Anoxic/Hypoxic Injury Memory Recovery: Hello there... - Headway


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Anoxic/Hypoxic Injury Memory Recovery

jamesmccann1b profile image

Hello there,

I feel very sheepish writing this post as I am the cause of my own injury, I hope that that is OK. I had a severe bout of depression due to my bipolar disorder 5 months ago which I wasn't handling correctly. I was extremely low and in a moment of (literal) madness I tried to hang myself. I am by no means suicidal now and feel a lot of shame because of what I did. To give up this wonderful life seems absolutely unacceptable and so selfish now, especially after reading some of the stories here.

I was (thankfully) found very quickly and was brought round at the scene.

I now have a mild hypoxic injury and a persistent headache. My memory is shot to pieces. Due to the situation, I was put in a psychiatric ward which had no neurological therapy but mindfulness, CBT etc. Luckily my speech and other functions remained relatively intact but I now have a lot of short term memory deficits. I'm looking for advice on how to regain my memory, I'm setting a lot of phone reminders and writing things on a notepad/to do list but I'm really motivated to reacquire my memory. Does anyone have experience in beating the memory problems which come with such an injury.

13 Replies

You've been to a really dark place James and no one should be judged for such an act of desperation. But shame is a good emotion if it's brought you to value your life again, and it's good to know you've found your way back.

Short term memory damage is usually an ongoing issue after brain injury ; something which can't be fixed but can be managed.

We can preserve our remaining capacity with regular mental stimulation, but it's usually a case of finding management aids (lists, notice-boards, phone alerts etc.) to help with functioning in the world of timetables, appointments & other important dates.

It can be really frustrating 'til we accept it as a fact and start taking practical measures to work around it.

Hope to see you around James.........glad you've found us. Cat x

jamesmccann1b profile image
jamesmccann1b in reply to cat3

Thank you very much for your reply! I know that I shouldn't feel bad about what I did. I'm just going to continue with my mobile phone reminders and lists. Sometimes when I go to write a todo list, I literally can't remember what it is I'm meant to be writing, it's all very frustrating. I'll just take it day by day and start to develop the right skills in order to help me with my memory problems.

cat3 profile image
cat3 in reply to jamesmccann1b

That remark about making a note of something then forgetting what it was by the time you've found pen & paper will resonate with many here ; I know it does with me !

I still get frustrated after 6 years but don't dwell on the issue any more. It's more a laughing matter these days.................except for yesterday when I was getting ready to drive to my sons for Christmas dinner & found (in unopened post) that my car insurance had expired a week ago ! Luckily my son hadn't had any alcohol so collected me, and all was well.

I'll be reinsured tomorrow, but it just shows how vulnerable we are, especially when preoccupied with other stuff. Could've been a ban !

The sun's shining here in NW ; hope you're seeing it too James. x

jamesmccann1b profile image
jamesmccann1b in reply to cat3

Thanks. I feel less alone now. Lucky you found the letter! The sun wasn't out here in Scotland but it rarely is. :P

Depression is an illness and you were ill when you tried to end things. That's not a reason for shame imo. But a reason to make sure that you get the help you need to ensure that it never happens again. And its a reason to be kind to yourself. Also from your post and how it is written, seems that you were reletaively lucky and that the impact on your barin was fairly mild. With the brain's plasticity (and neurogenisis in some areas like hypocampus) then you might find that much of the functional damage you did sustain is rolled back. Also you may find that your memory problems are as much or more to do with depression as with anything else. Depression has a major impact on memory. Once the depresion is lifted you may find that its much easier to remember stuff.

I nver had depression in my life until this year and now it is severe. And so I think I have an idea of where you are coming from. Depression is not the same as sadness. It is overwhelming, takes control, blots out all the light and hope, makes it hard to do simple things and impiossible to enjoy the things you once enjoyed. But it is also a deciever. It tells you there is no hope when there is, tells you are useless when you are not. I met a woman at a support group last week. She said that she had nothing left to live for. And on talking, turned out she had two grown up children who she got on with. I said wasnt becoming a gran one day soemthing to live for, and it was like she had not thought of it, and seemd to cheer up a bit. We can see through other folk's depression but not always our own. At the group, I said that the depression and autoummine conditiosn (from which they arose) had drained me of all compassion and I no longer recognised the selfish uncaring person who now resided in my body. And folk at the group pointed out that I had been supportive to all of them during the last hour. And I think that might have been true. But depression was shouting in my ear (aliong with the bleeding tinnitus!) that I was a horrid and useless person.

Depression is b******* and we can beat it.


Thank you for your reply. I've heard of neurogenesis and plasticity before. I really hope with time my brain decides to "reroute" its connections. I do consider myself really lucky because I can still speak and write. I'm hoping that the memory issues are also depression related, I have somewhat come out of that place now and can see the edge of the dark forest.

