When I was coming up with a title for this post, I was hesitant to use the word "after." The term "after" implies that with brain injury, there is an ending. I probably should have used "with," because in regards to a brain injury, there really is no "after." It never goes away. Certainly, some of the problems associated with a brain injury will improve and and some may even go away. However, many of the problems will uninvitedly stick around and may even worsen. And as I became more aware of the permanence of a brain injury, it became important for me to learn and use strategies to "overcome" some of these problems.
Here are ten strategies that are helping me to not just survive, but hopefully thrive, despite the long-standing effects of a brain injury. This list of ten is not exhaustive nor will they work for everybody. But when I remain mindful and committed to them, I find all of them to be extremely helpful. Regrettably, I don't always do this but my goal is to make these strategies a way of life.
1. Keeping a Schedule and Making Reminders My short term memory is poor. I am well aware of my memory issues so I often worry about forgetting things. Keeping a routine schedule and creating a list of reminders reduces the stress of trying to remember things and this reduction in stress helps me to function better. I typically use my iPhone and Apple Watch for this, but I will occasionally use pen and paper.
2. Learn to Say No to Things and Simplify Your Life It is important to recognize and accept your new limits. This was and is challenging, but I am improving. I have always been the type of person that usually says "yes" to everything, but I am learning the value in saying "no." I have heard it said that you have to say "no" to good things so you can say "yes" to the more important. This has always been true for me but is even more so following brain injury.
3. Take Breaks and Pace Yourself I have learned it is necessary to take frequent breaks throughout the day. This includes regularly stepping away from a task or from people so I can "rest" my brain. I was instructed by an occupational therapist to do this. It is called pacing. Pacing is important so that I can maintain my focus and energy for longer periods of time.
4. Be Open & Be Honest with Others This applies to everyone, even those who have not sustained a brain injury. We, myself included, often try to hide our weaknesses. But when I am honest with others about them, I do better. An example of this is letting others know that because of my brain injury, words may not always come out the way I intended. When I do this, it takes some pressure off of me and my speech actually improves. When I am open and honest with others, I have found people to be receptive and accepting of my struggles.
5. Ignore the Doubters TBI is an invisible injury. And because of this, there will be some people who think you are using brain injury as an excuse or for secondary gain. You have to ignore these people. True friends and people that have your back will know the truth and support you.
6. Accept Help from Others It is humbling to admit that there are things you can't do on your own anymore. Or that you just can't function like you used to. It is important to let go of your pride and be willing to ask for and accept help. This may include help from family and friends or seeking treatment from a medical doctor, psychologist, or counselor.
7. Get Rest and Get Sleep Don't underestimate the importance of a good night's sleep or sufficient down time. This is important for anyone but even more important for people with a brain injury
8. Don't Use Brain Injury as an Excuse to be a Jerk I am tempted at times to talk without thinking things through. And if I hurt someone's feelings by what I say, I can use brain injury as my scapegoat. But I need to be responsible and take ownership of my actions and words. I know that some brain injuries make this extremely difficult. But in my case, although my "filter" doesn't work as well as it used to, I have control over my words and actions. I need to exercise that control.
9. Don't Isolate Yourself For various reasons, there are times when I just want to be alone. I think alone time is important and I believe it's okay for short periods. But it is vital to remain socially engaged. The types of people and settings you engage in may look different than they did in the past, but you need to be intentional about interacting with others.
10. Find Purpose I have heard it said "If you're not dead, you're not done!" This saying definitely holds true after you survive a brain injury. Yes, you will likely be significantly changed following a brain injury, but that's okay. Find your new passions. Find your new strengths. Find how the two of these can work together. And if you do that, I am confident you will find your new purpose.