The Importance Of Family

Here I am, back again. I suppose I wanted to apologise for the last few weeks where the posts I have written may have seemed a touch negative. I feel that I don’t need to defend myself so much as explain why I have highlighted the potential damage things such as Simplifying ABI Recovery and downplaying manifestations of the injury can be to the overall recovery process. If we search for Lessons from the outcomes of challenges an ABI patient takes on as opposed to trying to give the outcomes a definitive and often one-dimensional label (i.e. a success or a failure) then everyone can learn from the experience.

What My Family & I Have Learned

I have learned that the more we (as in my family and I) attempt to understand my injury the better we are for it. Having learnt more about me, my abilities, my limitations and my strengths and then tailoring a recovery path around those things, we believe we are making slow and steady progress. It takes a long time to learn about the issues that surround ABI and an equally long time to get used to and adapt your own thinking and behaviors to a person who, very often, has been significantly altered by their injury. It also takes years of expert knowledge from some of the smartest and most intelligent doctors to really get to know who we (the patient) are and what we are about from a purely objective point of view. So imagine how incredibly hard it must be for those who are not objective but subjective and have had to bear witness to that change of personality and abilities. What the last post have been about is emphasizing the role of educating ones self and learning from experience can be to making a path towards recovery an easier one for patient and carer alike.

What Can The Family Provide After An ABI

“There’s no vocabulary for love within a family, love that is lived in but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, the love within which all other love finds speech. This love is silent.”

-T. S. Eliot

The family and the home environment after an ABI, as I have stressed in my last two posts, will have a dramatic effect on the patient’s attitude, confidence, mental state and all other aspects of a person that we do not see. Or perhaps we see them only in their actions and maybe only in mere flashes, in single moments (that final thought was a sentence that only just occurred to me, just this second).

From my experiences as an ABI patient, I was fortunate enough to be provided with a relaxed, quiet environment. I was allowed to take challenges on in my own time. I was given time to relax, sleep when I wanted to sleep, I was gently encouraged to do things if it seemed I was becoming to negative or was closing myself off and shutting myself away, but I was never put under any kind of pressure. I had my own room with things that would keep me entertained during the day in a house where there was a garden if I wanted to go outside. Finally and, perhaps most importantly, I had a mother and father who were always supportive, accommodating and flexible to my needs, willing to work with my strengths and around my weaknesses, and willing to fight for me in battles I could not hope to win individually.

All of these things combined allowed me to move forward with my life after an ABI and get to where I am today. We are not a rich family, a family with powerful influence or friends in high places; we are just a close one. What perhaps I didn’t realize at the time is how extremely fortunate I am to have the family that I do around me; The father who worked split shifts – six AM until twelve PM followed by seven PM until two AM – and a mother, sister and brother who would arrange their own work schedules as best they could to ensure I was not left alone for any prolonged period of time (not always possible but they did their best and would always come and visit me after they had finished their shifts). Because for every person like me who was fortunate in this way there are plenty more people, either OAP’s, people from broken families or just people that slipped between the cracks, that don’t have the kind of support that I did.

How Does ABI Fit In To Current UK Society?

The short answer is that it doesn’t and that we are not considered or represented and our injury is thought of in society, particularly in bureaucratic and institutional terms as the same as every other disability.

Now I will give you the long answer. What I have learned, especially since it now directly affects me on a day-to-day basis, is that in recent years things have changed in British society, and from my point of view for the worse, particularly in terms of our frontline services. Due to government policy and directives as well as huge budget cuts, Doctor’s are put under pressure to provide outcomes that look good statistically rather than ones that benefit the patient and their wellbeing in the long term. NHS budgets are being cut while doctors are being forced to do more hours for less money. Outpatient services attempt to shoehorn people in to programs that are not suitable in the hope of providing some kind of suitable statistical outcome while having no real resources to provide any long-term care. Most people are ineligible for most forms of welfare due to the process now being means tested and based upon a report written by someone that has met you for one hour to conduct an “assessment”. Finally, in the past six months I can think of two separate occasions where medical professionals, while I was in a vulnerable state, have taken advantage of my situation to placate the people at the top who have set their statistical targets.

