New Challenges

New Challenges

NB. While this post is intended as more of an official announcement I hope you will be able to see why this is very relevant to aspects of ABI/TBI recovery. I hope you will see the sense in what I am saying and understand why I am doing the things that I am doing.

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It’s been nearly a year since I started. The first blog I posted was online on the 31st of August 2015. It was a spur of the moment thing (though I didn’t realise it at the time, it was exactly six years since the attack that caused the injury took place). I had talked for a long time about starting a blog and detailing my experiences of rehabilitation post-ABI primarily to get into the habit of writing regularly and to try and get noticed as a writer, how I live and deal with the way my ABI has manifested itself in the seven years between when I suffered the injury and in the here and now and finally, I started the blog in the hope that my experiences could be helpful to people, provide them with different ways of thinking about problems that they cannot solve, provide a source of comfort and hope for people who think that life is over after a Brain Injury, I hope that I have managed to do these things.

Before I started this blog I didn’t really know what kind of reception I/it would get. It is always a nerve-wracking experience; expose yourself emotionally to people, allow yourself to be vulnerable. For me though, this kind of revelation has always been easier in the written form. It would take a very particular type of person for me to divulge the kind of information to in the way I have on my blog (which is strange because basically anyone in the world can read this and gain an insight into my mind, thoughts and emotions). It took a long time for me to take action when I was starting the blog. It had been in my minds eye for many a month prior to its beginning. However that is the thing, I think there comes a point where thoughts, plans, organization and talk can only take you so far. There comes a point where you have to bite the bullet, and just do what you need to do. Stop planning, stop organizing, stop talking and do it!

The Truth

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The truth is that as the months have gone on, I have found it difficult to maintain the discipline and motivation to continue writing blogs. This is because any of the reasons for writing it have changed, it’s because I have changed. I have found that the prospect of looking within, examining the self, going over experiences that, quite honestly, I wish I would never have to revisit; these thoughts can make me angry, depressed, sad and really affect my mental health in general. That effect in turn, affects my day-to-day functioning, my sleep pattern, my meal times, my willingness to socialise and the way I engage with my mum and dad. I have come to the conclusion that if I continue to look inwards I will never be able to move forward and look outwards, at the many possibilities that are available in the world, even for people with a disability.

Announcements and Changes

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Even though I said that none of the reasons for writing the blog and that these have remained solid and the main basis for writing my blogs posts, I believe that I neglected one key issue regarding my motivations; writing to get my name out there, to be recognized as a writer and write for the love of writing. There are many other aspects of writing, different platforms and mediums that I love and that I want to explore. The time has come for me to concentrate on those forms and move forwards towards the direction I really want to go in and find the area I want to make a career for myself in.

So here are the real announcements, the 1st of September after a year of blogging, will be my final blog post for a while. I feel that I need to spend some time on making some life changes and changes to my daily routines that will make living independently a more achievable goal. I am currently in the process of making dietary changes and changes to my exercise habits, learning to cook properly and generally how to do all the things we need to do around the house on a daily basis to make living well independently achievable for me. The intention is to spend some time focusing on engraining certain habits; cooking healthy meals myself, keeping a consistent sensible sleep pattern, regular cardiovascular exercise to compensate for the sedentary career choice I have made and focusing on looking outward into the world and what I can achieve in it once I have engrained these habits into my day and composed a healthy, consistent, realistic and sustainable lifestyle.

While I wont be producing original content I will be doing my best to continue with my brain injury advocacy and advocacy for people with disabilities as a whole. To compensate for my lack of content production I will be doing my best to share blog posts written by the other brain injury and disability advocates and the amazing work they are doing. Also, I will still have my Twitter page and my Instagram page available where I will be doing my best to share valuable information with you all. I will also be using these social media platforms to keep you up to date with my own progress. Finally I will announce that I will be continuing my blogging work for Headway Worcester (a much simpler and convenient writing process to fit in with the kind of life changes I am going to be making over the coming months).

Finally, I am going to say this that any I original content I may produce in the future will act as a breath of fresh air. Sometimes you need to look at things from a different perspective to learn more (as I have said in many of my previous posts) and I feel I have distributed all the information I can for now that will be of benefit to you all.

