Christmas; Simple Solutions To Ease The Pressure & Regain Control

The festive season is upon us, the end of another year, a period of cheer and celebration. At this part of the year, convention dictates we conjure up images that cannot help but be viewed as comfortable, idyllic. The image that has been created over years and generations has, at least from my experience, been romanticized to the point where the images and expectations we have in our minds in the month preceding Christmas are never lived up to. I am not speaking just for people who are suffering with a head injury; I believe that to be the case for many families around the country.

The Picture

When we consider Christmas for the first time in the year, when it suddenly dawns on us that it is creeping ever closer, we think of an ideal scenario with images that are out of a Christmas film or story book. The fantasy in our mind shows us exchanging gifts with loved ones beneath a Christmas tree, the smell of pine needles fresh in the air. We create a picture of ourselves wearing Christmas jumpers and Santa hats, eating mince pies and sipping on mulled wine while Wallace and Gromit is on the television. Finally, we see ourselves sat at the dinner table with friends and family, tucking into a sumptuous turkey dinner; we raise a glass as a toast is made wishing each other the best for the year to come as everything for the rest of the day falls into place.

The Reality in General

Christmas day and the build up to it is a stressful experience for all (the exception being small children), most of us don’t take on the responsibility of handling and hosting a Christmas day celebration. We go to our mum & dad’s, our grandparent’s or get invited to a friend’s house to celebrate the occasion. I have only ever experienced a family Christmas, hosted by my mum and dad or my brother or sister, aunt and uncle and so on.

These days are filled with humour, laughter and fun but also with inevitable conflict (my dad banning anyone from entering the kitchen in fear of someone ruining his masterpiece turkey, my niece and nephew arguing about who got the better present and so forth). It is going to be stressful, but we somehow manage to get through it. When that turkey is brought out and we sit at the table for dinner, the bickering and petty arguments stop, we tuck in and toast to the chef, the host and wish each other the best for the New Year. It is a good day but certainly not the image we had in our mind in the time leading up to it. That is generally how things go in the regular household.

The Reality For Us

What if that second option, the stressful reality of Christmas were made all the more demanding by a whole other set of stresses and pressures you had to deal with, in the build up and on the day itself? What about us, the people who certainly aren’t that organized, aren’t as together, people who are more susceptible to stress, fatigue and anxiety as a result of our injuries. Where do the problems, the practical issues that surround the festive period, lie for us and how do we overcome them?

The Present Problem

One of the biggest anxieties I face in the build up to the festive period is the worry about gifts and whom I am buying them for. Firstly, due to the issues I have with my memory, remembering all the people I have to buy for is more than a little challenging. This is made all the more taxing by the size of the family I have: parents, a brother, a sister, their partners, nephews a niece, grandparents to name just a few. When you sit down and actually think about it, there are a lot of people to consider, ABI or no ABI.

Not only do I then have to worry about remembering all the people to buy for but I have to ensure I then get them the RIGHT gift, a truly traumatizing experience in our family. When it comes to buying people gifts, there are the people who will tell you, straight down the middle, exactly what they want. Then there are those who are easy to buy for and are happy to receive a gift from you or the people who have very specific interests and are just as easily catered for.

Then there are the problematic people, the people who give you no idea what it is they want or would like. Not even an area they might be interested in. Keeping what they might like shrouded in mystery leaving you at something of a loss.

A Gift Wrapped Solution

Now, as I said earlier the anxieties of making sure you have remembered all the people you need to buy for and making sure you get them something they will appreciate can be a huge stress but one that can be solved relatively easily. It is a fairly practical solution that I used this year. With my mother in tow, I sat down at the table with a pencil and paper and, with the help of my mother’s excellent memory/organizational skills that all mum’s seems to have, we made a list of all the people I needed to buy for. We also wrote down any of the gifts I already knew I was going to buy and for whom. This left me with only a few people not catered for. With my mother’s help we soon found gifts for those who I found difficult to buy for.

I realise this may seem a very simple and not very extravagant solution but having time to sit down and think and talk through idea’s with someone who also knows the people you are buying for, such as another family member can be a simple and effective way to ease that particular pressure.

