When was the last time you snapped?
I don’t mean your fingers.
We, who have experienced a TBI, have all been there: the situation where it’s too noisy, or too busy, or too bright or, with our lowered threshold, too almost anything. I’m sure you know the situation. It’s the thing others don’t understand because it is normal for them, but for us, unable as we are, to regulate
ourselves, we snap. When we snap, it can be ugly or awkward or painful, but it’s never pretty.
You see, each of us is built with an invisible rubber band in our brain that does an incredible job of helping us adjust to the pressures of daily life. Everyone’s rubber band has a slightly different degree of elasticity. This important connector holds us together and acts as a mental shock absorber. We rely on this rubber band as we go about our day. It regulates us as we shuck and jive, flowing with the ups and downs of life.
A TBI dries out this invisible rubber band, leaving it more brittle than it should be. When it dries out on us, this rubber band we have always relied on to steady us doesn’t work as well, and is prone to snapping when it’s placed under duress.
Since my TBI, my own rubber band has snapped countless times over the years, and has led to screaming, throwing things, punching walls, slamming doors, stomping away or generally making a spectacle of myself. Over time I have learned enough about myself to help keep from snapping, and I now have increased self-awareness that enables me to smooth out what happens as I’m snapping or after I snap.
I remember early on, my first step into a pinball and video arcade, when the flashing lights and the booping and beeping coming from the machines made me think I was going crazy. I made it about 5 seconds before I snapped and walked out the door. However, I made a point out of going back; each time, trying to stay longer as a way to acclimate myself to the environment.
It worked only somewhat, and only for a limited time, and I realized that being subjected to this type of stimulation was something that was never going to be fully resolved.
Snapping and I were, to some degree, together forever.
What was most interesting about my snapping, was the way it would happen; the evolution of the whole episode. Sometimes I would walk into a situation and I would immediately know I had to leave, but many times it would seem okay at first, and then, like the green ooze creeping into my pores, the noises or the stimulation or the light would creep into my being and I would standup like I was shot out of a gun and say, “I’ve got to leave!” or “We’ve got to go!”.
Now, snapping is not a simple thing. There is the mental component, where your ears start to feel overloaded and your brain, bombarded by stimulation, starts racing. I can suffer with that up to a certain point, but somewhere along the line the physical component comes in, and my body has a reaction. That is the moment when I snap.
If my body was a fist, I would probably headbutt something; I momentarily lose my ability to think or reason and become incredibly focused on removing myself from that situation.
When possible, I’ll try not to put myself in those situations. I’ve learned, over time, what most of my triggers are and what my capabilities are, so that I can head these things off at the pass. When I’m with someone else, and I see the situation, I find it’s much easier to beg out of something beforehand than to have to apologize for, or smooth out, something which is awkward and can be hurtful.
The really hard thing is when you are forced, for some reason to be in a situation that you know will be a problem. Squirming and breathing deep will help, but only or a while. I find the best thing is limiting my exposure by getting up and leaving for a few minutes, then trying to rejoin whatever is going on. Even going to the restroom is enough of a break sometimes.
When I’m waiting in line at a store and everyone else is being waited on, I can ‘t leave, and I can feel the green ooze as I stand there, trying to stay calm. As irrational as I know I am being, it’s hard to keep a lid on it.
Snapping has become a fact of life for me post-TBI. That’s just the way it is. I do a really good job of keeping it hidden from most people because I don’t socialize that much, and I know my triggers. I try to make allies out of those closest to me so that they can help me, either by the way they react when I snap, or by helping me to avoid bad situations. I think pretty much everyone I spend time with understands that I get up and leave a lot.
There is no cure; I’m like a submarine taking evasive action. In the end, it is up to me to deal with it the best I can, so that I don’t take on water and sink the boat.
I did not know that what you are describing is typical of TBI. I thought it was unique to my injury. I feel horrible when I “snap” and have started to send apology notes when my words are unkind. And I stay away from situations that I know will overstimulate me, like busy restaurants and airports. This aspect of TBI is very hard for me to accept. Thanks for sharing this!
There are SOME who don’t get this “snapping” symptom, but I think most of us do, to varying degrees and in varying ways.
I have it, as does every TBIS (Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor) I know, but the symptoms are as different for each of us as we – being individual humans – are different from each other.
As far as I can tell, each individual TBIS’ experience of Jeff’s “snapping” symptom depends (quite literally) on
1) which PARTS of a person’s brain are injured,
2) the NATURE of the damage in each brain area,
3) the EXTENT or DEGREE of the damage suffered in each area, and
4) WHO each person is, including who each was PRE-TBI…
ALL these factors contribute. And no doubt there are others… lolol
Because there are many, MANY VARIABLES which all work together to determine HOW each individual experiences these “TBIs,” to say that someone has had a TBI is a lot like saying we have each had “a” “Childhood Disease…”
Hope this helps.
