Believe In Yourself!

Believe In Yourself!

The last two weeks (Identifying Triggers & Managing My Mental Health) have been focused on, in my own opinion, two key parts of addressing issues with mental health. I hope that over the last few weeks, the posts I have published have perhaps made you think a bit more about the way YOUR mind works. Hopefully, looking for triggers of negative thought patterns and analysing where those thought patterns lead and what the resulting mental and emotional state is will have enlightened you about yourself in the here and now and the situation you find yourself in. If we are to get through ABI and get our lives back into some kind of order and be satisfied with those lives, our achievements and be proud of who we are; a person with a disability, who is managing their emotions and mental state as best they can. Even if managing your mental health is not something you have completely mastered yet, recognising that there is a problem, accepting that problem and taking steps to address it, is a huge break through.

In my last post I went into thorough detail about the issues that I struggle with most and methods I use to help me in times where those mental health problems rear their ugly heads. I realize now when I look back at the post that a majority of the advice on methods to manage any mental health conditions were mostly physical actions that worked for me. I don’t apologize for that as the post was about my own mental health. When it comes to your mental health the actions you take that help you will things individual to your own interests and personality. However, I do believe that there are certain states of mind and certain attitudes that we can all adopt that will help us to find the right coping mechanisms and strategies. So here is what I believe to be sound advice to anyone who is suffering from anxiety, depression or any other mental health issues post-ABI; that confidence and self belief can be a huge part of managing mental health issues post ABI or TBI.

Focus On Your Strengths, Not On Your Weaknesses

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This statement, in itself when looked at through the eyes of someone who has not suffered an ABI, seems like a fairly obvious one. However, when we HAVE suffered an ABI we are still coming to terms with the fact that we have newly acquired weaknesses that weren’t there before. In the recovery stages it is (as I have said many, many times, so sorry for repeating myself) difficult to see past what we have lost, what we can no longer do and focus on what we do have and what we can do.

I think when it comes to certain aspects of recovery and especially mental health it is about acceptance. To a certain degree we have to submit to CERTAIN ASPECTS of the consequences of an ABI but not submit to ABI and how that word can be interpreted. The way that ABI is often thrown around and used as a general term is very damaging for those who live with the consequences of it. ABI is often used as a general term, a word for those that suffered from an Acquired Brain Injury that now dictates the rest of their life. This is the wrong interpretation in my opinion. It will dictate the way that we live our lives due to its consequences but it will not dictate how our lives turn out unless we allow it to. I think that we must submit to the fact that, as a result of our injury and its effects, there are certain things (but only certain things) we can no longer do in certain ways.

How does all this affect our state of mind in a positive way, I hear you ask. My answer to this is that while we must acknowledge and, in some cases, submit to restrictions imposed on us by our ABI, we also have to be able to see that there are strengths that still remain, abilities and functions that are still intact. Here is where we find the tools to look at things from different angles and assess situations from different perspectives. To use the strengths that remain to find alternative routes to the same destination, reach the same ends but by different means, focusing on the strengths because we have to find the things we can do, that we still have a talent for or even find new talents that we never knew that we had. Make sure you use those strengths as a tool to progress and achieve.

As I continued with recovery I started to think more broadly about tasks or targets I had set myself and ask more questions. “Is this achievable right now? What am I good at? What am I not so good at? How much can I manage? What is stopping me from doing this? Are there other ways to do this? ” Those are just a few of many questions I asked myself. By a process of trial and error I started to get answers to those questions that allowed me to find ways to do things just in a different way than before. When we start to see successes and achieve the targets we set ourselves (which we will if we persist and continue to ask the question: “How is my target most easily achievable for me in in my situation? Given my strengths and weaknesses”) confidence begins to grow. The more successes we have the more confident we are, when we are confident we try more things, we feel more sociable and are generally feel better as a result. In short, the small successes should be valued and built on as the long process of recovery continues.  

Look For & Try New Things (And New Ways Of Doing Things)

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As I mentioned, both in my last post and in the section above, whether we see it yet or not we all still have talents and strengths post-ABI. I spoke last week particularly about examining yourself in the hope of ascertaining what our potential strengths and weaknesses are in the emotional sense and finding techniques to manage those emotional states. Since my ABI, many key parts of my daily routine and things that help my state of mind nearly seven years later are things that I thought very little of before my injury. Many of them I was too close-minded about and thought of them with derision. I think that having an open mind towards different methods of healing has a huge impact on the likelihood of success.

It can be surprising what we find to be helpful, constructive or a useful tool. As an example, before my injury I was never someone to believe in the idea of holistic healing methods. Holistic meaning the following:

In terms of philosophy – The belief that parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.

In terms of medicine – Medicine characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease or illness.

However, since my injury I believe that if it weren’t for certain aspects of holistic medicine and healing, then my recovery would most likely have been hindered. Certain moments, things that were real breakthroughs for me, came as a result of certain holistic methods of healing. For example learning different mental disciplines such as mindfulness and positive affirmation to keep negative thoughts at bay and TO START GIVING MYSELF CREDIT FOR THE THINGS I OVERCOME AND THE THINGS I ACHIEVE EACH DAY.

Then there are the positive lifestyle changes of diet (less sugar, less saturated fats, less caffeine, and increased exercise. I also have given up smoking and drinking alcohol. All of these things are allowing me to get a little fitter, slowly but surely, so that I can lose the excess weight I am carrying and feel better about myself and the way that I look.

Finally, having left my previous job in August 2015, I have decided to throw myself entirely into pursuing a career as a writer. Writing is something I have always had a talent and a passion for and that I love doing. With its various mediums, writing it allows me to express myself in many different ways about different things that are close to my heart, whether that is through my blogging on WordPress or for Headway, or writing prose and poetry that I write at home. The mere fact that I am doing something I love each day and doing it in a way that suits my injury and can work around the injury and my subsequent deficits gives me motivation and happiness as well as leading to different things, again things that I did not know about. Through my writing many small successes have come, both personal and commercial, which provides me with more confidence and more momentum to move forward.

Combining these aspects, disciplining my mind, living a healthier lifestyle and treating my body better and fulfilling myself with the things that I love to do are key parts of holistic philosophy. They have allowed me to find happiness, gain confidence and improve my health. This has all come from something that I had, in the years gone by, sneered at or looked down upon. So it is important to always keep an open mind, put your skepticism aside and test the different avenues available that might give you some kind of benefit, because one of them could change the course of your recovery for the better and change your life.

Listen To The Words Of Loved Ones

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We can find comfort, inspiration and solace in the words of others. Whether a loved one, a partner or a friend speaks those words, whether they are words written in a book by someone who lived centuries ago, or they come from a monologue in a blockbuster Hollywood movie, we can take those words and keep them close, interpret those words and find a way to make ourselves feel better about the life we live, our actions or the situation we are in.

