Ever have those TBI moments when your body just seems to seize up? When you’ve forgotten why you were doing what you were doing and are unable to function? When you freeze?
That’s TBI tension.
TBI tension is stifling: it envelops us, like being wrapped up in clingy plastic wrap, like yesterday’s leftovers in the refrigerator, unable to even take a breathe.
TBI tension is real, even though we are unable to see it. In fact, most of the time we only become aware of it when, all of a sudden, it drops in on us unannounced and we find ourselves wrapped so tightly we can’t move.
Most of us do not even know there is such a thing as TBI tension, or that we can possible do something about it. We assume that the tension we feel, or the reaction we are having, is part of the TBI package; a direct result of our TBI.
Since my TBI I have tried break down what is going on with me into manageable pieces. This includes: not assuming that everything I do or that happens to me is because of my Brain Injury, and that my behavior/actions are more in my control than I might think. Let me show you how that relates to how I think about TBI tension:
It is a well known fact that those who have experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury have memory issues. When I have a lapse in memory, the most common response is for me to try even harder to remember and then to beat myself up for not being able to. This action of trying harder causes the gears in my head, moving slowly to begin with, to come to a complete halt, and I experience a total blank.
The way I think about it, the tension is caused, not by trying to remember in the first place, but it is my reaction to not being able to remember: when I can’t remember I try even harder to remember, and that causes some kind of reaction in me. I freeze up and my ability to remember just gets worse. I strain and grunt, trying to recall that important nugget.
This TBI Tension was lying dormant in my body until some event triggers its release. Understanding this has helped me to able to deal with it better when it occurs in my life.
Remember the Tuning Fork
One aspect of life that changed greatly for me after my traumatic brain injury was that I now had a constant feeling of pressure and tension tucked away in the background as I lived my life, and it would surface at the worst times. I looked at it as being out of tune with the rest of the world.
When I thought about it, I decided much of the pressure I felt was self imposed; the result of thinking I should be able to do things. Sometimes I would feel that pressure when I was anticipating problems before there was even an issue; but usually I felt that pressure when I was in the middle of something and messed up.
That pressure would be especially bad when I had to do something under a time constraint. When it was both a new situation and a time constraint; look out, baby, we’re headed for trouble.
It seemed as though I never could relax and have a vacation from my life.
We might not think of the pressure and tension as a separate problem, and so we blame our brain injury. When we do that we don’t think of ways to get ourselves to be more relaxed and accepting of what’s going on in our lives.
Here’s the Trick
I’m looking to a whole body solution. Here’s something that works for me:
Just understanding that TBI tension exists, that I am not going to that it as something that’s tied in with my TBI, and is something I can work on, can help alleviate the effects. Something else that can help is knowing that I need to prepare myself as best I can for the different situations I are going to be in. For me, being prepared ahead of time helps me in situations where I am unable to process information quickly or might get confused.
It’s all about finding ways to keep ourselves relaxed, either by how we do things, being prepared, by avoiding situations that we know will be a problem, or just learning how to get control over our emotions. An other important part of eliminating the tension is accepting ourselves so we stop beating ourselves up, and not making our mess ups an issue but instead staying focused on what we are trying to accomplish. Being aware that the tension itself isn’t really a direct result of our TBI, and that we can do something about the tension gets us halfway to finding a solution.
The rest is up to us, our good sense and the ability for us to accept ourselves and the situation we are in.
Cathy Frietsch says
This post is so true. The most painful aspect of TBI tension, at least for me, is that it is such a constant, because I am so active, and have a very athletic life. Add to this a very stressful world- you get a myriad of issues that become a ‘time bomb effect’ if you don’t stay ahead of the curve of the tension awareness…. Which I am afraid to admit, at times, I haven’t. This post was brilliant in it’s timing for me. Have you ever gotten to the point where your shoulder bones ache, because you have been holding your muscles on your neck and arms so tight for so very long and haven’t even been aware? Sleep so disrupted that you are completely disengaged?! It’s beyond stressed. No hunger. Miserable.
You have to dial back. It’s all about body/mind/soul awareness. Just like you said, Jeff. Being aware of simply acknowledging TBI tension when it’s there. It’s part of our invisible backpack that we carry every single day. I love what you write. It brings peace to my little soul.
Danette Rowse says
Yes Cathy, I have found going to the gym is part of my rehab, and am really enjoying it, but can’t understand how ‘seized up’ I feel in the morning. This could be because of the hard work the day before, or me just beating myself up for not going to the gym! Now I realise a big part of it could be just ‘holding’ the tension in my body. You’re right Jeff, I can’t just keep blaming my TBI. Thank you for all your fabulous insights.
Thank you for creating another thoughtful and thought-filled post. Your posts help me so much to think beyond my brain injury.
Yrs thankyou so much, Im learning alot and really need to stop worring so much snd grt going again. I have been unsuccesful at alot of jobs and really beat myself up for it. I also struggled with addiction because nobody ever diagnosed me and like all guys we want to be strong. I heard check out to see if your hormones are all ok. I have heard pituitary and testosterone among others are affected. Just a liittle insight. Thx again.
Walt Teske says
You hit the TBI tension issue spot on. Excellent post -much appreciated – will print to better remember and keep as a reference.
Maria Romanas says
You hit so many nails on the head, Jeff. The tension is always there, but learning to recognize (and anticipate) the situations in which we are at risk is extremely important (ex. something new and under time pressure). If we anticipate an at-risk situation, we can plan for it, prepare for it (by getting adequate sleep and not doing a whole lot that day or the previous day), and proceed with the task slowly and carefully, watching ourselves to make sure we don’t get distracted, monitoring our emotions (need to step back or “chill” when getting emotionally overwhelmed), and follow through to get a quality result. If the result is unsatisfactory, we need to sit down and deliberately do (and write out) a root cause analysis (What? Why? When? How?) and develop a plan for dealing with a similar situation in the future. It is only in doing this, one situation at a time, that the tension can be minimized and our recovery can be maximized.
Jeff Sebell says
Great stuff, Maria!! Thank you!!
Nathalie Kelly says
This is a great post Jeff! I taught relaxation and stress management skills before my TBI. I know how important it is for brain function, whether or not we have a brain injury.
With brain challenges, the ability to relax, go with the flow, and accept where we are and who we are are even more crucial to our brain’s ability to function. Ironically, what we need the most has just become so difficult!
Lynn Crisci says
TBI tension…who knew? Thanks for sharing! It was a big turning point in my healing of my own TBI to learn to separate my brain’s needs and reactions from myself as a whole. IE part of my body is hurt. My brain is angry. My brain is overtired. This way, I am not blaming myself as a whole person for every action and reaction I have all day long. I can work on my brain and I know I will get better in small increments over very large length of time. No matter how small, I will celebrate each and every victory!
dean reinke says
Do doctors have a medical name for this? Or do they not even have any understanding of this? I will have to research more on this to see how I can relate this to stroke.
John Bell says
TBI tension, in a state of being overwhelmed by an unfolding situation, can hold legal ramifications. I was ripped out of my vehicle & had my arms violently pulled behind my back by the Aurora, Ohio police (the worst tear the orthopedic surgeon had seen in his 25+ years of practice.). You can find yourself in a transient state, and I can still hear the cops saying ‘oh, good’…as they can claim I’m resisting arrest.
I was pulled over the day after Xmas, and my significant other had just purchased a used car the day before Xmas, and the original front license plate was still on.