I'm so sorry to hear that you're also suffering from depression. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I know what you are saying about it making you feel that you are an awful person and useless. I have two wonderful parents and a sister with a beautiful family but at the time I couldn't see that. I thought I'd just ruin their lives and cause them more trouble by being the way I was. Compassion is hard when you get so internally focussed due to the mental-illness. It was the same for me too.

Actually someone in my close family has rheumatoid arthritis which is also a chronic autoimmune condition. That has caused her a lot of hardship and also serious depression. I hope that you are doing better. If you are having trouble ping me a message. I'd love to be a sympathetic ear if you need it.

The best way to beat depression and other mental illness is by sticking together.

Im glad that you are feeling a bit better. dark forest is a very apt analogy for what all this can feel like.

Somehow your post cheered me up. So thanks. :) And I think you are 100% right about sticking together.

best wishes

Thanks. I'm happy that my post cheered you up Charlie. :-)

My husband's bi was also caused by a suicide attempt - in his case with the car exhaust.

He left hospital unable to do anything, couldn't dress himself, couldn't remember anything that had happened in the last 10 years. I made a plan to get his brain working as much as possible.

5 months is a very short time in bi terms but the sooner you can get started the better. I challenged his brain all the time. It was tiring for him but he soon started improving. We started with very basic things like memory games with cards - the games kids play where they put cards face down on the table and have to try to find pairs. This involves remembering what cards have already been turned over. Challenging the memory like this does seem to help enormously. There are many games on the web like this. We were told at the time of his bi that other parts of the brain can 'take over' the damaged part and keeping on and on with memory tests seems to have helped his brain enormously. From being unable to do anything for himself, he eventually went back to work and he lived a near normal life until recently when he has become very forgetful - an age thing not the bi.

Do try this, it certainly worked for him.

jamesmccann1b profile image
jamesmccann1b in reply to

Thank you for your reply. I'm very lucky that I was found when I was, another couple of minutes and the damage would have been much more severe. I'm worried that I slacked off a bit in the psychiatric ward when I should have been training my brain. Obviously the depression had a lot to do with this. I've been doing some memory games on my phone and trying to study things from uni that I used to be able to do. That is frustrating as I can't do things that I used to find so easy but I hope it helps.

I found seeing my OT pretty helpful with short term memory loss. We did a lot of work around that. She helped me to set up all the things that remind me what I have to do....and she helped me to manage the fatigue a bit better.....

Just remember James bipolar and depression and illness in themselves. You should not feel ashamed about what you did. You are making a go of things now and hopefully things will improve for you.

Sometimes hitting rock bottom makes you realise that you can turn things around!

I really hope it all works out well for you.

Hello jamesmccann1b and welcome to the group.

I'm so sorry that your depression and bipolar led you to make the choice that you did at the time, but pleased that you now have determination to move forwards, and away from the dark forest. (An absolute fraction of what you're dealing with, but my left hand no longer functions, after severing most of the nerves and tendons during one of my episodes about 5 years ago.)

An injured brain takes some working around, they're complicated organs, and there's no linear-average for recovery rate or time. All of us on here, whether we're the injured one (Hello, I'm one of the injured ones, subarachnoid haemorrhage February 2015.), or close to on who has been injured, notice the difference in the before/after abilities, and work out our own strategies to compensate for any on-going deficits.

A lot of us struggle with functional/working memory from time to time, generally more so if we are fatigued or trying to do too many things at once. It does improve over time, I remember crying my eyes out on the hospital ward, when I was asked for the husband-at-the-time's mobile phone number for a form, and couldn't remember it, my memory had been astounding before my BI, I was know for my instant ability to recall pretty much everything. (Side rant at the fact that the ex used to use me as his memory-bank, so he didn't have to think, I still remember his NI number, his parents' birthdays, the account numbers for a mortgage we had in the 1990s, and the postcode and telephone number for every house I've ever lived in...)

We work around it, and we all have tricks-that-stick to compensate for blips. I'm chuckling, because, in my previous incarnation as 'The Oracle' at work, I loathed lists, and 'plan' was something of a four-letter-word, I've just been into the kitchen to put my coffee-cup in the sink, and 'The lobster plan' is still in there from New Year's Day. (Note to self- tidy kitchen.) 'Before', I was a fantastic 'natural' cook, I didn't weigh, measure, or time anything, it just sort-of came together. Three years of mishaps have taught me that I can't be 'that' any more.

On New Year's Day, I made a fantastic meal for my son and I, it wasn't effortless, but I didn't burn anything, nothing was inedible, and nobody ended up with food poisoning, so I'm counting it as a win. Given that there were mussels, prawns, and a lobster involved, the potential for cock-up was vast, and, well, lobster is a treat-food. (Apologies to any vegetarians, said lobster had been in the bottom of the freezer for about 2 years, I bought it in Lidl for £2.99, and it had been occupying space ever since, we couldn't 'Red Dwarf' it, and have lobster with chips and ketchup...) Planning. Eight different dishes, all to be served at the same time, and all to be cooked so we didn't spend the first part of 2018 dashing to the loo. With 2 saucepans, and an oven that only has one shelf, and brain injuries...

