in the brain injury field. Bass is talking about political injustice, but her words apply to any kind of injustice.

It's about being exhausted and spiritually weary when suddenly those who attacked you are, all, "Here we are! Aren't you glad we're on board with you now? Just ignore the lack of apology and acknowledgment of how much our unjust treatment harmed you. You should be grateful we're with you now."

Really? Somehow gratitude isn't my first feeling. It's like that childhood trauma that's so powerful the person feels as if they're still living in it while at the same time feeling like the abuser gets a free pass.

". . . I'm here for a people's uprising. Everyday new people are coming into an awareness of the situation. The intro educational phase never ends." (Tweet 15 July 2019, Bree Newsome Bass)

"The intro educational phase never ends." That's profound. That applies to anyone, doesn't it? That's a bitterness killer line.

Copyright ©2019 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

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