A Note of Thanks

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Finally, to conclude this post, I just want to say a huge thank you to those who have followed me on Twitter, Instagram and on WordPress. I have spoken to many incredible people from all over the world who are going through similar situations who seemed to have gained something from my blog. I feel very bad and apologise profusely to those people that I cannot continue with my blogs. However, I hope that you understand that I cannot continue staying static and standing still in my life living with ABI. The effects of brain Injury never cease, they always seem to be changing and as they do life changes with it and when opportunities arrive to make changes that will benefit your life, as you will all know, that you have to take them.

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I feel incredibly touched at the way the blog has been received and the way people have reacted and that people have found it useful to them and that it has done what I intended it to, even if it was only for a few people. So, to all of you that read and shared my posts, you will have my never-ending gratitude for believing in me and for supporting me. I hope that we will see this through to the end together, that you will read my final two posts as enthusiastically as all the others and find them as helpful or useful or what have you as all the of the ones preceding it. I also hope you will continue to monitor my activities and progress as time goes on and that you will still check in on Twitter and Instagram and help to continue what I started by sharing information and stories about brain injury and help to bring it closer to the forefront of the conversation about healthcare in the UK and worldwide. Thank you so much for all of your unwavering support. You have been what has made this possible!

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Diet & Nutrition

Diet & Nutrition

Following on from the last weeks and my posts Holistic Health and Exercise: Body vs. The Mind, I am continuing with my theme of trying to create a positive balance in all aspects of our bodies. I have spoken on exercise and the idea of Holism or Holistic health; how exercise contributes to Holism and the positive effects this approach of treating the whole person (not just symptoms and manifestations) can have for those of us with Acquired Brain Injury/Traumatic Brain Injury. I will continue in a similar vain today and talk about the part played by diet and nutrition. Specifically I will try to emphasise the ways certain vitamins, minerals and other nutritional benefits from certain foods can affect our state of mind and the way we feel generally. I am hoping I will be able to provide you all with come dietary information that can improve our circulation, our production of levels, our immune system generally as well as the ability to produce certain hormones, in particular, the feel good hormones.

Vitamins & Minerals – What Can They Do For You?

There are common misconceptions made about what we eat and how our diets can affect so many aspects of our wellbeing. I believe personally that there is not enough education regarding the potential nutritional value of certain foods during years of compulsory education. I release that due to the continual advances mad in science these days that to constantly adapt curriculum to incorporate everything would be nigh on impossible. That being said, I do believe that with a better understanding from a young age (the start of GCSE’s, say) of what vitamins and minerals actually do to the human body (not just lightly glossed over) that the current crisis regarding childhood obesity would not be as bad as it is where approx. 19% of UK children in the age group of ten to eleven years old are classed as obese according to recent UK public health surveys (http://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/child_obesity).
Of course diet and nutrition contribute to our physical wellbeing (Body Mass Index, Blood Pressure etc.) but few people are aware of the positive effect a varied healthy and nutritious diet can have on other aspects of the human body and mind. Our digestive system, muscle repairs, energy production, our immune and circulatory systems, sleep pattern and state of mind can all be positively affected by such a varied nutritious diet.
So many people will read that last paragraph and believe that I am full of hot air. However, I will be doing my best to provide you with some information on the type of foods that can provide these types of nutritional benefits. By the end of the post, you will be able to see a few particular foods that keep cropping up and can aid our physical, cognitive and mental health.
I cannot possibly hope to get through all vitamins and minerals required for a model diet post-ABI or TBI. However the one I have chosen is the one that contributes to most dietary needs for someone after brain injury to keep them healthy in body and mind.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B is a key part of any persons diet and provides so many benefits. The problem is that people trying to improve their diet can often get confused or mixed up due to the fact that Vitamin B has six sub categories, each with varying properties and each one providing the body with different benefits. So I will go through the different types of B vitamin and what each provides for the human body to provide some clarity and hopefully enable those that want to change their diets for the better to get the benefits they are after. Each paragraph on the different B vitamins will have a emboldened section which I believe provides particularly important information for ABI and TBI patients.

B1 – Foods that contain B1: Rice, Oats, Nuts and Butternut Squash.

