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Brain injury blog by survivor

Brain injury blog by survivor



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Brain injury blog by survivor

Brain injury blog by survivor



I am listening… just my brain injury keeps phasing out.

Follow me:

I promise I do listen. But if you happen to leave the room for a moment and we are watching TV, don’t expect me to be able to fill you in on what you missed. The moment you ask me to explain, I will realise that I’m not sure because I’ve been phasing out so not taking it all in.  Lots of people have this when they are distracted (mobile phones are a guilty party for this) but this happens so much more after my brain injury.

Please don’t be offended when I don’t follow what you just said.

Particularly if the conversation has become a little one way; eg you are recounting an event with intricate detail, I am going to struggle. Often we associate this with boredom and the subject isn’t interesting enough to stop our minds from wandering.  But when you have a brain injury that isn’t the only reason for phasing out. I might just become aware of something, like “oh my double vision is slightly worse today,” or “wow, suddenly fatigue is coming back.” That can be the moment that you have just got to the crucial element but I’ve missed it. I don’t even particularly realise I’ve missed it until you ask me a question. Actually I often can’t even be sure why I phased out and couldn’t tell you what I had been thinking about.


But why does this happen?

I’m not a scientist or a doctor so forgive me if I over simplify this explanation, but here goes. Active listening is a skill which is assisted by cognitive control. Different areas of the brain work together during cognitive control. Problem solving for example is an adaptive temporal scale, where as concentration is a stable temporal scale.  I spent quite a long time reading and rereading a study about this. It probably isn’t easy for the average person to read as it is, but for a brain injury survivor I can tell you it’s bloody hard!

I used to be good at listening to people, but I do struggle now. Since my brain injury I can involuntarily keep phasing out of the conversation. So I have used as much concentration as I can to understand what to do about this & here's the results.....

But I managed to take this away from it: 

The stable control system (concentration) is more dependant on the length of time you spend on a task. Therefore cognitive fatigue is more likely to be a problem for this system. So often brain injury survivors will try to compensate for this by using the adaptive control system (problem solving). This system is much more reliant on how much oxygen there is in the blood and is less affected by the amount of time the task takes.

So this means if you want a brain injury survivor to stop phasing out on you, don’t just talk at them. Help them engage other parts of their brain to spread the workload. Asking open questions is a way you can do this as they have to think about the answer, not just recall it. By this I mean you could ask their opinion throughout the conversation rather than at the end of your speech. Plus give them opportunities to ask questions as they come to mind as this is an example of their adaptive control system kicking in and offering support.

Not all survivors will have this problem, and those who do will have different levels of recovery within in. I have got a lot better, but I still can struggle at times. Like now I need a rest from trying to read and understand that study, so I’m off to put the kettle on.

Do you find yourself phasing out and struggling to concentrate? Have you got any methods to reduce the chances of your mind wandering off?


20 replies on “I am listening… just my brain injury keeps phasing out.”

I know when my mind starts wondering, I have to stop and take a break to relax – such as listening to music. The issue is wanting to carry on when I know my mind is wondering, to see if I can beat it, and concentrate even better…

Well you do have to treat the brain like a muscle and give it some strengthening training, but you have to be careful you don’t over do it. It’s a very difficult balance as I struggle to know where that fine line is.

Concentrating is so much harder after brain injury. I often appear to be engaging in conversations and I know my face can show that, but in reality I’ve often zoned out and have totally forgotten what’s been said! It’s very embarrassing to admit that!

Yes, can very easily ‘zone out’ especially if the person speaking suddenly changes topic, it’s like it’s in slow motion in my head, I am a second behind, then I’ve lost them. It’s the same when I am answering a question, the intelligent answer is there in my head, but some how the meaning is lost as the words come out of my mouth, (lost in translation), I find this very frustrating. I’ve found I am my best when I am in the best environment, no noisy background clatter, no music, no flickering tv screens, no candles, no screeching chairs on floors, no echo, etc sound a lot eh? I struggle with filtering out noise (flooding) my brain can’t work out which is important info to process or what to ignore, so it gets flooded and then I am lost in the surroundings. So if the environment has less distractions and you face me, then I can see your expression and lip movements, then I just may be able to tune in and respond back, but then again if I am tired and need feeding, forget it. Just some days will be lost in translation days. Joanne

Yes that’s just like me. If you have something important to tell me, don’t save it for over dinner at a restaurant. I’ll just get grumpy because I don’t get it, or I think I do but I’ve missed the point.

