Believe In Yourself!

Believe In Yourself!

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

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

Focus On Your Strengths, Not On Your Weaknesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen To The Words Of Loved Ones

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

The Words Of My Family

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

Someone Else’s Words In Your Heart

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

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

If you can think and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

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

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

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

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

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

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

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

Be True To Yourself

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

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

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Acknowledging Disability

It took me a long time to finally accept the monumental change that had happened in my life. In my past posts on Independence, Health, Employment and Taking Back Control, while being focused on being able to live as an independent adult with our own lives have all had a common theme of acknowledging where our strengths and weaknesses lie. In essence coming to terms with our disabilities.

Coming to terms with having something like brain damage and accepting myself as a disabled person, was a really difficult thing for me to do. However, more than six and a half years have passed since the horrible night I suffered my brain trauma and I can confidently say now, without fear “I am a disabled person with brain damage.”

Now, I used the word “fear” there. I personally think that’s interesting when I consider my brain injury in the grand scheme of things, purely on a human level. I have to then ask and analyse myself (again!) what was it that I was afraid of?

A Short Series Of Questions

So here I have to ask questions to myself, what were the things I feared that made it so difficult for me to admit that I was disabled? Was I afraid that, by admitting to myself and to others that I was disabled, I would be excluding myself from the rest of society? Did I fear rejection, ridicule and prejudice in a society that increasingly seems to be turning a blind eye to the plight of those in need? Where, in this new sense of self that I was coming to terms with, would I fit in? Finally, had I subconsciously adopted an unknown, subconscious prejudice (not vindictive, violent or exploitative, more a feeling of discomfort when in their presence) against “the other”?

A Short Universal Answer

The answer to all of these questions is yes. I realise I may be making myself seem more unlikable to you in admitting that but I feel it is only fair for me to be truthful. I would be doing you a disservice if I made up some weak, halfhearted excuse as opposed to telling you the truth that my fears were based on basic human instincts; the need to fit in, the need to have a place and a role in everyday society, the need to be “normal”. Of course these are things that everybody wants really. They make for an easier life, a life you can float through without analysing, thinking for yourself, challenging or disrupting the natural order of things. What I see when I look at all of those previous questions and the answers I have just given is that the fear that stopped me accepting myself for who I am after my brain injury is one very basic, human fear…

The Fear Of Change

The fear of change is a very basic and, quite honestly, understandable fear. As human beings we like security; we like to know when our next paycheck is coming from, that there is food in the fridge and that we have a job to do when we get up in the morning. It is obvious that this gives us a feeling of safety and purpose each and every day. So when something occurs that has the potential to disrupt that harmony, something that could take away the things we rely on to get us through life feeling contented and secure, it is only natural that we are wary, cautious or afraid of that change.

So when we ourselves are fundamentally changed from the inside to out, the organ that controls our speech, our movement, that voice in our head that help us make decisions, decide what to say or do, the consequences to our cognitive abilities is damaged so that we are (I realise I’m speaking universally here but I’m only speaking from my own experience) an almost completely different person to who we were. That is a terrifying prospect for both patients and their families. That the person you are and that they love will be different from the one that they know, have known for years and that they love and cherish.

I don’t know about anyone else who may be reading this, but I feel as though my brain has been switched with someone else’s since my ABI. I am a totally different person now. Taking on the challenge of recovering from an acquired brain injury is taking a step into the unknown; as I said it feels as though my brain has been witched with someone else’s. It’s like a game of roulette; you never know what number the ball will land on or whose brain you will get.

Carrying on from that, what do we rely on more than our own brains, than ourselves? When someone has suffered a brain injury, not even the best experts and consultants are willing to predict the ramifications and consequences until the patient is fully awake. So for those on the outside, looking at a brain injury patient it’s the fear of the unknown. Not knowing how much of the person that they knew and love they will get back.

What Do We Do?

