Here’s a list of just ten of the many things I’ve found to be helpful as I’ve tried to navigate living with brain injury - I believe these can help those of you who don’t have one as well.
1. Keep a daily schedule and write down reminders
Because of my short term memory problems, I always worry that I’m going to forget things. But when I keep a schedule or use a list of reminders to help me in my daily life, it reduces the stress of trying to remember all I have going on and allows me to function at a much higher level. I actually think being less stressed helps my natural memory work better as well.
2. Say “no” when necessary
I was always the type of person who wanted to say "yes" to everything but I am learning the importance of saying "no." I’ve heard before that, “Sometimes you have to say “no" to good things so you can say "yes" to the better.” I guess that was probably always true for me, but after my brain injury, I just find it’s even more so the case.
3. Take breaks regularly and learn to pace yourself
I have learned it’s necessary for me to take frequent breaks throughout the day. Sometimes this might mean stepping away from a task for a minute. Other times it could be walking away from people or from conversations so I can "rest" my brain. They call this coping strategy “pacing” and it was something my occupational therapist (OT) taught me alot about when I was working with her. Pacing has proven to be an important thing for me to practice as it allows me to maintain my focus and energy for much longer periods of time.
4. Be open and honest with others
I think I grew up trying to hide my weaknesses from others but I’ve learned this was a very unhealthy way to live. I’ve now figured out how when I’m open and honest about my struggles, I can function much better. For example, because of my brain injury, words don’t always come out the way I intended. Sometimes I can’t think of the right word or I say the wrong one. Other times the person I’m talking with will use a word that I don’t know or understand. However, when I explain this to someone before having a conversation with them, I’ve found it takes the pressure off of me and this allows my speech, word finding, and comprehension to actually improve. I’ve also found other people to be very receptive and accepting of this, as well as my many other struggles, when I disclose them upfront.
5. Ignore those who doubt you
Brain injury is often times referred to as an “invisible injury.” Most people with one won’t look any different than they did before. They will just look like anyone else. That’s why there will likely be some people who think you are simply using your brain injury as an excuse, that you’re just being lazy, or that you’re trying to get some sort of secondary gain from it. But you have to learn to ignore these people! Pay more attention to and focus on those who have your back, who trust what you’re saying, and who are there to help and support you.
6. Accept help from others
After a brain injury, there will be many things you can't do nearly as well as you used to, even some you can’t do at all anymore. You will probably start needing help with many things you could once easily do by yourself. This can be a very humbling thing to experience. But because it will most likely happen if you have a brain injury, it’s very important to let go of your pride and be willing to accept help from others when they offer it. It also means being willing to be proactive and not being ashamed to ask for help when you need it.
7. Get plenty of rest and sleep
Getting an adequate amount of rest and sleep is important for anyone. But I think this is especially true for people with a brain injury. It took me a long time to admit it but I’ve become okay with needing more rest than I used to. I've even had to become okay with having to take a nap almost every afternoon. This has allowed me to be much more functional and coherent when my kids come home after school and with any activities we might have going on later that night.
8. Don't use your 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, I know that I can always use my brain injury as an excuse. But I know that I need to be responsible and take ownership of my actions and words. I know that brain injury makes this extremely difficult for some people but that’s just not my case. Although my "filter" doesn't work as well as it did before my brain injury, I still have control over my words and actions - I need to be responsible and exercise that control.
9. Don't isolate yourself
“Alone” time is extremely important for someone with a brain injury and it’s something I strongly encourage. I think people with a brain injury need more time alone that most to “recharge” themselves. However, you must try and be aware of when you start isolating yourself from the outside world. You also need to give a friend or loved one permission to call you out when you’re heading in the direction of isolation. It’s so vital for you to remain socially engaged. Even though the types of people and settings you engage in can look very different than they did before your brain injury, you need to be intentional about being around and interacting with others.
10. Find your new purpose
It’s been said many times before that "If you're not dead, you're not done!" Basically, that means if you are still here on this Earth, you are here for a reason. I know that because of all the changes you undergo with a brain injury, you may feel like a brand new and completely different person and this can be a very tough thing to accept. But it’s so important to find a healthy perspective about your “new” life. Find your new passions. Discover your new strengths. And then try to learn how the two of these can best work together. I think if you can do this, you just might find your new purpose!