How My Traumatic Brain Injury Makes Me Feel Like a Vampire


Vampires are often portrayed as a species to be envied. We see and read books that make vampires out to be sexy and powerful beings with abilities humans only wish we could possess. Stephenie Meyer authored the “Twilight” novels and just about every young woman in high school was absolutely obsessed with reading more about the romance between Edward Cullen and Bella. I was one of these young ladies too, and I enjoyed the newer, more positive perspective of vampirism rather than having to encounter what would probably be the more accurate presentation of such a creature if they existed, like in the Blade movies.

So, while I was head over heels thinking about the possibility of such a fictional creature, I honestly had no idea what being a vampire was like until I acquired my subarachnoid hemorrhage. Now I certainly didn’t obtain fangs and crave human blood, but I did acquire major light sensitivity. I have to wear level five and level eight welding glasses while I am exposed to sunlight and especially when I am under fluorescent lights. I cannot even endure some of the lights in my home without obtaining a massive migraine.

 

Vampires are said to be exceedingly sensitive to light. Their skin burns and, if exposed long enough, they will die. Clearly, that’s not the case for me; however, having a traumatic brain injury causes me to endure great pain when I am exposed to specific types of light for a duration of time. I walk around my house at times wearing these glasses with almost no light coming through, and yet I can see just fine. It’s as if my brain injury has acclimated me to see in the dark, which is another ability of the fictional vampiric creature.

Vampires are also said to be exceedingly sensitive to sounds. They have the ability to pick up on sound frequencies far lower or higher than our own. When my accident occurred, several of my senses were heightened. I would go to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night to hear music. I could also hear people talking, usually no more than three individuals. Despite this sounding completely ridiculous, I was never able to hear things like this before my concussion and traumatic brain injury. I can hear my parents whispering three or four doors down the hall. I can pick up on smells faster than I used to. I mentioned that I have a better ability to see in the dark. All of these changes can be compared to that of a vampire. These fictional creatures all have enhanced senses, and this is why I joke around and call myself a Generation Y vampire since I was born in 1990.

There are several articles out there that highlight this change in a traumatic brain injury survivor’s senses. One post I recently read about is from Melanie Atkins’s blog, Changed Lives New Journeys. In her article “Flooding of the Senses: Sensory Overload After Brain Injury,” she discusses what is known as sensory overload after a traumatic brain injury, where an individual’s brain no longer has the ability to filter out what should be heard, thus “flooding” the brain – sort of like flood water rushing over it.

I found this page to be interesting, but I didn’t agree with it 100 percent. She mentioned that almost every sense in the body could be altered, especially: visual (sight), gustatory (taste) olfactory (smell) and auditory (sound). I very much agree with her on this since each of these with me have been impacted from the car accident. What I disagree with is her explanation that these changes were mostly negative and “over-reactive.” Indeed, it’s possible that a traumatic brain injury survivor has this “flooding” overload regarding their senses, but this doesn’t mean this change will be negative. I consider my increased senses an advantage, because there have been times where I’ve heard something that others did not, and I was able to help in various situations.

The aspect I can agree with Ms. Atkins is in regards to how my brain handles stress and anxiety. My aunt has had multiple sclerosis for about 14 years now. She’d doing well, but says the biggest issue she is struggling with is an incredible surge of anxiety. Her body is not handling this well whatsoever. My traumatic brain injury and her multiple sclerosis are different, but they share similarities. MS is a neurological disease in which the body’s immune system literally eats away at its own nerves. A traumatic brain injury is also neurological in the sense that the injury itself can cause damage to the nerves as well as the brain cells. The conditions are not identical, but she and I share some of the exact same issues.

For example, we share debilitating migraines that can last days, weeks or even months. We also share the flood of stress and anxiety since our brains are no longer able to properly filter out the amount to withstand. The appetite has also changed. For me, I sometimes eat less than I used to because I struggle with extreme chronic nausea. My aunt has nausea too, although I’m not certain about the details of her appetite. We are told vampires do not get sick easily, or at all. Their immune systems are very much enhanced since they consume human blood. Fortunately for chronic illness survivors, we don’t drink blood, but our immune systems kind of suck.

If an individual who is already affected with a chronic illness were to get sick, it only compounds their original illness with even more symptoms from the most current affliction. Basically, this goes back to the notion of flooding. Their brain may not be injured, but their immune system becomes overwhelmed and thus strains to fight off the illness. It’s not hard to see why most of us survivors struggle with stress and anxiety; we have a lot to deal with.

I don’t feel as though the Generation Y vampires are quite as lucky as the vampires portrayed in “Twilight,” but I can see how we each can relate to having some of their abilities. As I stated, those of us who admit to being able to hear things better or even see in the dark better might sound completely ridiculous, but I feel it’s important to share these realizations because others may be out there wondering if they are the only ones with the same “abilities” and also wondering if they should speak up about it. Absolutely! Whether you have multiple sclerosis, a traumatic brain injury or another neurological or autoimmune disease, it’s always wise to speak up about what your personal experiences for those who consider research their BFF. If I have questions, I Google it, or I ask someone who has to endure the issue themselves.

So, with all of that being said, the whole vampirism notion can be seen as both a positive and a negative, but I prefer to look upon these changes as a positive because I, as well as many others, have enough to stress about rather than to add on the notion of us being a unique type of vampire. What are your thoughts on this? Can any of you relate?

This post originally appeared on Strengthening the Muscle of Faith and Amanda’s blog.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Grape_vein.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Traumatic Brain Injury

Antique silver spoons on white background.

Managing My Spoons After a Traumatic Brain Injury

Having a traumatic brain injury can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally. Let’s refer to “The Spoon Theory” for a better explanation. The Spoon Theory is a way chronically ill individuals can explain to their friends and family what certain “normal” everyday actions cost their bodies to complete. As a TBI survivor, I live with [...]
Tibetan mandala on a red background.

Accepting the 'New Me' After My Traumatic Brain Injury

In 2013 I earned myself a five-night stay in the ICU because I was displaying a slew of symptoms that were irregular from my normal behavior. Slurred speech, hallucinations, aphasia, memory loss, no control of my legs, light sensitivity, anger impulses, extreme head pain, fatigue and more. I would talk in a tone that made [...]
Friends drinking coffee and having a serious chat

7 Tips to Tell If Someone Is a Good Friend After Traumatic Brain Injury

Before my traumatic brain injury I had many friends and close relationships. After my TBI some relationships trickled into ghosted memories. There was a period where in many ways I wasn’t the same person. They were connecting with my injury instead of the real person behind it. I know for many people it was too painful to see [...]
Truck on curvy road with rays of sunshine streaming through the green, lush trees.

All I Can Count On as a Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor

I was hit by a car in 2003 as I was crossing the street in a crosswalk. By all rights, I should have broken my neck and died when I hit the ground. Obviously, I didn’t. I’m a little obstinate that way. I was already coping with unipolar depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I was [...]