The Words Of My Family

Much of my confidence and belief in myself was the constant reassurance of my family. Every day through the early stages of my recovery they would tell me, “we’re going to get through this”, “you’ve done really well today”, “go and have a rest, you deserve it after today”, and so on. Always it was constant assurances of my progress. It is vital that we as patients listen to the people who support us, the people who are outside of our clouded minds. For in the early stages of recovery, we cannot see those gradual improvements we make, the people outside of our negative and sometimes-oblivious mindset can. They see the very small improvements that we do not notice and they start to gather hope. That is where those words of encouragement come from, hope. It is our actions and our attitudes that can really ignite a spark of hope so that it is not just those on the outside that feel it, we the patients can feel it to.

Someone Else’s Words In Your Heart

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This is a very short section and really just an example of a quote that inspires me. Very often, words can provide hope that we never thought was there and inspire us, motivate us and articulate something we feel deep inside that we ourselves cannot put into words. Such are the following verses from the Rudyard Kipling poem “If” which I believe can be applied to many people who live with the aftermath of an ABI or TBI, if not they still hold significance to me and the struggles that I fight with every day.

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,

If you can think and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except The Will, which says to them; HOLD ON!

Just as a final note, the entire poem encapsulates everything about living life with an ABI/TBI and the lifelong fight that goes on afterwards.

Be True To Yourself

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This post has been about experimenting with different avenues of recovery and looking at things in a different way and finding ways to making living with ABI more tolerable. There is one thing that I must say though, do not sacrifice who you are during this recovery. Take into account some of my last posts about triggers for mental health, and how I managing my mental health. My point is not to be experimental to the point of recklessness or in a way that contradicts who you are and what you believe in. I would not like to think that anything I have written has encouraged someone to sacrifice who they are.

What I have tried to say is maybe go a little out your comfort zone and try new things as often as you can but not at the expense of your health, your belief system or your own moral compass. I believe that with a little open mindedness we can all find ways to improve living our lives and managing our lives with an ABI or TBI. I hope this has been helpful in maybe giving you some ideas. If you want more info on my activities, head over to my Twitter page @ABIblogger or my Instagram page abi_blogger and please, follow and share my blog to learn more and raise awareness on Acquired Brain Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury. Thanks very much again!

Mindfulness & Thought Awareness

Mindfulness & Thought Awareness

In essence, Mindfulness is a state of awareness that focuses on the moment you are in, being aware of only the self within that moment. Mindfulness is primarily about being aware of your thoughts and accepting those thoughts for what they are, just thoughts. It is mostly about trying to empty one’s head of thoughts when it feels too full and reinstating a sense of calmness and control over one’s self when feeling overwhelmed. That is the beauty of Mindfulness, it is not an action necessarily, and it is not something that is flamboyant or particularly exciting. In fact, I would say it is designed by its very purpose and definition to be the opposite of that. It is merely being the moment, existing, peacefully and in a way that makes you aware of your own existence and your own being.

Is It Legit?

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For those of you who may be worried that I am trying to rope them into some kind of obscure cult I can assure you I am not (I understand your skepticism as alternative healing methods, meditative and spiritual techniques are often treated with scorn and derision due to the fact that THERE ARE SO MANY OUT THERE THAT ARE COMPLETE RUBBISH in the MBS – Mind, Body & Soul – movement. I assure you this is not one of those fly by night disciplines designed to take advantage of people looking for help). If you need proof of legitimacy, MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) have both been recognized as a legitimate way of managing stress and depression and programs are even being prescribed by medical professionals; these programs mostly include meditation, gentle yoga and breathing techniques. Learning the discipline of emptying ones mind allows us to free ourselves from the constraints of the ever-increasing stresses of everyday life, the choices we have to make and the general unpredictable nature of life. Emptying ourselves of thought and emotional attachment frees up room to see things from different perspectives and solve more of our problems. In my opinion, it is this reason that Mindfulness disciplines can be so revelatory for people; by emptying ourselves of thought we can seemingly find space to look at things and solve problems and come back to ourselves with ideas that have seemingly come from nowhere. For more information on Mindfulness and MBSR or MBCT, follow the link: http://bemindful.co.uk.

Thought Awareness

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A key part of mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts, what they do to you and the effect they have on your thinking and your state of mind. This is what I will be focusing on primarily in this post, as it has been so beneficial to me. The reason I say this is due to the fact that we cannot always be in a state of meditation all the time. The majority of us in everyday life may be able to find an hour or so each day to spend time meditating, so I thought I would inform you on the discipline I use every day to help me get through and live life as a person with a disability to my full potential and in the best state of mind that I can. Thought Awareness has been a key factor for me in being able to manage my unpredictable state of mind since I suffered my ABI. Thought Awareness is a technique that when used in the right way can be extremely useful in gaining a sense of piece and control and eases the feeling of unpredictability that goes on in the mind of an ABI patient.

If you’re an ABI patient you’ll know, issues regarding mood levels, state of mind, and positive vs. negative outlook are difficult to manage. Trying to find that sense of contentedness and stability in your mind and thought processes can seem like a never-ending struggle. Mastering certain aspects of thought awareness can help you manage these issues. I will not lie to you; it is not an easy thing to master, the particular aspect that I am talking about especially. I would also add that you DEFINITELY CANNOT master it overnight. It can be a period of weeks and even months but please, don’t let that deter you because it has done wonders for me. It is a case of disciplining yourself, not allowing your brain to think the thoughts that lead down a road to depression, anger, and anxiety etc. all of the things that we struggle with as ABI patients, heading them off before they gain momentum.

Negative Thoughts – Where Do They Begin?

The first step of that is learning the thought patterns of your brain. Think of your thoughts almost as a road map, you have to learn that road map inside out.

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For example, say you have one of those moments where you suddenly realise that you feel down and depressed, in Thought Awareness it is a case of analyzing the thoughts you were having previously: what was I thinking about? Was it a memory? Was it a hypothetical scenario? Was it an imagined situation? Was it an encounter with a particular person? Ask yourself the question “how did I get here?”

Detective Work

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For thoughts to get to a certain place there is a trail, a road to that negative destination. There is almost an element of detective work about the process: looking back through the thoughts you had previously that led you to the place you are now. Analyze those thoughts and see whether they cause a negative, positive or passive response. This can be difficult to do and requires a lot of hard work, discipline and practice. I realise that memory is a problem for people like us with an ABI so when trying to recall your thoughts and analyze them, maybe try jotting them down the subjects and responses in a notebook (this will also come in handy later on).

As time goes on and your unpredictable moods continue (unfortunately having to live with them is all part of the mastering the discipline) and you continue the analytical approach of examining your thoughts and how you respond and writing them down, you will gradually start to build up a list of subjects that you do not react well to when you think about them (and perhaps another which is made up of things which have a positive effect). So you have the beginning of the trail that leads to the negative places we so desperately try to avoid.

