Something that I’ve struggled with from time to time since my brain injury is the question of what is reality versus what is perception. What I mean is: I haven’t always felt as though I could trust my senses to tell me what was actually happening. Sometimes there was a hint of doubt when I was trying to follow instructions, or I had to look two or three times to confirm what my brain was telling me. It was so confusing!! What is real here?
When you don’t trust your senses, you don’t make decisions and you don’t live your life because you’re always questioning yourself. For no good reason, I will ask myself, “Is that what that person said?”, or, “Did I really see that?”, and, for the moment, it’ll be like I’m stuck in cement; I won’t be sure how to move forward. There is no good reason I should feel as though I can’t trust my senses,but that feeling creeps up on me sometimes.
I look at this as a “brain” versus “mind” issue, and I will explain what I mean. Quite simply, to me the difference between the two is that people go to a medical doctor to treat issues with their brain, but they go to a therapist to treat issues with their minds. The brain’s function is affected by things like diet, environment, rest or whether it has been damaged or not. The mind’s function can be affected by many things, among them: upbringing, familial relationships, environment and also, brain injury. When we’re knee-deep in our life, post–TBI, it’s hard to see the difference or to separate and address any issues properly. However, if we take a step back, we may be able to see the differences so we can address them.
Our damaged brain is not causing us to doubt our abilities and question both ourselves and our senses. Our mind is acting up because our brain, the organ our mind depends on, has been so damaged. Our mind allows us to feel joy, have hope and be confident, but it has been affected by the damage our brain has incurred, just the way secondhand smoke affects humans; it’s as if the mind is in the same room as the chain smoking brain, and it has been sickened. We need to address that, because our ultimate success is going to depend on having a positive, fully functioning mind.
I think of the mind as the part of the brain where consciousness dwells, and where we have reactions to things that we sometimes think are out of our control. We think we can’t control these reactions because we feel they are ingrained in us, as much a part of us as our arm or leg. The reality is, the reason people go to therapists is to learn how to control these reactions, so they can learn how to be fulfilled as human beings. If we are able to compartmentalize our brain and our mind functions, there is no reason we can’t learn to live our lives the way we always wanted to, despite our brain injury. This can be a tall task, because our brain may be severely damaged, but it is owing to the human spirit that the human mind may learn to triumph.
So when we talk about questions of reality versus perception, we must look at the root causes of the crisis of confidence. When we address the functioning of our minds, realizing that we need to take control of how we feel so we can drive ourselves forward, we will be better equipped to deal with the crisis of confidence we sometimes have.
In order for us to live a fulfilled life, our mind must be the cheerleader in moving our brain forward through the rehabilitation process. Being driven by our minds, we must start with the idea that we are okay. In fact, in its role as cheerleader, the mind must fling around its pom-poms and have a continuous pep rally for the brain, be forward-looking, and refuse to take no for an answer. In this way, we drive the brain to that place where we are living the life we want to live.