Fear, we all suffer from just in different ways. When I look at the questions I asked myself earlier (barring the prejudice one), they are all reasonable and similar questions one would ask themselves in other more conventional life changes. For example, if they were moving to a new place, quitting their job to start a new business or getting back into dating after a divorce. Those types of fears are deeply rooted within us; the fear of change and of the unknown.

It’s what I have come to learn. Life itself is an unknown thing, full of change. We can’t control everything all the time and we never know what is waiting for us right around the corner. Whether that is meeting the girl of your dreams in a café on your lunch break for example, or suffering a brain injury on a night out. Life is peaks and troughs. If we can accept that life is an unknown, that it has good and bad elements and if we can embrace the fear that comes with that and confront it head on, we can move forward accepting ourselves for who we are.

I can safely say that I have fully accepted that I am a disabled person. Confronting the fact that life will change and it will throw bad things at you has made me a stronger person. Now that I have suffered my brain injury and have seen what is truly the harsh side of everyday life, because of the strength and the determination it has given me to prove to everyone that disabled people are incredible, brave, valuable and talented, despite the disabilities I have now, I wouldn’t go back to the person I was before.

Brain Injury Recovery – Taking Back Control

I have only just realised it, but it is only now that I have written the previous four posts on Independence, healthEmployment as well as the idea of Gradual Gains as a method of obtaining these goals, that I am in a position to write this particular post. It all comes back to that idea of self-assessment regarding ABI recovery that I posted at the start of the New Year. We have to be constantly aware of our weaknesses and the issues we have after suffering something as life changing as an ABI. Not only that but we have to always be conscious to the potential challenges, struggles and, sorry to say this, prejudices we may come up against when it comes to addressing those difficult tasks.

Back To That Metaphor

I come back to the same metaphor, the idea of building a house, using that metaphor has allowed me to prioritize what I am hoping to achieve regarding my recovery and given me some kind of perspective in terms of what a successful life after ABI means, just how difficult it will be and how long it could take. To say it could take a long time is silly really, it is now six and a half years since my injury, I live at home with my mum and dad, I have no job and my situation regarding health such as epilepsy, anxiety and anger is still in bad shape. Since I have shared with you what my main goals are, I am now going to share with you the order in which I am going to prioritize and pursue them.

  1. Health Is My Foundation – I have realized as my struggle with an ABI continues that if your health, whether the state of health is an affliction that is a consequence of the injury or a pre-existing condition, a poor state of health always has the potential to pull you back. Take me for example; I am currently working hard to change my life style in a way that may positively affect my epilepsy and the frequency of my seizures. I have drastically reduced my caffeine intake, given up smoking, and started taking multi-vitamins and drinking pro-biotic drinks as well as undergoing a drastic change in types and amounts of medication. The main reason for these changes is due to the fact that so long as epilepsy still has the potential to disrupt my life at random and, often, inconvenient times, my chances of progress are poor. If I can conquer epilepsy, if I can control it and have it not control me, then it will provide me with a foundation I can build on to move forward with my life. The problem is that this can take time, so the best way to approach it is to concentrate fully on the health situation. Not to have any other distraction or targets in mind and gain as much control over your mind and body as you can.
  1. Employment & Financial Independence Are The Walls – When, and only when, I am sure that I am in control of any illnesses or conditions I have, I intend to start pursuing more ambitious goals regarding my writing ambitions. I have tried the paid work route, working for someone else and it has not worked mainly because of the restricted abilities I have as a result of my ABI. As such, I have decided to try and set up my own business as a freelance writer (which this blog is the start of really). As well as the idea of starting a business, other options are to find work within a private business, there is the option of seeking out businesses who profit from running programs by providing paid employment and empowering the disabled, or it could be that you will find fulfillment simply working voluntarily with charities. You will also find that there is government funded financial aid available. Once you have gained, hopefully paid employment, then you can start to dream about the idea of independence. Employment and hopefully, the wages you will be paid as a result will provide the walls that surround you and protect you; if you need something to help your situation you can buy it, if you wanted to obtain some kind of private medical care you could get it. It seems to me to be the next logical step in this recovery process.
  1. Full Independence Is The Roof – I think I can speak for many people who have suffered an ABI when I say that this is the overall goal. I think it would be naïve of me to suggest that we can live alone with no support ever again. However I do believe it is achievable for many of us to live a life where we have our own place of residence, we support ourselves or are as active as possible whether that is through paid employment or voluntary work.To say we can achieve these things alone would be, as I said, naïve, but with more than six years experience of living with an ABI, I know from experience that improvement and movement towards independence can happen. We can get the roof over our heads, the last part of our building project. It will be long, it will be difficult and it will be slow but we can move forwards and start to take control of our lives back, slowly but surely.
  2. Any Successes That Come After Are The Decorations

