Executive function underpins our adventures, our successes, our challenges, but its location in the frontal lobes of the brain makes it particularly susceptible to damage - something 42-year-old Tisha, from London, knows all too well.
“I’m originally from France, but I moved to London at the age of 18,” said Tisha.
“I worked in various fields and danced at professional level for six years. I decided to try something new, and in 2018 I moved to Dubai. I went on a tourist visa then got a full-time job within three months as a Pilates instructor, then found myself working and living in Abu Dhabi.”
Tisha had a high level of executive functioning; she worked in senior management and enjoyed a busy social life before her move to Dubai. She was creative and artistic, bubbly and energetic... but this was all to change after a horrific car crash in 2019.
“One morning, I took a taxi to go to work. We’d barely left when the driver decided to run a red light at a major crossing, and we were hit full speed by a huge 4x4.
What happened after that I only know from the police report, as I have no memory of the accident, and very blurry fl ashes of the rest of that day.
Tisha suffered fractures to her spine, face and jaw, broken ribs and a bleed to the brain. However, her surgery was successful, and she was discharged after just one week.
Pain, severe vertigo, financial worries and the stress of attempting a return to work while still recovering from the accident eventually led Tisha to return to the UK. From there she began rebuilding herself after brain injury, with executive dysfunction being one of her most problematic issues.
“Looking back, here are the problems I can isolate as issues with executive function:
“Planning: For me to go to London the neurosurgeon had to talk it through with me step-by-step, because I honestly had no idea. When I got back to London, I realised that I could go to a supermarket, pick something off the shelf and pay for it. But if I tried to think of a meal to cook, or what ingredients I needed, I simply couldn’t.
“Multi-tasking: I couldn’t manage more than one thing at a time. If I was talking to someone and my attention was caught by noise outside I would end up frozen in the middle, and it would take me ages to get myself back onto the conversation. Trying to do more than one thing at a time would get me in a panic as I couldn’t manage my attention on both tasks.
“Focus and attention: I’ve always been someone whose attention tends to drift off, but in the past I was able to notice it straight away and bring myself back to the task at hand. I started having issues with my attention drifting, but with me not even noticing and getting lost in something else.
“Processing of information: My brain would get stuck sometimes. Best I can describe it is when your computer freezes… you know that spinning circle on your screen and no matter what you do or press it’s stuck? Well, that was my brain at times!”
Tisha is now beginning to redevelop her executive functions and is planning on moving away from London to the South of France, where she hopes to live a more peaceful life supporting others who are rebuilding their life after brain injury.
“Most people don’t realise that this stage can take months, or even years! I’m very lucky that the damage did not affect my intelligence so I hope I can use that to help others, and also to help raise awareness.
“Working out your own symptoms and executive difficulties can be really tough, especially because every injury is different.
"There are general things that tend to show up, but with executive functions, they will tend to be very specific to you, your brain, your specific injury, and your lifestyle and activity.
It’s really worth taking the time to work out what they are, and how you can find compensatory strategies that are specific to you.
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