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
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)
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
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
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
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!