The last post relating to Socialisation and Engagement was focusing upon the limitations, both cognitive and physical, that an Acquired Brain Injury places on us as patients. This post will focus on how maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be a positive thing in many ways but also being aware of some of the ways that, despite the fact that it is essential, the routine that is often required in maintaining that lifestyle, can hinder the activities a patient may want to do in terms of how they socialise with other people.
Maintaining A Healthy Lifestyle
One of the key parts of a recovery is to try and maintain a healthy lifestyle. When I say this, I am not suggesting a patient becomes a gym addict and starts eating only super foods (When I say maintain a healthy lifestyle, much of what I am talking about is, generally, basic common sense). In this section, I am going to cover the three most important aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle post-ABI: exercise, diet and sleep.
Finding the right type of exercise to do post-ABI can be very tricky. It is something I still have problems with today. I have always had a passion for contact sport (football, rugby) and I have never really got on that well with the gym. I found that the people who attended gyms used to intimidate me ever so slightly. Their impressive fitness and muscular physiques certainly bring about insecurities when you start to compare your own (in my case) less than impressive physique. It can also be embarrassing as you try to learn to use the equipment. In the months after a brain injury, the memory is in a terrible state in terms of committing short-term memory into long-term memory (as I have mentioned in previous posts). It can be very embarrassing when you have to keep going back to the personal trainers and other people who work at the gym, to ask how to use the treadmill for what seems like the hundredth time.
Both of these obstacles may seem like problems you should just “get over” and that you should just get on with things. However, exercise in itself, needs to be something that you enjoy and something that is fun, otherwise how do you expect to motivate yourself to do it. The other aspect (feelings of inferiority or stupidity while in a fitness environment such as leisure centre or gym) can be common for people without ABI’s, but for people with brain injuries it is a very likely outcome. To overcome this, one way is to perhaps have someone who is more aware or familiar with your situation accompany you to the gym, to make sure you can manage until your confidence and memory is at a suitable level to be able to go on your own. In the last post, I mentioned the idea that most people arrange activities specifically for the fully abled, majority. Unfortunately, the same is true for venues as well. While most venues will have disabled access and some disabled facilities, places such as gyms are, again, meant for the fully abled majority. This again isn’t necessarily the fault of the venue; it is more the combination of the way society views head injuries (particularly the lack of education surrounding them) as well as the fact the majority of people are fully abled and can retain information effectively and are physically able to use the gym equipment.
However, a fun way (though I must admit living in the countryside and on the coast made this more enjoyable) to get the heart pumping was to go for a nice long walk. Not only does it get the heart rate going, and the oxygen moving round the body, but walking for longer than thirty minutes at a brisk pace starts to then consume fats that are stored around your body. So it may help you to drop a few pounds if you wanted to. As well as helping you shed any unwanted poundage, regular exercise will help with releasing endorphins, known for lifting the mood; making those erratic moods, bouts of depression or lethargy less frequent.
Rest & Sleep
Rest and sleep play a massive part towards how patients can manage our day-to-day lives. This section is relatively short compared to the other two, but Getting into a sleeping pattern of going to bed at similar times each evening, getting up at similar times each morning, sleeping right the way through with unbroken sleep, and even having a period set aside for napping during the day have been hugely beneficial.
For me, a lack of a regular sleep pattern can cause huge disruption in so many ways. I end up sleeping stupidly late (to the extent where I often end up missing lunch!). This then means that the times of my meals are thrown out of sync and that I end up eating at irregular times at the detriment to my health. I used to eat late at night, when you do this and then go to sleep after, it means that you do not work off the calories you have consumed and those calories end up getting stored as fat and you end up putting on weight (Not to mention, that disrupted sleep patterns often have a tendency to exacerbate my epilepsy and cause seizures).
After much messing around with my sleep pattern over a period of six years, I have only recently started to establish a sleeping pattern which allows me to get everything done that I want to in a day and does not seem like a chore.
Diet will be another important aspect of your daily life after being released from hospital after an ABI. When I came out of hospital, after my spell in the induced coma, I was 64 lb.’s lighter than when I went it. I’m sure many of you experienced similar things while in hospital. Losing that amount of weight in such a short period of time is not healthy, even in the slightest. When the human body is deprived of food for that long it goes in to starvation mode, meaning it lives off of the sugars and fats that are stored in our bodies for as long as possible while storing everything it possibly can from what it consumes (that includes, if the length of starvation exceeds a certain point, your body breaking down the protein in your own muscles to lives off).
It then takes a long time to come out of this process. Having lost much of our body sugars and fats, post ABI, when we are able to eat solid food again, I found that I was ravenous, nearly all the time. This is due to the fact that much of my excess fats that my body used to chew on when I got hungry weren’t there anymore. So after I came out of hospital, I over ate. Massively. I went from being approx. 11 stone when I left hospital to somewhere between 17/18 stone in the space of approximately six months.
The thing was, that the weight gain did not seem to be a gradual thing (as I remember it). I suddenly found myself in a position where I was hugely overweight. I hated the way I look and the way that it made me feel. If I could stress anything to anyone out there reading this, it would be; please monitor a patients diet and the amount they are eating as well as when they are eating. Sometimes it may not be that they are hungry, it could just be that they are lonely or bored. I know that was certainly the case for me at certain points: I ate because I couldn’t do anything else or I had nobody to do anything with. That weight gain had a devastating effect on my (here’s that word again) confidence. Due to how I looked and the negative thoughts this created, my self-esteem and confidence could not have been lower. Confidence and self-esteem have big parts to play in how we socialize, particularly on our desire to socialize and engage with people. This kind of thing can add to that depression I mentioned earlier. It is key to ensure that our loved ones not only reassure us but that we are assured of ourselves at the same time.
These things may seem relatively simple when you consider them in every day terms. However, what I will say is that trying to adhere to a routine for things that seem so mundane such as the time you go to bed or the time you eat your meals, because what would it matter if I were to do those things an hour later? The trouble is, and speaking from a young persons perspective here, we want to be able to do things without structure, without being told what to do, we want to break the rules. After all, isn’t that what being a young person is about? This is where the truth smacks us brain injury patients right between the eyes, we realize that we are not the same as other young people. Our lives won’t be the same ever again and maintaining these fundamental aspects to improve our health means that we will inevitably miss out on the social freedoms we feel we deserve, just as everyone else deserves those freedoms. I will clarify what I mean by social freedoms in the next post. Until then, follow me on Twitter for more news (@ABIblogger). Thanks and hope to hear from you soon.