The Mighty Logo

Changing My Definition of Confidence After Encephalitis

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Starting off this story with a few words of advice… never ever take anything for granted. You never know when life as you know it is about to do a full 360. Encephalitis and its resulting brain injury have certainly been a life-changing event for my family and I. I’m not sure that I fully believe in finding a silver lining yet, but I am definitely determined to make the best of a bad situation and on focusing on what is the most precious to me.

What have I lost that is precious to me?
The things I’ve lost that are precious to me aren’t actually things, they are personality traits, aptitudes, intangible aspects of what made me “me.” They are what made me unique, what helped me stand out, aspects of my personality that I knew I could always rely on to get me through various situations, personality traits I have always been proud of, aspects of myself that have always served me well. They haven’t completely disappeared, but a lot has changed to varying degrees.

The list could be long, but out of all of things I feel I’ve lost, the aspects I miss the most are by far my endless amount of energy and my self-confidence.

Levels of energy now have to be very carefully managed on a daily basis and affect a lot what I can physically/mentally accomplish day in and day out. Going through life on an empty tank or waking up on a tank half full is hard work. Everything has to be planned well in advance and any unforeseen event becomes quite scary and hard to process.

It makes me quite inflexible in my way of thinking, because I am well aware of what it implies for my physical and mental health when my energy starts running dangerously low. I can’t just wing it anymore. Well actually, I can, but if I do, I am likely to pay a hefty price. Sometimes this translates into having the smallest changes generate a huge amount of stress, which further depletes me of energy. To put it bluntly, fatigue sucks.

Fatigue sucks, but I think not nearly as much as having noticed my self-confidence and usual assertiveness vanish into thin air. Being around people is super draining, and once the brain stops being able to process things normally, so many things start going wrong. I can’t keep on pace with what’s happening around me, connecting the dots takes a long while, my speech starts to slur and slow down and to add to the brain fog, and my vision often goes blurry. I start to get overwhelmed because everything seems to be happening way too fast, but my weird, wonderful brain can’t keep up with the influx of information.

I know I’m not on pace anymore. Rightly or wrongly, I find that absolutely humiliating, which throws all my confidence out the window. There is no easy way to brush it off either, because this is something I experience almost every single day — a constant reminder that you can’t quite perform to the levels you were accustomed to.

That in itself is enough to shake anyone’s confidence. You go into situations not knowing how long you are going to last, so instead of getting amongst it all and being part of the action, your self-preserving mechanism kicks-in and tells you to go in the quiet spot… further isolating you and taking away any bits of confidence you are desperately trying to hold on to. I miss the confident Veronique. Glimpses of it emerges in specific situations, on a good day or when I know I’m surrounded by people who will be supporting me no matter what. So I hold on to those moments and try to figure out how best to build my confidence back up from these little wins.

Turning the loss into a win
I look back at some of the things I’ve lost and I so wish I could go back in time, stop, live in the moment and be more grateful for the person that once was. So many past complaints now seem so futile.

If anything good has to come out of encephalitis, it is that it has forced me to really take a good look at the core values I cherish. I now realize that in the past so much time was invested in the wrong places. Some values are still worth fighting for, some I’m trying to redefine or tweak so they become achievable once again. Confidence is an important value to me and rebuilding my confidence is something I spend a lot of time on. Years have gone by now since the brain inflammation and what used to shred my confidence to pieces has changed too.

I’m slowly accepting to change the way I look at things. Instead of being ashamed by what my brain can no longer accomplish, I am becoming proud of what it can achieve in spite of all its ongoing limitations. I am recognizing that I can’t keep isolating myself; I am who I am and who I am is still good enough for some people around me. I am still trying my hardest in all my endeavors, probably twice as hard actually.

What I think I am the most proud of is the fact that I keep putting myself out there in spite of all my brain wonkiness. It is truly not an easy exercise to do so with shattered confidence. Although I am realizing a little bit more every day that it actually takes a whole lot of confidence to carry on carrying on the best I can.

There will always be people around us to make us feel like we aren’t good enough anymore… but I still have a choice. I can still choose my values over theirs which, will further help me rebuild my confidence. For those who don’t get it, I’ve now figured that it is not my responsibility to change how they think. I sure hope they would gain more awareness, but I now have an ace up my sleeve; I know how quickly life can turn around. Life isn’t just rainbows and butterflies. The good and the bad events are what makes us us, and beautiful things emerge from the darkness too.

Follow this journey on The Weird and Wonderful of a Broken Brain

Image via contributor

Originally published: March 9, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home