You know what I’m talking about: the crazy, never-ending noise in our heads; questioning, debating, not believing, not trusting.
The bedlam in our brains. That infernal, mind blowing racket that stops us in our tracks.
Now, this noise may not begin immediately, but after the initial shock and trauma of our brain injury begins to wear off and we start looking for our old lives, that noise comes out in all its glory; telling us that we can’t do this or are unable to do that; we are no good. Our heads are filled with crippling doubt. With anxiety. With the idea that we are never going to be what we once were, and that we can’t do anything right. Our future looks like a big black hole, and we worry about what will become of us.
While its true that those of us who have experienced a brain injury can have any number of serious physical or cognitive issues, the noise in our heads; the emotional and mental affects of brain injury, can be the most debilitating and difficult to live with.
We all do our best to work around any physical and cognitive issues, but these mental and emotional issues are hard to deal with. They prevent us from reaching our potential and they take away the ability to live our lives. They make us feel helpless; we cannot explain them or understand them, and we don’t know what to do about them. We just accept their relentless roar in our heads as one of the consequences of brain injury.
What To Do?
Some of us we think the noise will go away when we find a way to “fix” ourselves and get back to the way we used to be. Others decide to see a social worker or a psychiatrist, trying to find answers.
Personally, I found myself unable to do anything about what was going on in my head; the constant jibber jabber that rolled around in my brain as I went about my daily life, making me miserable, making me not care if I lived or died.
I didn’t understand the doubt, lack of confidence and the questioning, and I reluctantly accepted them as something that was always going to be there until I “got better” someday. I also learned to accept my situation, along with my depression and my loneliness, as though it was a fate I “deserved”.
My thoughts were out of control, and I couldn’t do anything right. I found myself trapped, and I longed for the way things used to be, back when my mind worked for me and not against me.
By itself, all this noise noise was hard to live with, but there was something else: the noise made me constantly worry. I worried about what I thought. I worried about what other people thought. I worried about what other people thought about me. I worried about my future. I worried about my present. I saw no way out.
I drove myself crazy this way and, in my mind, I became an insignificant person in the world: a person without any value.
A Way Out?
I needed help; someone to point me in the right direction.
Then I discovered something Buddha said.
Buddha talked about how each person’s mind was inhabited by chattering, or drunken, monkeys. These monkeys would swing from tree to tree, high in the jungle of our minds, screeching and laughing. The noise of these drunken monkeys was so loud that we would become paralyzed; caught up in how bad the chattering made us feel.
When I heard that, I saw a light; maybe a way out. Finally, Buddha had given me a name for all that racket; for my affliction. l had a name for all that noise, and maybe now I could figure out what to do about it.
Come, Sit Down and Make Yourself Comfortable
I couldn’t come up with a way to simply rid myself of the monkeys; they were just too ingrained, but what Buddha helped me with was finding a way to accept and tame those monkeys so I could live with them. I had taken the first step; understanding the existence of the monkeys, but what do I do next?
The solution sounds strange, but it is this: forget about what the monkeys are “doing to you” and learn to focus, instead, on making them your friend. Sounds crazy, but if you begin by accepting them and understanding that they aren’t going to go away, you can make some headway.
Let’s face it, these monkeys are your neighbors, and it always works much better when you get along with your neighbors; even when they don’t make your life easy. Work to have your mind be a positive force by going out of your way to accept and talk to them; have a conversation with them. Be calm. Acknowledge the monkeys and engage them in a way that helps you.
Learn to talk to them, become familiar with them. Tell them you know what their game is, and make them your friend. Each emotion has their own monkey, and you can even give them all names. Fred the fear monkey. Alice the anxiety monkey.
When we’ve had a brain injury, our well being is not only affected by what happened to us, but it is also dependent on how we choose to approach life after our injury; on the choices we make. We want to live the best life we can, regardless of how our brain injury has impacted our lives, so we have to put our best foot forward by finding different ways to make our lives work. One way we can do that is by making an effort to live with the monkeys.
Make the choice to have your mind work for you. Engage the monkeys. Tell them you are happy to see them and ask how their day has been. Tell them you know what their game is. Tell them, “That was a good try, but I’m not falling for it this time.” Learn to speak up for yourself, not with fear, anger or by being confrontational, but with the truth, sincerity and strength.
When those negative, chattering monkeys come a-calling, stop for a second and think about what those voices really are and remember the power in you…the power to understand and live the life you want and not be trapped by what the monkeys say.