Five Good Choices to Make After a TBI

Five Good Choices to Make After a TBI

By Bill Herrin

Often, I work to encourage TBI survivors, through blog posts, Facebook memes, and with words of encouragement. This time, I’m hoping to encourage…and also inform. Many of the things I’ll include in this article will be things that you already know, but hopefully, some of them will be useful to you, your caregiver, family, friends, etc.

Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury is different in every case – with each TBI having its own specific effects or limitations. Many people try working toward their “old self” – recalling things they loved to do, were talented at, or felt was an important part of their life. Not adjusting to their “new normal” can be good or bad…depending on their TBI. Some will not recall much at all and adapt quickly to being somewhat different. Which is harder? It’s hard to say, but the main goal is to work towards contentment in your life!

Besides physical healing, emotional healing is a huge part of recuperation, along with lots of rest. Finding joy in small successes will lead to further improvements, and will build confidence – because you’ll believe in yourself! Self-confidence is hard to attain after a brain injury, and for good reason. You’ll forget names, struggle to find words, have difficulty with conversations, have a hard time tracking a phone conversation, and wonder if you’re completely “losing it” at times. Who’s ever really prepared to feel that way? None of us are. That’s why people who were “achievers” before their injuries often struggle to find their self-worth. They may not feel valued, accepted, loved, or even have any hope. That’s understandable. But there are different areas of healing that come into play.

I’ll be using excerpts from the book “Lost & Found, A Survivor’s Guide for Reconstructing Life After a Brain Injury” by Barbara J. Webster in this article. I’ll touch on some of the problems that survivors face daily, and some things that may help them avoid the issues from becoming bigger, and more overwhelming. I will earmark any excerpts from the book Lost & Found with an asterisk (*) at the beginning and end of the excerpt.

1) STRATEGY
A good suggestion for starters is to devise a strategy that works best for you – lists, visual triggers, etc. – *Just glancing at all of these strategies may feel overwhelming and impossible, understandably. It is more work, in a situation that is already overwhelming. Change is hard. You didn’t have to do this before. It takes more energy. You are already tired. It can seem like you are going backward and feel like a failure. Sometimes it is necessary to take a step backward, in order to take two steps forward.*

*Know that in time, as you heal, it won’t always be this hard. You won’t have to plan and strategize each and every little step you take. So remember you are healing, imagine yourself with a cast on your head and be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like you would any loved one with a serious health issue.*

Building confidence in yourself comes by working toward incremental changes – you will see improvements if you believe in yourself!

2) BUILD SELF-CONFIDENCE
Tying in with the approach of strategy, self-confidence comes with the application of strategy.
*Discovering strategies gave me Hope and a place to start but it was also absolutely imperative for me to set myself up to succeed as much as possible. My psyche was battered and fragile. It couldn’t take any more failure. So I developed a habit of extensive planning, anticipating and strategizing around all possible difficulties. I did this every time I attempted something I hadn’t done since my brain injury. It was tedious and time-consuming but I began having small successes instead of constant failures. Experiencing small successes began to rebuild my self-confidence.*

3) WORK TOWARD EMOTIONAL HEALING
Once again, this is a “do-it-yourself-project” – and you should treat it as such. Emotional healing comes with time, and (yes) plenty of trial-and-error. A great way to promote emotional healing is by keeping a “grateful journal” or “victory log.”

*At the end of every day, write down at least three positive things that happened, anything that made you smile or that was an improvement that day. You don’t have to write a lot, just a few descriptive words will do. This simple task can be transforming! It can shift your focus to looking for positive things throughout the day that you can write down in your journal or log at the end of the day. It lifted me out of depression.*

If you enjoy writing, or just have more that you want to say – writing a journal is a more extensive way to log your progress, feelings, frustrations, etc. Looking back on a journal can reveal so many things about your journey, remind you of your struggles and victories, and give you an actual timeline of your journey. By dating the entries, you will see how the progress occurred, one journal entry at a time! Always be sure to mention and celebrate any milestones, as this documents your efforts and results.

Emotional healing can come from more than a victory log, or a journal. There are lots of ways that you can find healing…many times through the things that you enjoy most, and also through challenging negative thoughts, being with people that are an encouragement to you, listening to music, making art, and more. Whatever makes your day more positive is worth a try, as long as it’s productive or proactive.

