Children’s Birthday Parties are Hell after a Head Injury

Hosting a party after a head injury is difficult, attending as a guest is even worse.  We have been planning and hosting birthday parties the past few weeks and the details have been in my control I have shared some tips I try to focus on when hosting (here) and talk about my hatred for goodie bags (here).Taking our children to birthday parties is an entirely different experience and I learned a tough lesson years ago.

I remember the pain and pure panic I experienced that day like it was yesterday. With my memory problems, this experience is notable because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to recall it this vividly.

This was the first “kid party” I experienced on my own, with our daughter, that made me feel like this. I  thought I was capable of taking her to a birthday party by myself, but did not give the details of the event proper thought. This was just another moment when I would get “to comfortable” after my head injury and think I was “normal.”

I had never been to the party venue,  Kidz Village,  so I didn’t know what to expect. In the eyes of a child, it was an amazing place to celebrate a third birthday party.  For an adult, especially someone with a head injury, it was over stimulation.   Loads of kids, lots of noise, arcade games and when you were in the party room, LOTS of strobe lights and LOUD music.

I knew it was too much…

My headache had started a few minutes into arriving at the party, and progressively got worse as the party went on. Our daughter ran around with her friends engaging in the activities and after about an hour, it was time to head into the party room for pizza and cake.  We entered a small room, where the kids ate quickly and the music got louder.  When the strobe lights started my head throbbed and the pounding wouldn’t stop.  The room started spinning and after catching sight of my daughter (who was loving every minute of this) I closed my eyes and started to panic.
How was I going to get us home? I couldn’t function in this room and needed to drive both of us home safely.  I didn’t have much time or energy left in me but knew I had to get out of there fast before I lost all sense of orientation and couldn’t get us there.  We had cake, thanked our hosts, said good-bye and quickly left.  I buckled my daughter in her car seat, checked her several times to make sure I did it correctly and we began the drive.
At some point driving, my husband called to see if we were on our and I held back the tears as I told him I was fine. I wasn’t fine. I was scared, in a lot of pain and needed to fight through this migraine to get us home safely.  My thoughts consumed me and I began to fear I wouldn’t be able to keep up with being a good Mom as my kids grew older. I started picturing all of the events I wouldn’t be able to attend because of my head injury and worried about me being responsible for our kids during events like this.  If I couldn’t take care of myself today, how could I take care of them?

My head injury was making me fail as a Mom…

Instead of starting to panic, I focused on my breathing, which centers me (thank you meditation!). I knew I could get us home safe if I could stay focused, so I paid attention to the road and took it slow.  As soon as we walked in the door, my husband knew I had done too much.  I immediately went to lay on the couch and began to cry because I was in so much pain.
The migraine was severe, but I was also humiliated and couldn’t stop thinking about how stupid I was for not thinking this decision through.  I felt like a failure and worried about succeeding as a mother. My mind raced as I thought about how I was just going to fail my children as they got older.  I also felt stupid for not realizing how my traumatic brain injury “TBI” was going to impact the lives of our children and our experiences.
The thing is, up until this point, I had considered how my head injury would effect my children. I controlled our circumstances, our events and what I did with our kids.  In order to function as their Mom I explored new strategies to cope during their 45 minutes music classes.  Our schedule minimized my symptoms and allowed me to care for them the best way I could.  I hadn’t experienced a setback like this in awhile so I was unprepared. As soon as I was outside of my comfort zone and my TBI symptoms hit me full force and made me question my capabilities. It was a reminder that I needed to start considering a new set of limitations and how I would be able to handle them.

Being a Mom requires adapting to change…

Life as a Mom, with or without a head injury, is constant change.  Just when you think you have everything figured out, the kids change and new strategies need to be brainstormed.  This experience allowed me to understand another set of boundaries and expectations and I learned some new coping strategies. For one, my husband typically brings the kids to these types of birthday parties and I avoid them.  Our oldest is also approaching the age where children are “dropped off” and the parents don’t even stay.

Looking back, I actually feel foolish about how my thoughts spiraled out of control when I was experiencing these setbacks with my TBI (the proper definition is emotional flooding, which is very common after TBI).  All that worry and panic over a handful of birthday parties. I was defining my success as a parent by my ability to function at these events.  How silly.  I know my feelings were valid, but instead of having them define me, I learned from it.  Over time, I have also learned that the more kids you have and more parties your children are invited to, the less enjoyable they are.  So I’m not really missing out, but that’s an entirely different story.

Be well TBI tribe and avoid the party.

This post was inspired by planning birthday parties for my three children, who we celebrate in January, February and March.  Read more about my tips on hosting a Winter Birthday party  after a head injury and why I HATE goodie bags.


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