Some Context – A Disclaimer
This has been the most difficult post I have had to write for Headway. Recalling the memories of those first meetings and appointments is not only hard to do from a physical point of view (in terms of my brain allowing me to recall the specifics) but also in terms of the emotions that the process evokes. In this post there is a chance that I will reveal some things that may make you like me less than you did before you read it. To put it in context, many of my reactions and thoughts that I reveal to you in this post come from the perspective of a naïve and immature nineteen year old who does not understand the severe and long-term issues surrounding brain injury recovery. Whatever you think of me now, and whatever you think of me by the end I would not be doing my job properly if I lied to you about my experiences.
Group Therapies At The Hospital – not for me
Every person I met while attending the various groups at the hospitals was completely different than me. We were all different people in different circumstances, in various age groups with life-long consequences of differing nature. I have not stayed in touch with any of these people so I do not know to what extent they have made a recovery. We had all suffered our injuries at roughly the same time so with any other illness, condition or disability, I suppose we would be at the same point in our recovery. However, I think we all know brain injury recovery doesn’t work like that.
These therapy groups actually took place over a period of around a month, attending the meetings in the morning a couple of days each week. As well as patients still in the hospital there were also outpatients who attended the group, people who had suffered brain injuries a long time ago and still, accompanied by a carer, attended the meetings. If I’d been in anything like my right mind, that should have sent the alarm bells ringing; this was not going to be your run of the mill recovery where you will be back to normal in six months time.
Rejection & Resistance
I found the whole experience of attending these therapies (that generally consisted of making toast, a cup of tea, doing some basic cognitive exercises and then having a chat amongst the group, just assessing where we were in terms of recovery, life skills, social skills etc.) very difficult to deal with. I was required to attend a group where, if I’m honest, I felt I did not belong. I remember feeling like I had been placed amongst a group where every stereotype and typecast depiction of disability had been placed. I remember feeling very uncomfortable within that environment. I was also reluctant to engage with the activities taking place within the group. They were as you would expect, very simple, not very stressful tasks; I felt as though the tasks were not challenging me. I was still resistant to and was rejecting the idea that anything substantial or serious had really happened. I’m ashamed to say it in a way but I did know (in very basic terms) what I could manage and what I couldn’t. I could operate a toaster and boil a kettle. I felt as though the group therapy model was too simple for me.
A Therapy That Worked
One of the things that really turned things round for me in terms of the way that I looked at and engaged with therapies after my discharge was the relationship between me and my occupational therapist. About four months after my discharge, I had been assigned to my various outpatient therapies and was attending an appointment for each for an hour every week or two weeks. This length of time after the recovery had allowed me to realise my strengths and weaknesses and I was starting to acknowledge some of the changes and effects the injury had caused. I was trying to keep doing the exercises I was being assigned. But there was very little change or variation in the activities I was meant to be doing: word search, coloring or spot the difference. The appointments would consist of me being sat down to do some of these activities while the therapist spoke to one of my parents. Four months in though, my Occupational Therapist decided to retire, meaning I was assigned a new OT.
My new OT, Anthea, was a breath of fresh air. As soon as we started our sessions it felt far more personal. She spoke to me instead of my parents; she took into account my interests and my opinions when it came to my recovery plan. I was finally being treated like an individual as opposed to a case file; I wasn’t just a number any more.
Anthea encouraged me to try different things to de-stress and relax while at home. She encouraged me to start writing a journal (she had made the effort to find out that I had enjoyed writing previously) chronicling how I felt at times during my recovery (I will go into further detail on this subject next week, how writing and other escapism helped me during my recovery). I would show her what I had written each week and she would use that information to schedule activities that I would enjoy and that would improve my situation. We had developed what seemed like a friendship; at least that’s how it felt to me (and that is how I will probably always consider her).
What Was Different? Why Was The Second Time Round More Effective?
Well, I think it was purely down to the fact that I was being treated as an individual. Not just tailoring a recovery plan to my interests and likes but also to the injury that I had. The injury that I suffered was and still is my own. It is totally individual to me and the way it affects me. The problem I had, in terms of engaging with other therapy types and models was that they were very much one size fits all in their content. With Anthea, I was fortunate enough to be linked up with someone who saw that I was an individual and embraced me for who I was and helped to build a recovery program around who I was, my strengths and weaknesses and what I was hoping to achieve. The absence of that approach is something that I believe to be noticeably significant in quite a few of the services around where I live and in which I was involved.
Thanks for reading. I hope that this was helpful for you and the thoughts of the nineteen year old me haven’t upset you too much. I hope you will be back next week where I will be talking about what affect my passions (such as writing and films) had on my recovery process. If you want to read more of my opinions on brain injury then follow my Twitter profile (@ABIblogger) where you can access my personal brain injury blog. Thanks again and I hope you’ll be back next week.
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