Trying To Be Social: Take Control of Your Condition

If you are anything like me, as a brain injury patient, you can find social situations, particularly ones with lots of people, noise and no respite difficult; children shouting, adults talking, the TV blaring and a CD of Christmas classics playing in the background. After a certain amount of this sustained stimulation, I know it about myself, I feel as though there is a pressure building inside my head, I am tired, I start to get snappy with people and irritable with them; I know that fatigue is setting in. Again, the solution to this is a simple one. After a period of time living with an ABI you will start to know your limits, recognizing when you need rest, when enough is enough.

When you start to recognize those familiar feelings, start to feel the warning signs, tell the people you are with. There is no reason to be ashamed of the consequences of your injury, simply inform whoever is hosting the Christmas party, tell them you need a lie down, a nap or just a quiet place to sit and relax. There is no reason why that should or could not be afforded to you.

Christmas; A wonderful Time Of Year

Despite all of the stresses that come with it, Christmas is still one of my favourite times of the year. It is one of the few, wonderful times of year where we can all get together and show our appreciation for one another. It should not be forgotten though that despite the idyllic pictures we have developed in our minds over the years it is a very stressful time of the year for everyone.

As well as that it should not be forgotten that for people such as us it is even more stressful. One way to help ease that pressure is to communicate with friends and family members and try to explain to them the type of issues we are dealing with. If we can find simple and practical issues to help solve our problems, alongside that communication and being in an environment with loving, supportive people, we can make Christmas the fun and festive day we all know it has the potential to be.

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Overcoming Negative Influences & People

My name is Tom; I am 26 years old and the survivor of Acquired Brain Injury. I focused a lot on the importance of self-belief as well as having a supportive group of family and friends around you. These things can make huge difference throughout your recovery. Having faith in who you are and what you are doing combined with words of encouragement, congratulations as well as having a shoulder to cry on when things get tough, can in fact be the thing that is the difference maker in the rehabilitation process. Those supportive sentiments of close friends and family go a long way towards building up that sense of self belief, that belief that there is a life after a brain injury that can be productive, fulfilling and exciting.

But what about the people out there who seem to do their best to exude sentiments that make us feel the opposite to this, people who say things that are seemingly designed to try and bring us down. Having to accept the presence of people like this has started to make me think. When engaging with people, aside from the close group of people who have supported us throughout our recovery, do the opinions of other people, what they think of what we do and who we are while we go through our recuperation, do their opinions really matter?

Don’t Let Them Bring You Down!

My answer? My opinion? No. These people and their opinions do not matter in the slightest. We all have a rough target (I would assume), a goal we want to reach, a place we want to get to; the important thing is to believe that you can get yourself there. This is the thing, brain injury or no brain injury, we are, all of us unique. We all have talents, traits and factors that make us valuable, talented and the lack of a better word, special (I know it sounds cheesy and I swore I would not get too sickly but I couldn’t think of another way of putting it).

We need to keep the Faith that these talents and abilities, combined with a enough hard work and determination and maybe a little bit of fortune, Will eventually take us where we want to go and where we deserve to be. We, as survivors of brain injuries, of all people make better than anyone that life is not going to necessarily be fair. It will be hard, unfair and I’m kind where it can be. When life knocks us down, we have to get up, dust ourselves down and get ready to go again.

Trust In Yourself

I realize that I have covered issues regarding self-belief and confidence in the previous post but it does need to be mentioned again. If you cannot rely on and believe in yourself it does become very difficult to set yourself apart from the crowd and understand that you do not necessarily need the approval or the endorsement of others for your own actions.

It seems particularly odd to me that many people seem to have especially strong opinions about things that have absolutely nothing to do with them, that will not affect them and that they know very little about. Yet, they seem to think it appropriate to judge a person when they actually have no facts or any context, the two main things that tend to dictate the decision-making process. We have to acknowledge that in certain environments people are going to talk, gossip and form opinions based on those two things. You must have the courage and the awareness to realise that, even though it is not ideal, perhaps you’re better off on your own and without these people in your life.

