When provided with the brief for this blog, it asked the question, “Why is “accepting” what has happened to you – the best thing to do to ease your recovery: the first step to recovery is recognising there is a problem.” Now I found this part of the brief troubling. I admit that this could easily be me misinterpreting the tone of the written word. However, if I haven’t done that, I fear now that perhaps, in past posts, I have not been clear. I have tried to steer away from providing definitive processes that promise a successful recovery. I have always tried to stick to telling you about my own experiences and what I found out about myself through those experiences and finally, what worked for me and why. Especially when it comes down to psychological journey’s and processes after a trauma like ABI or TBI, I am not a qualified psychologist and I certainly don’t know what the step by step processes of moving forward with recovery is after a brain injury. All I know I can talk about is what I did, while fully acknowledging that the route to recovery and improvement in quality of life does not run smoothly and it absolutely is not the same path for everyone. On the journey though, I believe that we will all have a moment of clarity where we recognise the extent of our issues post-brain injury which leads us to a point where we accept them for what they are: challenges and obstacles in life, there to be overcome.
Recognising The Problems & The Extent of The Problems
“Recognising” and “Accepting” are two different words with very different meanings. Especially when you are applying them to something as strange and devastating (and similarly abstract in a sense) as a brain injury (when I say “abstract” I’m talking about problems with cognitive function. They are still problems that I cannot explain to others when they ask me why I have the cognitive issues I have).
When it comes to recognition, recognition can really take time to happen. For the first six months I was lacking in awareness in terms of my own actions, the reactions and actions of other people as well as the severity of what a brain injury meant. During that first six months it was like I was floating in a bubble without a care in the world. I thought that the problems I was suffering from (double vision, deafness in one ear, tinnitus, problems with balance and the slow speed at which my brain was functioning) would all heal like any other injury. As time went by though and I slowly started to come back to myself and become aware of what was happening around me, I started to notice that these problems were persisting. It took a lot of explanation and clarification from doctors and (more so) from my parents that this would be a gradual process and most likely a slow and sometimes painful one.
It is only when we have been living with the same problems that day in and day out that we start to recognize the problems for what they are; disabilities and problems that we will live with for the rest our lives. Unfortunately though, when it comes to brain injuries, a patient often heavily resists the permanence of these issues. I know that when I started to realize that this was a problem that was not going to go away, after many consultations with experts, opinions from doctors and kind words from my parents, I still tried to do everything that I did before in the same way, often with catastrophic consequences. It can often take a long line of unsuccessful attempts and unforeseen problems when attempting tasks that are beyond our ability at that stage before we HAVE TO recognise the fact that there is a problem. What’s worse is that we have to face that fact head on. I suppose what I am saying is recognizing the problems is not a choice for recovery, it is a necessity.
Accepting The Problems
However I do believe that acceptance is a different thing entirely. I believe that to use the word “accept” that we must give it proper definition, in a proper context.
Accept – meaning tolerating or submitting to something
(at least in the way we are using the word).
Now this, I believe, is a choice. People may feel that the words I have used “tolerate” or “submit” have negative connotations. The truth is that they do. However, we cannot talk about the idea of recognizing/accepting brain injury without acknowledging the fact the consequences of brain injury are inherently bad in the first place. It would not be right for me to sugar coat this and say that everything will go back to normal and be OK.
“Tolerate” is a word that I am very comfortable using. I have found, nearly seven years on that I tolerate the inconveniences my ABI causes me each day because there is nothing I can do to change it. However “submit” probably needs clarification. When I say submit, I do not mean submitting to the general words “Acquired Brain Injury” I am not talking about rolling over and submitting in the sense of giving up on life. What I mean is that there are certain abilities, capacities and functions that your ABI or TBI has drastically and, very often irreversibly affected. When I use the word submit what I mean is that we can continue battering our heads against a wall, fighting the same fights each day, producing very similar, damaging outcomes, or we can acknowledge that the way we used to do things doesn’t work anymore. That brain injury dictates that you need to find a different (perhaps longer and more complicated) way of doing things to achieve the same outcome but without the pain, the anger and the frustration.
The New Me: My Moment of Clarity
Once we accept that the brain injury we have suffered will dictate certain aspects of our lives in terms of the way we do things is a moment of realization and clarity. Once I saw that there are different ways of doing certain things other than the established ways I had done them previously, that was when I realized I had to start learning about the new me. I had to learn about the new Tom who had suffered an ABI, the Tom who would submit to the certain things that the injury had in a sleeper hold but the new Tom was going to find a way to work around them and submit to the ABI where it was necessary. But he was going to learn everything about his new brain and accept what had happened and what had changed while knowing he would never submit to his brain injury completely.
When we have suffered a brain injury, there are going to be problems. I believe that this is a given. These problems will most likely play a part in your day to day life until the day you day, I also believe that to be a given. What is not a given though is the extent to which they affect your life. That depends on how you see the injury and approach the challenges it presents, in your own mind. By accepting certain aspects of the injury, the effects and barriers that are imposed on you, you can find alternative ways to achieve the same goal. You can find out about the new you!
All I can say is that when I did ACCEPT that I now had certain limitations, that I had lost certain abilities and capacities as a result of my injuries, I found that I was in a better position to try and find ways to approach and tackle issues with the consequences of my injury in mind. In essence, knowing my weaknesses and vulnerabilities allowed me to do things in a way that would that could provide me with the desired outcome without exacerbating those post-ABI/TBI effects. That is why I found that accepting my brain injury was the most pivotal moment for me during recovery.
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