The final part of this process is the most important one and probably the hardest. Once you are aware of your thoughts, where they lead and the emotional responses they cause, it becomes a case of training your mind to block off and banish the negative thoughts if they occur in your mind, Actively say to yourself “No, I’m going to think about something else.” Another option is to find a distraction, for example try learning a (positive) poem or the lyrics to a (positive) song that you like and repeating them to yourself or turn to one of the thoughts you noted that had a positive effect, a comedian you like, whatever works for you. You will notice that these positive thought process can gain momentum as well.

How Does It Help?

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The most important thing is that by learning where your thoughts lead and being aware of the effect your own mind can have on you can solve a lot of the problems you suffer from. When we find what the triggers for negative thought processes are we can clear our mind of said negativity. Learning this technique, having a more positive outlook and control over your thoughts and where they lead can help you to use your mind to be positive, be happy, solve problems and build confidence. Most importantly it can help us get through days where it seems like everything is lost and the world is against us; days that come far to frequently when recovering from an ABI.

New Challenges

New Challenges

NB. While this post is intended as more of an official announcement I hope you will be able to see why this is very relevant to aspects of ABI/TBI recovery. I hope you will see the sense in what I am saying and understand why I am doing the things that I am doing.

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It’s been nearly a year since I started. The first blog I posted was online on the 31st of August 2015. It was a spur of the moment thing (though I didn’t realise it at the time, it was exactly six years since the attack that caused the injury took place). I had talked for a long time about starting a blog and detailing my experiences of rehabilitation post-ABI primarily to get into the habit of writing regularly and to try and get noticed as a writer, how I live and deal with the way my ABI has manifested itself in the seven years between when I suffered the injury and in the here and now and finally, I started the blog in the hope that my experiences could be helpful to people, provide them with different ways of thinking about problems that they cannot solve, provide a source of comfort and hope for people who think that life is over after a Brain Injury, I hope that I have managed to do these things.

Before I started this blog I didn’t really know what kind of reception I/it would get. It is always a nerve-wracking experience; expose yourself emotionally to people, allow yourself to be vulnerable. For me though, this kind of revelation has always been easier in the written form. It would take a very particular type of person for me to divulge the kind of information to in the way I have on my blog (which is strange because basically anyone in the world can read this and gain an insight into my mind, thoughts and emotions). It took a long time for me to take action when I was starting the blog. It had been in my minds eye for many a month prior to its beginning. However that is the thing, I think there comes a point where thoughts, plans, organization and talk can only take you so far. There comes a point where you have to bite the bullet, and just do what you need to do. Stop planning, stop organizing, stop talking and do it!

The Truth

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The truth is that as the months have gone on, I have found it difficult to maintain the discipline and motivation to continue writing blogs. This is because any of the reasons for writing it have changed, it’s because I have changed. I have found that the prospect of looking within, examining the self, going over experiences that, quite honestly, I wish I would never have to revisit; these thoughts can make me angry, depressed, sad and really affect my mental health in general. That effect in turn, affects my day-to-day functioning, my sleep pattern, my meal times, my willingness to socialise and the way I engage with my mum and dad. I have come to the conclusion that if I continue to look inwards I will never be able to move forward and look outwards, at the many possibilities that are available in the world, even for people with a disability.

Announcements and Changes

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Even though I said that none of the reasons for writing the blog and that these have remained solid and the main basis for writing my blogs posts, I believe that I neglected one key issue regarding my motivations; writing to get my name out there, to be recognized as a writer and write for the love of writing. There are many other aspects of writing, different platforms and mediums that I love and that I want to explore. The time has come for me to concentrate on those forms and move forwards towards the direction I really want to go in and find the area I want to make a career for myself in.

So here are the real announcements, the 1st of September after a year of blogging, will be my final blog post for a while. I feel that I need to spend some time on making some life changes and changes to my daily routines that will make living independently a more achievable goal. I am currently in the process of making dietary changes and changes to my exercise habits, learning to cook properly and generally how to do all the things we need to do around the house on a daily basis to make living well independently achievable for me. The intention is to spend some time focusing on engraining certain habits; cooking healthy meals myself, keeping a consistent sensible sleep pattern, regular cardiovascular exercise to compensate for the sedentary career choice I have made and focusing on looking outward into the world and what I can achieve in it once I have engrained these habits into my day and composed a healthy, consistent, realistic and sustainable lifestyle.

While I wont be producing original content I will be doing my best to continue with my brain injury advocacy and advocacy for people with disabilities as a whole. To compensate for my lack of content production I will be doing my best to share blog posts written by the other brain injury and disability advocates and the amazing work they are doing. Also, I will still have my Twitter page and my Instagram page available where I will be doing my best to share valuable information with you all. I will also be using these social media platforms to keep you up to date with my own progress. Finally I will announce that I will be continuing my blogging work for Headway Worcester (a much simpler and convenient writing process to fit in with the kind of life changes I am going to be making over the coming months).

Finally, I am going to say this that any I original content I may produce in the future will act as a breath of fresh air. Sometimes you need to look at things from a different perspective to learn more (as I have said in many of my previous posts) and I feel I have distributed all the information I can for now that will be of benefit to you all.

A Note of Thanks

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Finally, to conclude this post, I just want to say a huge thank you to those who have followed me on Twitter, Instagram and on WordPress. I have spoken to many incredible people from all over the world who are going through similar situations who seemed to have gained something from my blog. I feel very bad and apologise profusely to those people that I cannot continue with my blogs. However, I hope that you understand that I cannot continue staying static and standing still in my life living with ABI. The effects of brain Injury never cease, they always seem to be changing and as they do life changes with it and when opportunities arrive to make changes that will benefit your life, as you will all know, that you have to take them.

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I feel incredibly touched at the way the blog has been received and the way people have reacted and that people have found it useful to them and that it has done what I intended it to, even if it was only for a few people. So, to all of you that read and shared my posts, you will have my never-ending gratitude for believing in me and for supporting me. I hope that we will see this through to the end together, that you will read my final two posts as enthusiastically as all the others and find them as helpful or useful or what have you as all the of the ones preceding it. I also hope you will continue to monitor my activities and progress as time goes on and that you will still check in on Twitter and Instagram and help to continue what I started by sharing information and stories about brain injury and help to bring it closer to the forefront of the conversation about healthcare in the UK and worldwide. Thank you so much for all of your unwavering support. You have been what has made this possible!

Positive Thought Processes (Pt.1) – Self Affirmation

Positive Thought Processes (Pt.1) – Self Affirmation

Throughout this brief section I have been focusing on the idea of Holism or Holistic Health and Medicine as it is more commonly known – the treating of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease – in essence Brain Injury in the context of mind, body and soul. I have focused on body over the last few weeks (Holistic HealthDiet & Nutrition, Exercise: Body vs. The Mind) , taking a look at both exercise and diet and how these two important factors can have a very positive impact on our state of mind.