Taking Back Control

When it comes to all of the things I have posted about in previous weeks and prioritized above, as time progresses with an ABI,we come to the realization that it is not going to mend the same way a broken leg does. We will most likely be living with the consequences for the rest of our lives. So we start to question, if we are facing hardships (using my situation as an example) such as living at home, no job and not much of a social life, we start to question, “will things ever be better than this?”

The answer is that they can be. It is the changes we fear and the unknown challenges we are to face that frighten us most. But with the right attitude, a steady platform of health to build on, ensuring we know our limitations, we certainly can overcome those daunting tasks. Finally my most important point I think, is not trying to take on too much, too soon and to take on more than one thing at a time. When my situation gets me down, I try to think of it like the story of The Tortoise & The Hare, slow and steady wins the race!

 

 

Brain Injury Recovery – Employment

After detouring a little last week, going from specific subjects and speaking more of my method of recovery using a process of Gradual Gains, we’re back on topic this week. Don’t worry, I haven’t lost the plot (or have I?).

This is one of the more difficult issues to address after you have suffered something like a brain injury. There are so many factors that have to be taken into consideration, all of those things that came up when I was talking about “Where am I now?”. A few weeks ago and the factors I listed when I asked myself Where Do I want To Be?” All jobs require skills. Whether that is working behind the bar at a local pub and having the necessary people skills, specific technical knowledge to do a job in IT say, or whether it’s a trade job such as carpentry, all require skills and the ability to learn.

Where We Are At A Disadvantage

Now, here is the issue and it comes with the nature of brain injury and it cannot be helped. It tends to be that people who have suffered an ABI are affected in the way that they think, in their cognitive abilities, thus affecting our ability to learn new skills, commit things to memory and not to mention fight the terrible fatigue that comes with a brain injury. All of these factors direct consequences of our injuries put us at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for jobs, finding & keeping work.

In conjunction with the issues that we face every single day, we also have to face the fact that we are currently in a socio-economic situation where the job market is extremely competitive. This does mean that there are some employers who are not enthusiastic about the idea of hiring someone with the type of disability we have. What we suffer from is an invisible disability where, from the outside, apart from perhaps a few scars, we appear to be fine but people cannot possibly see or understand the problems we are forced to deal with each day, even at home let alone in the work place.

What To Consider When Thinking About Employment

There are many things that must be taken into account when it comes to jobs and the type of jobs you should apply for and whether that particular job is right for you.

  1. Know your limits! Do not over exert yourself. Consider the type of routine you have at home, what tires you out? Do you get migraines or seizures, if so; is there anything that triggers them? What skills are not as badly affected by your injury? Consider your working hours in terms of shifts. Does the job you’re applying for suit your strengths as opposed to incorporating your weaknesses?
  2. Consider whether money is essential in your current situation. Do you have rent and bills to pay? If NOT, if you are living at home and money is not as much of a problem (like me, I support myself mostly through the compensation I received after my injury) then perhaps voluntary work could be an option. Not only could you test your strength, test your limits in terms of what is manageable regarding hours and concerning the work environment, it can also be a huge confidence boost when you get out there and mix with different people; it gives you a purpose, after a brain injury I know that sometimes it can feel as though there is no purpose. If money is a necessity then there are benefits available from the state to help support employment or voluntary work if you are unable to work full-time and have no other source of income (however I would add, do not expect the government to do you any favours at this present moment in time in terms of financial support).
  3. The type of work environment you will be in if you get the job. For example, prior to my ABI almost all of my employment history had been in the service industry, either as a waiter or behind a bar. When I was ready to return to work I went back to those types of jobs. Now it turns out that, according to my neurological consultant, this is the worst, most stressful environment someone with an ABI and epilepsy could possibly work in. So it is always worth talking to a consultant or doctor prior to applying for a job or accepting a job offer.
  4. There are some larger companies that receive government grants for catering employment programs specifically for the disabled. So it is worth looking around online for this kind of employment, schemes such as these stands to benefit both parties.

