I made a list of 10 things that have helped me to not just “survive after” my traumatic brain injury (TBI) but to hopefully “thrive with” one!
1. Keep a Schedule/Write Down Reminders
I am well aware of my short term memory problems so I often worry about forgetting things. Keeping a routine schedule and creating a list of reminders reduces the stress of trying to remember it all and this reduction in stress seems to help me function much better.
2. Learn How to Say No to Things
It is important to recognize and accept your new limits. This was and still is challenging for me. I have always been the type of person that wants to say "yes" to everything, but I am definitely learning the value in saying "no." I’ve heard it said before you have to say "no" to good things so you can say "yes" to the more important ones and this is even more true for me now!
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/conversations so I can "rest" my brain. This was something my occupational therapist called pacing. Pacing is important so that I can maintain my focus and energy for longer periods of time. Naps are very helpful, too!
4. Be Open & Honest with Other People
I often try to hide my weaknesses. But when I am honest with others about them, I am much better off. 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. And when I am open and honest with other people, I have often found them to be receptive and accepting of my struggles.
5. Learn How to Ignore the Doubters
TBI is an invisible injury, and because of this, there will be some people who think you are using your brain injury as an excuse or for some sort of secondary gain. You have to learn to ignore these people. True friends and others that have your back will be there to support you.
6. Be Open to Accepting 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 might include help from family and friends or seeking professional treatment from a medical doctor, psychologist, or counselor.
7. Get Your Rest/Sleep When You Need It
Don't underestimate the importance of a good night's sleep or sufficient downtime. I think this is important for anyone but even more so for people with a brain injury.
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 by what I say, I can always use my brain injury as a scapegoat. But I know that 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 and I need to exercise that control.
9. Don't Isolate Yourself
There are many times when I just want to be left alone. Now, I think alone time is important and I believe it's okay for short periods but it’s 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 Your (New) Purpose
I have heard it said before that "If you're not dead, you're not done!" This saying definitely holds true after a brain injury. You will likely be significantly changed following a brain injury, but that's okay. It’s so important to find your new passions, discover your new strengths, and learn how the two of these can work together. I am confident that if and when you do this, you will find your new purpose.
*** This is in no way an exhaustive list and not all of these strategies will apply to everyone with a TBI.