Friends, Relationships & Trust

This is a difficult subject for me to address. I found, as I know you all have, that’s a brain injury changes your abilities in many ways, particularly in the ways that you perform socially.

I found that after I suffered my injury, many people I previously counted as friends once all that interested in staying in touch any more. The reason? I have spent some time asking myself this question over the last two years and I have in fact come to a conclusion. The truth is my health situation meant the time is now something of a burden, an inconvenience. My situation disrupted the norm because certain allowances had to be made for me. As this became more obvious to the people who were, at the time, the people I counted as friends it just became easier to not invite me to do things at all.

I have had plenty of time to think about this question. When I do now, I realise that I am not hurt by it. In fact, to some degree, I even understand it. I do not resent them for it, when I see them now we still get on very well. It is simply the way life goes; friendships will breakdown. It is an inevitable and regrettable fact of life.

But this is not what I am here to talk about what I want to say to people who have suffered a brain injury, if you find yourself associating with people whom you have not met before, do so with an element of caution. Something that I realized quite quickly when I started to socialize with my peers again comma is that there are people out there who will try to take advantage of us; treat us like things that into time that and the only be a friend to us whenever is something tangible to be gained from it from their perspective.

This may sound incredibly negative and I am not suggesting that we distrust everybody or in any way you cut ourselves off from society. All I would say is that after her brain injury you, I, we are very vulnerable and an easy target for people who would want to take advantage. As such I would suggest being very selective as to whom we trust. Since my injury, after experiencing people who, on reflection, What obviously trying to take advantage of me, I have kept a very small, very close circle of friends to support me alongside my family. After a time you will know who these friends are; they will be the people who come through for you time and again, the people who are there for you without you having to ask.

Let The Haters Hate…

Now, I realise that heading maybe far to pop culture for me to pull off, but in this case never has a truer phrase been said. As I said earlier, relationships breakdown that is an inevitable part of life; however, there will be some people who tried to use your injury as some kind of excuse for that breakdown or as an excuse to treat you differently. An example from my own life, when it became obvious that, due to my epilepsy as well as my brain injury, returning to work would not be possible for me I have been accused of having a lack of ambition and called lazy as a result. I have been told that because of the allowances that need to be made for my conditions, it will be nearly impossible for me to find anyone who would want to get involved with me romantically.

When this kind of nastiness occurs, we just have to tell ourselves that these are merely weak people trying to make themselves feel strong. Their opinions are being stated to cover their own insecurities. Deep down, we are much stronger than them. We must rely on our inner strength and keep the faith the what we are doing is right, that we know ourselves and our own situation better than other people do. Finally, we should acknowledge that we are different, the things we do are different because they have to be and I, for one, am proud to be different.

Believe In Yourself!

My name is Tom; I am 26 years old and the survivor of an Acquired Brain Injury. I have spoken a lot on the subject of confidence throughout my blog. And today I will be talking about the importance of self-belief during recovery. In this post I am not talking about self-belief in terms of approaching individual challenges (that is what I consider to be confidence as opposed to self belief, two important things to differentiate between), but believing in ones self throughout the entire recovery process. It will be about believing that the road you’re going down is going to take you to your required destination. All of the things I will be talking about below will contribute to that sense of self-belief and hopefully empower you to create a mindset that will enable you to really get out there and achieve the things you want out of life.

Life & Determination

There will be times (in fact, I think it has already been proven or else I doubt you would be reading my blog) that life is going to kick you whether you are up or down. That is the problem with life in general, when it kicks out, it does so in a way that is indiscriminate, unfair and  hard. What we have to take from this is that when we are knocked to the ground, we have to learn to get up and keep going forward. Unfortunately, I think as people who suffer from the type of disability we do, we have to acknowledge that the fights we face in life will hit out at us harder than they would other people.

In these small scuffles with life, the temporary setbacks and minor defeats that will inevitably occur cannot deter us from the long-standing, long-term goals we have set ourselves. The hard lesson to learn is being able to get back up and keep moving forward without the setback of life affecting your positive outlook. In other words, disabled persons such as ourselves need to acquire a determination that will, trust me on this, set us up very well for the future.