What We Don’t Have To Stand For!

We do have to acknowledge that we are at a disadvantage when it comes to seeking employment. As I have mentioned, the consequences of our injury have left us less able than other people when it comes to certain things involving cognitive or physical challenges or our social skills may have been affected. I would also guess that most of the people who are reading this that have suffered an ABI suffer from fatigue in a big way. Rest periods being essential to us in terms of managing what life throws at us throughout the day.

We have to accept the limitations that have been forced on us when it comes to looking for work and take them into account when looking at job descriptions and the work environment we will be in. There are certain things we do not have to stand for though, mainly, prejudice in the work place. We should be considered just as capable and be just as valued as employees if we are given the opportunity. Here are a few things that you may want to consider doing when taking on a job. The following list is more of a guide to protecting yourself and your position while you are employed.

  1. Ensure that when you take on a job and the terms and conditions have been agreed, that you sign a contract and make sure your employer signs it as well. Please make sure that you read the contract carefully, with an advocate if necessary, to make sure that you fully understand what is going to be required of you. The contract will explain things such as codes of conduct, responsibilities, working hours, benefits, holiday and so on. These being written down will give neither you nor your employer anywhere to hide should there be a legal dispute later down the line. Finally, with the contract, ensure that you have a copy of it yourself to take home.
  2. Ensure that you are receiving at least the national minimum wage for what you are doing. You do not deserve to be paid less than anyone else, for the same job, because you suffer from a disability!
  3. When you have signed the contract for your employment, I would advise you, straight away, to join the trade union for whatever industry it is that you are working in. For a minimal fee (a few pounds a month) you can get legal advice, protection and representation should there be a dispute between you, another employee or your employer in the work place. The trade union also makes disability discrimination a key focus in their aims and targets. It is good to have them on your side rather than having to hire a lawyer at your own expense, which, for many of us is not possible for financial reasons.
  4. If you are dismissed from a job, in your opinion unfairly or that your disabilities contributed to the decision, ask for a letter of dismissal written and signed by your employer, listing the reasons for your dismissal. The next step is to then compare the letter to the contract you signed and see if there are valid reasons for dismissal, again with an advocate if necessary. If you both agree there are not, then contact your trade union.

The Key To Success In the Working World With An ABI…

I wish I could provide a magic remedy that would guarantee success for all of us. Unfortunately though, I cannot. The best advice I can give you is that you need to be ready to acknowledge the disabilities and issues we have as a result of our ABI’s and instead of resisting them, incorporate them into the job search itself, apply for positions where the limitations you have are not going to be as much of an issue.

I would also suggest opening our minds up a little. Even though it does not pay, voluntary work can do wonders for confidence and social skills. If they are issues you are struggling with, then a period of voluntary work could be hugely beneficial. If you find that it has helped you improve certain aspects of abilities that you fought with previously, it can really go a long way to improving your chances of getting a paid job. After all, is that not something we all want? Voluntary work shows a positive work ethic, a positive attitude and capability. All of those factors will go a long way towards achieving achieving our goals and gaining the financial independence we all so desperately want.

 

 

 

 

Brain Injury Recovery – Where Do I Want To Be?

