Why I Worked Through Cognitive Struggles after a TBI while earning a Master’s Degree

A 4-part story of adversity, courage, hope and success for one TBI survivor

Lisa had worked through the initial phases of a TBI patient, completed her bachelor’s degree, yet still wondered what she could do to fit in while struggling with on going cognitive challenges.  She pushed herself through yet another degree program at the graduate level to learn and heal, but it still was not enough.

This is part three of a four-part series of how one traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor overcame obstacles to improve her quality of life when appropriate resources seemed out of reach.  We learned how Lisa’s life changed after a terrible accident in Part I:  Overcome Obstacles Instead of Being Overcome by Them  and in Part II how her she combatted her damaged spirit, executive function  with  determination.

These obstacles and challenges associated with TBI survivors include many skills associated with execution functions of the brain.  These skilled functions can be thought of as the command center of the brain that controls the cognitive processes such as decision-making, impulse control, attention, emotional regulation, and working memory.

Here is part three of her story.

Progress Takes Time

During my undergraduate work, I did a significant amount of research on mild to moderate traumatic brain injury and found there to be limited research regarding mental health and TBI survivors. The wonderful degree I had just earned would not be enough for me to be able to work with fellow survivors.

I do not know about other survivors’ experience with locating a mental health provider who understands and works with TBI survivors, but I ran into a number of therapists who wanted to throw a label on me (whether right or not) and use therapeutic approaches that did not work with my processing and cognitive impairments.

The therapists would say “I can’t help you”, give me a name of someone else to pawn me off on, and be done with it. When I began going to a brain injury support group, I realized there were more people like me out there with similar struggles.

Why not take my accident and turn it into something good to work with other people just like me? I sure did not understand “normal people” and “normal people” reaffirmed time and again that they had no interest in attempting to understand me. So, back to rehabilitation (school) I went.

Unfortunately, the “I can’t help you” therapist plea did not end or improve on the “Learning to Become One of Them” journey.  I saw many TBI survivors not being provided with appropriate services and were given diagnoses just as inappropriate when I was doing my internship for my master’s program.

Three years later, I graduated and was blessed with the opportunity to become licensed as a therapist and began working within a private practice where I had the freedom to work with TBI survivors without negative backlash. This, while still working for the other employer (great benefits) and the associated disrespect (bad benefit) I had served for over three years at the time.

I had the misconception that after I graduated and made something out of myself that life would be better, and I would finally earn the respect of my peers. For some reason, this matters to me. If people do not respect me, they are surely not going to see me as someone they would want to work with in a therapeutic setting.

It seemed like my boss with the long-term employer lost respect for me when I earned a master’s degree, which was disappointing because I had a lot of respect for that boss who actually came to my undergraduate graduation and told me how proud they were of my accomplishment.

My self-esteem tanked once again, and I struggled with not feeling good enough. The judgments, cold-shoulders, and rejections were taking their toll on my well-being. What was wrong with me, I wondered?

My cognitive and processing functions began to regress and my mental health was struggling with my hearing the same tune as before, “I can’t help you” or “I am not a good fit for you”. Those feelings of being a freak or an alien returned, and I wondered again why people are so cruel, quick to judge, and slow to understand?

What I was doing was not working, so I began considering ways I could work on my self-esteem and insecurity issues without the willingness of a mental health professional to work with me.

Have any of you ever wanted to get help but could not get it?

Money is a huge factor, in addition to finding a therapist who is compatible with your emotional needs, finding a therapist with an available opening within a few weeks is another challenge, and by the time you actually get an appointment with a therapist, weeks have passed and the motivation to work on your issues has gone on vacation somewhere.  Your motivation is on a beach somewhere, while your emotions are playing pinball in your brain.

Overstimulation? No. De-stimulation? Yes.

I went a year-and-a-half swimming uphill in a river of depression. Deaths and dear friendships lost were added weights to my load and I once again struggled with despair.  I was driving my vocational-rehab counselor crazy……..

 I needed to do something.

Until next time.

Dr. Lisa Ansell, Guest Blogger
Lisa Marie Ansell, Ed.D., LPC, NCC, CBIS
Licensed Professional Counselor
National Certified Counselor
Certified Brain Injury Specialist
Adjunct Professor at a Private University

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