The Effects of 'Everyday Illness' on Brain Injury

For those of you who may follow me on Instagram you’ll know that I’ve been sick the last couple of weeks. I had strep throat and it was awful! But the worst thing for me when I’m sick (with what I’m going to refer to as an ‘everyday illness’ because it’s something anyone can get and is relatively quick to get over) is that all of my brain injury symptoms get worse too.

Does anyone else struggle with this?

I guess it makes sense, my body is trying extra hard to fight off infection and illness, so I’m extra tired and thus my brain gets tired easier. And when I’m tired my brain symptoms always worsen! After all, one of my main triggers is lack of sleep! So then I’m left with the symptoms of my ‘everyday illness’ PLUS my brain injury symptoms.

Anxiety

But the main symptom that comes to the fore for me, which I really struggle to manage when I’m ‘everyday sick’, is my anxiety. I guess it’s to be expected, as this is one of my biggest struggles throughout my recovery. But it becomes really difficult to mange when I’m ‘everyday sick’ and I over-think EVERYTHING!

It starts off with just being stubborn.

I quite simply just don’t want to be sick, so I ignore it and pretend I’m fine. I think a lot of people are like this – regardless of previous illness or injuries. I guess I have always been a bit like this. In fact, I definitely was when I think back on the early days of my brain injury; going back to work too soon, pushing myself too hard, trying to be normal, etc. But now it’s 100 times worse, because it’s almost like I have a fear of being sick.

I’m scared of being off work again, because what if I’m off for ages like the last time?

I don’t want to go to the doctor, because what if they tell me I’m pushing myself too hard and my brain is suffering as a result?

What if the medication they prescribe, if any, affects my brain?

What if I have to rest and I can’t exercise? Exercise is one of my main medicines after all.

And, what if I have to take time off work?

I don’t want to be at home alone again all day.

I don’t want to miss out on work.

I don’t want to miss out on anything anymore – not even for a week.

I don’t want to go backwards.

Fear and Panic

Eventually, I go to the doctor, because there’s no denying that I’m sick anymore. And this time around I was told I have to go on a course of antibiotics and painkillers and take some time off work to rest. And BANG! I’m brought back to the beginning and this fear builds and builds inside of me. It’s so irrational but I can’t help it. I mean everyone gets ‘everyday sick’ and they just have to rest. It’s called life!! But when I’m sick, having to rest puts me on edge.

I’m home alone and it reminds me of before and I get upset thinking about what it was like when I was off sick with my TBI. And I’m scared that it’s going to be like that again.

And I feel guilty because I’m not at work.

And I worry that anyone else ‘normal’ wouldn’t actually feel this unwell at all. But because of my brain injury I’m always going to experience illness worse than others. Or, maybe I’m not actually this unwell at all and it’s all in my head?

I was talking to my mum the first day I was off work and she said “This will remind you now of being at home alone again when you were off before. But sure at least you know this is only for a few days”.

And I knew that was true, but there was still this small, irrational voice in my head panicking and saying “But what if it isn’t?”

(SO dramatic, I know!)

Exercise for Anxiety

Usually, when I feel these levels of anxiety, fear and worry I exercise. I’m forever saying that exercise really helps to control my anxiety. But I was too run-down to exercise. Even going for a short walk left me exhausted and nauseous. Which in turn made my anxiety worse!

Instead, I relied on mindfulness and the power of positive thinking, to remind myself that all will be ok again soon. It also helped that I had Noel coming home to me every evening for lots of cuddles. I can be so needy when I’m not feeling well, but a hug from Noel makes me feel so safe and I just know it will all be ok then.

Now I’m finished with all my medication, I’m back to work, I’m back exercising (not at full capacity yet, just easing myself back in!) and all of my brain injury symptoms are under control! So all is good in the word again 🙂 I just need to remember this the next time I’m feeling ‘everyday sick’ and try not to let it worry me!

Tips for 'Everyday Illness' whilst Managing a Brain Injury

  1. Keep reminding yourself that these are common illnesses that you will recover from, just like everybody else
  2. Make sure you continue to fuel your body with all of the nutrients your brain needs for recovery. Your brain needs healthy foods now more than ever!
  3. Practice mindfulness
  4. Drink kefir milk. It’s full of probiotics that help your body regain balance when you’re on antibiotics.
  5. When you’re finished your course of medication don’t rush back into normal life. Ease yourself in.
  6. Build your body back up with supplements such as Floradix and a course of post-antibiotics probiotics.