N.B. Before we start, may I apologise for my absence recently in writing fresh blogs inconsistently for https://lifeafterabraininjurydotorg.wordpress.com, the last few weeks have been an unmitigated disaster regarding my epilepsy. You have been fantastic over the last five or six months and I can’t apologise enough. They have changed my medication now though, dosage and type, so from here I’m hoping for progress and more consistency on my part. Thank you again and please follow my blog, follow me on Twitter, my handle is @ABIblogger and share the posts on there, that would be immense! Now, we shall begin…

Going Back A Bit…

The lead up to this blog post goes quite a way back, so let’s start from there. Over the festive & New Year period, I was considering the idea of change and what that exactly entails. When I say change, I mean actual change. Not the usual rubbish you seem to get at that time of year; “I’m going to give up drinking,” or “I’m going to join the gym and go at least three times a week.” Most often, what actually happens is that the first promise is broken by the end of the first day back at work after the Christmas break when, after work, we’re gagging for a pint. The second is broken by a gym membership that is used three times, never used again but continues to take £19.99 out of our bank account every month for the next three years.

The problems with these examples are not the promises in themselves but the way in which they are made. The two examples I gave are very noble promises done with nothing but good intentions for the person’s health. However, while the promises in themselves are good ones, they are very rarely built on a foundation of reality, quite the opposite in fact. They are made in reflexive manner without thinking of the variables in their lives; the constraints on their time, their strengths and weaknesses and, in the end, the promise filled with good intent is doomed to failure.

Where We Are Now?

Now, my first post of the New Year spoke of the nature of self-assessment. Last week after a missed update (due to epilepsy related complications) I tried to lay it all out in the open for you in a way that was manageable in terms of length and that was hopefully readable and something you could all relate to. I would hope that in the month that has passed since I posted A New Year – Self Assessment (https://lifeafterabraininjurydotorg.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/a-new-year-self-assessment/) all of you who have been reading my blog have had time to look at yourself, look at your current situation and ask what is possible and what is not, assess your own abilities & disabilities, strengths & weaknesses, what you enjoy and what you do not (hopefully last weeks post – Where Am I Now – https://lifeafterabraininjurydotorg.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/where-am-i-now/ should have given you some indication as to the type of thing you need to think about) Hopefully, having thought about these things, asked those difficult questions and answered them, having really looked at yourself, you will be able to answer another tough question: where do I want to be?

Where Do I want To Be?

I think there are certain things that we, as victims of Acquired Brain Injuries (ABI’s), can all say. From here I am going to assess the four things in a brief way (if I want into depth on them I’d writing an essay!) that most of us have a burning desire for. Firstly, I will be putting them in no particular order. To give them any kind priority would be insensitive and ignorant on my part as I know that many of you reading this would put them in a different order, may have completely different permanent issues than me, and some people would want to exchange one or two for other things (also I have ways to link up the subjects quite nicely in terms of the flow of the writing and the way it reads). The plan will be to go into these topics in detail in the coming weeks in the order they are listed in today and how to potentially overcome and work around the obstacles that have been put in front of us through misfortune or chance.

Independent Living

When I say independent living, I am speaking in the broadest possible context. Independence can only be defined, interpreted and achieved to the extent that our brain injuries and the subsequent disabilities we suffer from allow us to. Whether we are able to live alone and manage all the complexities with it; complexities such as housing contracts, sorting out direct debits for paying the rent & bills, or paying for insurance and council tax. I myself did not realise the extent of the complexities and technicalities involved in just sorting through the bureaucracy of it all.

Then there are other options such as living with a professional carer, parents, other family members or partners being employed as a carer (for which you can receive a government funded carer’s allowance depending on your income). As well as the carer’s allowance there is also the social housing list and housing benefit depending on the severity of the disability of the disabled person involved and the income of the carer if they are not a professional and are someone like a parent or partner.

Finding Employment

When it is all signed, sealed, delivered, then comes the issue of supporting ourselves financially and accessing the support (both in terms of financial welfare and front line social services. In this section the issue of employment will be particularly important. Finding the right employer, the right type of work for someone in our position, working hours, contracts and unions.