Playing To Win

Now these issues have not been as much of a problem for me because of the support I have from my family. However, if you are not in the same situation, what do you do? What would have happened to these people, if they had found themselves in the same two situations I mentioned, who don’t have the advocacy and the support that I have had to fall back on? It’s nothing short of scandalous the way that the people with disabilities are being treated in this country at the moment, portrayed as lazy scroungers or fakers, what’s worse is that that poisonous mentality is seeping into the media and into general society.

It seems as though, at the moment, with the huge financial constraints imposed by the government, any good will that was previously the foundation of things such as the NHS and the welfare state (both are things we, as citizens of the UK, have been paying for since the mid-1940’s with our taxes by the way) have been obliterated. It has now become a charade, a game of sorts. They have set the rules and if you want to win you have to play but it is vital that we have our teammates beside us, playing just as hard, if not harder than you are to ensure that you pick up the win.

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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 – Independent Living

In my post the week before last, I moved on from asking Where Am I Now? am now regarding my brain injury https://lifeafterabraininjurydotorg.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/where-am-i-now/; asking questions like, what are the permanent physical consequences of my injury & how does my injury affect me both socially and domestically? What are my strengths & weaknesses? After I felt I had answered those questions in a sufficient manner, the next step was to highlight the goals that were most important to me. The intention to assess them and look at the potential difficulties I would likely encounter. https://lifeafterabraininjurydotorg.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/brain-injury-recovery-where-do-i-want-to-be/ Then I could think about how I would go about achieving them, the steps that needed to be taken, taking into account the answers to the first question I asked. Following on from last week and the goals I picked out as being most important to me, here is my view on my own situation regarding moving out and living independently.

Getting Out On Our Own

This is something that every adult, young or old, male or female, rich or poor, disabled or fully abled wants as they progress through life; independent living. As you get older and become an adult there are certain things that change in who we are. We develop social lives, a love life, particular interests and hobbies that are our own. We come to the conclusion that we want our own personal space; we do not need to be under the constant watchful eye of a parent. We can look after ourselves, perhaps in a nice, cheap, little one bedroom flat. With some tender love and care and some Ikea furniture, we could definitely make that place our own.

The Considerations & The Struggles

In the paragraph above, I painted a very romantic picture of what living independently is like. What I learned from my own experiences is that there are pretty severe reality checks in store. We hold the kind of romantic vision I described above in our heads. However, what comes with living independently is a series of heavy responsibilities that need to be taken seriously.

There are contracts to be signed, rent to be paid, direct debits to set up, bills to be paid to name just a few and finally, ensuring you are earning/receiving the money to ensure all of the payments can be handled. Also we must consider the fact we have to look after our new abode and we are also depending on ourselves for survival in terms of food, money and all the other necessities involved in life. We also must manage our conditions that have accompanied the ABI. We cannot be under any illusion that we will get to a point where these disabilities will go away completely. However, There may come a time with the right discipline, help and determination that we can get them under control. A position where we control our conditions as opposed to the conditions controlling us. To do that though means being strict in terms of taking the right medication at the right times.

Why I Do Not Live Independently

I have tried on three separate occasions with varying degrees of success to live independently. The main obstacle in this process over the past five years has been the ever-worsening extent of my epilepsy. Here are the ways I have tried to live independently

  • University was, to all extents a success. I achieved a 2:1 (BA) degree despite my ABI with a lot of support from the university and epileptic episodes were kept to a minimum.
  • After university, I went to live in London to pursue my dream of being a writer. Again, epileptic episodes were at a minimum but slightly higher than they were at university, which meant my dad having to come all the way to London once a month to check on how things were going with me.
  • After a year of living in London due to financial reasons as well as health reasons it was necessary to move back to Dorset. Upon my return, I found myself a flat and a job. It was at this point that things took a turn for the worse.

While I was living independently in Dorset, the number of seizures I was having escalated hugely. Being a larger than average young man (around 6,2 and 17.5 stone) I usually end up with a broken bone or a losing some teeth after a fit and living alone put me at huge risk if, for some reason, the fit I was having escalated and my health was put in more jeopardy. With the seizure’s becoming more and more regular and the potential risk to my health while I had one rising, it had become clear that living on my own just wasn’t practical or sensible at the time.

What Did I Learn From My Attempts?