(More in my separate comment to Jeff.) ;- )
Always happy to see you busily “advocating for understanding” and sharing your insights! Thank you. ;- )
Ellen asked if everyone “snaps” and I responded to her from my own perspective. I hope that’s all right.
In response to your “snapping” blog entry, I have a few thoughts to toss into the stew.
“Normal brains” (whatever THEY are!) have “sensory filters” and just automatically discriminate between all kinds of external sensory inputs, filtering out the “noise.”
The normal brain sorts every single stimulation with which the world constantly bombards us, then filters out what’s UNimportant and focuses only on what’s important.
It does this the entire time it’s awake, and can respond to important input even when asleep! AUTOMATICALLY, too!!!
It’s truly an absolute MIRACLE! Until it’s gone…
If injury or illness damage this incredible system, SUDDENLY, everything comes flooding in, willy-nilly. SUDDENLY, “background noise” and “background activity” no longer exist. From the moment of injury forward, “Everything” is suddenly and constantly in the FOREGROUND – “in our faces.” The shock of this is SHOCKING!
Some TBIS need months or years to comprehend it – to “get” what’s happened. When we finally DO understand, a whole new struggle begins – to ACCEPT it, followed by yet another struggle – to COPE with it and ACCOMMODATE it.
Until our own brains were damaged, we had NO CLUE as to exactly “how MUCH and how BIG” “Everything” going on around us actually was!! Now, we know it’s HUGE.
And, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to describe it to people with normal brains.
TBIS are FORCED to EXPERIENCE massive amounts of external stimulation which normal brains simply filter out automatically. The over-stimulation is exhausting to the point of being maddening. We wear dark sunglasses indoors and out. We wear ear plugs or protective hearing gear. But these provide only partial relief, and they do so INdiscriminately, NOT distinguishing between those sights/ sounds we DON’T want and those we DO. So if we use these “sensory blocks,” we miss out on things we WANT and NEED to see or hear – our baby’s cries, our telephone ringing, the true colors of things…
And this is just our senses of sight and sound. Smell and taste may also be affected. Mine are. The scent of certain flowers makes me physically ill . Certain foods TASTE good but smell foul, and the reverse is also true. Some odors I’m unable to recognize regardless of how often I smell them. What does this mean in everyday life?
It MEANS that TBIS brains MUST, on a semi-conscious or even higher level, constantly WORK to filter out the irritating, insignificant sights, sounds, and scents from our lives just to prevent SENSORY OVERLOAD! And…simultaneously, WE need to consciously FORCE our brains to focus on those sights, sounds, inputs AND activities which we WANT or NEED to “attend to” – like something burning on the stove or an open faucet! (I’ve found myself forgetting to “attend to” my boiling water or the open refrigerator door because I’ve become distracted by something like ONE barking dog – which, of course, is so far away no one else even notices…)
Depending on the brain areas injured, the ways in which our brains have been injured, the severity of our injuries, and how developed our brains were BEFORE being injured,
EACH OF HAS A UNIQUE PERSONAL THRESHOLD, BEYOND WHICH WE LOSE ALL ABILITY TO CONSCIOUSLY “FILTER AND FOCUS.”
As we approach the limit of our capacity to “filter and focus,” OUR BRAINS GET OVERWHELMED. And, INSTANTLY, WE BECOME UNABLE TO COPE.
(Like a computer that gets overloaded and suddenly freezes!)
However, simply BEING OVERWHELMED because it’s impossible for us to manage the complex sensory input of everything happening around us is, BY ITSELF, NOT ENOUGH TO create what you call “snapping” (and which I call a MELTDOWN!)
What you describe as “snapping” is NOT a COGNITIVE FUNCTION of the BRAIN. Neither is a MELTDOWN. Surprised!?
“Snapping” and MELTDOWNS are our EMOTIONAL RESPONSES to our BRAINS’ Functional Incapacity. And everybody RESPONDS UNIQUELY to being functionally incapacitated. Our responses to that are a function of our genetics, our personalities, body chemistry and wiring, and personal habit, as well as our family culture and communal expectations. I could go on forever.
Some people respond with anger. Others become frightened, ashamed, embarrassed, some paralyzed, anxious, desperate. On and on… What all have in common is that all have reached both their functional limits and coping limits.
1) WE CANNOT PROTECT OURSELVES FROM UNWANTED STIMULATION,
2) WE CANNOT TOLERATE THE UNWANTED STIMULATION, and
3) WE CANNOT TOLERATE OUR INABILITY TO PROTECT OURSELVES FROM IT.
