My name is Thomas Massey. I am 26 years old and the survivor of an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). My intention is to try and help people by sharing my experiences with others who might be going through the same thing. I will try and keep this brief; I suffered a subdural haematoma, subarachnoid blood in the basal cisterns, bilateral frontal contusions, a midline shift, and multiple skull fractures (to name just the biggies) after I was attacked while on a night out with friends. My life was changed forever after I was the victim of an attack from what was, when you look at it in a logical way, an external source.
However, 10th of October marks the celebration of World Mental Health Day and as such, I believe that I should address the threat of the enemy within.
Issues regarding mental health are greatly and increasingly being swept under the rug in the United Kingdom at this moment in time. Rates of people suffering from depression and anxiety are on the rise. For people with an ABI, depression can be just as much of a limitation on you as a physical affliction for example. The voices in your head focus on the losses you have endured, the pain you have suffered from. This negative psychology brings about negative thought patterns and depression which can lead to an ABI victim blaming themselves for what has happened, hating the new person they are as a result of the injury, and mourning the loss of their life, pre-ABI.
Much of this is difficult to explain to those who have never experienced it. It is just as difficult to come to terms with and accept that you are suffering from mental health problems. It was a long time of analyzing myself, asking questions: “why do I feel emotionally numb? Why don’t things make me happy anymore? Why don’t I enjoy things anymore? Why don’t I want to do anything anymore? Why can’t these people just leave me alone?”, followed by the juxtaposition of “how could all those people just ignore me?”. All of these are questions I asked myself. It was only after a long period of time, a long time without happiness, a long time of sitting alone in my room yearning for company and then hating it when it came, a long time of feeling miserable and not wanting to do anything, did I start to think that perhaps I was depressed and the thing that was doing this to me, was making me feel this way, had a label.
Dealing with it
The thing is then, trying to find ways you can tackle something like depression and stay positive. The one bonus that depression after an ABI has, is that you can pinpoint the cause of the negative thoughts in your head. In a way, this helped me. It allowed me to share some of my hatred, aiming it towards the cause of the changes I was going through, the things that were making feel this way, not just myself. It was like memorizing the face of the man who burned down your house. It allowed you to hate the cause. This hatred of the injury and the arbitrary unfairness of the whole situation lit within me a fire, a determination, not to let this beat me. Not the depression, not the ABI, none of it.
Before my ABI, I had been about to leave for university. I decided that my situation was not going to stop me from achieving my dreams of going to university and starting a career as a writer. That long-term goal was a long way off however; in the meantime, there was plenty I needed to achieve. I knew what I needed to do in order to get there; there was a whole list of things: I needed to build up my muscle strength again after being in an induced coma, I had to get used to going out in public again and learn to handle social situations, I had to build up my “brain fitness” as I like to call it (ensuring I don’t get tired by doing simple tasks around the house, as well as simple cognitive exercises). It was important to start small; aim for the more easily achievable goals, such as being able to get down the stairs unaided, or completing an exercise set out by my occupational therapist. These small victories led to me finding out a key secret to recovery: success breeds confidence. Trying to get the confidence back can be so hard at the start, but starting with simple challenges and succeeding in those challenges creates a positive voice in your head to fight against the negative ones that had so far, been shouting loudest.
Keep track of it
It may also be helpful for you, as it was for me, to keep a diary of the progress you make. Make a note of these smaller tasks and challenges you are facing and make a note of the successes you have. As you continue to succeed and built confidence, the challenges you set yourself will become larger and you will become more ambitious in your goals. As time goes on, maybe a few years down the line, when you are working towards a bigger goal like going back to work, or going back to education, when you have moments that cause you to despair or everything seems hopeless, go back to the book. Look at what you have done from the small, baby steps at the start to where you are now. You can tell yourself with absolutely no doubt – it was you that got you there.
As a final note that leads on from what I was saying about the book and having a record of your successes – LEARN TO CELEBRATE YOUR SUCCESSES. That is something that I found incredibly difficult in the years following my ABI. I always had a tendency to have a “grass is greener pre-ABI” mentality, looking back instead of looking forward. I always saw each success as a step forward along a never ending lonely road. Don’t take that approach, celebrate it for what it is and for the work you have had to do to achieve that victory, however small it may be. It is difficult to look forward after an ABI but the sooner you can accept your situation (which inevitably takes some time, and I do not suggest trying to rush that process, do it in your own time) the easier it is to look forward and find enjoyment in things in the here and now.
The more success you have and the more your confidence builds, the further ahead you can look, towards the bigger more long term goals you had at the start of recovery or even the ones you had in your mind pre-ABI. Believe that you can make progress because it’s true, you can. Positive thinking and confidence is key to starting that progressive recovery. Success in what we do breeds positive thoughts exponentially, address the things that you CAN achieve and, with enough work and support, you WILL achieve them; whether that is more immediately with smaller targets or in the future with long-term, larger targets.
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 come 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