Brain Damage, Part V: Advanced Recovery, Reclaiming Splinter Skillsby Robert A. Yourell, MA | February 25, 2008
Since you’re pretty much on your own once they tell you you’re recovered, I’m dedicating this topic to everyone who is supposedly recovered, but who do not have functional lives yet. If this isn’t you, please keep reading, because it’s bound to be someone you know sooner or later.
Failing at things that you used to do? Odds are, there are the missing links in your chains of successful behaviors, such as networking, pulling yourself together in the morning, responding to a creditor, or managing your papers, maybe even in managing your emotions or dealing with a verbal conflict.
Running Into Walls
In my recovery, a recurring surprise was that I would go into a situation that I had not navigated since the injury, and I would not handle it successfully. It was always a complete shock, because I had no sens of being unable to do it. That’s because, like everyone else, I was relying on many splinter skills that function pretty much unconsciously in order to do these things.
At first, I simply retreated, assuming that I was too disabled to function at that level in general. In time, I realized that was not the case. I had a variety of good skills, but they were perforated by missing splinter skills. Of course the emotional instability, fear, shame, and fatigue disguised this at first. As I began to get those things handled, it became pretty obvious that I needed to literally “reinstall” the missing skills.
Take networking, for example. I recall that I met someone who might connect me with a good opportunity down the road. I should follow up. But where’s the number? Well, it’s on their card. Where’s the card? Last I recall, they were handing it to me. In order to fix this problem, I had to go through a rather painful mental process of recreating what, in the past, had been a more or less unconscious behavior: having a place where such things go and a time to input the information. It sounds so SIMPLE. And it was, once I reinstalled the behavior.
So here’s a bit of irony. When you pick up enough of these dropped skills to get your confidence back, some goofball will tell you, “See, you just needed to get your confidence back.” Try not to hurt them too badly.
And moving? It was as though I were a twelve-year-old thrown into an adult responsibility. It went pretty badly. But, prior to that move, I had always known exactly what size truck was needed, how much help was needed, and I always arrived at my destination on schedule! That episode was the first thing that really clued me in on this lost splinter skill issue.
As I expanded the scope of my writing, I found myself rediscovering how to spell words like “phrenetic,” no, “frenetic,” ah, there we go. This was not damage to my ability to spell, it was damage to my memory of how to spell. Once I re-learned the word, I did not forget. That is a very important difference! If you have the ability, but fail, consider the possibility that you must reinstall some missing skills.
This is a lot like amnesia, only it involves forgetting things that you had long ago forgotten you knew! ( No wonder it’s so mysterious. It’s no coincidence that approaches to mental illnesses that involve manual-based training in really basic skills are hitting the spot for a lot of people. Whether they know it or not, some of these clients are not learning new skills, but are reinstalling old ones that had been dropped, just like my moving and contact management skill problems.
Anyone who has dropped to a lower level of functioning should make a major priority out of pinpointing exactly what skills are missing. For example, test yourself before plunging into something you haven’t done since the injury, no matter how confident you feel. This can help prevent you from running into walls, so to speak. And don’t just retreat to an overall lower level of expectation when you fail. It may just be a matter of reinstalling missing skills. Yes, there are injuries that can prevent you from re-learning these skills, but even these may be healing so that you will be able to re-learn the skills down the road. Adjusting to limitations does not mean abandoning hope.
There should be a formalized process for assessing what skills may have been dropped and for training on those skills. If this already exists, please let me know. (Surprise me!)
Yes, I understand that there are other deficits that can undermine your functioning, particularly short-term memory. If your errors are primarily because of not being able to retain or process information, it may be a matter of taking more time. But there are things that help many people expedite their recovery, even though they are having a lot of trouble with brain processes as opposed to skills. Been there, done that. I’ll be writing about that, too.
Per the Brain Injury Association of America: Currently, there are at least 5.3 million Americans living with a disability because of a brain injury and the estimated lifetime costs of brain injury (including direct medical costs and indirect costs such as lost productivity) totaled $60 billion in 2000. Every 23 seconds a traumatic brain injury occurs, and in the next year, an average of 1.4 million Americans will sustain a traumatic brain injury.
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