I’m pretty okay with telling other people who ask about my memory loss what exactly that means. I’ve been used to having to explain medical conditions since I was young. I’ve dealt with kids running away from me on the playground because they were afraid they would “catch diabetes” from me; I’ve dealt with strange looks and the automatic pity some people give out when you say, “I have diabetes,” and they don’t understand that it’s not a death sentence.

However, there is still something I have trouble saying out loud: I go to therapy. Before I got sick, I always thought that therapy was when a patient sits in a comfy chair while a doctor in a casual button down shirt and glasses asks, “and how does that make you feel?”

That’s the general stigma. And I did see one of those therapists for a while, but it wasn’t overly helpful. I think that kind of therapy either works for you or it doesn’t, and for me, it was the latter. The kind of therapists I’m used to talking about are cognitive therapists.

They give me strategies to deal with memory loss, teach me how to function in the world as best I can and target where I need the most help in order to come up with solutions. I’m not trying to diminish the work of other therapists or patients who see them. If they help you cope with whatever you’re dealing with, keep seeing them. That’s a therapist’s job, no matter what their specialty is: to help patients cope and improve their quality of life.  

Think of physical therapy. If you tell someone you went to physical therapy, they generally won’t assume anything other than that you may have had an accident. But when you mention cognitive therapy, those who know that “cognitive” relates to brain function will become exponentially more curious as to why you have to go. Brain injuries are more shocking than physical injuries because most of the time, they are invisible. And brain injuries to many people mean that there is something mentally wrong with you. Most are afraid of people with mental issues because of the stigma. 

No, I don’t have violent or neurotic tendencies, and no, I am not going to have a nervous breakdown at your feet. If you have questions, ask. And if that feels too awkward, please just do not assume the worst. The person in front of you carrying on a normal conversation might really be who they have been saying they are. A brain injury can mean many things and is not the whole of a person.   

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