My name is Tom; I’m 26 years old and the survivor of an Acquired Brain Injury. Everyone who has been reading my blog and who’s suffered an ABI, or even has a family member who has, will know that returning to complete normality, normality that was a life before an ABI, is impossible.
The original title of this update was going to be “Getting Back to Normal”, but on reflection I considered this to be misleading. As what I’m talking about today is not so much about having the same life you had before your injury because the consequences will undoubtedly stay with you. Instead this will be about accepting your limitations but re-establishing old habits activities and generally being able to have fun in spite of those limitations. It will be about realisations that I came to about my own injury, about my own mental state and perhaps realising many of the excuses that are built on the foundation of our brain injuries, for not being able to do certain things we had no trouble with prior to the injury, are purely psychological blocks as opposed to legitimate incapability’s.
Acknowledging & Confronting The Fear
In my opinion, a key part of overcoming the psychological blocks is a willingness to acknowledge them for what they are: fears, nothing more, nothing less. Much of what we achieve after our injuries is down to not just our willingness to acknowledge those fears but also to confront them
After you suffer from something as life changing as a brain injury, you will inevitably find that there are certain things you used to do with friends and family that you do not feel up to doing any more. There were many things in my life, particularly the social aspect of my life, that I stopped doing after my injury because of physical and mental aspects that I was struggling with. At that time, trying to force my way through road blocks I wasn’t ready to pass yet we not been a constructive solution. There is absolutely no doubt that I and, In fact we, need time to come to terms with and deal with these issues in our own ways and in our own time. However, from my own experience, I have found that something you gave up temporarily for your own good can become something you say to yourself and to others that you cannot do.
I believe this comes down to the nature of an ABI. Due to the length of time it can take for us to come to terms with the limitations that have been placed upon us, something that was previously inadvisable has now become impossible in our minds. Again, I can only write from my own experience and my own belief, I would say that this mindset comes purely from a fear of failure (a perfectly valid fear but one that can sometimes become irrational). I find, with people generally, that when something is difficult and we have been given an excuse to not do that thing (doctors orders for example), we will try to avoid doing it at all costs. All people, regardless of ability, will try to get out of doing something difficult if they possibly can.
The thing is, we (brain injury patients) are not facing normal problems of life; as well as the everyday difficulties that life throws at us, we’re also fighting with our own doubts, insecurities and very often trying to deal with rationalizing the concept of fairness that comes with the injury (or the “why me?” complex as I like to call it). I honestly don’t believe it is these things that stop us from trying to do the activities and hobbies that we enjoyed so much before our injuries.
Fear of Change & Failure
The fear of failure that I mentioned earlier can be paralyzing. We say to ourselves: “I used to be really good at that,” or “I used to really enjoy doing that, what if I can’t do it any more?” When I am being honest this question has been in my mind every time I do something, old or new, since I suffered my injury. Maybe, we have to open our mind to the fact that this will be a constant fear.
The truth of the matter is that we use the things we were told at the start of a recovery process, a process that began perhaps several years ago (as in my case), to avoid facing challenges we may fail at in the here and now. The reason for this, I believe, is because if we fail at something we were good at before we suffered the injury, we have to acknowledge a change in ourselves; a change for the worse. Nobody likes change, but I think it’s safe to say we like irreversible change, to our own abilities and social activities that is beyond our control, even less.
The longer this mentality persists, the more difficult the consequences of the injury become to face. When we cannot face failure or loss then total acceptance of the injury and our limitations is impossible, as is a full and satisfying life post-injury.
If I may use an example from my own life, prior to my injury I was a season ticket holder for my towns local football club. I used to travel, home and away, to watch them play every weekend. After I suffered my injury, because of the issues I was having regarding personal space and proximity to people, my neurological consultants suggested that perhaps attending the games wasn’t a good idea. Upon hearing the news, I protested. I told my friends how upset I was by the decision. In reality, a wave of relief broke over me. I was so glad I no longer had to fulfill what was, at that point in time, an obligation to maintain my social status and keep up appearances. Every Saturday, enduring the noise, the invasion of personal space, the atmosphere of drunken aggression that would have made me feel so unsafe and uncomfortable after the attack.
At that time, within the months I had just been released from hospital, not going to football make total sense while I was still coming to terms with my own issues. Recently though, I realized that I have not stepped foot in the football ground for about six years. When I thought about this fact, it really shocked me. I remembered how much I used to enjoy going to football on Saturday and thought about why I’ve not been back in so long… I mean really thought about it.
When I thought properly and considered the situation, I came to the conclusion that the only thing that has been stopping me for a good while was fear. The fear that the problems that prevented me from going all those years ago, were still persisting and were going to stop me from doing something I had previously enjoyed so much. I think this thought frightened me more than anything; the idea that I was missing out on something I enjoyed so much due to my fear and my inability to face that fear. And the length of time… Had it really been six years???
So I decided, that very afternoon, to attend a home game. I had to, I had to just take the bull by the horns and confront this fear. Do you know what? I had a brilliant day. However, having come to all of these realisations in a very short space of time (in the space of a day!), I left the stadium frustrated and angry with myself. How long had my own self-doubt and a fear of failure prevented me from doing this thing I’d enjoyed so much prior to my injury? Now, I’ve made a vow to myself to try and get down to watch whenever I can afford it and whenever I have time. I owe myself that after six years of irrational fear.
No Such Thing As Failure
The point I’ve tried to make with this post is that we cannot be afraid to face our fears. I believe that the biggest fears people have are a fear of change and a fear of failure. It is important that we face those fears and we certainly need to get used to facing them. After something like a brain injury, whenever we face up to challenge, we have to acknowledge that there is a chance we still won’t be ready to overcome it. I personally believe that the best way to overcome that daunting fact is to tell yourself that total failure is impossible. You can never fail completely. When something does not work the way you had hoped, you reassess the situation, approach it from a different angle, or even come back to it at a later point. Try again.
The real fact of the matter is, after a brain injury there are so many things we can no longer do and enjoy. Don’t let your own mind, fears and insecurities stop you from at least having a go at doing different things or returning to the things you used to do pre-injury (where possible). There is a whole world of activities and things to do out there, keep trying different things and you will find something you enjoy and that you are good at, I assure you, and over time life will start to feel somewhat closer to normal. Never quite the same but still that little bit closer.
Thank you for reading my latest update, I hope it has been of some help to you and that you have enjoyed it. Please, follow me on WordPress and get more information by following me on Twitter (my Twitter handle is @ABIblogger). Thanks and be well!