This week however I will be starting my focus on mental disciplines and thought process that can help us feel more positive in the way we think; basically moving from the healthy body to the healthy mind. I will show you ways we can find a more optimistic outlook and explore different positive thought processes that can really help ABI and TBI patients during their recovery. I’ve found that by disciplining my mind I have been able to look ahead and see the bigger picture while forgetting about the slights and little issues that I cannot control. This in turn means I can move on quickly from frustrations and the minor irritations that life so often presents. This week will be introducing the basic principles of Positive Affirmation.

What Is Positive Affirmation?

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In essence, Positive Affirmation is the ability to recognize and believe in the positive aspects of the self; the good within us, our abilities, our victories and attribute positivity and value to those things within our own minds. Much of this though process centers around the idea of control; more accurately what we can control and what we cannot. The basic principle of positive affirmation is accepting what we can’t control and focusing on the positive things we can accomplish and have accomplished ourselves, giving ourselves credit for the things we have achieved while ignoring the opinions, actions and words of others. The effect of this discipline is that it creates confidence in us while also making our skin a little bit thicker. I know from personal experience that negative things and words aimed at us in any environment can be hurtful, causing us to cast aspersions on our own abilities, our personality, our intelligence or even all of those things. However, if we master the discipline of positive affirmation it is possible to create a mindset where the opinions of other people about who you are, your abilities and what they think of you will matter very little. Now this sounds like a wonderful mindset to be in but where do we begin? How do we learn this mindset? Well, I believe there are two key aspects to learning this discipline as well as on important consideration/variable that must be understood.

Consider Society: Codes, Conventions & The Status Quo

Lets get this out of the way first, shall we? The variable is the unpredictable nature of people and society as a whole and has to be considered. This is an ever-changing thing, never predictable and never static. We do have societal rules that are present, some are written into law and some have been established over many thousands of years and still play a part in upholding modern methods of communication and interaction.

The rules of society along with the codes & conventions of social interaction presents itself as being based on the idea of freedom of speech and action based on an accepted moral compass that has been set by centuries of cock ups and mistakes, learning from them and adjusting our opinion on certain sets of behavior. In essence, People have a right to express themselves and their opinions in the public space without fear of punishment or retribution.

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This premise is basically true from the ground up in society. Each individual has his or her own set of moral, ethical and personal principles. At the low levels of general society, people can have a conversation in a pub and have a disagreement over race, religion or on something as mundane as the performance of the international football team. The people participating in a dialogue have a right to say whatever they want to say, regardless of whether you agree with them or not. If we look at the top levels of society, governments are based on the same concept; political parties represent a select proportion of the population and introduce or promote policies, which they believe represent the views, values and best interests of the vast majority of their supporters. They are putting the point of view of their party across.

The reason I make that point regarding hierarchies and structures is because we have to adhere to those structures to be able to integrate into society. To keep a job you have to follow the rules, if you want friends you have to engage with people in a friendly, polite and civil way as well as being sympathetic and empathetic, if you want to stay be free you have to follow the laws of our country and so forth. The point I am trying to make here is that we can only control our own actions and our own statements, there is very little else that we can control.

Aspect One – Know The Parameters of YOUR Control

I think it is also worth looking at the definition of that key word, control:

Control – the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.

Now if you will notice, the definition of “Control” refers only to tangible events; actions we see, hear, touch or feel. In social situations, control is generally not something most people can direct. The reason behind this is the fact that people can say and do what they like really. The decision is made in their brain and that cannot be controlled. We can try to control the consequences of an action once it has happened or the way a conversation is going once something has been said but we cannot control the decision making processes that implements the action. 

There are many common idioms in the English language. Common sayings that have almost become clichés but still hold true today and there are two that are particularly relevant.

‘Know your limits.’

‘You can only do so much.’

I however have decided to take these two idioms and by combining them, molding them and adding a few extra words, I have turned these two clichéd phrases into one super idiom, which accurately portrays the first step in learning positive affirmation, and it reads as follows:

Know the limits of what you can do.’

So we have established that everyone has the right to their own point of view and the right to express that point of view through actions and words. That being said, we in turn also have every right to disagree with or object to a statement, point of view or opinion. Now, here’s what causes the problem, as I see it, for ABI & TBI patients in current society. In places where we spend a lot of our time, there are generally structures and hierarchies. When at work we are normally subject to the orders of a superior, the rules they set as well as being subject to the demands of customers and co-workers and the rules of the system within which we work. If we are at home we are normally following the rules of the head of the household. 

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The problem as I see it is that, due to these codes and conventions, rules and hierarchies, it can give people and unprecedented amount of power in social situations (an example being that the customer is always right; a staff member cannot retort to a comment by a customer as they are the people who bring the money in and if you, as most people are, a subordinate at work any form of retaliatory response would be risking your job). So we cannot stop people from expressing their opinions. 90% (I’d take a rough guess at) of the time this is not an issue. It is not all that often that we come across those people who are deliberately hurtful, unpleasant, rude or who deliberately attempt to belittle you. But that minority of people and the things they say can have a large impact on the way we feel about ourselves and our confidence.  So in certain ways, depending on your perspective, we are powerless. But are we? Not if we consider Aspect Two.

Aspect Two – Know your strengths, Know Your Abilities & Use Them

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The second aspect that needs to be considered is the ability accept the limitations of your injury, acknowledge what you can do and give yourself credit and praise for what you have done. I know from personal experience that after a brain injury we tend to spend much of our time lamenting and resenting our losses. There are abilities and skills that we don’t have any more; things that were a part of who we were. That’s just it though, that’s who we were. We’re someone very different now and while certain things have been lost, certain things will also remain. The difficulty is recognizing and acknowledging this change in abilities and acknowledging the abilities and talents we do have.

After everything we have been through, we spend too much time discrediting ourselves, not giving ourselves enough praise for our talents and skills. As I have stated in previous posts, brain injuries are never identical and everyone is affected differently. For people hoping to live independently post ABI or TBI in whatever aspect (living situation, social skills, finding and keeping employment, managing finances etc.) it is essential that we see what we have and what we don’t have NOW in terms of talent and ability and equally important, ensure that we tailor our recovery and our move towards independence to the strengths and not the weaknesses. If we have issues with memory, perhaps avoid things that involve meticulous detail. If you have job experience prior to the injury that can be used maybe apply for jobs or voluntary work that is similar or the same, if you are good at talking and communication try to implement that to your benefit. All of your talents can be used as a way to strengthen your position in almost any aspect of YOUR OWN life. Once we acknowledge that these strengths and talents exist and that they can help you in ways you had not previously considered it can open a surprising amount of doors for you. Also, knowing that you have these talents and being aware of the opportunities they can provide and how you can capatalise on said opportunity to your benefit can increase confidence and produce a more positive state of mind. It’s amazing the effect success has. The key thing to take away from these successes is that YOU DID IT, YOU SUCCEEDED, IT WAS YOU AND YOUR TALENTS. NOW, YOU ARE REEPING YOUR REWARD. When we get to this stage, successes are starting to come, opportunities are presenting themselves and you are feeling good, safe in the knowledge that IT WAS YOU WHO ACHIEVED THESE THINGS, then can we can start to turn success into the confidence building discipline that is Positive Affirmation.