We have to believe that we are capable of achieving more than others assume. When you are suffering from a life changing disability, as I have stated previously that creates a certain set of expectations and connotations in the minds of not just our bosses and educators but in the minds of Joe & Jane public as well. It is not deliberate or vindictive; it is merely a consequence of the society we live in. This ingrained mindset unfortunately can create an unknown prejudice against the disabled: what we can achieve and how far we can go can sometimes inadvertently be defined by the necessity for a wheelchair or a surgery scar and how those things are read by other people.

We must, all of us, set about trying not to allow a disability, whether visible or invisible, and societies connotation disability itself, to define how capable, intelligent and talented we all are.

This is where the necessity of that determination comes in. A determination not to be defined by something beyond our control and the determination to live the same lives filled with excitement, adventure and passion that we deserve as much as any fully abled person does. The only way we can go about disproving the false ideas and breaking the stigma that is attached to disability is to not be afraid to commit to situations, to try new things and work damn hard while we do it. Finally, if we take this attitude and this approach, when something does not work out as well as we had hoped or we do not succeed in something, we will know we have given it our best. When we know that we know this about ourselves, that we have given our all, complete failure is impossible there is always a positive to be taken away from the situation. Even when we have given 100% in a job, especially if it does not have the outcome we had hoped for, it inspires me and makes me more determined that in the next thing I try, I will do my absolute best once again and be determined to make the next one work.

Passion

Whatever it is we do in life, education, a particular career or a hobby, it will hopefully be something that we’re passionate about and that we love. Things that are done and driven by passion are much more likely to succeed. When you are young, it can be very difficult to decide where your future lies in terms of employment or education, what path it is you want to take. Trust me when I say that when you find something that you do love or that you want to do, your passion for that thing will help you to keep going even on days where you really don’t fell like doing anything (days we all have), if you see what I mean?

In my opinion, passion and determination are very closely linked, if I may give an example from my own life. My desire to be a writer is one that I have nursed since childhood. However, because of my ABI, it means I cannot achieve that through conventional methods (work experience, internships, voluntary work etc.). As such, if I want to achieve my goal I will have to do it from a freelance/self-employed angle. This means that every single day, regardless of how I feel on that particular day when maybe I can’t be bothered, I have to write. That is how amateur writers become professionals; they write every day. Now, this is where the two emotions seem to meet. Once I have actually started the process of writing each day, any feeling of resentment towards what I have to do goes away. This is purely because I love to write, really (even on days where I say I can’t be bothered). It further enhances my determination to do it for a living and only boosts my belief that I have the ability to do it for a living.

I am a firm believer that when we do things with a passion and for the right reasons we have a much higher chance of succeeding in those endeavours. So if I could give advice to anyone, it would be to pursue your passions and to help other people pursue theirs, because doing these things will provide you with a sense of happiness and fulfillment that will help to drive you forward and keep you determined which should help to get you through some of the tough times ahead.

Support

This may seem like an obvious one and one I have mentioned a fair few times in previous posts so I’ll keep it short but I also believe it to be of vital importance. It is truly important to have a trustworthy supporting cast whom you can rely on for help, support and for words of comfort. After suffering from something as devastating as a brain injury, I quickly found out who my true friends were and I have been lucky enough to keep a small, close-knit group of friends around me upon whom I can always rely. As well as the small group of friends, I have been lucky enough to be blessed with a family who has supported me, over six years, through thick and thin. I could not have asked for more from any of these people who’ve contributed to helping me during my recovery. They have all, in one way or another, at some point provided me with the help I needed when I needed it. Over the years, their kind words have directly contributed to building my confidence into a permanent sense of self-belief. Never under estimate the effect those closest to you can have on your recovery.

In Conclusion…

These are just a few of factors they contribute to building that sense of self belief, that desire to defy the odds, to defy social convention and not to allow a moment of misfortune to define our future.