This feeling of powerlessness turns OFF our “thinking” brains and turns ON our “primitive” brains, triggering Fight or Flight, and who-knows what else…
The question to ask next is “HAS MY PRIMITIVE BRAIN ALSO BEEN DAMAGED?”
“IS MY PRIMITIVE BRAIN RESPONDING IN PROPORTION TO A PERCEIVED OR REAL THREAT?”
Of course, it’s not.
MY RESPONSE is to work HARD employing both of my damaged brain spheres in recognizing when I’m just about to reach the limit of my tolerance.
If I reach my limit I work HARD NOT to become emotionally upset about it.
AND, if I DO become emotionally upset about it?
Then I work to prevent myself from expressing my upset in ways that will be harmful or hurtful to others.
THAT is always my PRIMARY GOAL.
Something happened to me and I was injured.
I don’t want to pass the harm that I suffered on to other unsuspecting and innocent people.
I may be hurting, but if I make it MY PRIORITY, I can AVOID HURTING ANYONE ELSE.
Thanks for bringing up this difficult topic, Jeff.
TBI … you only know it if you live it
Rebecca T says
I love your blog. I get this completely. Someone in the BIFEA wrote a statement today that I now disagree with entirely and will “unlike.” The snapping isn’t always known. We can “know our triggers,” as you write. However, the green slime comes out and it’s so cerebral the trigger isn’t always evident – hindsight is always 20/20. I tend to isolate as well, or use humor so keep from snapping, but when I do, all there is for me to do is call my mom and she puts out that little reminder, “why don’t you sleep a while.” Six hours later, I don’t remember what made the snap. But like you, sometimes I just have to walk away and for me, that’s the scary part, because I might miss a teachable moment. Keep rocking it out! This helps. Be Blessed, friend.
Patrick John says
I believe there is a cure, Jeff. I don’t want to make this sound simplistic, because as Suzanne mentioned we are all unique and how we respond to our TBIs varies.
But I found that I was able to end the cycle of snapping. I needed to because mine was destructive, and put myself and others at risk. It took me years, but that doesn’t mean it would take everyone years.
Every single human being ‘chooses’ at whatever level to do what they regard as best for them. This is hard-wired into all of us. We help others because we want to – ‘want’ being the significant word. We do it for ourselves. This is not a bad or a good thing. It’s the way we are.
And we snap because we want to. Please bear with me here. We snap because at some deeper level we think it rewards us in some way. At the same time, usually after we have snapped, we see that it also does the opposite to reward us – it punishes us with painful emotions.
Road rage was a particular snap issue for me. I have chased cars, been chased, and been in violent situations because of it. This was up until around fifteen years ago – fifteen years after my TBI. At some point I became aware that the ‘reward’ was not worth the ‘punishment’ – the pros outweighed the cons.
Most of this was un/sub-conscious, as is most growth. But at some point I consciously realised that snapping gave me nothing whatsoever. I never snapped again in the context of road rage.
After that I consciously used the reward/punishment dynamic on all triggers of snapping, and over a year or two found my automatic response of snapping was replaced by an automatic response of detached observation.
Growth or achievement in this area was/is restricted to those situations where snapping is not of any use to me, and does not deliver any value.
But I do have an anger, such as in response to child and/or animal abuse. At this time I have no intention of removing it from my post-TBI repertoire ;0) – in such situations ‘snapping’ can deliver quick thinking and action that delivers value, providing the motivation is a desire to stop the abuse.
I just want to reiterate that the points I am making are based on my own experience. They are validated though, to some extent, by certain successes I had as an NLP Practitioner. Those I worked with were able to remove (not control or suppress) negative responses and behaviour by re-framing at a deep level.
This snapping is such an important issue for TBIs, Jeff. It’s important for society as a whole too.. Thanks for highlighting it and creating a discussion about it.
Jeff Sebell says
I found your comment very interesting. I’m glad you found something for you that works. I like your attitude and approach. I am certainly not an expert, and it might have been a little strong to come right out and say there is no cure, but I think what you are talking about is closer to “adapting”. Having said that, I’m not going to split hairs. If it works, then it works, no matter what we call it. In fact, if it works for you, you can call it anything you want. All power to you. All of us can have a greater impact if we share ideas and theories on finding things that work and improve our lives.
Thanks for reading and responding.
Patrick John says
You found my comment interesting – then it was worth posting it. I know you have been around the block and have helped countless survivors with your books and talks.
And yes, absolutely, TBI survivors sharing ideas and theories with each other is important. Sharing experiences too.
You mentioned ‘splitting hairs’ – now there’s a phenomenon that played a big part in my post-TBI shenanigans. If a hair could be split I would damn well split it. I used to drive people mad. I suspect I’m not the only survivor to indulge in that particular phenomenon.
Looking forward to your next post, Jeff.