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As I said earlier, success breeds confidence. As confidence builds and successes continue to occur we must use these tools to build a wall around ourselves that make us almost impervious to the opinions of others. The key to this is self-belief. We need to know and tell ourselves that, given our health situation and all the obstacles we have to overcome to get things done, we are still achieving, still succeeding, we are overcoming the odds. The trick is then to turn this knowledge into a tool. Each morning we need to wake up and we need to know and believe all of those previous statements. We need to tell ourselves these things each morning: “I am capable, I am doing the best that I can, I am going to do a good job,” and so on. The important thing is to then act on these statements; be capable, do the best you can, do a good job. If you can tell yourself this at the end of a day before bed, I can tell you personally that you will sleep a lot easier. It also helps when the critics and the haters give their normally unnecessary and uninformed opinions (when I say uninformed I’m talking about what they say to you without knowing the or even having the slightest comprehension what you as an ABI patient have been and are still going through) it becomes easier to brush them off without the words affecting you as strongly as words and the way they are spoken have the power to do.

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That self belief, those three phrases; “I am capable, I am doing the best that I can, I am going to do a good job,” should be part of the foundation for recovery, the transition into and development of a well rounded and fulfilling independent life, as should the praise for any other personal targets and goals that you achieve. With this type of belief system and a supportive network of friends and family behind you sharing this positive attitude, I think you will be amazed at how drastically it can change your opinion of yourself.        

Ignoring The Haters

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When we can master these arts of acknowledging the things we can control and the things we can’t, acknowledging our successes and using them as motivational tools as well as accepting the ways, attitudes, opinions and their right to express those things then, with the right attitude, you (as I have found) will find that the words of other people don’t matter very much.

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People have opinions, they can express them in whatever way they please. However, I believe in myself. I know that “I am capable, I am doing the best that I can, I am going to do a good job,” and this, in the end is what truly matters. If you can look at yourself in the mirror in the morning or at the end of the day, or look a supportive family member or friend straight in the eye and say them and mean it, then you will have the art of Self Affirmation mastered and it will bear fruit for as long as you keep practicing it.

Diet & Nutrition

Diet & Nutrition

Following on from the last weeks and my posts Holistic Health and Exercise: Body vs. The Mind, I am continuing with my theme of trying to create a positive balance in all aspects of our bodies. I have spoken on exercise and the idea of Holism or Holistic health; how exercise contributes to Holism and the positive effects this approach of treating the whole person (not just symptoms and manifestations) can have for those of us with Acquired Brain Injury/Traumatic Brain Injury. I will continue in a similar vain today and talk about the part played by diet and nutrition. Specifically I will try to emphasise the ways certain vitamins, minerals and other nutritional benefits from certain foods can affect our state of mind and the way we feel generally. I am hoping I will be able to provide you all with come dietary information that can improve our circulation, our production of levels, our immune system generally as well as the ability to produce certain hormones, in particular, the feel good hormones.

Vitamins & Minerals – What Can They Do For You?

There are common misconceptions made about what we eat and how our diets can affect so many aspects of our wellbeing. I believe personally that there is not enough education regarding the potential nutritional value of certain foods during years of compulsory education. I release that due to the continual advances mad in science these days that to constantly adapt curriculum to incorporate everything would be nigh on impossible. That being said, I do believe that with a better understanding from a young age (the start of GCSE’s, say) of what vitamins and minerals actually do to the human body (not just lightly glossed over) that the current crisis regarding childhood obesity would not be as bad as it is where approx. 19% of UK children in the age group of ten to eleven years old are classed as obese according to recent UK public health surveys (http://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/child_obesity).
Of course diet and nutrition contribute to our physical wellbeing (Body Mass Index, Blood Pressure etc.) but few people are aware of the positive effect a varied healthy and nutritious diet can have on other aspects of the human body and mind. Our digestive system, muscle repairs, energy production, our immune and circulatory systems, sleep pattern and state of mind can all be positively affected by such a varied nutritious diet.
So many people will read that last paragraph and believe that I am full of hot air. However, I will be doing my best to provide you with some information on the type of foods that can provide these types of nutritional benefits. By the end of the post, you will be able to see a few particular foods that keep cropping up and can aid our physical, cognitive and mental health.
I cannot possibly hope to get through all vitamins and minerals required for a model diet post-ABI or TBI. However the one I have chosen is the one that contributes to most dietary needs for someone after brain injury to keep them healthy in body and mind.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B is a key part of any persons diet and provides so many benefits. The problem is that people trying to improve their diet can often get confused or mixed up due to the fact that Vitamin B has six sub categories, each with varying properties and each one providing the body with different benefits. So I will go through the different types of B vitamin and what each provides for the human body to provide some clarity and hopefully enable those that want to change their diets for the better to get the benefits they are after. Each paragraph on the different B vitamins will have a emboldened section which I believe provides particularly important information for ABI and TBI patients.

B1 – Foods that contain B1: Rice, Oats, Nuts and Butternut Squash.

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Otherwise known as Thiamine, is important for helping digestion in the human body, maintaining cellular and organ function and keeping energy levels at an even and suitable height. It also helps to create strong mucous membranes as well as helping to maintain the body’s nervous system. A deficiency of vitamin B1 can cause extreme fatigue as well as degeneration of the nervous and gastrointestinal system as well as degeneration of muscular systems.

B2 – Foods that contain B2: Quinoa, Oats, Spinach and Mangetout.

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B2 (Riboflavine) is important for maintaining muscle tissues as it plays a key role in repairing muscle tissue and mucous membranes. As well as playing an important part in converting food into energy. This would be an important vitamin to ingest for those who are regular exercisers, as foods high in B2 will help with repairing minor post-exercise damage done to any muscles.

B3 – Foods containing B3: Chicken, Turkey, Fresh Tuna and Crimini Mushrooms.

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Vitamin B3, to give it its technical name Niacin, is key to the production and storage of fats that can be used as a source of energy in the human body. As an added bonus B3 is also vital in detoxifying the body by eliminating free radicals and maximizing our energy potential (What are Free Radicals? To what extent are they dangerous as the body naturally produces them? Follow the link for an overview of Free Radical production and their purpose – https://draxe.com/fighting-free-radical-damage/). Once again, this B vitamin plays a part in maintaining nerves, the brain and digestive systems, protects the skin as well as maintaining healthy mucous membranes.

B5 – Foods containing B5: Cauliflower, Egg Yolks, Turkey and Avocado.

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Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid is key to strengthening the body’s immune system. It acts as a stimulant for the production of antibodies helping us to fight off illness and infection. B5 also enables us to deal with stress better aiding the adrenal glands in producing the hormones to better produce red blood cells and the hormones related to both sex and stress. An increased presence of B5 included in the diets of people suffering with anxiety or nerves could provide some improvement for you, especially when combined with exercise.

