A “Bad Brain Day”

In Productivity by Emerson Jane Browne2 Comments

Empty-head

This is a good day to try to write about this'ol brain of mine and what is currently going on.

First off, my brain injury is mild (Thank Goodness!)  Most of the things that I have trouble with are things that happen to anyone some of the time. 

We all have "bad brain days" where we never quite seem to wake up and do silly things.  The thing for me is that when I have a bad brain day the fog is just a little thicker and it lasts a lot longer. 

For instance today I had a "bad brain day".  I had to go to Seattle for some appointments. I drove the usual route: West Seattle bridge to I-5 North, then I exit off onto a collector/distributor exit from which I take the James Street exit and go on up to Harborview Medical Center.  Now I have driven that specific route, taken that specific exit more times that I can count.  But today, due to my brain fog, I got confused by the signs and almost missed the exit. 

I made it up to Harborview and found parking right off. When I got on the elevator at the medical center I noted that there were 2 other people in the elevator and two floors were already selected; including mine which was the higher number.  But when the elevator stopped at the first stop I just automatically walked out.  I immediately realized I was in the wrong place and had gotten off at the wrong floor.  I turned around and got back on the elevator.  Most of my day continued like that!  None of what happened was extreme but it does get to be annoying.

538834_cropped_blog

On days like this it is like part of my brain is turned off.  The reason I almost missed the exit is that the automatic memory on the known route was simply not firing.  I was looking for the exit as if it was for the first time. 

I find it so strange that that happens on some days whereas most of the time I can remember fine. It makes no sense, especially in regards to the current research involving memory and learning. 

Richard Roche is a neuroscientist at the National University of Ireland who specializes in the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying memory consolidation.  He explains memory as  "The principle is that, every time a person encounters new information … the information activates a neural circuit in the brain called a memory trace.  The repetition of this information reactivates the memory trace.  Each time it is repeated the trace is thought to grow stronger." 2 

I know that I know the route to Harborview well.  The memory trace is well established.  Most of the time the it functions fine and taking the right exit is practically automatic.  Why does it not fire at other times?  Why suddenly do I need to read the signs and look for the exit.  Additionally, why did the lack of memory traces firing last most of the day?

The brain fog finally lifted when I started crunching numbers working on a complicated tax filing.  (Not mine.  Mine was sadly simple but I am helping someone else who filed an extension and needed a fairly close estimate on the taxes they owe.)  The fog did not descend again for the rest of the evening.  I don't know if it was the focused concentration or if it was the type of concentration I was doing that flipped the switch but something did.

It is interesting that I can do complicated accounting extremely well and that the fog evaporated as soon as I engaged that part of my brain.  It is also interesting that I can do complicated accounting yet I cannot remember my multiplication table! 

The latter thing of not being able to do simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division feels very strange.  I understand that it is just a small spot in my brain that got dinged and needs to be rebuilt.  It is actually a fairly common symptom of brain injuries.  I can intellectually grasp that but the sensation is bizarre.  Something that I counted on is just . . . missing!

Fairmont sink hole

It is hard to describe what I mean.  So I will use a metaphor:

It is like I am walking across my yard at home. I have lived there for many years and know my own front yard well.  I’m just walking along and suddenly my right foot steps on what looks like normal solid ground but it crashes through the surface. 

What looked like solid ground was really only a thin crust of grass and dirt;  there is nothing else there – the ground gives way and my whole leg goes in up to my hip.  I hang there with the rest of me still on the solid ground and the landscape looking like it usually does but my one leg is dangling in nothingness; hanging in a gaping void where solid ground used to be. 

Now what makes the whole thing feel even weirder is that unless someone catches me right when I step on a gap no one really notices that anything is wrong.  I mean that figuratively in regards to this metaphor but also in reality.  For the most part most people would never guess that I am healing my noggin.

I am very, very thankful that I appear normal and fine; that I do not appear to have a brain injury. It is one less hurdle to get over. But this thing of appearing so normal and yet struggling at times does make me feel like I am I am multiple people. (No worries! I have not developed multiple personalities!)

Again, today was a good example of what I mean.  Here I am going around having to figure out all each of the locations today as if I had never been to any of them before; getting off the elevator on the wrong floor, forgetting to ask the doctor key questions (today it was the foot clinic – not neurology); having to ask directions to my new favorite coffee shop – Watertown Coffee . . . yet a short while later after the flip switched I am sitting in Watertown Coffee chatting with the owner about marketing strategies, doing someone's complicated taxes, and helping someone with a small computer glitch!  I know the owner of Watertown Coffee would never dream that I have a brain injury.

On another day and another post I will probably write more about that strangeness but I am way too tired to write more.  And you, the reader may be tired of reading too!

Just quickly, the sketch at the beginning of this post is by Linda Silvestri of SketchedOut.

Footnotes:

  1. The wonderful cartoon Empty Head at the start of this entry is by Linda Silvestri of Sketched Out.  It is used with permission.  Thank you Linda!
  2. Richard Roche as quoted by Scott P. Edwards in "Intuition, Memory Help Us Keep Track of Numbers" BrainWork Vol.18, No.5  November 01, 2008 
  3. The last photograph is from an article about a sinkhole that appeared in a Fairmont, WV yard.  Amanda Pavlik "Sinkhole in Fairmont Yard", WDTV News, May 27, 2008.  
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Emerson Jane Browne

I am Emerson Jane Browne. I write about Brains, Apps, & Productivity, and many other aspects of Life. I speak to TBI support groups, speak and teach workshops at tech, music, and writer conferences. I consult with organizations on strategic planning and building a strong community.


  • Hi Frank,
    Check out the TBI Survivors Network. It is a great place to connect with other survivors. I am on there. My page is Emerson J. Browne.

  • Hi I was looking for another link, that I had not yet been able to trace back to.. and came across your blog..It touched me deeply.. However if you were to contact me tomorrow or tonight and ask me what touched me deeply I won’t remember it (I have a TBI, too)
    That being said I would like to talk to you.
    Why? because I find myself in a similar situation..
    LOVE
    FF