What did I learn? Well, firstly that living alone and having your own space allows you to be who you truly are and it is wonderful to have that kind of freedom and independence. What we should all be aware of though, is what that truly means. Independence means you are doing it for yourself. For people in our type of situation where there could be a crisis or an emergency regarding many things; physical health, mental health, panic or anxiety attacks, it may be a good idea to ensure the place you have chosen to live is not to far away from people you trust who will make every effort to help you.

Secondly, I would say that moving out and taking care of a place of your own is far more complex just in terms of the technicalities and bureaucracy that are involved in making the whole thing official. Sorting out housing contracts, direct debits, council tax and ensuring that the place is right for you depending on your situation are complex issues that can be confusing for anyone, let alone someone who has suffered an ABI. This leads me to number three…

The third thing I learnt follows on directly from number two. I would advise anyone who has suffered an ABI to get someone reliable whom you trust to act as an advocate on your behalf. Or, if it is necessary, take advantage of the help the social services may be able to provide or it may even be a good idea to go and see an attorney who can help guide you through the process and help clear up any misunderstandings so you know exactly what it is you are signing up for. Just to clear up the bureaucracy that is in all those contracts. It is unfortunate, but there will be people out there who may try to take advantage of situations such as ours.

My last Piece Of Advice

Finally, My biggest piece of advice to anyone recovering from an ABI or a disability is to not rush the process. To take your recovery a step at a time and this is one of those steps that should only happen when everything is in place and everything is ready for it to happen. Particularly, only when you are healthy enough for it to happen. That is when you will have the most chance of success.

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

 

 

Let It Out…

My name is Tom; I am 26 years old and the survivor of an acquired brain injury. Many of the last few updates I have posted recently have been following something of a theme. The theme I have been trying to follow and the message I have tried to impart has been about the importance of adapting to change; the change of outlook that inevitably comes with a traumatic, life-threatening injury. There is a change in your abilities and a change in lifestyle that comes with coming to terms with these changes without allowing them to dictate every aspect of your life. Both of them are an extremely hard process to go through. I have also tried to stress the importance of self-reliance and self-belief during said process and my belief that it is something of a necessity. I am of the opinion that a certain degree of the recovery we make and the process of moving forward, towards a target, is something you can achieve yourself; that YOU CAN create a fulfilling and enjoyable life after an acquired brain injury.

Contributors To Stress

The difficulty with living an independent life, maybe working or volunteering, getting back into education, some people may even be living independently, the difficulty is that they are undoubtedly stressful in and of themselves. When you combine them with the difficulty of living with a head injury; the after-effects both emotional and physical as well as difficulties with both cognitive and thought processes, combined with the every day demand of motivating ourselves, of getting up and trying to achieve our ambitions means that it can be very difficult to keep it together on an emotional level. The fact of the matter is, the general stresses of life can be difficult for people to handle, head injury or no head injury. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, over emotional, depressed or stressed out, know that you are not alone.

Mental Health, Emotions & Feelings

It shocked me to learn that’s around one in four people each year will suffer from some kind of mental health problem (predominantly stress and anxiety). That’s just when we consider the ordinary everyday population without any extenuating circumstances, for example life changing injuries, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or some kind of childhood trauma in their lives. The stresses that being an independent, self-reliant adult, who also happens to have suffered from a brain injury, are huge, we all know that. So we, perhaps more than most people, have both a right and a necessity to get those feelings off our chests.

Need To Talk?

While in past posts I have acknowledged the need for a loving and trustworthy group of friends and family in whom you can trust and confide in. However it also has to be emphasized that there are certain things that you absolutely do not want to share with those close friends and family. From personal experience, I know that this is not because of a lack of trust, more because you do not feel comfortable sharing certain pieces of personal information with those closer to you. Whether that is because you believe your concerns or confessions may change their opinion of you, whether you are embarrassed or ashamed of said confession or simply you would rather have those people did not know this particular piece of information. Whatever the reason, sharing intimate things with people who know you intimately is a very difficult thing to do.