One of my tricks-that-sticks is over-planning. I KNOW that I waste brain-space doing it, but I can't be 'Princess Wing-it' any more, or I'd need the fire brigade on speed-dial. I wrote down how long each component of the meal needed to be cooked for, which pans and utensils I needed for each, and then cross-mapped which items could be in the oven at the same time, and which order I'd need to prepare things with my two available saucepans, to have the dishes on the table for 5pm. (Ended up being 5.05pm, because the first avocado I chopped for the salad had gone a bit funny, avocados and lettuce in the salad last, to prevent browning, didn't want the whole salad to taste of lemon...) Over-planning used to be automatic for me, one of my roles in my old job was writing risk assessments, so the lateral spin-out thoughts of 'what could go wrong?' were instinctive, they still are, I just have to concentrate a bit more to 'find' them sometimes.

We're probably all of an age where we were taught to 'take notes' at school, the physical act of transferring the information on ox-bow lakes, or what Hamlet 'really' meant involves cognitive processing, as much as translating something from your first language to an additional language does. (Chortling at my 'shopping list', now, we have a house-rule that if you write something on the shopping list, you have to mis-spell it, I know that I need grapes and bleach, because my son has written 'gwayps', and I've written 'bleeps', that particular triple-processing trick won't necessarily work for everyone, but we're three parts nonsense. Think of the item, think of a phonetically plausible way to mis-spell it, and then every time you look at the list, the additional processing needed to 'translate' 'un-furry pests' back to 'pesto' sticks with us. ) Lists, in designated places, we'll all have done the thing where we write something important down, and forget where we've put the bit of paper... I only 'allow' myself one note-pad at a time, now, and it 'lives' on my desk. The shopping-list 'lives' on the side of the fridge, and the huge wall-planner calendar is also on the fridge, this is a lesson learned from finding indecipherable post-it notes all over the place. (Tip- write date/time on notes, for ease of indexing, but that's just my over-planning streak kicking in again, in case I end up fighting with the water-board, and need to tell them I spoke to 'Caroline' on December 14th, at 10.20am...)

All the lists and phone-reminders in the world don't help those moments when we 'draw a blank', those moments will have happened to us 'before', I think we're just more aware of them post-BI. I'd be deeply suspicious of anyone, with or without a BI who claimed they'd never washed a £20 note in a pocket, or found the TV remote control in the fruit-bowl or fridge. I could side-rant about my ex just dumping everything wherever he finished with it, but there's a teaspoon in my airing cupboard, so I'll shut up. "Where did you have it last?" is infuriating when other-people say it, if we knew where we had 'it' last, 'it' wouldn't be lost. You don't have to 'say' it most of the time, usually thinking about where you had 'it' last works, but there are instances of my son and I ambling about the place verbalising "Where would you put 'x' if you were a dingbat?" or "Where would you hide if you were a 'whatever'?" (We're a bit odd anyway.)

'Thinking around' works for me, with 'lost' words, or objects, I beat myself up far too much about the sporadic aphasia at first, I had two sessions with a neuro-psychologist, and he told me to quickly sub-in another word, and move on, rather than obsessing about the word I couldn't think of, and getting myself wound up about it, I can only hope that my substituted words were more suitable than some of the 'substituted items' I've had in my grocery deliveries over the years. If I need to summon-up a word, a name, or the location of a missing object, I tend to think of other things that are similar, until I circle-around, and find the one I want.

i-Carer ought to be an 'app', I'm completely reliant on my mobile phone for so many things, I probably have an unhealthy attachment to it, I'm a compulsive pocket-patter, to make sure it's still there, and I have a genuine phobia of dropping it. The cringe-fear that something will go wrong during software updates and such is very real. Reminders, notes, synched calendar with my laptop, my phone is my back-up memory. (I'll skirt over the number of photos in there of things taken apart to repair, so I know where all the bits go back, if the authorities ever 'hacked' my camera roll, and found disassembled electrical appliances, photos of the positioning of the dials on my central heating cylinder, and photos of random meals, when I'm having 'foggy' days, and don't remember whether I've eaten, I'd be in trouble.)

Your memory might never be what it was before your BI. I remember being FURIOUS at the booklet that the OT on the hospital ward gave me. "Write lists", and "Keep frequently-needed items in designated places" seemed so patronising, because I was in the angry-phase, and pig-headed that I'd 'just get better.' It took me a fair few instances of remembering what I'd gone into Tesco for as I was half-way home to make me realise that 'better' is a relative concept. (Hey, I'd forgotten the milk, but remembered to put my trousers on, still a 'win.')

Lists, apps, routines, think-arounds, and 'designated places' help me, as does being realistically 'kind' to myself when I'm having an off-day, my brain was damaged during the haemorrhage and subsequent surgeries, so now, I have to 'play the hand I'm dealt'. (There's a much ruder version of that, but there could be children or ladies reading this.)

You are not alone, and we all have our own strategies for the 'what did I come in here for?' moments. Now, to write today's to-do list...

Sending so much love x

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