B6 – Foods containing B6: Eggs, Soya Beans, Mackerel and Turkey.

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This is an important one for all of us with ABI or TBI. Not only does vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine, help to make and produce key amino acids for the immune system but also helps produce Phagocytic cells. Phagocytic cells ingest and destroy foreign bacteria and particles that find their way into our blood stream. Most importantly for ABI/TBI/Brain Injury readers out there, B6 helps the body produce several different neurotransmitters, the chemicals that carry signals from one brain cell to another. Finally it helps with the production of Serotonin, the hormone that contributes to mood as well as the hormone Norepinephrine that helps to regulate our body clock and sleep pattern.

B12 – Foods that contain B12: Beef Liver, Fresh Tuna, and Raw Milk.

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B12 is fundamental for the human body due to its requirement for the process of making DNA. It also helps to transport oxygen in the blood, playing a part in detoxifying the body, lowering blood pressure and levels of cholesterol. Most importantly for us struggling with brain injuries out there it also helps to maintain brain function while at the same time helping to reduce brain and neurological degeneration.

Folic Acid – Foods that contain Folic Acid: Lentils, Avocado, Broccoli and Citrus Fruit/Citrus Fruit Juices.

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Folic Acid is a B-vitamin that makes a significant contribution to our reproductive. Just as importantly it helps with maintain healthy blood cells as well as playing a part in the process of mitosis (cell division). The work that Folic acid does producing maintaining blood cells helps to reduce the risk of illnesses such as cancer

Minerals
Magnesium – Foods that contain Magnesium: Rice, Quinoa, Spinach and Mackerel.

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High levels of magnesium in our bodies mean that we can absorb more calcium. Maintaining a consistently high level of magnesium in the blood means our bodies have an easier time producing energy and helping with nerve transmission. This particular mineral also aids maintain muscle function and our metabolism.

Zinc – Foods that contain Zinc: Rice, Dark Chocolate (with high Cocoa solid percentage), Cashew Nuts and Seafood (generally).

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Zinc is predominantly an anti-oxidant, anti-viral mineral. Its main benefit really is that it boosts the body’s overall immunity as well as helping with the development and maturation of Lymphocytes commonly known as T-Cells (T-Cells are a type of cell that helps fight illness and infection. There are various types of T-Cells all with different roles and purposes in the immune system. Low levels of T-Cells weaken the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness, infection or disease). It is these Lymphocytes, T- Cells, that the HIV virus attacks when it is transmitted, lowering our immune system making us more prone to illness and unable to recover.

Others

EFA’s (Essential Fatty Acid’s including Omega 3 and Omega 6) – Foods containing EFA’s: Walnuts, Broccoli, Eggs and Olive Oil.

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The important role of EFA’s is that they are an anti-inflammatory as well as playing a vital part in maintaining healthy blood, skin and nerves. EFA’s are also believed to improve the responsiveness of the immune system. EFA’s can also be commonly found in oily fish such as fresh mackerel, tuna, salmon etc.

Serotonin Stimulators

Foods that can increase the production of serotonin: Eggs, Salmon, Nuts & Seeds, and Pineapple.

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As I stated earlier in the post, Serotonin is a hormone produced to help regulate our moods. As I mentioned in my post regarding exercise, the release of serotonin is the hormone behind the so-called “Runners High”, the feeling of happiness and ecstasy one get post-exercise. While exercise is certainly something that I would recommend for those looking for the uplifting feeling of higher levels of serotonin there are other methods such as the type of foods we eat that can induce higher levels of serotonin production.

Drinks

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I am certainly not an expert when it comes to dietary needs and exercise but if you want to find out some alternative drinks to try, have a look at my friend Chelsea’s blog on various teas and their benefits: specifically her post on teas more suitable for patients whttp://www.tastethetea.co.uk.

Common Appearances In Healthy Diet

It would seem as though there were a fair few foods that made repeat appearances through the various categories I have listed. It would stand to reason then that the foods that crop up in different categories I have mentioned should be incorporated as a key part of our diet. From the evidence and research I have provided it would seem fairly clear that a diet high in oily fish, poultry, rice, grains, nuts & seeds, as well as green leafy vegetables are the foundation of making us healthy and making us feel good physically, cognitively and mentally. While I did not do a section on this particular dietary supplement I would encourage the consumption of anything with Flavanoids, which helps with the maintenance and repair of blood vessels, muscle tissue and aids circulation. Flavanoids are commonly found in Seeds & Nuts, Berries, Tree Fruit (Plums, Cherries etc.) and Kidney beans.

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All I can suugest is that we try to continue to eat a varied and healthy diet. The issue nowadays is that so much food is processed, preserved or artificial that any goodness is cooked out of it. Many people believe that supplements and vitamins tablets can provide everything we need. However the more we try to cook ourselves, the more we are willing to experiment with our diet, the bigger the benefits we will receive. Even if you don’t consider yourself a dab hand in the kitchen just give it a go. Buy a cookery book. Here’s a link to get you started to Jamie Oliver’s Super Food cookbook.

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Holistic Health

Holistic Health

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Brain injury, in all senses is an incredibly complex issue. There are numerous debates on different recovery methods; which works best? What’s the first step? What’s the best method of recovery? Finally, what I’m sure is the most common question, what is the cure? The truth is, as I and I’m sure you also have learned that there is no prescribed cure for ABI. In fact, I don’t think it can be cured; situations can improve but complete recovery? I’m very dubious. It is not the same as taking Ibuprofen to relieve a headache. The damage ABI does and the way it manifests itself can potentially affect everything from cognitive function to physical movement. Down the centre of my head is a huge scar that spirals round to the front of my right ear. And at the back of my head a large scar that slides down from just above the base of my skull to the upper parts of my neck; both visible mementos of my brush with death. The biggest scars, the ones that trouble me most today are the ones that can’t be seen.

Invisible Wounds & Injuries

I often feel that the things I am battling with most are issues such as anxiety, anger and depression, in essence factors connected to how I perceive myself and others perceive me. I will talk about the type of alternative choices and helpful lifestyle practices that can install a sense of calm and help achieve an inner-peace. These are methods of healing that are not just prescriptions to cure an ailment but to aid the healing of the whole, the mind, the body and the soul; in essence, holistic healing.

(Holistic – The belief that the parts of something are intimately connected and that you cannot separate one part without referring to the whole. For example when I was referring to a person’s health I used the term “mind, body and soul”, meaning that only when all are healthy and content at once can one be truly what you would call “healthy”.)

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Some of the things I am going to suggest are things that one can obtain by walking into a shop and buying, or looking up the methods online but those parts are just a small part of the overall recipe. Much of what I am going to advise is definitely not easy. Most of these things involve a lot of discipline and awareness of both yourself and what’s happening around you. If we master these techniques though, believe me when I say this, we can learn to carry and manage the burden that is ABI and obtain a sense of peace, something I lacked for three to four years until I made the effort to learn, change my lifestyle and accept myself for who I am now.