This just happened to me. Well, it happens a lot however, this was the first time I snapped at the wrong person at the wrong time. Busy airport reunion. I have to make things right again and I don’t know how to repair the situation. I don’t think a card is going to do the trick. I’m difficult to be around and hard to love.
On another note, I’m tired of being discriminated against because of the type of TBI I have. 3.5 years of fighting for brain injury assistance. Nothing.
Pamela Jarrett says
Dear Jeff: I just found this site today, and I am so glad I did. It took me 11 years to be tested for and diagnosed with a TBI. What I have read and heard many times is that every TBI is unique, but I do think that there are some things in common, and ‘snapping’ is one for me. I volunteer in a very high-profile, statewide, and federally funded disability rights group in my state, so I do stick my neck out. I am provably able to handle the role of Secretary for the group. While I deal with ‘snapping’ well on my own, can see what led up to it, forgive myself, and move on, I haven’t met anyone who is ever willing to forgive (except for my psychologist), including people in the disability rights group. Trust often flies out the door and seems to be permanently lost. It is so hurtful. I figure if I can see what happened, understand it, accept it, and profusely apologize, it falls on deaf ears. Bridges are burned. Being female (and especially in the South, where women are supposed to be ‘nice’ at all times) makes anger or frustration unforgivable, even with people who ‘should’ know better. It makes me feel as if I am only tolerated, if at all, and I should be ‘grateful’ for being allowed into the disability rights discussion. What do we do to educate people who don’t think they need it? You apparently will never see this comment, as I can’t figure out why your Captcha will not accept my efforts.
Jeff Sebell says
Thanks for reading and for your comment. I don’t know why some people react the way they do, especially those in the disability field who you think would understand. I almost think it goes beyond education. Although some people might “know” how they are supposed to react, when they find themselves in the situation they don’t do it. I think it has less to do with education and more to do with human nature, ego, and emotions. I wish you the best of luck in both your TBI battles and your volunteer position, and thank you for doing the work. Jeff
Pamela Jarrett says
OK, got it. The ‘post comment’ button was not visible. I found it finally!! The Captcha site is delightful!
Laurett Gannon says
This blog is such a great resource. I’m coming up on my 1 year TBI anniversary in late September and can’t tell you how many times I’ve snapped over things that never bothered me before the injury. Thank you for all of the information and insight!! The journey continues…
Laura Barnwell says
Thank you so much for this wonderful article. My 20 year old son is three years post TBI. He has episodes of “snapping” which is very frustrating for him as well as the entire family. We read this article together and he asked me to send it to other family members. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you sharing your experience. This will definitely help others understand what is happening to their loved one who has a TBI.
I lost my family over this, Im a bouncer and about ever 3 to 4 months I would get hit in the head… few days later I snap blowing up freaking out at my partner for no reason. Its the most strangest thing because you see yourself doing it but cant stop until its over… god im going to miss them, Kills me inside knowing that my job to provide for them is the reason they are gone.
My advise is to seek help asap with any kind of blow to the head. Speak out about it dont keep it bottled up.
Carol Figg says
Thank you for your information. I have had a head injury from falling 3.8 metres down a cellar someone forgot to close in a dark room. I subsequently had a stroke from the impact and then brain surgery.
I have been probably too proactive as this is a Work cover claim. You know how it goes. Back to work. Back to work.
I have been doing well but probably been doing too much. I have been told to pace. What does that really mean? Everybody is so different!!!! I have been doing what I am told but without understanding. After 18 months I decided to branch out and go to a barbecue with a lot of people. The music was way TOO LOUD and my brain reacted. I felt nausea, dizzy, headache and upset. I lost my cool when the music was not being turned down. Could not even hear the person speak next to me.
Not well for a few days and then a so called friend slammed her mobile phone shut by accident and it penetrated my brain. Then the following day I was supposed to meet some friends and was told the wrong directions. It took all my energy just to drive to the correct place. Then I lost my cool. Yes I snapped. I had not had this experience until now – I have been pacing myself but decided it was time to enlarge my going out activities to different places.
I feel bad for snapping and not understanding what is going on. My husband told me off. Not acceptable for me to snap. Yes I agree but why was this happening.
When I finally stopped crying that afternoon, I looked up some information and found your article along with a few other from the Brain Injury Line. NOW IT MAKES SENSE.
I have a psychologist and psychiatrist but none of this has been explained to me even though I have told them that I am reacting like this.
I go to the experts as I am not qualified but it seems like you have to be your own doctor. Or is it because it is Work Cover.
I also split my humerus bone right arm/broke my shoulder and fractured my L3 vertebrae and this has healed.
But the emotional toll is enormous.
So I thank you very much for your article – to know that I am not going totally insane.
Thank you again