I think that when we want to talk about our problems, our secrets and information of a personal nature, what we really want is somebody to just sit there and listen. This desire to disclose information can often be misinterpreted by those closest to us. Don’t get me wrong, the manner in which they misunderstand comes from the best possible place. I believe that when we share our problems with friends and family, it is natural for them to want to solve the problem for us or to help solve the problem ourselves, when that is not necessarily what we want. All we want is to be able to vent and have somebody listen. Quite often, from my experience, the person you have shared with will then want to really get into the subject in depth, which can cause us to get frustrated, leading to tension within the relationship. Considering the circumstances, that is the last thing that we need.

So, what is the alternative? Where do we go to talk to people? From my experience, talking to somebody impartial, who only has my best interests at heart and is there just to listen to me, has been hugely beneficial.

Services Available and Where To Find Them

NB: At the end of this blog post, there will be a list of links to the services I have mentioned below. I hope they will be of some use to you.

This type of psychological treatment and talking therapy can come from many different places in a variety of forms. I would advise searching all of the available providers to find the service that will benefit you the most, such as the many dedicated organisations and charities as well as private professionals. There is also the option ask for a referral to the Neuropsychological/Counselling services through the NHS facilities in your area. People reading this may see that final option as something of a road to nowhere due to the current circumstances and financial cuts to the mental health profession, meaning the services are perhaps not what they once were (which may be true to some degree). However, if you do get a referral I would urge you to attend a few sessions. You will get the opportunity to discuss issues that are bothering you, whether they are frustrations regarding your injury, issues at home, work, school or problems with relationships, with a trained neuropsychologist. Most importantly, you will get to express how you truly feel about these problems in a safe environment.

Or if you perhaps wanted something slightly less formal but still specific to the field of brain injuries, a good place to start would be The United Kingdom Acquired Brain Injury Forum (UKABIF). This online forum provides a vast amount of information relating to contacts, services and resources in the field of brain injury recovery. If you click on the resources tab, follow the head and brain injury signpost link where you will find a list of services. When you click on a particular service (in this case, support groups and helplines) it will take you to a directory of contact information for brain injury charities and organisations that spread across the length and width of the UK.

If you want to start closer to home, you can’t really do much better than contacting your local Headway UK chapter who can provide information in abundance regarding potential services in your area.

There is also the option to obtain the help of private professionals if you are merely looking to share your problems regarding your experiences and the effects of head injuries on you or a loved one. A simple way to do this, to find the right professional where you live is to visit the UK Counselling Directory that can be found online. You type your postcode into the website’s search bar and the website will provide contact information for the many counsellers and psychotherapists in your surrounding area.

Staying On An Even Keel…

If there is one thing that I have learned over the last six years, it is that life will hand you nothing. If you want something you’re have to go out there and take it for yourself. While I am a big believer in self-discipline, self-reliance and self-belief, I am also a big believer in the saying “…a problem shared is a problem halved”. I do not want my beliefs, particularly where I say that it is better to rely on ones self than it is to rely on others, to be misinterpreted. When I say that, I am talking specifically about performing tasks and acting on opportunities. I AM NOT saying that looking for help when it is needed is a sign of weakness and that communicating with people and expressing your emotions is a bad idea. In fact I would say quite the opposite.

The fact of the matter is that the stresses of everyday life, our opinions, emotions and feelings can sometimes be too much to handle. In my opinion, the need to express ourselves in a safe environment without the fear of scorn, ridicule or judgement plays a vital part in contributing to staying balanced on an emotional level. So I urge you, if you’re struggling with issues that you want to express then give some of these services a go. Let it out!

  1. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Counselling/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  2. http://ukabif.org.uk
  3. https://www.headway.org.uk
  4. http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk

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.

Post-ABI – Returning To Work (Part 1)

My name is Tom; I am 26 years old and the survivor of an Acquired Brain Injury. In my previous post I mentioned the potential positive effects returning to the “mainstream” could have for people who have suffered a brain injury. This post will look at how to approach returning to mainstream employment. Last time I spoke at length on the positive effects higher education had to me and what I hope was some helpful advice on choosing the right course and accessing the support you, as a disabled student, would be entitled to. This time I hope to do the same regarding a return to work.

How Will It Help?

Returning to work can seem like a daunting prospect when you have suffered an ABI like we have. You are coming to terms with a new sense of self; there are things that you cannot do any more (perhaps cognitively, physically or both), there are issues with regards to your physical and mental health (such as fatigue, anxiety and depression). Those are issues that we face everyday (to name just a few), but I believe that a return to work can help improve most of those issues. Working a steady job, supporting ourselves and increasing our independence, grows our confidence and sense of fulfillment. This in turn plays a massive part in contributing to a positive mentality where we do not feel defined by our injury or inferior to other employees.

