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Thursday, 5 June 2008

What is Mild Traumatic Brain Injury?

"Over 325,000 Americans annually suffer mild head trauma from automobile accidents, assaults, falls, sports injuries, etc. With a diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), the individual will be told to rest for a few days or weeks, and, with luck, that may be the end of it. Unfortunately, many of those affected suffer ongoing, debilitating symptoms(migraines, depression, seizures, etc.) for months or even years. Symptoms are unpredictable and are difficult to diagnose because there is no single test to detect MTBI and postconcussive syndrome (PCS)"(James Swanton, Harlem Hosp., New York).

My Story:

My name is Josh Schafer and I live in Chicago. At the age of 16, I was fooling around with a friend when he swung a door with great force, accidently hitting me in the head. Since then, I have been dealing with symptoms of head injury that have had a deep impact on my life. Some of my major symptoms are sleep disruption and fatigue, concentration and short term memory difficulties, and dizziness. I have dealt with these problems the past 3 decades on my own for a number of reasons.

First:As far as a medical diagnosis is concerned, the sort of injury I sustained is too mild to be confirmed by any tools presently available to medical science. Cat scans, eeg's and MRI's are simply not sensitive enough to detect the type of damage which occurred in my head. Even the much more sensitive neuropsychological battery of tests fails to pick up the cognitive deficits I know to be present. Furthermore, my injury did not result in coma or even transient loss of consciousness. Therefore, I can expect no offical confirmation from the medical community that there is anything wrong with my head.

Second: I am aware of the fact that there are many support groups available in the U.S. for victims of acquired brain injury, and that even without official diagnosis of my injuries, I am welcome to join these communities. However, I don't feel comfortable participating with these groups because my symptoms are so much more mild that those suffered by the typical head injury support group members. Many of them were involved in high speed MVA's (motor vehicle accidents) and deal not only with profound cognitive deficits, but also physical paralysis, vision and other bodily injuries.

While I definitely identify with many of the cognitive difficulties they experience and am comforted by their acceptance of my challenges, I still feel a deep need to locate others whose experience is a bit closer to my own, people who are able to "pass" as unbrain-injured, who are able to hold down part-time or full-time employment, go to school, rasie families, do seemingly everything so-called normals can do, but still know that all of these things are significantly harder for them in ways that only a fellow sufferer can fully understand.

I believe there are literally 100's of thousands, perhaps millions, of people in the U.S. alone who, like me, have suffered a very mild brain injury resulting in symptoms which fall under the radar of current medical diagnostic technology. This list includes injury caused by recreational drug use, automobile, sports and work-related accidents, undiagnosed ms and lyme disease, small strokes and tia's. How many of these people either aren't aware of the nature of of their problems or don't feel worthy of including themselves in the same camp as the more profoundly (and officially diagnosed) brain injured?

An online MTBI social community:

My goal in this website is not to offer diagnostic or rehabilitative advice. If you are interested in suggestions for medication, cognitive retraining, lists of neurospychologists and support groups, there are some very good sources available. I highly recommend Diane Stoler's excellent guide, Coping with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. I want instead to help to put together an online social community where people can share their experiences in an atmosphere of empathy and acceptance, a place where everybody can feel, maybe for the first time in a long time, that they are on equal footing with each other.

I must confess I have an even more ambitions goal. Maybe if mild tbi folks can have a chance to be surrounded by other mtbi'ers for long enough, we can begin to find out that we are not just a bit 'disabled' compared to so-called 'normals', but that there are certain advantages, a certain sensitivity or deliberate richness to our experience of the world that "normals" can learn from.

Remember when you were thought of as the clever, witty one in conversations, always ready with a quick comeback? And now you're the quiet unsure one? But maybe you are also aware of details of situations you weren't before your injury, and maybe that sensitivity is drowned out by being forced to have to keep up with the demands of non-brain-injured social interaction. Maybe we can tap into such sensitivities and even discover other ways in which we are not simply 'handicapped' with respect to non-brain-injured but 'enhanced'. I am an independent writer in psychology and philosophy, and I often think that my brain-injury has helped me to understand aspects of mental processes more effectively than I would have been able to without the tbi experience. 

I want to hear about you own experience, topics or rants for this blog, questions for other mtbi'ers, poems, song lyrics, audio, video or anything in between, as long as it's clean. Tell me where you're from, because people who live near you may want to connect with you.(You can also e-mail me privately at )


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Posted by psy/schafer10 at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, 6 June 2008 5:21 AM CDT
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