The overall point I have tried to make though, of the three factors that I thought significant enough to talk about, you may have noticed that two of them were emotional factors. What I am trying to say is that I believe that much of the success we can achieve comes from something deep within us, some internal element (that I can’t quite place a name on; maybe it’s the spirit? or the soul?) combined with the love and support of family and a few select friends. The combination of all of these things, for me, means that all the things you dreamt of before your injury and that you dream of today are still possibilities as you move forward.

Re-Establishing Old Habits (For The Better)

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.

Match Day

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!

Changes In Function & Ability

My name is Tom; I am 26 years old and the survivor of an Acquired Brain Injury. The subject of change was a key part of my post last week. It is a theme I will be continuing (with the exception of this Thursday) over the next week or two. Much of the recovery process after a head injury revolves around change and how we adapt to that change. Without a doubt, there are some we should embrace, in fact it is necessary to embrace them or we will find ourselves becoming increasingly bitter and angry at the poor hand we have been dealt. However, as I highlighted in the previous post, there are certainly aspects of our personality that should not change, such as moral principle, ambition and the passions that drive our actions. After all, these are the aspects of our personality that make us who we are.

However, going back to my first point, I’ve said it many times before that there will inevitably be changes, things that you struggle with after a brain injury, the same way that I do. Often the changes that are induced by the injury will be the most difficult things to come to terms with and adapt to because without prodigious brain power they can’t really be explained or understood that well. In this post I’ll be talking about specific things, abilities, personality traits, and cognitive abilities that were affected by my injury. This will be about coming to terms with those losses and ways I have found to overcome the difficulties their absence (or presence) present.

Loss Of Abilities

Where there is damage to certain areas of your brain, there are problems and difficulties in performing certain tasks you had previously mastered. Now, depending on which ability has been affected, this can have varying degrees of impact on your day-to-day life.

For me, as someone who has always been very interested in books and literature, I was devastated to find my ability to read had been severely affected by my injury. I remember thinking how strange it was, back then just off the back of the injury, I could not articulate exactly what the problem was. Now, I can describe it perfectly. I was not having a problem with recognizing the words, what they said, what they meant. Nor did I have problems with being able to imagine things, pictures, scenarios and so forth. Neither of these two things, in isolation, caused me issues. It was the process of having to do those two things in tandem that was hindering my ability to read. Reading is essentially a parallel thought process, reading the description of certain people, certain actions while at the same time creating an imaginary construct of their physical appearance, the characters performing those actions, character reactions and saying the words.

Things That Helped Me Improve

This difficulty persisted with me when a year on from the head injury, when I was leaving to attend University, I was still struggling badly (a bit of a handicap, really, when you are going away to study). It was only when I arrived at university and a friend lent me a copy of one of his graphic novels did I start to see any improvement. The comic book medium eliminated the requirements of that parallel thought process.

With the characters already being constructed in an illustrated form, there on the page, it meant I only had to read the words (not imagine the character at the same time). As well as this, there was the added bonus that the sentences were short, simple sentences, which made it even easier to read. As I read more and more comics that I bought or borrowed from the local library or from friends, my reading ability improved, as did my stamina. I found I was not suffering from fatigue as badly as I had done previously. Most of the time in my first year (which thankfully only made up 10% of my overall grade) was spent trying to strengthen my reading ability and my brain function and gave positive results.

This put me at a huge advantage in my second year compared to when I had just arrived at University. While there was no way I could read a full textbook, I was now in a position where I could use the index to find the appropriate content and extract it to use in essays, putting me on as close to a level playing field as I was going to get.

Differences In Your Brain Function

After my brain injury I found there were quite a few differences in the way I thought and the way my brain functioned. A particular area of my thinking that was affected was my decision making process. The thing with this is that it, somewhat indirectly, affects your personality as well due to the fact that the decisions we make obviously inform and dictate the actions we perform. I found that I was at two ends of the same spectrum and it is still something that I have problems with today.

When it comes to small decisions, decisions that could be considered unimportant or inconsequential (for example, a food order at a restaurant), I am hugely indecisive and it takes me a long time to come to a conclusion. Whereas with larger, more significant and important decisions (such as financial ones), I am hugely impulsive and rash and don’t really think the issue through as thoroughly as I should and I have a tendency to spend money on a scale I shouldn’t. This also means that I am more vulnerable to being conned or manipulated.

