The Story of Your Brain Injury

Brain Injury Blog by Barbara Stahura

September 4, 2012

The Story of Your Brain Injury

You can journal on paper or type on a computer. It's the writing that's important.

You can journal on paper or type on a computer. It’s the writing that’s important.

When a brain injury happens to us or to a loved one, the familiar story of our life changes, without warning and often drastically. It then becomes important to discover our new story, so that as either the survivor or the family caregiver, we can reconstruct our life. In doing this, it helps to understand what story is and why it’s important.

In his fascinating book Healing the Mind Through the Power of Story: The Promise of Narrative Psychiatry, Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona explores the power of story in depth and clearly demonstrates that we are constructed as storytelling beings. In fact, he says, “Everything is story, including our identities, our selves, our meanings and purposes, our theories about the world.” Furthermore, he continues, “Brains are organs of story, changing to match the needs of their environment, and specialized to understand story, store story, recall story, and tell story. Brains use stories to make maps of the external world, which we can never fully know.”

And he says this: “…we live by enacting the stories we believe to be true.”

Our brains are organs of story

This is exciting! Our brains are made to perceive the world through receiving and telling stories, and we use those stories to create our lives and navigate the world. Our brains begin creating our personal stories the moment we’re born (maybe even before), based on what happens to and around us. They are embedded in our neural pathways—literally becoming part of us—and become our default method of thought and action, which we follow mostly unconsciously. Until something happens to shake us out of our old stories, we don’t tend to change them very much.

If we examine the beliefs we hold about anything, we’ll find a story.  Remember: It’s not the “facts” that create the stories, it’s the interpretations and perceptions we hold about them and which we then live by. What are some cultural stories you believe to be true? That the Democrats are right or that the Republicans are? That we are meant to eat animals or that eating meat is an immoral act? That climate change is real or that it’s a hoax? Including cultural contexts, we live our life according to whatever stories we believe.

And consider these personal stories: Do you believe that your life is over since your brain is injured, or that you can still have a fulfilling life? That you are worth less as a person now that you have memory problems, or that your intrinsic worth is intact? That as the caregiver you must give up the rest of your life in order to be the “perfect” caregiver, or that you deserve quality time for yourself as well? That it’s embarrassing to ask for help, or that it can be empowering for both you and the person who helps you? That you’ll never succeed again, or that you’ll find new ways to succeed? Here, too, we live our life based on where we put our focus.

Use journaling to tell your new story

Especially in traumatic times, we often don’t know what we really believe, but writing down our thoughts and feelings can contain them and make them more manageable. Having a record of  our past can bring clarity to the present. Whatever our story, we can use simple journaling techniques to explore it. Writing in our journal a few times a week with all the honesty we can muster can help us to, first, discover the stories we believe in. Then it can help us leave behind those stories we no longer wish to continue believing so that we can create a more positive future. As I wrote in After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, “By creating new stories of your life, you can reconstruct or re-energize it. You give yourself the opportunity to improve in those areas that no longer work well, and also build upon the strengths you have. You can use what you do know to create something you don’t yet know.”

I invite you to begin journaling after a brain injury to yourself or to a loved one as a way of telling your new story to yourself. For more information see my blog, Journal After Brain Injury.

Next time: The Journal Ladder and (the few) cautions about journaling.

Recommended Reading

After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story

By Barbara Stahura and Susan B. Schuster, MA, CCC-SLP

This workbook has been developed specifically for survivors of brain injury and blast injury. Based on journaling workshops for survivors of traumatic brain injury, it is filled with journaling exercises that guide the user through examining and expressing the many ways that the brain injury has affected and altered their lives. Vignettes by individuals give it a personal touch and also serve as examples of journaling. Users may go through the workbook from front to back or they may select chapters and activities most relevant to their lives and stage of recovery.


Journaling After Brain Injury

Tip Card by Barbara Stahura

Journaling after brain injury can help survivors cope with the changes and challenges in their lives. This tip card on journaling after brain injury helps survivors and families understand what journaling is, learn its benefits and cautions, and use guidelines and tips for writing journal entries.




Healing the Mind Through the Power of Story

By Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph.D.

One response to “The Story of Your Brain Injury”

  1. I’d perpetually want to be update on new content on this web site, saved to bookmarks! .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.