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My TBI and Technology That Helped Me Recover

Dr. Julie Kinn
Dr. Julie Kinn

Dr. Julie Kinn is the deputy director of the Mobile Health Program at National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), a Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury center. She leads the development of mobile applications and blogs about mobile health and post-deployment health.

Recently, I was struggling to explain the concept of irony to my six-year-old. Defining the word just confused things more, so I tried some examples:

  • “It’s ironic that Superman is the strongest guy in the world, but his power can get sapped by a rock.”
  • “It’s ironic that the bad guy that Spiderman let go ended up robbing Spidey’s house.”

I didn’t mention the most recent instance of irony in our household: “It’s ironic that Mommy didn’t realize she had a traumatic brain injury (TBI), even though she helps make mobile applications and websites for service members and veterans with brain injuries.”

It happened a couple of months ago when I was in a car accident. Overall, I was lucky — my air bags deployed and I received only minimal external injuries. But, it took several days before I realized I had a TBI. My first clue should’ve been my terrible decision making immediately following the accident, plus the fact that I couldn’t remember any phone numbers. The day after the accident, I also got lost while driving … twice. [Yes, I know, I shouldn’t have been driving. I’ll add that to my list of regrettable things I did in the week following my accident.]

The day after I got lost driving, I couldn’t figure out which contact lens went in which eye. I only stayed at work for about an hour that day as I was unable to understand my emails and still couldn’t remember phone numbers. Finally, a coworker had to scold me before it really sunk in: my grey cells were slightly scrambled. In other words, I was experiencing common symptoms associated with mild TBI (memory problems, poor concentration, impaired judgment and decreased attention).

Things are pretty much back to normal now, and I’m grateful for that. Overall, this experience has reinforced two lessons:

1. It takes strength to ask for help. I feel more empathy for our service members who sustain head injuries and are afraid to reach out for help. Part of why I didn’t acknowledge my TBI is that I thought I’d look weak by asking for help from the paramedics. They bandaged my visible cuts, but otherwise I said I was fine. Don’t do what I did. Instead, show strength and ask for help. The Defense Department is continually reinforcing the message that asking for help is a sign of strength, so I encourage you to reach out for support for TBI or psychological health issues if you think something may be wrong.

2. There’s lots of good information and resources available if you know where to look. I rediscovered a few resources at T2:

  • Afterdeployment.org offers a mild TBI module, which includes a self-assessment, information on related symptoms and treatment, and videos of personal stories.
  • The “LifeArmor” mobile app provides shorter versions of the information on afterdeployment.org. Users can browse a variety of topics, take self-assessments, and access tools to assist with managing specific problems. It’s nice for when you don’t have Internet access to the website.
  • The “T2 Mood Tracker” allows you to monitor, track and reference symptoms. It also includes an option to send data to providers.
  • Two provider mobile apps that deliver clinical guidance for mild TBI and related psychological health conditions are the Mild TBI Pocket Guide and Co-occurring Conditions Tool Kit.

Other resources I found helpful include:

  • The phenomenal websites Brainline.org and Brainlinemilitary.org. Both are easy to navigate and incredibly informative. I’ve been referring patients to these sites for a while, and now I have a new appreciation for them after my brain injury.
  • Evernote” is a mobile app and website that syncs your writing, recordings and photos whether you import them from your mobile device or computer. It’s not specifically designed for individuals recovering from TBI, but I found it very helpful while my thoughts were still jumbled. I could record a note to myself while eating breakfast and it annotates it with the time and place. I could then retrieve it from any device or computer later on.
  • Blogs, blogs, blogs! If you like reading about others’ experiences, I recommend searching “TBI blog” online. Blogs have emerged as a form of support group.

To learn more about TBI and downloadable resources to help you or a loved one, visit dvbic.org and dcoe.health.mil.

This post originally appeared on the MHS Blog. 


Comments (4)

  • Rex 15 Mar

    I work in the TBI field and was in a car accident. I had no pain or external injuries but I couldn't sleep, had crushing headaches, and had major issues maintaining my balance while rope walking (a hobby). Foolishly I toughed out the symptoms and luckily returned to normal within a week. 

    Though there is stigma associated with asking for help, I'm beginning to realize it may be human nature to try to cope with the symptoms. That is not the best approach.
  • DCoE Blog Editor 15 Mar

    @Rex, Thanks for sharing.

  • Helen Love 01 Oct

    I also am a TBI survivor and applaud your healing and success.  My chief concern is for my 22 year old grandson who suffered a TBI at age 13 and horrific abuse before that.  When he was young and needed it most the system didn't help him.  He is again trapped in the system with people who have no mastery of TBI or PTSD.  He is being mis-medicated and mis-diagnosed as we speak.  Is there any organization in southeastern PA that would care to advocate for him and get him on the correct path to recovery?  Surely, some law firm would care that a precious life is being harmed and wasted?
  • DCoE Public Affairs 08 Oct

    @Helen, We are sorry to hear about your grandson. Please consider calling the DCoE Outreach Center to see if they can help you find appropriate resources in Pennsylvania. You can reach them 24/7 via phone or email at 866-966-1020 or resources@dcoeoutreach.org.

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