Asking For Help Is Not A Weakness

I don’t really know if there is much advice I can give you on how to solve a problem such as that in terms of how to improve your brain function. What I can say though is that there is nothing wrong with admitting that you need help and trying to find ways to work around these disadvantages with the help of others. That is, to me anyway, a key part of how I am able to live a somewhat normal life: through the help of others. For example, to counteract my impulsive nature regarding money I have is safe, it now resides in a joint bank account with both mine and my fathers name on, requiring joint signatures. Meaning neither one of us can access the money without the others consent. He has always said he would never stop me from accessing any of my money (some of the money in there is his to) if I really wanted it, but requiring his signature just acts as a firewall between an excited me, excited about a possible purchase or investment, and my savings.

Thinking Your Way Round Things

Many of the challenges that brain injury patients must overcome in life can often seem insurmountable. The truth is, if we look at them and approach them from the perspective of a fully abled person then I think they will be insurmountable. I believe that that is where much of the difficulty lies: approaching life from the perspective of being fully able having not really acknowledged the extent of our problems, while at the same time being pulled back and inhibited by them.

We have undergone huge change in our lives, coming to terms with those changes is an incredibly difficult process but an essential one if we are to live a full life and succeed in the way I know we are all capable of doing. Coming to terms with those changes will inevitably mean adapting the way you live your life, thinking about things in different ways, receiving help where you didn’t need any before, again none of these things are easy realities to face. However, when you do eventually get to a place where life has settle down, you will realise you have been moving towards a state of independence that you did not even see coming and you will be closer to it than you have ever been in the years that have elapsed since your life has changed so hugely.

Thanks for reading again this week. I hope this week’s update has been useful to you and you have even enjoyed it. Please, follow me here on WordPress or to get updates on the blog and what I am up to, follow me on Twitter, my user name on there is @ABIblogger. Thanks very much and be well!

Post-ABI – Return To Work (Part 2)

My name is Tom; I am 26 years old and the survivor of an Acquired Brain Injury. Last time out, I approached the subject of returning to work after suffering a brain injury. It was only when I reach the end of the post that I realized all the advice I had given was really regarding all of the preparation needed before actually applying for a job. So here I am returning with the second part of that blog post, hoping to give you some more concrete advice directly related to the job market for us people suffering from ABI’s.

Being Honest With Yourself (Again!)

This may seem like a fairly obvious point but the job you are applying for must have a fair contract for somebody with a brain injury. All of the issues we deal with must be taken into account when applying for a job. One of the obvious ones to use as an example would be working hours. The majority of brain injury patients are unlikely to be able to work full time hours the same as everybody else. I say this not to generalize but to speak from experience. Ever since I suffered my brain injury fatigue has been a problem for me on a daily basis. As such, any jobs that I now apply for are either part-time or flexi-time. This piece of advice relates strongly to the last post, in particular the section about being honest with yourself and honestly assessing your abilities.

Similarly, if you have difficulty (as I still do) with large crowds, then it is not advisable to get a job working behind the bar in a nightclub. Much of this is common sense really and I’m sure that you are all sensible enough to know this without me telling you but I just thought it was something that should be brought up. What I am basically saying, in short, is to play to your strengths when you apply for work.

Being Honest With Your Employer & Co-Workers

The issue of honesty is an important one in any working relationship, even more so when one member of the workforce is dealing with a disability. If you are starting a new job post-ABI, it is vital that you make your situation clear to both your employer and your co-workers. As brain injury patients, we must overcome many issues in life that most people do not have to deal with. It is unfortunate, in this day and age, that overcoming prejudice in the workplace is one of those issues. However, in my opinion, this can never be achieved without 100% honesty on your part. Building a foundation of trust and honesty will go a long way toward overcoming it.