What Is Peace? How Do We Get It?

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The pursuit of peace, I believe stems from the every day stresses one endures: work, family life and commitments or, in our case, past traumas and the basic human need to escape from those stresses. I also believe that moments of peace where we are not in a state of constant mental conflict are essential for everyone’s day-to-day health. I am a great believer in holistic methods for creating periods of time where a person can be at peace and feel peaceful.

We all know that the ever-elusive pursuit of peace (a pursuit that on some level, all people whether they have suffered an ABI or not are on) revolves around our state of mind. It is a journey we try to go through each day so that we can arrive at a place, if only for half an hour each day, where we feel we have arrived at the desired destination; a place of comfort where none of the worries that we have been through during the hours before matter and they no longer concern us. What peace is depends purely on whom you are, the type of person you are, the intricacies and character traits that make you an individual. But I will explain to you what my place of peace is later on.

I also think that much of finding that feeling of peace within the self is being at peace with yourself and who you are. I think that accepting where your limitations are and finding alternative ways to overcome them or achieve the same end by a different means is how we can empower ourselves and feel that a brain injury does not rule our lives; that with hard work, the ability to accept certain defeats but not let them defeat you entirely and an open minded outlook and willingness to try new things we can be proud of who we are and be at peace with our injuries and the effects they have had on our lives. It’s a case of staring down the brain injury. The question is, who is going to blink first? I’ve found in the last seven years that I can stare for a long time.  

My Place Of Peace

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Near where I live (on the south coast) there are numerous cliff paths. I can walk up the cliff and onto a long coastal path. I have brought nothing with me except a bottle of water and my iPod. As I approach the uneven path up the steep cliff, I select my relaxation/mindfulness music album and press play.

As I set off I walk up the steepest part of the cliff walk up the steep green path until I come to a flat level where I can walk across the tops of the cliffs with ocean views as far out as you can see, I take that time to do some breathing exercises to get my already pumping blood full oxygenated. It is hear on these cliff tops that I can put aside the battles I have with myself in my own mind and stand and appreciate if only for half an hour, that there is so much beauty in the world. I can walk up and down that path for as long as possible. This is where I find my time of peace. A place where I can admire the beauty of the world, a world that seems much quieter, much more beautiful and relaxing that I enjoy far more than a world where I often see little to admire which only aggravates an internal struggle that I am battling with everyday.

Exercise

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There are many different ways to keep the body healthy and that can lead to a sense of happiness (a topic I covered in my previous post Exercise: Body vs. The Mind). Happiness is key to us finding a place of peace. Peace and relaxation is not what I would call happiness, more a sense of satisfaction or contentment. They are still though, in my opinion, branches of the same plant.

With regular aerobic exercise such as jogging, swimming or walking comes with it the release of endorphins into the blood, endorphins – the healthy person natural drug of choice. I think this is why my feelings of peace often come after a period of exercise. The oxygenation of blood, achieved by rhythmic steady breathing during exercise is also important during periods of relaxation. When oxygen passes through cell walls and attaches itself to red blood cells the oxygen is transported to the parts of the body that are most fatigued and need it most. The brain needs a steady supply of oxygen to operate at its maximum capacity. In other words, for people like us with brain injuries, providing the body with a supply of well oxygenated blood will ensure that our brains operate at a higher capacity that if we don’t do exercise.

Diet

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People say that dieting or eating healthily is a chore what they don’t know is that often the foods we eat can have a big impact on the way that we feel due to their content. Certain foods can help us cleanse and detox our body, even eliminating certain chemicals and molecules that can negatively affect our mood and yielding ones that produce a positive effect. I do not pretend to be in expert so I will link you to a couple of website that include far more information than I can give you. As I said, much of what disturbs my sense of peace is the ongoing battle in my mind and the effects that my emotions and mental health have. Changing ones diet can have a huge impact on the way that issues such as depression or anger can affect our day-to-day lives.

  1. http://www.webmd.boots.com/depression/guide/diet-depression
  2. http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression-pictures/8-foods-that-fight-depression.aspx

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I should also add that it is not just the things we EAT that can produce these positive effects within the body, but also within the things we DRINK. So here is a link to my friend and blogging colleague Chelsea Webster’s blog Taste the Tea particularly her post on the positive effects different types of tea blends can have in helping to relax the mind and the positive effects of Tisanes. http://tastethetea.co.uk/2016/05/10/abi/ You can also find out more about her and the writing she does on Twitter @TastetheTeaBlog.

Fulfilling The Soul

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One of the key parts to gaining peace within you is finding happiness and fulfillment in the things that you do. This is an extremely difficult thing to do after something like an ABI or TBI as it can seem that so much is against us. It can be difficult to find the right things for you personally due to the way your own individual injury has manifested itself and the things that you personally struggle with. These common feelings can often induce in us a certain fear, a fear of failure. Developing that kind of fear is the worst trap that we can set for ourselves. Instead, the approach that I take (and it’s not an easy mindset to get into) is that when we try new things, different things, there is always likely to be bumps in the road and difficulties the same as any other person. Those difficulties are emphasized by my injury and that is something that I cannot help. I hate and resent the idea that something that happened to me at the age of nineteen, seemingly at random, holds so much power over me but it does. That’s the way it is unfortunately and I can do nothing to change that.

What I can do however is use that as a motivation. Once we accept the fact that our injuries will affect certain aspects of performance, whether cognitive, physical or emotional and by proxy affect tour ability to do certain things I believe that we are in a much better position to try and do as many things as possible. When we do this, it is possible (and quite likely) you will find something that you do have a talent and passion for. I’m not saying we should try and do these things on a grand stage in front of a huge audience but why not try them on a small scale first. Why not (as I have mentioned it above in this post) try exercising and setting small goals to overcome, an example being losing a certain amount of weight in a certain amount of time. Or if you are struggling with issues such as depression then why not try experimenting with cooking recipes using the information I have provided with the links I have provided above to try and help improve your state of mind. Finally, an option that is my own preferred option that makes me happy; try expressing yourself in a creative way through writing (scripts, prose, poetry, songs). Why not try learning an instrument? Why not enroll in an arts class or maybe an amateur dramatics class? I am sure there will be plenty of information for local organisations online where these kinds of facilities will be available. If not then try speaking to specific charities and organizations’. Again I would suggest speaking to your local chapter of Headway UK who I am sure would be delighted to help you investigate where such local sports centre’s, organizations, clubs, societies and groups are and how to contact them to find out about different courses, lessons or meeting that take place.

The key thing is to find something that you can enjoy doing that gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Find where your talents are, embrace them and use them. The feeling you get when you are doing something you enjoy and it is yielding a positive result is an incredible one.

