Ask Kathy M. Archives
A Collection of Questions and Answers from TBI Advice Expert - Kathy Moeller

Topic: Relationship Issues - Parenthood & Brain Injury

Kathy's Comments:

Dear Readers:

This is Kathy M. It's been a while since I've written anything for "Ask Kathy M" and I hope to explain both why and what I have learned about brain injury recovery in the process.

As some of you know, I have battled back from a moderate brain injury to the point where I have been able to both work in competitive employment (for four years) and also operate a business (for the last several years). I am nine years post-injury, as of September 15, 1999. I also am 47 years old, have always worked and have never been a parent!

Now for the reason why I am sharing all this with you -- during the last nine months, my husband and I decided to pursue adopting a special needs child through out state's Childrens' Services Division. We have taken all the classes, attended the foster and adoptive parent support groups, and filled out all the paperwork. So far, so good. . . (I can schedule classes and write "Memory Notes"), but. . . we were not adequately prepared to actually have a child in our home -- particularly me, with all the problems brain injury presents to a person.

To to make a long story a little bit shorter, I am both a new "mom" and a formerly very cocky brain-injured person who thought I had all the strategies I needed "down pat." Not so! I have been humbled by an 8 year old! Brought to my knees, if the truth be told!

Sleep Deprivation
Persons with brain injury NEED THEIR SLEEP! That's not to say they/we will always get it! My hat is off to all parents who struggle with being awakened during the night. And this goes double if you are a parent who has had a brain injury! If you are a parent with a brain injury, KNOW that your functional level the day after being awakened during the night will be dramatically IMPAIRED!!!

Interestingly, sleep deprivation may also look like depression to the untrained eye. And feelings of overwhelm! Less emotional control. More agitation! Frankly, I don't think I ever felt as depressed, overwhelmed and agitated as I have in the last four weeks -- much of which I attribute to sleep deprivation. You see, our new daughter has night terrors and is lonely at night when she wakes up (she was separated from four siblinges after the move to our home, so she needs help making it through the night. I'm the "mom" so I'm elected. It doesn't matter that I feel comatose the next day. I understand and accept this!) I am confident that my brain injury exacerbates the problems anyone would normally have from "normal" sleep deprivation.

Divided and Alternating Attention
Another area I have a new respect for is that of attention! I don't care how much "attention training" you might have had in Rehab (I had plenty). Nothing prepared me for the kind of adjustment I would need in my attention in order to adequately parent a child. From driving along the freeway and hearing, "Mom, I have to puke," from the back seat, to dealing with a spontaneous request for a sleepover, I am constantly bombarded with new things, for which I have inadequate strategies (I write fast, but not fast enough). I have a new appreciation for "normal" processing with respect to divided and alternating attention. And a new respect for the work I need to do in order to be able to switch gears more effectively!

In all honesty, until I became a parent, I didn't realize how much I had adjusted my envirnonment so I didn't need to "switch gears" as much. My new little girl doesn't honor this -- as well she shouldn't. She has needs of her own. My challenge is to have enough strategies in place to make her life pleasant (and normal), and stay sane. I'll keep you posted. So far, it's marginal, at best.

Perhaps the best part of this whole process is feeling the challenge of keeping my priorities straight. The little child who has entered our life is a priority, this is clear! Making sure that she is treated as a priority, on a day-to-day basis -- is the challenge. And yes, my memory and organizational impairments make this a challenge! I do NOT want to forget an important school event! I do not want to "space" homework assignments -- or forget important friend's names.

What is affirming in all this is that strategies I have learned to cope and compensate, ARE IMPORTANT! Heck, I wouldn't be able to keep track of all the teachers and counselors names when they call if I hadn't mastered basic compensatory strategies. But it also makes me realize that there is still much to learn.

Again, my hat is off to all parents who have brain injury. It may actually be easier to take care of yourself, work again, and even run a business, than it is to be a good parent and run a household. Amazing what this journey teaches us, eh?

Hope this helps! It's been good for me to share, thanks.

Kathy M.

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