It is also important to remember that being upfront with your colleagues will most likely benefit you in the long run. People you are working with need to be aware of all the potential risks involved for you while you are in the workplace. For example, as a long-term sufferer of epilepsy, it is vital that my co-workers are aware of my health situation; know what to do should I have a seizure, and hopefully make allowances for the things I may not be able to or should not do. In the past, I have had seizures in the workplace and without members of staff trained in first aid, the outcome may well have been far worse than it was. Also, without sounding preachy, it is worth noting that if you suffer from something such as epilepsy, there is almost an element of responsibility to inform those you work with. I do not know if you have ever seen seizure but they can be very frightening things to witness. It is only fair to prepare your colleagues for what may happen while you are at work. I realise this will not apply to everyone, however I do know that epilepsy is a common consequence of a brain injury and it is a suitable example for me to give.

Pre-Existing Relationships

This is one of the first pieces of advice I would give to any brain injury patients hoping to re-enter the job market. Do your best to utilize any pre-existing relationships you may have in terms of employment. If you are still in touch with a former employer and you’re on good terms with them, it may be worth giving them a ring. Refreshing this pre-existing relationship can have many positive outcomes in terms of how successful you are while at work.

Firstly, if you have already worked for that particular employer, they will already be aware of what you can bring to the workplace and of your value as an employee. Secondly, having a job where you are on good/first name terms with the boss can only be positive with regards to your employer providing flexibility in the workplace to accommodate your health situation. And finally, this may seem like a simple one, when returning to work after an ABI I would suggest returning to work in an environment and with people that you are familiar with so as not to over stimulate your brain (potential consequences of this overstimulation run from fatigue all the way up to panic attacks and seizures).

Entrepreneurship

Finally, we get to the final heading of entrepreneurship. I will only keep this brief; as I’m not sure I know enough about it (yet). For some people after a brain injury the stresses and rigors of full time employment are not possible. It is all simply too much for them. So an alternative option is to perhaps start your own business. Think of something that you love, that you’re passionate about and would enjoy doing each day and then try to think of a way to monetize that passion. The bonuses of this (in the idealist thought pattern) are that you can arrange your own working schedule, pick your workload for the day and be responsible for all of your own business decisions. In some ways enabling you to get out of the rush and hurry of the world that is being employed by someone else.

Try Every Option

Sometimes it is difficult not to feel a little hard done by when, as a brain injury patient, you consider what you have lost. What we need to keep telling ourselves is that we are every bit as valuable as any fully abled person. We are hard working, friendly, driven and we have ambitions and goals as well. Only a positive attitude and hard work will overcome the rubbish hand we were dealt. It does not seem right that we should not get to pursue a passion in the work place because of sheer rotten luck. So my advice would be to try everything that you can and to go into it with an open mind. An opportunity, no matter how small, can always lead to something bigger and better. After all, that’s a place all of us are trying to get to, somewhere bigger and better, am I right?

Thanks for reading again. Please, follow me here on WordPress if you like what I am writing or find it helpful. To get more info on blog updates, follow me on my Twitter page (@ABIblogger). Thanks again and be well!

 

 

Rewiring The Brain (Part 2)

My name is Tom; I am 26 years old and the survivor of an acquired brain injury. On the last post, I spent time stressing the importance of setting goals throughout an ABI recovery. Whether those are simple, short term goals or a more long term, complex goal, they both play an important role in building confidence within us (the patients), it allows you (the carer) to be able to see tangible progress and gives us both the incentive to keep going in what is an adverse situation. Finally, perhaps most importantly, stimulating the brain contributes significantly to establishing and building new pathways to avoid the old damaged ones that don’t work so well anymore, and improving cognitive functions. I believe that there were some things that perhaps I didn’t cover as well as I could have when talking about rewiring the brain, in particular, specific examples of what I did to aid the rewiring process. So I will dive into this a little deeper today.

Assess The Situation

In the last post, I’m unsure whether I made it clear, the idea of goal setting is important, however it should not be undertaken immediately upon the patients return. There is a period of time where both carer and patient should spend time assessing their position, what are your targets? What do you want? What do you need? These questions need to be asked and answers firmly established, between both parties, before any goals are set. Both patient and carer need to be on the same wavelength to ensure they are both working towards the same thing. If there is a miscommunication as to what the desired outcome is, it only has the potential to cause problems in your relationship.