There is also the important issue of not allowing us to be discriminated against by employers. It is unfortunate but it does still happen and in many different ways. The important thing is to recognise when you are being discriminated against and when you are being treated unfairly and how to respond to that situation.

Looking After Myself

Maintaining personal hygiene, eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, cleaning your house or flat, washing your clothes. These are all important things we have to learn to cope with. But there is also the issue of building a social life, socializing with our peers, even forming romantic relationships. It is important to keep an eye on mental health as well as physical. It can be easy to slip into bouts of depression, aggression or mood swings. Here, I am speaking from experience; I know of what I speak.

All of these things come with independent living. Trust me, I have done it on three occasions, I am twenty-six and still living with my mum and dad.

To Have Control Of My Life Back

There are certain consequences of ABI that make life very difficult for me: panic attacks, mental health problems, increased stress, tonic-clonic epileptic seizures to name just a few. What I am going to do is work hard, research and learn as much as I can about my conditions and aspects that may benefit me: diet, exercise, things that may induce a seizure or a panic attack and record what I find. In the next year, I intend to know myself inside and out. So I can begin to take control and move forward.

These are the subjects, in that order, that I will be covering over the next four weeks. So come again next Thursday where I will be talking about independent living, the obstacles that we must overcome and the problems that are presented to us as disabled people. So follow Life After A Brain Injury  get the next update direct to your inbox. For more news and updates, follow me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @ABIblogger.com. Finally in addition to Twitter, I am just starting an Instagram page which is in its infancy but I would love for you to follow me on there as well, my user name is abi_wordpress_massey

 

 

International Day of Persons With Disabilities

My name is Tom; I am 26 years old and the survivor of an Acquired Brain Injury. As a result, I would say that I am disabled. I suffer from a disability. I’m not afraid to say it.

I was the victim of an acquired Brain injury in 2009, which turned my world upside down. Suddenly there were things I could not do any more. Everything was a lot slower. By everything, I do mean everything: cognitive processes thought processes certain physical attributes and most certainly social engagement. Disabilities come in many shapes, sizes and forms affecting many people in many different ways. In America, over the course of a year, statistics suggest approximately two a half million people will suffer from a traumatic brain injury similar to mine and yours with a similar set of consequences that will affect their live forever.

The Nature Of Disabilities & Society’s Expectations

That is often the case with disabilities as a whole. They are devastating, indiscriminate, life changing and, more often than not, permanent. The people that suffer these disabilities have a strength that is so often overlooked by the fully abled. This is not me saying that disabled people do not get the credit they deserve. What I mean with that statement is that people with disabilities go onto achieve incredible things, even with the odds stacked against them. Often, fully abled people (and I used to be one of them, so I know of what I speak) often look at a disabled person and make assumptions, defining them purely on what they see. For example, and I have seen this happen in the street so don’t tell me it doesn’t happen, when a person is in a wheelchair and they are being pushed along in the street by a carer or friend. Somebody who knows the two of them will approach to ask how the disabled person is doing. Instead of asking the disabled person directly, they will ask the person pushing the wheelchair, as if the disabled person is not even there and without considering the nature of the condition that person is suffering from. It is only when the wheelchair-bound person, who is say disabled from the waste down, responds with perfect articulation and diction that the person turns bright red, quickly makes their excuses and leaves.

What Do We Want Out of A Day Like Today?

Now this scenario got me thinking, in fact the subject of this blog post and the process of writing it has got me thinking about disability in a different way. If we are talking about the way that society looks at disabled people, (I feel it is an appropriate time to address this subject with the 3rd of December being International Day of Persons with Disabilities) when we engage with fully able people and the subject about disability comes up, what is it we want to achieve when talking about it?

