Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

September 30, 2010

Blitz The Snitz

It matters little, really, that I’m a reasonably intelligent and rational woman with a fair take on most things.   It barely counts that I’ve undergone years of comprehensive therapy in order to engage the smarter, savvier parts of my abilities during challenging situations.   And it fails to register that snitting is often a normal facet of brain injury that can be controlled by anticipation and strategy.

I’ve beaten the bloody hell out of wedding dresses in a bridal boutique with my cane.  But we’ll get to that later.  Laughing here.

One of the most frustrating and embarrassing symptoms and effects of brain injury is the rapid onset of this crazy-feeling inappropriateness.  Or is that impropriety?  

To escape, to release, to implode, to explode. 

It is mortifying.

From very early on, I termed it, “having a snit.”  I would soon find out that there is both good and bad news about snitting.  The good news is that there are ways to recognize and avoid them.   The bad news is that it usually takes  some practice and a few horribly embarrassing and frustrating instances before you start conquering the bugger.

I’ve found that the gap between being physically and emotionally finished and snitting is akin to taking a brand new Camaro onto the expressway.  I’m at 60 mph before I’m halfway down the ramp.

When brain injury survivors are tired, overwhelmed, have endured too much stimuli or are thrust into a confusing, changing environment, we are prone to experiencing an emotional meltdown that is hard to stop once it gains momentum.

Remember the feeling of being 21, 22…  You’d had way too much to drink and you’d want the night to be over.  You’d lay down and the room immediately began spinning and you knew the night was going to end laying on the cold bathroom tile floor?

You knew what was coming.

Or how about when you were a kid and your mom would beckon you using your first AND middle names and you immediately knew whatever was coming wasn’t going to be good.  That feeling of dread…

Avoiding snits is all about recognizing the feeling of snits.  Recognizing that the situation is ripe for a snit, like when a cold front clashes against a warm front and the sky turns still and green and you know a tornado is coming.

My snits come if I allow myself to go for too long.  Way past my quota for any day of chaos, plans changing, too many people, too much activity…

I was helping a friend shop for wedding dresses that day and we had been to so many bridal shops and had seen so many dresses that, abruptly I was “done” and had nowhere to escape to.  There were too many people in the tiny shop and it was hot and there were literally thousands of dresses all puffing out into the aisles and I just started chopping at them.   Oh, I’m giggling here with embarrassment.

There was another time when I had been at the hospital for my dad’s surgery since 5am and I was tired by 3pm.  I was waiting for the update so I could head home to bed.   The doctor came out and, instead,  told me that they didn’t have anyone to watch my dad, he was freaking out, and I’d have to stay and watch him until my brothers could make it there by 6:30 or 7.   I had sooo needed to be done and home and I couldn’t handle the change in plans.  So I went into the waiting room down the hall and beat the hell out of the couches and chairs with my cane like it was a baseball bat.

I had a snit one time when I couldn’t take one more dirty dish and I literally threw every plate and utensil angrily into the dishwasher from about three feet out.  Cups like fastballs, clanging and banging and bouncing off onto the kitchen floor.  Butter knives like harpoons….

Not one bit of pretty.

In every instance, and there have been more, it is easy to dissect the factors which contributed to my snit.  In hindsight, I recognize how I allowed myself to invite the different ingredients into a dangerous, volatile concoction.

I needed  to change things.

I have long-held the notion that healing from brain injury is about learning to successfully navigate it’s twists and turns.   Some of the symptoms don’t go away as much as we learn to jump over them, sidestep and avoid them.  

You learn about the injury and its effect on you and you create ways to avoid the outcomes that don’t serve you.  It’s like, if you can’t change the fact that it’s going to rain, you either stay inside or you put on your galoshes, your rain coat and grab an umbrella.

I know a survivor who, early on, would just cover herself up with a blanket when she became overwhelmed.  I can’t help but still smile at the visual.  A room full of people talking and too much stimuli and there she is in the middle of it all with a blanket over her head.   God bless her, I love that. 

I remember being at a brain injury conference one time.  I had spoken in the morning and spent the rest of the day speaking with survivors, family members and professionals who lined up to welcome me and tell me their stories.  All of a sudden, I was done and I knew it.  I told my cousin, who was helping me that day, and she said, “Oh, there’s so many more people in line, Kara.  Can you hold on a little longer?”

I made it maybe another half hour and then I said, again, “I’m done.”  This time I just disappeared under the table and refused to greet even one more well-wisher (my poor cousin, explaining that!).   Then I promptly said, “I’m leaving” and took off without her, heading out of the hotel with no notion as to how I was getting to the airport.  All I knew is I had to get out of there and NOW.

Over the years, as I’ve come to know this “passenger”, I know that being tired breaks down my walls.  When I am at the end of a busy, challenging, changing day, I will cry more easily.  I will swear more. I’m more apt to say something inappropriate.   I lose my inhibitions like the night of the group skinny dip.  But that’s a story for another time.  😉

It’s important that brain injury survivors and their support people learn to recognize the elements that contribute to their meltdowns.  Physical, emotional and everything in between.   Crossing that line and suffering a snit is not only embarrassing; it can be downright dangerous.

I fear the young survivor who loses her inhibitions at a high school prom or a college frat party and ends up allowing or initiating sexual behavior that she will regret or that might land her in real danger.  I fear the soldier who is concealing or unaware of his/her brain injury, needing to endure lengthy dangerous days with a rifle in hand.   I worry about any survivor driving a car too late, using machinery or handling tools or the professional writing scripts or making financial decisions that affect a corporation.

We gotta blitz these snits!

Plan the day.  Be smart and realistic about what you can handle.  Schedule a nap.  Quiet time.  Minimize those instances when you are besieged by too many people (concerts, ball games, carnivals).  Take along trusted support people.  Get help in identifying warning signs and setting up boundaries.  Share the concerns.  Trust your support people when they tell you you need to call it a day.  Have a backup plan.  Have an escape route.  Get a good night’s rest before a crazy day.  

Thankfully, it is rare that I have a snit anymore.  I’ve learned to anticipate them.   To feel them coming on.   To implement smart strategies which keep me, for the most part, out of danger and out of embarrassing situations.   I haven’t beaten up a wedding dress now in six years.  And I kept the coffee mugs with the chips in them as reminders of how smart I have to be now in order to maintain control of the situations I face every day.

I’ve learned to blitz the snitz and there are brides all over Michigan breathing a heavy sigh of relief.

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