The concept of taking your time for things to happen is something I worked out early. In my opinion, the sooner people directly involved in situations regarding head injuries grasp this concept the smoother things will go. Time is not necessarily the enemy either. When the patient arrives home, I believe that a period of time, allowing them to test their strength (in terms of their brain power: what they can/can’t do, where they struggle, what is still strong, what causes them distress) are all key things to learn when you are aiding an ABI recovery.

It becomes even more important to emphasise the importance of taking time in the recovery process when you deeply consider the idea of brain cells and synapses repairing themselves. I’ve tried to think of an appropriate analogy and this is the best I could come up with; think of an old battered road that has been damaged. So the local council decides to build a new road, a bypass so that the battered road doesn’t have to be used. Building that bypass will take time, effort and resources. As is the case when aiming your anger at public services, it doesn’t matter how angry you get, how much you complain or how much of inconvenience it is, it will only get done in its own time and all the complaining in the world wont make a difference. The repair process of cells multiplying and attaching to the right places and making the right connections is a long and tiresome process (believe me!), you can shout and scream at the process but it wont proceed any faster as a result. Everyone is entitled to moments of despair, anger self-loathing and self pity, I’ve certainly had those moments, but it can get better. You just have to be persistent, patient and determined.

Play to Strengths and Weaknesses

All of the above information is intended to help you tailor a recovery to the patients needs. This was the method our family used: learn my strengths and weaknesses and tailor the recovery to them. This section of today’s upload will give you a few for-instances that have significantly contributed to progress in my recovery. Once you know what causes a patient distress, you can avoid situations that directly involve that cause. An example from my experience; I suffered greatly from anxiety when it came to crowds, and loud noises. As a result my parents did all they could to avoid this environment when I was out with them.

Learning this kind of information will allow you to tailor a patient’s environment, activities and daily routine in a way that will ultimately benefit them. In particular, identifying activities where a patient is strong and tailoring the recovery around those strengths can ultimately help them rewire their brain and strengthen the aspects where they are not strong, build these new roads. An example for you; when I left to go to university, even after a year of trying, I was still having a great deal of trouble with reading. While I recognized the words that were on the page, the problem I was having was with the thinking that was required in imagining the pictures that the words created, so in essence, using my brain for two simultaneous activities. The way that I overcame this obstacle was by reading comic books. A friend of mine gave me a copy of Watchmen (by Alan Moore). Being presented with a visual representation of the characters and only having to deal with dialogue in speech bubbles allowed me to strengthen, not necessarily my reading ability in the strictest sense, but strengthened my brain in the way a body builder lifts weights in a gym. As time went on, I regained my ability to read (and also obtained a love for the medium of comic books and graphic novels).

I also would say that the success I had in further education was partly down to attending a course that suited my situation regarding my cognitive abilities. My degree course was 100% coursework based with no exams. Following the improvement I had seen in my reading after the discovery of comic books, reading and writing weren’t too much of a problem. It was committing things to memory that was (and still is) a problem. The course I did, was all essays or creative work which, again, allowed me to work my brain; build up some strength again and endurance. By the time I progressed into the second year of my course, my brain had been tested significantly and strengthened by those tests.

If there Is one thing I would take from my own experiences regarding the rewiring of the brain, it would be that the brain is a muscle, use it! I realise that this is something of a cliché but it is the best I could come up with. The more you work the brain, at the same time ensuring you do not neglect the essentials such as plenty of rest, good diet and exercise, the stronger you physically, and the brain cognitively, will get over time. It was only when I went back for the second year of university (something that had to be very thoroughly discussed and assessed to see if it was a sensible thing for me at the time) could I say that I felt as though things were improving for me, and that about two years. It does take time, but ambitions are achievable and progress can be made.

Thank you for reading. Please follow me on WordPress to keep up to date with my blog work. Also for anyone wanting to, I am on Twitter and accessible on there, my name is @ABIblogger, and I do my best to respond to those who make the effort to get in touch. Thanks again for reading, keep going and stay strong!