4) EXPECT GRIEVING
A brain injury can bring huge changes and challenges. Loss of self, loss of friends, a job/income, a home, etc. is a huge hit for anyone, and having a TBI makes it even more challenging. Grieving is a part of moving into the next phase, and everyone grieves differently. Just like TBI, there is no road map for grief, and you won’t know that you’ve completed the journey until you arrive…for some, the arrival may take a long time.

*It is essential to grieve and mourn the losses in order to heal and move forward. There are general stages associated with the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, healing and processing grief is not a straightforward path. Typically one moves back and forth in the different stages. It is important to know that this is “normal”. You can move through them. Support groups can help. Professional help is often necessary. Spiritual guidance may be essential. Keep in mind that your family members and friends may be grieving too. They have lost the person you used to be and the roles you used to play in their lives. They don’t know how much of your former self will return, or when.*

5) MANAGING FATIGUE AND OVERLOAD
This is a biggie. The struggle to manage your emotions, physical healing, grief, or staying motivated and positive can take a mental toll on a survivor. It may take every ounce of energy you have to function, let alone focus on making progress…it’s a daily challenge, and it takes inner strength and commitment. Having a cheerleader (or several) is a huge plus, but in the end, your progress will depend on your how your brain injury affects your physical abilities, your cognitive abilities, and your reasoning abilities.

Making the most of the abilities you have ongoing is the goal – it’s not about recapturing your pre-injured self, it’s about finding your “new normal” and living your life as best as you possibly can. Acceptance of where you are can take a lot of pressure off yourself and can be the base for a reset of your new normal. Embrace the changes as best you can, and you’ll find that progress will come, and it just might take your life in a new direction. Be ready for anything!

*You won’t be able to do everything you used to, at least not right away. Everything will be harder and take a lot longer to do than it used to. You can compensate by cutting back, simplifying and being kind and patient with yourself. Avoid the tendency to push yourself too hard. Rehabilitation is a delicate balance between challenging yourself enough to promote healing and not so much that you have discouraging setbacks.
So picture yourself with a cast on your head and remember to rest, celebrate the smallest gains and balance out all the hard work with something that makes you smile, every day. You are engaged in one of the toughest challenges of your life, if not the hardest but it will get easier in time.*

In Closing…

The book excerpts (from Lost & Found, A Survivor’s Guide for Reconstructing Life After a Brain Injury) not only reinforce this post, they are the keystone content. The book has so many tips, tools, and strategies for TBI survivors! Many things that I’ve not touched on in this blog post (that are discussed more in-depth in the book) include: pacing yourself, managing stress, meltdowns, parenting tips, coping suggestions, visual processing, improving memory, working with checklists & organizers, memory shortcuts, challenging yourself, computer use, daily task hacks, meal prep and planning, saving mental energy, social adaptation, driving, and MUCH more.

This book can make a huge dent in the questions you may have wondered about since TBI (for yourself, or as a loved one of a survivor). The author, Barbara J. Webster was an early childhood educator that was involved in an auto accident, and it changed her life. She worked at becoming more and more functional, and is now passionate about life, she facilitates a Brain Injury Survivor Group in Massachusetts, and she helps other survivors take steps in their healing process by moving forward with encouragement and structure.

Here’s a closing quote that sums up how many TBI Survivors feel…

“Being a brain injury survivor = Being a stranger in a familiar place.” — Beverly Bryant

Keep working, stay positive, keep inching forward…and celebrate all progress that you make…every day!

For more information about the book “Lost & Found” by Barbara J. Webster, just click this link!

A few other excellent suggestions include:
Survivor Strategies Package – just click here!

Survivor Life Skills Tool Kit: Workbooks help survivors rebuild their lives after brain injury – click here!

The Practical Guide to Cognitive Rehabilitation: Overcoming Cognitive Neurological Impairments – click here!

Survival Kit – click here!

Living Life Fully after Brain Injury: A workbook for survivors, families and caregivers – click here!

Brain Injury Coping Skills: A support and education program for adults with brain injury – click here!

After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, A Journaling Workbook – click here!

Cognitive Rehabilitation Tool Kit – click here!

Cognitive Rehabilitation Triple Play – click here!

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