Thursday, February 8, 2018


Editor’s Note
In the nearly three years I have worked together with Janet Schliff as editor and coach for her memoir, I have been fortunate to get to know an exceptional woman with an unusual story that contains lessons for us all: brain injuries, such as hers, are invisible, yet they produce often puzzling behavior that can alienate victims from friends and families just when the afflicted most need the love and caring of these former intimates.
Imagine having to relinquish the career that you love, due to a growing morbid fear of germs. Imagine being cured of that by a radical brain operation that removed a tumor the size of an orange, leaving the part of the brain in the immediate vicinity of the excision damaged both by the previous pressure from the tumor and by the loss of brain matter due to the operation.
Writing this book has required unusual perseverance. Janet persisted despite severe back pains (requiring a back brace), skin cancer surgeries, ulcers, liver problems, tendinosis (requiring a boot), cardiovascular issues, painful urinary tract infections, her dog Happy’s canine medical issues, and relationship disappointments…yet, weekly she came to our meetings with her writing and correcting done, often lugging in backup material, besides.
Janet has been left both hyper-sensitive to the world and less able to self-censor her comments about what she experiences.
We have joked, though Janet finds joking uncomfortable because it can be hurtfully ambiguous, that she should wear a button, “Handle me with care…I’m brain-injured.” Yet, she and others like her want not to be treated as so very different from the rest of us. Just given a bit more slack, a bit more care, a bit more love. So much hurt and misunderstanding could be prevented if people were a bit more careful. Those who read Janet’s story will want to do just that from now on.
I believe you will find Janet’s story intriguing, inspiring, and enlightening.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.

Foreword: In the Eye of the Storm
“If you have seen one brain injury, then you’ve seen ONE brain injury!” Sadly, this statement is not heard often enough in the world of brain injuries. There is too great a tendency to typify behaviors and possible outcomes. While there are some impacts commonly experienced, many factors are important to consider:  the person’s preinjury functional status, the cause of the injury (trauma, stroke, or tumor), the area affected, the post-injury rehabilitation treatment, and the natural supports in each individual’s life. These all play significant roles in the recovery process and long-term outcomes.

Brain injury effects are invisible until a deficit area is stimulated, resulting in an observable behavior that can be cognitive, emotional, behavioral, or social.  There are areas of the brain that help to regulate behavior and allow for controlled responses. These areas allow us to think things through and then respond. Other areas of the brain are more reactive, in that they respond without our thinking, based on body signals received that are related to anger or stress.  Brain injury can result in structural, neuronal, and/or chemical changes in the brain’s functioning. When the responsive area of the brain sustains damage, there is less thinking things through, and more impulsive, acting-out reactions. This can result in a range of emotional upsets, including aggression, depression and anxiety. The observable responses may include attention deficit, impulsivity, disinhibition, poor insight, impaired judgment, and anger-management struggles.

Such is the impact of the storm that wreaks havoc on what was once a person’s previously well-controlled life. A low frustration threshold, high intolerance, and exaggerated reactivity can affect both the individual and the individual’s interpersonal relationships. A vicious circle of increased occurrence, decreased control, and increased difficulties may result. Feelings of resentment, insecurity, inferiority, and isolation may begin to take control of social activities. Because the affected person appears unchanged, those around the person who is within the storm question the validity of the issues, or question the person’s ability to exercise control, wrongfully believing that if the person really wanted to, or just tried harder, he or she could manage and control the behavior.

This is the storm that Janet Schliff navigates daily. In the years that I have known Janet, I have watched her struggle with how the impact of her brain injury, resulting from a cerebral tumor and its removal, has caused deviations from her pre-injury pattern of behavior; I have seen her frustration as she has tried to recognize and derail her negative reactivity; and most of all, I have known also that she suffers the deep emotional heartache of having people in the various circles of her life question the honesty of her struggle and pain. I have become aware, sadly, of their inability, or unwillingness, to acknowledge the self-imposed regimen she follows in seeking assistance through traditional and alternative medical practices, as well as by attending multiple support groups, in her attempts to utilize any and every treatment or strategy to exorcise that which she wishes she could remove from her life.

Janet could have easily succumbed to the weight of this invisible, residual, and chronic impact of her brain injury, this permanent damage to both her frontal and temporal lobes, but that is not who Janet is. The same tenacity that inadvertently sometimes fires off her brain’s overreaction is what also keeps her fired up to work on these areas of her life. It is a daunting task to keep aiming for a moving target that arises and detonates without warning. Yet Janet pushes herself to learn what it’s made of, and to face it head-on. Janet has come further along than even she realizes…because she lives in the eye of the storm. Her unwavering determination, and the support of those who genuinely care enough to weather the storm right beside her, will continue to ensure positive outcomes in her life.

Adaptation to the “new normal” of post-brain injury is about progression, not perfection.
Dr. Lois P. Tannenbaum
Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology
Master of Science in Education
Certified Brain Injury Specialist
Former Director, Mid-Hudson Brain Injury Center
Board President, Brain Injury Association of New York State
[Just to let you know: Lois has emailed and texted me the sweetest words to thank me for cards I sent, things I do for her and others in our support group, and more. She is so smart, sweet, and just, plain good, and I LOVE her for that!]

The Mirror of Brain Injury
by Dr. Lois P. Tannenbaum
Life’s difficult moments, so hard to pen
Sitting alone, absent of family or friends
Beyond the road traveled with all of its bends
In the silence of struggle, life must transcend
Memories refocused in my mind’s lens
Thoughts reflected, honored, negativities cleansed
Light slowly returning, hope rising again
Determination, rebuilding, timeframes without end
Rewriting my life’s script
Unsure how it will end
Living fully each moment
Allowing my soul to mend


For the coming year, I will be excerpting, weekly, material from this fine book by Janet Johnson Schliff, M.S.Ed.. She wrote it over a three-year period, with some coaching and editing help from me, through my business, The book is available from and from its publisher, 
What Ever Happened to My White Picket Fence?


Janet Johnson Schliff will be speaking at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 3 at
Barnes & Noble, Ulster Avenue, Kingston, NY.
I plan to attend, also.

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