Peace & Relaxation

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Finally, I think that doing things that focus our minds, doing things that we enjoy and make us happy are a significant part of holistic healing. I believe that that lump in your throat and that feeling of heaviness in your heart that we feel so often after an ABI or TBI co-exist in the same part of you that explodes with happiness when England score a goal and the same part of you that brings a tear to your eye whenever you hear The Three Tenors –Turandot: Nessun dorma! They are just examples from my life, my point is that while there is sorrow that lives there, there is also passion, happiness and beauty in all of us. What we need to do is to find a constructive way to show our passion, our beauty and our happiness! When we can show that as well as absorb the beauty of the people and the world around us, while ignoring the slights of ignorant or unpleasant people and just continue living our life with good intentions and good morals and with gratitude. Then we shall be well on the way to being healed.I stress the importance of the wording, healed not recovered

Exercise: Body vs. The Mind

Exercise: Body vs. The Mind

Hi folks, this is a re-written post from over a month ago that immediately followed my post Post-ABI: Depression. However as I explained in earlier blog posts, I felt I had very much short-changed you in terms of the amount of information I had provided regarding what it is like to suffer with mental health issues. Over the last month though, I feel I have been very open with you when talking about my own experiences of mental health problems (which can be found via the following links: Go Back A Step – Depression, Identifying Triggers, Managing My Mental Health, Anxiety & Low Self Esteem, Socialisation & Emotional Instability). Within these posts I feel I have examined both the topics at hand and myself very deeply and hopefully provided you with some useful information. I feel as though I have agonised enough about the things that are pulling us back and it is now time to look at ways we can help ourselves and move forward. So this is where I should have posted about exercise, when it was the right time to do it. So here it is, in it’s rightful place as we examine how we can help ourselves.

One moment your life is mapped out, you know who you are, what you want and where you are going. We wanted to live the dream! But what if life is not a dream though, what if the dream that movies, news coverage, advertisements and politicians have described and tell you is imminent if you work hard enough turns out to be fake? What if it suddenly turns into a nightmare? The next moment you find yourself in a hospital bed with your life changed, as if someone has blindfolded you and dropped you in the middle of a rainforest and told you to find your way home. After many mishaps, mistakes and the feeling of injustice at the ridiculousness of the size of the challenge you have been set it is inevitable that feelings of anger, despair, futility and so many others will inevitably pile up to the extent that you don’t even want to get out of bed in the morning.

Depression & Exercise

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Now we all know that exercise is good for us in the conventional sense. We should all exercise daily according to our GP so as to keep blood pressure down, keep the blood pumping and oxygenated, to keep ourselves at the right weight and to generally make us look and FEEL better about ourselves. Depression is the parasite, a condition that is fed by our negative thoughts, our dark desires, our self-loathing, or stresses, traumatic experiences and our hatred. There are many ways to control that parasite though, not just medications (which, in my opinion, are handed out extremely frivolously these days), but by more natural methods that we can do ourselves with a little discipline and hard work. I personally believe that if you are susceptible and vulnerable to mental health issues that it is a case of getting those negative thought patterns well controlled, that with the right lifestyle we can ensure that they lie dormant for long periods. What I believe is that when it comes to depression, it is something that is linked to your own mind, the type of person you are and your own experiences. Therefore I believe that, as is the case with ABI, that you aren’t really ever cured. Because of the type of person you (or we, I also suffer from issues with depression anxiety and anger) are and all that you have been through will be prone to spells of depression or moments of anxiety for the rest of your days. This is also the reason I believe there are other ways to deal with them aside from just throwing pills and medications at the problem in the hope that it goes away.

The Science

There are two key parts to how exercise can keep us healthy not just physically but improve our state of mind as well. The first is the release of endorphins and the second contributory factor is ensuring that our blood remains oxygenated and circulating well. I will do my best to explain the processes, as I understand them but I will say this now; I am no expert scientist.

What Are Endorphins?

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Endorphins are a neurotransmitter (a chemical that continues the passage of signals from one neuron to the next) key to the central nervous system. They play an extremely important role in the nervous system as they can encourage or suppress the signaling of nearby neurons. They are also our brains response to certain stimulants, such as pain as well as emotional stimulation to the brain. Think of endorphins as the brains own drug and react mainly with the part of the brain responsible for blocking out pain and controlling our emotional state of mind.

While endorphins block pain and control our emotions, they also cause that great feeling of excitement and enjoyment from the things we are really passionate about, enjoy doing or are just something of a giddy thrill. So when we do an exercise that we are extremely passionate about, not only do endorphins block out or relieve us of issues such as pain but also emphasise the positive emotional state we are in when are enjoying our exercise. When you hear people talk about the “runners high” that is due to the rush of endorphins the runner is getting while their brain is active and their body is being pushed.

Oxygenated Blood

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Now, I’m not going to get too caught up in this. I’ll keep it brief, as I’m not sure exactly what the correct scientific explanation would be (Here is a good article on oxygenation of the body and body detoxification courtesy of Natural News.

To keep it simple, the oxygen from the air we breathe in diffuses through membranes into our red blood cells, the cells designed to carry oxygen around the body. The red blood cells then carry this oxygen to the places where it is needed most in the body.

The best way to ensure a good supply of oxygen in the blood and that your organs (particularly the brain), muscles and nervous system stay oxygenated is to focus hard on breathing patterns with slow and steady breathing.

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To help maintain both of these things, a steady supply of endorphins and a healthy supply of oxygen to the blood, those breathing patterns I spoke of earlier combined with regular aerobic exercise (hiking, running, cycling) or just breathing and stretching exercises such as yoga or tai-chi. The point is exercises.

I can guarantee that with the continued focus on breathing patterns and with regular daily exercise (it doesn’t have to be a big grand effort, just walking for half an hour a day) can have a really positive effect on the state of mind due to your body’s natural reaction, the release of endorphins; your body’s own natural high.

Confidence

One thing that exercise also provides that is a huge boost in the fight against depression is confidence in ourselves. During recovery and rehabilitation post-ABI I know that there are so many things that are foreign to us and that have changed, against our wishes. The situation escalated beyond our knowledge and control. However, when we find a particular type of exercise that we enjoy, we can implement an exercise regime that will enable us to set targets and, by achieving them, bring back an element of control.

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Depression can cause issues such as a lack of appetite, or a tendency to over eat, both of which cause issues with weight. Exercise can help to counteract both of those things wether it is exercising to build up an appetite or exercising to burn off excess calories you have consumed. Exercise can be used merely to keep your body in balance and ensure that you stay in good condition and that your health doesn’t suffer. It can also be used to set yourself goals such as adding muscle definition, increasing targets such as distance run or weight lost or gained. With regards to exercise, it can work as a way to motivate ourselves and as a tangible, visual incentive because it shows that the effort we are going to is worth it and the fitter we get the better we look, the better we look the better and more confident we feel.

NB. For more information on how exercise can act as a positive influence in life post-ABI check out the inspiring story of Nick Verron and how exercise changed his life after his brain injury. Follow the link to his blog: nickverron.com