Brain injuries and a misdiagnosis of apathy

One of the results of my recent psychological and memory testing was a diagnosis of apathy. I thought about that for a few days and then spoke to a friend I’ve known for almost twenty years about my supposed problem.

His response? “No, you are absolutely not apathetic!”

So what is apathy? According to Oxford, “lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.”

Signs and Symptoms of Apathy:

Lacking the effort or energy to do everyday things. Dependence on others to plan activities.

No desire to learn new things, meet new people, or have new experiences.

Lack of care about your own problems. Tendency to feel no emotions when good or bad things happen.

After further thought I realized that this type of testing mistook “apathy” for a natural sadness and frustration when someone with a great brain experiences multiple assaults on their brain health. I would challenge anyone to experience what I have in the past fifteen years, and not feel sad and frustrated.

The most reassuring book I have read about brain injury is: “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. There I learned how slow the brain recovers from injury, but it certainly can rebuild itself eventually! My first brain injury, a TBI in 2008, taught me that. The most important thing to remember is that your brain will tell you when it’s tired and you really MUST STOP when it tells you that. For me now, an hour or two of any type of total concentration exhausts my brain. So when I took a two hour focused memory test I failed and came across as suffering from apathy, when in fact I felt total brain-exhaustion halfway through and after it was over I slept for over twelve hours straight.

I find myself excited and enthusiastic about many things like plants, gardening, photography, writing, old movies, music, new foods and learning something new everyday. I have just learned to pace myself to give my trusty brain plenty of space to recover with endless hours of restful sleep. Few understand my specific needs these days like I do. My brain will simply shut down if I don’t respect its messages to me. I certainly expected a brain specialist to understand that!

Unfortunately, it seems I must continue to educate “the experts” what brain injuries are all about. Perhaps they don’t know, but one of the best benefits of brain injury is the full realization that we MUST make the most of every single day we’re alive!

“Do we really need much more than this? To honor the dawn. To visit a garden. To talk to a friend. To contemplate a cloud. To cherish a meal. To bow our heads before the mystery of the day. Are these not enough?” — Kent Nerburn

6 thoughts on “Brain injuries and a misdiagnosis of apathy

  1. Echoing Corinne’s response. You and apathy do not belong in the same sentence!
    I’ve suffered severe daily headaches for years. I had been suffering with them for six years before a friend turned me onto a medication that works–EVERY TIME! Now, instead of suffering the usual three hours, I suffer for 10 to 20 minutes. It’s sheer heaven!
    The thing is, the working ingredient in this medication is caffeine.
    When I went to a specialist a couple of weeks ago, he immediately told me my headaches are simply the result of withdrawal from caffeine. I don’t drink coffee. And my pills contain 50 mg of caffeine. About a third of a cup of coffee. Whaaat?!
    My headaches come at any time of the day or night. Never the same twice in a row. Wouldn’t they come at the same time if they were withdrawal symptoms?
    And more importantly, what about the previous SIX YEARS?! When I never touched a mg of caffeine?!
    I hate when doctors don’t listen…


  2. Oh Laura, how very frustrating. Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that many doctors are either not as smart as I think they should be, lazy, or down-right apathetic. Thanks for this post. I’m going to pass it along to my brother-in-law who suffered several strokes and to his wife who is having a hard time understanding and coping.


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