Words rebel & become unresponsive after brain injury.

Word finding difficulties are unfortunately a common struggle for many brain injury survivors. In a previous post Aphasia from brain injury, I tried to define how language skills can be affected. It was my effort at trying to broadly explain to observers what is happening and how they can help. But now I would like to do something different – explain my experience of it, and the knock on effect it has on my behaviour.

Searching for the words after brain injury

“You know, the thingy…….”

Most people have at some time struggled to put their finger on a name or term. It’s normal. Your brain holds it’s own huge library of words. Think about it, if one book gets put back in the wrong place even the best librarian needs extra time to locate it.  Ever wondered how big your library is?

“A reasonably educated person about 75,000……An ordinary person, one who has not been to university say, would know about 35,000 quite easily.” – Professor David Crystal, known chiefly for his research in English language studies and author of around 100 books on the subject.

To read more about estimated vocabulary see the article I took this quote from on BBC News, magazine.

Might as well be a foreign language

But imagine struggling to put a sentence together. It feels more like when your French Teacher is trying to get you to put a word you have just learned into a workable sentence. You sort of know what you mean, but how do you get it out? It all takes so much effort.

Personally  I never could cope with French grammar, so I moved over to German instead. Turns out that as long as you avoid using the word AND by starting a new sentence, they build their sentences they same way as we do in English. You don’t have to play hide and seek with the verb, or whatever it is that happens. So when I’m starting to struggle with my words, I start trying to find easier ways to construct sentences, like avoiding And or Und in German. But it doesn’t feel natural. That’s not the way people talk. So even as I’m trying to do this jiggery pokery in my head, I come to realise it doesn’t sound right.

Can't find the words after brain injury

Is it important enough for this amount of effort?

Then I start to lose the will to continue trying. Perhaps I’m lazy, but when I’m tired anyway I quiet often give up playing the find the word game. Instead I might just say “I don’t know”, which isn’t entirely true. But because I don’t want to continue, it’s my get out of jail card.

I still remember being the teenage know it all who would have done anything to avoid ever having  to say “I don’t know”. She would be ashamed of me. She does scold me a little bit every time, but who ever listened to a spotty brat with holes in her tights anyway. But she does have a point. As the other person is then put in the position of trying to educate me, I get even more frustrated. Yes I know all this, I just wish you could plug me into something and just let it all download.

All of this equals stress, which only exacerbates my tiredness. It feels like a lose lose situation. It is not anyone else’s fault, but my own. I need to be more patient with myself, or just be honest and say I need to reboot before we can continue.

How frustrated do you get when trying to find the right words? Do you think people understand how difficult it is?

Just an after thought, if you have signed up for my newsletter please add michelle@jumbledbrain.com to your contacts. Unlike Oscar the Grouch, I don’t enjoy being in the bin.

I know what I want to say, but I struggle to get the words out following my brain injury
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One Reply to “Words rebel & become unresponsive after brain injury.”

  1. Yes, yes, yes! Word frustration, I hate this part of my brain injury. In my job as a communicator for the deaf, you have to be really good and fast with vocabulary, changing the words for sign and rearranging the order of a sentence, British Sign Language (BSL) doesn’t use connectives like , a , is, it, and, the , small connecting words in sentences as you would do in the written and spoken form of English. I could easily swap it around at ease, from my head into sign. Since the brain tumour surgery, I can no longer do this, I slur my words, make words up, they are in the wrong order and I miss out all those little words that construct a sentence correctly, gosh this is really frustrating, I feel stupid. I think how I used to be and now I can’t speak properly. It’s worse if I am in a very busy and stimulating situation, anxiety rises and my speech really slows to one word answers, as if I am drunk. It makes you feel very vunerable. I have had to learn how to have conversations again, relearning how to listen to others and respond correctly. So Yes it frustrates me, but I still have a voice, it’s jumbled sometimes but it can be used to say kind things and benefit others, there is still value in what I say, it’s going to take time and practice. It will never be the same fluid voice, but it still has a story to tell, as yours does. I think we may notice the difference and difficulties we have now more than ever. So please frustrated or not DONT ever stop talking!

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