Brain Injury Pain

There are a lot of symptoms that come with a brain injury e.g. fatigue, depression, memory loss, anxiety, anger, difficulties concentrating and making decisions, etc. These vary from person to person, depending on what part of the brain was injured, but one thing that we will all have in common is pain. That all encompassing pain in our heads that just won’t go away. It’s a constant in our lives. We wake up with a pain in our head; go about our lives all day with a pain in our head and go to bed with a pain in our head.

Then, I’m not sure whether it’s a case of

  1. As the pain gets worse, the other symptoms start to kick in, or
  2. As the other symptoms occur, the pain worsens.

I still can’t figure that one out… It’s like ‘The Chicken and the Egg – which came first?’ debate. I’m sure everyone will have different opinions. But I can’t decide. Is the pain causing my other symptoms? Or, are the other symptoms causing my pain to worsen?

However, regardless of which way around it was, I needed to do something about it. So, for me, keeping my headache diary helped me to identify trends in my pain.

Major Pain Points

Below are some of the major pain points I identified in my normal, every day life:

  1. Commuting to work (Noise)
  2. Work in general: meetings, noise, concentration, everything really! (Concentration)
  3. Commute home from work (Noise)
  4. Shopping; or running any errands really (Noise/Concentration)
  5. Chatting with housemates or friends in the evenings (Noise/Concentration)
  6. When I was tired and/or hungry (Fatigue)

But I also identified times when the pain was less severe:

  1. When I woke up – be it from a full nights sleep, or a nap
  2. After practicing mindfulness
  3. During and after exercise
  4. After eating a healthy & nutritious meal

This was great. I could pin point good and bad parts of my day. Now, what do I do about it? How do I use this information to help reduce my pain and aid my recovery?

How I Started Managing My Pain

Noise

  1. I wore noise-cancelling headphones both in the office and in public.
  2. When I returned to work I changed my working hours to avoid busy commuting times. I worked from 10-2, therefore travelling on the Luas at quieter times. This also gave me some extra time in the mornings to prepare myself mentally for the day.
  3. I avoided the gym at busy times, so would either go in the afternoon or late in the evening to avoid the post work crowds. If I went to a gym class I would make sure that I was at the back of the class and wear headphones to block out the noise from the speakers at the front.

Concentration

  1. I moved desks at work so that I was in a corner, by myself, and didn’t have people sitting on either side of me.
  2. I started taking short breaks at work to get away from both my computer screen and the office environment – just literally going outside for 5 minutes of air makes a big difference!
  3. I practiced breathing exercises when I was at my desk. I would start my day with some slow, deep breaths. Then, if I felt myself stressing throughout the day, or the pain worsening, I would close my eyes and just focus on my breathing. I would picture all of the pain leaving my body, from my head to my toes, and then I would picture a blanket covering me to keep out all of the pain. (This was a technique my councillor thought me.) Then I would get back to work.
  4. I stopped going to meetings. I am back at meetings now, but this was a slow process – I started with short, internal meetings and built myself up to full, client meetings.
  5. I introduced an ‘If you want to speak to me, please email or IM me first and we can go somewhere quite to talk’ rule. [Note: I was really lucky with my place of work. They were extremely supportive and did absolutely everything they could to support and accommodate me in my recovery.]
  6. I walked anywhere I could to help clear my head (and admitedly to avoid public transport!)
  7. I made a list of any food I needed to buy and went to a quite store, or went at a quiet time.

 Fatigue

  1. I went for a nap as soon as I got home from work to help me recover.
  2. I made sure I always ate food before I left the house – be it for work, a doctors appointment, gym, socialising, anything – and I always brought a handy snack with me too.
  3. I only ever cooked ‘easy to cook’ foods and cooked in batches to ensure there was always food there for when I didn’t feel up to cooking e.g. loads of chicken breasts in the oven, lots of veggies, salads, porridge, etc.
  4. I incorporated some form of exercise into every day – be it gym, walk, run, yoga.
  5. I practiced mindfulness every evening to help me relax after the day. When I wasn’t working I aimed to practice twice a day.

You’ll notice a lot of the above are to do with work. But then, my ultimate goal was to get back to work. It was how I was measuring my recovery at the time. Work was one of the most challenging tasks for me. And, it wasn’t just about the work itself, but also the commute and the office environment.

It was for this reason that when I returned to work just 4 weeks after my accident, I was quickly removed again and didn’t return until over 6 months after my accident. When I returned I only worked 8 hours a week (4 hours on a Tues and 4 hours on a Thurs). And it was only then that I learned to implement some of the above tips into my working day, to gradually help me build back up to full time hours over the next 2 years. However, it is never too early to adapt some of these activities into your life.

Patience. Positivity. Openness

I made a lot of changes in my life to help manage the pain in my head. You’ll notice in all of my posts that I make reference to the various changes I made to deal with my injury and to help myself recover. However, you’ll also notice a lot of the same things keep coming up; getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness, eating enough food, exercising and getting fresh air, managing noise and concentration (both in public and in the office).

However, all of this needs to be accompanied by patience, positivity and being open with friends and family. I know at the time I hated hearing this. But all three are so, so important.

Eventually, you will notice the pain easing, the symptoms improving and you’ll begin to feel back in control of your life again. One day you’ll feel the pain lift. I still remember that day perfectly. I remember where I was. I remember what I was doing. I remember how I felt. I remember thinking, “Is this really happening? Is this what it’s like to have no pain?”

And it was. It had taken me 503 days. It only lasted for a couple of hours, before the pain started to sneak back in. But those 2 hours were euphoric. And, over time it happened more often and for longer. I still have pain on occasion, but I am more often without pain that I am with it. It happened for me. It will happen for you too.