Regression, Peaks, and Plateaus

  • Introduction
  • Recovery Journey
  • Conclusion

Introduction

The journey through life following a brain injury is tough. It is really, really tough. 

It has a very different ‘toughness’ about it than ‘normal’ life has when the unexpected comes along.

There are vast differences between life and experienced living pre and post brain injury.

Pre-injury, you have all your faculties about you, which help to determine how well you deal with life changes or trauma. Supported by your personality, knowledge and wisdom, you remain predictable to yourself and others.

Post brain injury life can be vastly different. A brain injury can wipe out all the knowledge and ‘conditioning’ of your upbringing – much as though a wet cloth has wiped out your personal ‘blackboard.’

Many people have to start all over again because their history is missing and there are less tools in the box. Does it feel like this for you?

Also, the ‘true’ or original personality becomes buried beneath a thick layer of cognitive and executive impairment, affecting the way you are seen, and how you see, or don’t see, yourself.

The ‘same’ things don’t happen in the same way post brain injury as they do to people who have never experienced brain trauma because the mechanical impetus is different.

For example, people often assume that ‘we all do that,’ and non-injured people jump to these conclusions because they notice similar outcomes rather than understanding the causes.

What we ‘see,’ isn’t always what we think we see; sometimes observers need to take on board that they don’t understand the whole picture.

The journey isn’t straightforward, either.

Even where no brain injury is present many of the things that happen to us affect our preferred balanced state. With a brain injury, shifts from the norm can be exacerbated, and this stable position can swing widely out of control.

It isn’t that people can’t control their emotions per se, it is that the tool we use to be able to do this is missing.

Recovery journey

As you move through the recovery and rewiring process, you may notice that periods of doing well suddenly seem to ‘end and flatten out for a while, or that you feel as though you are going backwards.

The first experience where doing well seems to come to a halt is about reaching a transitional peak. This change is often determined by environment – life around you – how much you are focused on self-care, and how much input or support you are receiving.

Then, as time goes on, it can seem there are no further improvements, but at the same time, nothing seems to be deteriorating either. Called reaching a ‘plateau,’ this experience is often caused when someone has reached a saturation point in their learning.

Effectively, the brain has reached the maximum processing load and needs time to file the new learning before it can take on more information.

Neither of these states is ever permanent – they are transitional and a natural part of the explainable journey.

The other thing that can happen is experiencing the ‘fall’ or a regression. This feeling of going backwards is also explainable.

If you feel as though your progress is in a trough or even deteriorating, you might struggle to relate to the changes behind this. Feeling you are in a decline happens in times of emotional and environmental stress.

For example, any change, such as moving house, the death of a loved one, or perhaps, a need to take on more responsibility because of other factors, can cause regression.

Other stressors, for instance, not being able to articulate experiences or feeling misunderstood can also be involved in people feeling as though they are taking three steps back.

Often we can’t make sense of why these fluctuations happen.  You may question or worry about these changes and find it difficult to relate to the causes. 

Life post brain injury isn’t as frightening or worrying when we expect these experiences and consequences to happen. They are part of the journey.

Conclusion

If we think about it, life is always pinpricked by ‘way-markers’  or clues.

Before a brain injury, we don’t notice this so much – we take things in our stride. Post-injury we are attuned to be aware of much more detail, and we need to be because this helps with the process of understanding ‘what has broken,’ so that we can fix it.

Because of problems with processing you are more likely to get lost in these details. It isn’t always that the patterns of life itself have changed – it is that sometimes the way we perceive it has.

Understanding the outside world can be confusing because as you learn and your brain rewires your perspective might not always update at the same rate. Some parts of your understanding might get ahead of others and this will feel as though you have grasped something, only to lose it again.

Rewiring takes time because your brain needs to be ‘convinced’ before it changes. If you want something to stick, you need to use repetition. 

The reality is that no matter what comes, while you might occasionally lose some conscious focus on your recovery, the brain itself never does. It will still be working behind the scenes.

As you fight on and bounce back and you will find that the only way forward is to deal with whatever is showing up and then get back to focusing on your recovery.

What we may not attribute to the changes experienced are things like stress, sleep quality, or nutritional changes – all of which can quite rapidly alter how well you are doing.

All stops, starts, and flatlining are usual and to be expected.