I can only start by talking about my own experiences and what it is I hope to achieve. Most of the time I try to explain what living with a brain injury is like the main agenda being to get people to understand what it is I deal with on a day-to-day basis. This attempt generally falls flat on its face. I never seem to be able to verbalise what I mean or accurately describe the way that the injury has affected me. In spite of this constant failure I’m going to have one more go as I have always seemed to be able to get things across in writing that I could never dream of doing verbally (even prior to the brain injury). So I will do it in the form of the following analogy: when a computer get older, it starts to slow down. You sit down to use it, use all the programs it has on it CPU. But you notice how slow it is now, some of the programs don’t work the same way and some don’t work at all. You get frustrated at how slow everything is and how the investment you made appears to be falling to bits. You know that with the help of some specialists, overtime, you may see some temporary improvements, but realistically it will never be the same as when you first bought it home from the shop.

Like Different Worlds

The fact of the matter is it will be very difficult for anyone to truly understand what having a brain injury is like unless you’ve actually had one. No fully abled person will truly be able to understand what we have been through in the same way that I cannot understand what other people with more severe disabilities than myself are going through and the difficulties that they have to overcome.

To give a good example, a friend of mine (who I met as a result of my blogging and social media work), as a result of being born prematurely and having her brain starved of oxygen for such a long time, is now living life where she is completely blind and suffers badly from tonic-clonic epileptic seizures. While I can relate and understand the issues regarding the epilepsy, for me to try to relate to and understand what it would be like to be completely blind and live a life without sight is not possible. I cannot possibly imagine what that life is like.

However, despite these handicaps this friend of mine has been accepted onto of course to study psychology through the Open University, with the hope of becoming a neuropsychologist and counselor.

To me, a person overcoming that kind of adversity in life, To not allow something as life changing as the disabilities she contends with on a day-to-day basis define her and determine her future inspires me to carry on working and to persist. She is truly inspiring to me and somebody I feel I can look at as something of a role model due to the adversity she has had to contend with. Because, And I’ve only just realized this when writing this blog post, when I try to look at things from her perspective I realized I cannot even hope to understand what life would be like living without sight. The reason for this is because I’ve never been through it.

What Can We Realistically Hope To Achieve?

I have come to the conclusion that expecting fully abled people to understand the lives and challenges our disabilities present us is perhaps, a little too ambitious. Instead, what we need to be striving for, just like my friend, is to not allow our disabilities to define who we are and what our futures will be. What we should be fighting for and should expect is for people to understand that, while we may have a disability, we are no less capable, motivated, ambitious or intelligent. What we need is to be treated with respect, have access to the same opportunities as those who are fully abled, for our abilities, validity and work ethic to be acknowledged in the same way as anybody else’s. In essence, for us to be treated equally, because there are so many disabled people out there who’ve achieved so much and are capable of achieving so much more.

My final point would be to say that we, disabled people as a whole, also have to acknowledge the things I have listed above: our ability, work ethic and value to ensure we have the confidence, the determination and the belief to achieve all of the things that we want, that we need and most importantly, that we deserve.

My Biggest Milestone (So Far)

“The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul.”

– The Bible

My name is Tom; I am 26 years old and the survivor of an Acquired Brain Injury. I thought it would be appropriate to open with a quote this week. I thought it appropriate to talk about the issues of successes, achievements and milestones throughout the recovery process. I mentioned in my early blog post for Headway UK (Worcester) how important these achievements can be throughout the recovery when it comes to building confidence in patients, the way they see themselves, think about themselves, and value themselves. The quote at the top of this page is particularly relevant, especially to the victims of a brain injury. The fulfillment of desire’s and achieving what we want becomes increasingly difficult after an ABI like the one I suffered and like the ones that affected you or members of your family.

What Do We Consider A Success?

The truth is, now I have to play catch up with everyone else, every single day, successes become more plentiful as things that would’ve previously been run of the mill, everyday necessities are now achievements in and of themselves. I get a great deal of pride from fairly simple things. For example, not needing to take a nap in the afternoon but still achieving what I had planned to do that day is a big deal to me, a day where I do not feel lonely, where I don’t feel different to everyone around me. These things fulfill me because they are so rare. However I will say the following: it is not in me to give up. I do not believe that I am any less capable of achieving my ambitions or my goals. You should not believe that either. We are just as valuable as everyone else.

