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.

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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.