“The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul.”
– The Bible
I thought it would be appropriate to open with a quote this week. I thought it appropriate to talk about the issues of successes, achievements and milestones throughout the recovery process. I mentioned in my early blog post how important these achievements can be throughout recovery when it comes to building confidence in people with ABI, the way they see themselves, think about themselves, and value themselves. The quote at the top of this page is particularly relevant, especially to the victims of a brain injury. The fulfillment of desires and achieving what we want becomes increasingly difficult after an ABI like the one I suffered and like the ones that affected you or members of your family.
What Do We Consider A Success?
The truth is, now I have to play catch up with everyone else, every single day, successes become more plentiful as things that would’ve previously been run of the mill, everyday necessities are now achievements in and of themselves. I get a great deal of pride from fairly simple things. For example, not needing to take a nap in the afternoon but still achieving what I had planned to do that day is a big deal to me, a day where I do not feel lonely, where I don’t feel different to everyone around me. These things fulfill me because they are so rare. However I will say the following: it is not in me to give up. I do not believe that I am any less capable of achieving my ambitions or my goals. You should not believe that either. We are just as valuable as everyone else.
Things happen in life that can be a game changer. I admit it; my head injury was one of them. We have to look at the aftermath, where are we going? What is possible? What is the bigger picture and how do we get there? The more confidence we can build with little successes, positive reinforcement from others and celebrating our successes, as well as a good dollop of hard work and, trust me, before you know it, other people will be recognizing a change in you before you can recognize it yourself. You will find yourself slowly working towards bigger and bigger goals; whether returning to employment or education, whatever excites, stimulates and fulfills you.
My Biggest Milestone
Working towards a long-term target that engaged and stimulated me was what kept me going. I knew I wanted to go to University with the aim of becoming a writer before I suffered my ABI. This did not change after the injury. I had my goal and my neurological consultant said that we should assess the situation in a year’s time. It was not so much the academic side that was a problem for him, it was whether I would be able to take care of myself and manage the workload at the same time. However, I had been given a date, the final day of judgment when I would find out if I was allowed to go and pursue my dreams. The year that followed was like I was possessed. Everything I did, I did with that thought at the back of my mind. The cognitive exercises, the physical ones, the stuff I did around the house to help out my mum and dad (all under their supervision of course) was with this target in mind: University and all the freedom and excitement it offered.
A year later, after months of hard work and several tests and brain scans, the Day of Judgment had arrived. I was extremely tense. I remember chain smoking in the hospital car park (yes… apologies, I smoke). As I remember, it all happened quite quickly considering the tense build up. I think my doctor was quite keen to put me out of my misery as quickly as possible. He said, as far as he was concerned, independent life and study could only be beneficial at this stage of my recovery. I couldn’t believe it! I was finally going!
My parents helped me pack everything up and prepare me for life as an independent adult. Life as a student! When they dropped me at the halls of residence and helped me unpack, they told me when they were leaving that if I ever wanted to come home, all I had to do was give them a ring and they would be there.
Weeks passed. It was quite a shock in actual fact. The fantasy I had concocted in my mind was not what I was expecting. I was loving every minute of it but knew I was also finding the work load hard when trying to combine it with looking after myself at halls of residence and trying to keep up with an active social life. I thought of what my parents had said to me about coming home. Honestly, that thought was only ever a small, unwanted intrusion. I had a tendency to shake it off like an irritating fly. In my mind, if I could complete university, complete my course and get a degree, there was nothing I couldn’t do.
As the academic years passed, I started to improve. By the start of my second year, my reading ability, which had proved problematic in the first year (thank god year one was only worth 10% of the overall grade!), had improved hugely. The work I had done, the struggles I had had were bearing fruit as my cognitive ability and brain stamina had hugely improved. That progress continued throughout the third year. In all three years, the grades I was receiving for my work were going up as well. In the end I graduated with a BA (hons.) in Script Writing from Solent University at the 2:1 grade.
What My Experience Did For Me
The success of my university experience has opened so many doors for me. It has given me the confidence to try new things and a belief in myself that I can achieve just as much as anyone else and perhaps even more than others. I was forced to find ways that I could work around my disability and the disadvantages I have. You won’t see it immediately, but with everything you gain from your successes in terms of confidence, will be a series of lessons and skills you will be able to apply in other similar situations.
These skills will slowly become part of an ingrained way of thinking. After a certain amount of time, a series of thought and behavioral patterns will have become so established that they become automatic, the way your brain works will always be trying to work to your advantage. Trust me, this takes a while but it does work with the right amount of effort and will make the playing field a lot more even. You will realise when you get back into work or education or whatever your long-term goal may be, that when you are in close proximity with your fully abled co-workers, you are not that much different to them in terms of ability or capability. Not only that, when you feel this way, you find yourself feeling happier and more fulfilled knowing that you have achieved what you wanted to regardless of the poor hand you were dealt (and, there is still so much out there left to do!).
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