Things happen in life that can be a game changer. I admit it; my head injury was one of them. We have to look at the aftermath, and admit to ourselves that things are different now. But we also, after an appropriate amount of time has passed and we have accepted those differences, have to ask where are we going? What is possible? What is the bigger picture? and how do we get there? The more confidence we can build with little successes, positive reinforcement from others, celebrating our successes, as well as a good dollop of hard work and, before you know it, other people will be recognizing a change in you before you can recognize it yourself. You will find yourself slowly working towards bigger and bigger goals; whether returning to employment or education, whatever excites, stimulates and fulfills you.

My Biggest Milestone

Working towards a long-term target that engaged and stimulated me was what kept me going. I knew I wanted to go to University (with the overall aim of becoming a writer) before I suffered my ABI. This did not change after the injury. I still had my goal and I believed it was possible. My neurological consultant said that we should assess the situation in a year’s time. It was not so much the academic side that was a problem for him, it was whether I would be able to take care of myself and manage the workload at the same time. However, I had been given a date, the final day of judgment when I would find out if I was allowed to go and pursue my dreams. The year that followed was like I was possessed. Everything I did, I did with that thought at the back of my mind. The cognitive exercises, the physical ones, the stuff I did around the house to help out my mum and dad (all under their supervision of course) was with this target in mind: University and all the freedom and excitement it offered.

A year later, after months of hard work and several tests and brain scans, the Day of Judgment had arrived. I was extremely tense. I remember chain smoking in the hospital car park. As I remember, it all happened quite quickly considering the tense build up. I think my doctor was quite keen to put me out of my misery as quickly as possible. He said, as far as he was concerned, independent life and study could only be beneficial at this stage of my recovery and the potential benefits outweighed the potential risks. I couldn’t believe it! I was finally going!

My parents helped me pack everything up and prepare me for life as an independent adult. Life as a student! When they dropped me at halls of residence and helped me unpack, they told me when they were leaving that if I ever wanted to come home, all I had to do was give them a ring and they would be their.

Weeks passed. It was quite a shock in actual fact. The fantasy I had concocted in my mind was not the reality I had been expecting. I was loving every minute of the challenge, but knew I was also finding the work load hard when trying to combine it with looking after myself at halls of residence and trying to keep up with an active social life. Basically, struggling with all the things that come with independent student life. I fleetingly thought of what my parents had said to me about coming home. Honestly, that thought was only ever a small-unwanted intrusion. I had a tendency to shake it off like an irritating fly. In my mind, if I could complete university, complete my course and get a degree, there was nothing I couldn’t do.

As the academic years passed, I started to improve. By the start of my second year, my reading ability, which had proved problematic in the first year (thank god year one was only worth 10% of the overall grade!), had improved hugely. The work I had done, the struggles I had had were bearing fruit as my cognitive ability and brain stamina had got much, much better. That progress continued throughout the third year. In all three years, the grades I received for my work continued to go up as well. In the end I graduated with a BA (hons.) in Scriptwriting from Solent University at the 2:1 grade.

What My Experience Did For Me

The success of my university experience has opened so many doors for me. It has given me the confidence to try new things and a belief in myself that I can achieve just as much as anyone else. I was forced to find ways that I could work around my disability and the disadvantages I have. You won’t see it immediately, but with everything you gain from your successes in terms of confidence, will be a series of lessons and skills you will be able to apply in other similar situations.

These skills will slowly become part of an engrained way of thinking. After a certain amount of time, a series of thought and behavioral patterns will have become so established that they become automatic, the way your brain works will always be to your advantage. Trust me, this takes a while but it does work with the right amount of effort and will make the playing field a lot more even. You will realise when you get back into work or education or whatever your long-term goal may be, that when you are in close proximity with your fully abled co-workers, you are not that much different to them in terms of ability or capability.