There have been so many ups and downs since the night I suffered my brain injury. I think that because of the nature of brain injuries and the way that they manifest themselves, as an ever present obstacle we have to overcome each day, we tend to focus on the losses we have suffered and give that primary focus. When what we should be doing is analysing ourselves evenly, looking at both sides of the coin, ask ourselves questions about who we are now post-ABI and try to see what are the positive things we can draw from the experience of brain injury . I’d even say that we should reflect on, perhaps why in some twisted way, we should be thankful.
Be Proud Of Yourself
As I have said in previous posts, brain injuries alter almost every aspect of one’s life and most often they produce negative experiences. I do refute the claim that nothing positive can be taken away from the experiences you have endured. Right there, that is one thing we can all interpret as positive; we are tough enough, physically and mentally to overcome the challenges that brain injury presents. We are tough enough to fight that battle every single day.
That is the point that I am making, the point is not to come to the conclusion that the brain injury doesn’t affect you, the way to approach it is to say that despite the effects it has on me, what am I doing that I can be proud of? Because anyone who has to deal with the day-to-day effects and manifestations of an ABI and finds ways to work around them and overcome them should be proud of itself, whether they are patient or carer, family, friend or medical professional.
There were things that happened to me, ways I had to change my life and the way I was living that were, at the time, a big loss to me and a heavy blow to any positivity I was feeling. But when I look at them in hindsight, I can see the positive effects these life experiences and life changes had over me and I can see clearly the lessons I learnt. These are the four big issues that affected my life post-ABI that are very difficult to come to terms with, but now looking back over the (almost) seven years since my injury I can see the other side of the coin, the positives I gained, the lessons I learnt and the changes that have helped me to progress.
Instilling Discipline & Establishing Routine
- Boredom & Frustration: The fact that your day can end up being an established routine, very much the same, every day can be hard to get your head around. Many people like structure and routine (even those of us without ABIs) but there are many that do not react well to it and can find it very frustrating, limiting and boring.
- Resentment: When a healthy and effective routine is established (which can often take a surprisingly long time, believe me!) and you must then maintain that routine because your health and wellbeing very much depend on it, that does limit your options in what you can do in your spare time. You always have to bear in mind the time and scheduling of your routine because your health depends on it, something that you can become very resentful towards. It also can make you feel as though all chance of spontaneity is gone which, in your youth particularly, can be difficult to accept.
- Security: Although, the knowledge that your health and wellbeing is being upheld by an established and effective routine can provide a feeling of comfort and security.
- Learning about Yourself & Your Condition: As you try to establish such an effective routine, you begin to learn about yourself post-ABI and the extent of any damage and manifestation. As you try different things and see the outcomes and deem them as either positive or negative, you learn more about yourself; where your weaknesses are, where your strengths are, what you like, what you don’t like and specific things that you are having trouble with (memory, social skills, spatial awareness, awareness of other people etc.). As you learn these things, the likelihood of a developing a successful routine grows. You can accommodate for what you learn and add your knowledge to or with withdraw it from the routine. Your routine should be an ever-evolving thing as your recovery progresses.
- Lack of Impulsiveness: Since I have suffered my injury and I know find myself in a good routine that seems to be working, I find I consider decisions that I am making much more deeply and responsibly. I always consider how an action can potentially affect my health and act in a much more sensible manner.
Not Being Emplyed
- Adjusting To The Change: For some people work can be their life. They rely on it to give their days, weeks and months a structure, and provide an appropriate income for their needs. If you suddenly have to give that up, it is a huge change and one that can’t be easily overcome. It’s also difficult getting used to not having a regular income. This means that you must fight for and come to rely on the welfare system and claim benefits.
- No Purpose: Going to work each day provides us with a purpose, a reason to get out of bed each morning. When we don’t have that reason for getting up every day we can fall a poor state of mind, which can lead to depression. This in turn can lead people into bad habits; a bad sleep pattern, over-eating, even drinking to excess or even getting involved in the use of illegal drugs.
- Not being at work does give you time to start focusing on and establishing the type of successful routine I talked about above.
- You also have time to try and strengthen certain weaknesses that you have in terms of cognitive abilities and your brain functioning. Focus on cognitive behavioural therapy, reading and other challenges.
- It also provides you with the opportunity to, if you feel up to the challenge, of pursuing other goals, like the ones you have wanted to do but never had time to. Plus, when you do pursue them and do so with as much effort as possible, who knows? Maybe they can lead somewhere you didn’t expect.
- When I suffered my ABI, the people I called my friends were nowhere to be seen in terms of real support and engagement. I felt abandoned and totally alone. If it wasn’t for my family and the one or two friends who did stick around, then who knows what could’ve happened.
- Building new relationships can be very difficult after a brain injury. It’s extremely common that we tend to become isolated due to a need for rest, a quiet environment and lack of stimulation. When we’re ready to socialize most of their friends have moved on with their lives and left you behind. I’ve found that I don’t really know how to make friends since my ABI. I don’t have an environment or social situation in which to make them.
- You learn who your real friends are. It’s as simple as this; the ones who stick around throughout the injury and the recovery, the ones who don’t treat you any differently afterwards, they are your real friends.
- You learn that you can survive on your own. You’re tougher than you think. That’s what I learnt anyway. I’ve found that I am a survivor! I do not rely or depend on the company or acceptance of other people. Friends will come and they will come when they come.
Why I am Thankful
In essence what I take form the above analysis is that when I look at the cons, many of them are very sad and I wished (and still do to a certain degree) that the ABI had never happened. I wish that things had not gone that way. However, the fact of the matter is that they have. There is nothing I can do to change that. Those things are out of my control. When I look at the pros though, what I have learned about myself, about people, about the society we live in is that none of it is ideal. There are flaws in all of those things just as there are flaws in my brain, emphasized by the way that my ABI manifests itself.
When I consider that information and I look at the pros I really feel grateful that I have now seen many of the ugly sides of people, society and of my own brain (psychologically more than my deficits and the ABI itself). However, I have not just seen them, I have experienced them and I have overcome them. I am stronger than I was before and I think I am now the person I was supposed to be. That is why I am thankful.
About the author
My life was changed for ever on the 30th of August 2009 when an attack on a night out left me with sever brain injuries. I was left in an induced coma after suffering fractures to the skull, bleeds on the brain, as well as severe bruising to the frontal lobes. Since the injury I have found it hard to find and keep work, to maintain relationships, and generally stay positive. I have decided to share all of my journey with you, in the hope we can bring brain injury awareness to the level it should be at. Please, follow my own WordPress blog Life After Brain Injury to keep up to date with my brain injury journey! Follow me on Twitter: @ABIBlogger
Tom Massey, ABI Blogger