I don’t have history of brain injury but I do struggle with autoimmune illnessess that affects my brain, it affects my memory alot, my speech at times, and I have a really hard time comprehending a lot of information at one time, so I can understand the frustrations. It’s not your fault. No one knows this, but I record a lot of conversations so that later I can go back and listen.

Thanks Tabitha. And that’s not a bad idea to record conversations. Especially if they’re likely to be complicated and important.

I struggle with this daily during most conversations. I lose big chunks and can feel my brain slipping away like sand. I had trouble listening to my child’s principal about a learning issue without doing it. I was very frustrated. Luckily my husband can recognize it when it happens and try’s to buy me time to recover. Unfortunately he is not always around and I don’t always recover before the conversation is over so most people just think I space out. I get angry and frustrated frequently. It’s a learning process.

Yes I know what you mean. I think we have to let go of our pride and at the start of an important conversation like that with the school principle, we need to explain at the beginning. Hopefully then when we stop following they can be prepared and know that they need to bear with us.

Yes, I have trouble understanding speech & talking, but it’s hard to describe because at the time nobody would realise & nor do I until after when my brain ticks over what they & I said replay in my head and I realise I answered a question wrong (might sound like a lie) or said the opposite to what I wanted & needed to say in answer to a simple question, and then then it’s too late – but I have emailed people & rung them when I realise and then try to say it right & explain after because I worry about it so much because I never want to say things wrong or appear to be a liar, it’s really awful. and has made me lose lots of confidence – I’m scared I’ll keep doing it. I wish people would ask me again (maybe then or a bit later) to check I gave the right reply but that would be so annoying for them – and maybe at the time I would forget why they need to do that for me. Also I know I often talk more than listen and this must come over as me being self-centred but a big part of it is that for me it’s less exhausting to talk than to try to understand speech, for those (not many) who’ve heard me when I can hardly talk when I’m too stressed or exhausted that will give some idea of how hard it is to understand when they know that’s even more difficult, but mostly people only see or hear me when I’m at my best because otherwise I’m silent and hiding indoors. I really hate being like this, I try so hard to improve but mega stresses make me worse and I regress, so sad & hard work for me because my short-term memory gets really awful so I forget lots & make far more stupid mistakes when doing things and get more clumsy which sometimes means I then have to clean/wipe stuff up = yet more work & exhaustion. Sorry, I’ve gone on too long but this is such an important & complicated subject, thank you for highlighting it and helping us to know we’re not alone and for educating others too – I don’t think doctors or mostly anybody really knows much about all these ‘subtle/mild’ symptoms we struggle with – and I’m still learning about how I am – but then forget & must relearn, repeat…

Exhaustion does make everything so much harder, and listening, decoding, understanding and responding is a process which takes up a lot of brain power, even if people don’t realise it.

One thing that can really help is relaxed breathing. This helps increase oxygen to the brain. Additionally, I do something called Jin Shin Jyutsu ( This is not a martial art but instead the ancient universal art of releasing tension.

A simple thing to do is if I feel worried, I wrap the fingers of my left hand around my right thumb. It releases worry energy flowing through my body. We are actually an energy system. So, tapping into my body’s energy system, doing just this one movement relaxes me. When I’m relaxed my brain chemistry also balances which improves memory and communication abilities.

As I hold my thumb, I inhale and exhale up to ten relaxing breaths. Then, I pay attention again to what was being said. The other fingers (in order from index, middle, ring and pinky) address fear, anger, grief and false pretenses about my situations.

Thanks so much for publishing your blog. You share really great information!

Thanks Susan, I haven’t tried that before but I’m definitely going to give it a try

I’m so glad I came across this today. This describes exactly how I feel after my injury. Like someone else stated, I can always feel my brain slipping away like sand. I always need someone else with me for important appointments because I know I won’t remember what I was told and everything will be paraphrased horribly. So thankful for this page❤

Hi Sydney, it’s hard knowing that you can’t rely on your own memory. But I’m glad you have others that are there for you.

I have often had people say to me “”you don’t listen” even though I am listening. If I’m very anxious I find that my mind starts to wonder off on me, just when I was going to say something, but I must admit thatmy attention span is very poor and so is my processing speed.

It’s difficult when we just can’t take in what someone is saying to us thanks to a short attention span

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