Looking At Yourself & Being Honest

Nobody knows you better than you. That’s a fact. It is a fact I believe to be especially important post-ABI. After a certain amount of time, you will start to become more aware of what it is you may or may not be able to do anymore. You will start to see where it is you are having difficulties. Equally, it will allow you to see where you are still strong. You may not be able to see it yet if you are still coming off the back of the injury, but you do still have strengths and abilities that make you valuable. Taking notes of these strengths and weaknesses will be crucial in terms of when you are finally ready to return to work, in applying for a suitable job for you in the long-term.

Having a positive mindset and at the same time, having a firm acceptance of your disabilities and sense of who you are key when thinking of returning to work are massive contributory factors in terms of potential success. When it gets to a point of looking for jobs, it is much better to look at the job listings asking yourself “What can I do?” as opposed to looking for what you can’t do.

Again, Start Small

I realize that this has been something of a recurring theme in many of my posts but I am a firm believer in it. When returning to work it is certainly best not to jump in with both feet. Starting out small is key to this. I believe a good way to gauge your ability to work is through voluntary employment. Offer your services to a local charity shop, or work with the head injury charities available in your area (Headway UK offer local support groups for returning to employment and there are other disability employment organisations that can help you find appropriate voluntary work, follow the link to access their website –www.headway.org.uk) . The benefits of voluntary work are that it offers a flexible working schedule and environment. This flexibility will allow you to assess yourself while you are being challenged. Again, you can look at where you are perhaps stronger or weaker; try to think of strategies that help you cope with certain situation where you struggle and how to increase your involvement in situations where you are strong. If all is going well and you would like to test your strength a little more, you can ask for more hours or more shifts while at the same time, if you are finding that the work is too demanding, you will be able to reduce hours and shifts accordingly. The positives of this is that it allows you to assess your strengths and weaknesses in the working environment in a situation of less pressure and also, if you do well, get a nice reference off the back of it.

The Support Is Out There

There are many different types of support available for people who suffered a brain injury from many different sectors. There are specific rehabilitation services, such as some of the vocational rehabilitation services that offer courses to teach new skills to those adjusting to life post-ABI. Acquiring a new skill could be just the tonic you are looking for if you are, as I was and many others are, at something of a loss as to which route you should go down. There are many vocational services offered by local branches of the NHS and accessing them should be relatively simple through your specialist.

Other potential benefits that can be gained by accessing the services of the NHS are things like appointments with occupational therapists. Getting involved in those kind of services can really help you to focus in on what it is you want to do as well as bringing potential programmes that could benefit you to your attention. I believe that just because we are the victims of a brain injury we should not be stuck in a job we hate for the rest of our lives. We should be able to gain employment that we are enthusiastic about and that gives us fulfillment (P.S. In terms of accessing the kind of support I have mentioned above – occupational therapy and vocational rehabilitation – a good place to look is in the service directory under the resources tab, on the UK Acquired Brain Injury Forum, just follow the link to their website – http://ukabif.org.uk).

There are also the Disability Employment Advisors (DEA’s) at the local Jobcentre Plus who can help you to shift through the many job opportunities out there to find something suitable for you and your specific situation. The Jobcentre Plus also offers specific programmes for disabled people who are trying to go back to work as well as information on potential welfare eligibility. Many of the Jobcentre’s effectiveness and their ability to help you will be dependent on the amount of funding they receive. I would urge you to go into it with an open mind and explore all the options that they have available (PS. Follow the link to a useful Jobcentre Plus guide – http://www.jobcentreguide.org).

In Conclusion…

It is only now I have completed this post that I have realized there is so much more I can say on this subject. So I have decided to elaborate on this subject on Monday as I think there is a lot to be said regarding the ABI in the working environment, so this one has ended up being something of a two-parter. Thanks everyone for reading and I hope it was of benefit. To find out more about my blog follow me here on WordPress @ABIBlogger or follow me on Twitter @ABIblogger (yes the lower case ‘b’ is intentional). Thanks again and be well.