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Otherwise known as Thiamine, is important for helping digestion in the human body, maintaining cellular and organ function and keeping energy levels at an even and suitable height. It also helps to create strong mucous membranes as well as helping to maintain the body’s nervous system. A deficiency of vitamin B1 can cause extreme fatigue as well as degeneration of the nervous and gastrointestinal system as well as degeneration of muscular systems.

B2 – Foods that contain B2: Quinoa, Oats, Spinach and Mangetout.

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B2 (Riboflavine) is important for maintaining muscle tissues as it plays a key role in repairing muscle tissue and mucous membranes. As well as playing an important part in converting food into energy. This would be an important vitamin to ingest for those who are regular exercisers, as foods high in B2 will help with repairing minor post-exercise damage done to any muscles.

B3 – Foods containing B3: Chicken, Turkey, Fresh Tuna and Crimini Mushrooms.

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Vitamin B3, to give it its technical name Niacin, is key to the production and storage of fats that can be used as a source of energy in the human body. As an added bonus B3 is also vital in detoxifying the body by eliminating free radicals and maximizing our energy potential (What are Free Radicals? To what extent are they dangerous as the body naturally produces them? Follow the link for an overview of Free Radical production and their purpose – https://draxe.com/fighting-free-radical-damage/). Once again, this B vitamin plays a part in maintaining nerves, the brain and digestive systems, protects the skin as well as maintaining healthy mucous membranes.

B5 – Foods containing B5: Cauliflower, Egg Yolks, Turkey and Avocado.

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Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid is key to strengthening the body’s immune system. It acts as a stimulant for the production of antibodies helping us to fight off illness and infection. B5 also enables us to deal with stress better aiding the adrenal glands in producing the hormones to better produce red blood cells and the hormones related to both sex and stress. An increased presence of B5 included in the diets of people suffering with anxiety or nerves could provide some improvement for you, especially when combined with exercise.

B6 – Foods containing B6: Eggs, Soya Beans, Mackerel and Turkey.

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This is an important one for all of us with ABI or TBI. Not only does vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine, help to make and produce key amino acids for the immune system but also helps produce Phagocytic cells. Phagocytic cells ingest and destroy foreign bacteria and particles that find their way into our blood stream. Most importantly for ABI/TBI/Brain Injury readers out there, B6 helps the body produce several different neurotransmitters, the chemicals that carry signals from one brain cell to another. Finally it helps with the production of Serotonin, the hormone that contributes to mood as well as the hormone Norepinephrine that helps to regulate our body clock and sleep pattern.

B12 – Foods that contain B12: Beef Liver, Fresh Tuna, and Raw Milk.

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B12 is fundamental for the human body due to its requirement for the process of making DNA. It also helps to transport oxygen in the blood, playing a part in detoxifying the body, lowering blood pressure and levels of cholesterol. Most importantly for us struggling with brain injuries out there it also helps to maintain brain function while at the same time helping to reduce brain and neurological degeneration.

Folic Acid – Foods that contain Folic Acid: Lentils, Avocado, Broccoli and Citrus Fruit/Citrus Fruit Juices.

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Folic Acid is a B-vitamin that makes a significant contribution to our reproductive. Just as importantly it helps with maintain healthy blood cells as well as playing a part in the process of mitosis (cell division). The work that Folic acid does producing maintaining blood cells helps to reduce the risk of illnesses such as cancer

Minerals
Magnesium – Foods that contain Magnesium: Rice, Quinoa, Spinach and Mackerel.

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High levels of magnesium in our bodies mean that we can absorb more calcium. Maintaining a consistently high level of magnesium in the blood means our bodies have an easier time producing energy and helping with nerve transmission. This particular mineral also aids maintain muscle function and our metabolism.

Zinc – Foods that contain Zinc: Rice, Dark Chocolate (with high Cocoa solid percentage), Cashew Nuts and Seafood (generally).

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Zinc is predominantly an anti-oxidant, anti-viral mineral. Its main benefit really is that it boosts the body’s overall immunity as well as helping with the development and maturation of Lymphocytes commonly known as T-Cells (T-Cells are a type of cell that helps fight illness and infection. There are various types of T-Cells all with different roles and purposes in the immune system. Low levels of T-Cells weaken the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness, infection or disease). It is these Lymphocytes, T- Cells, that the HIV virus attacks when it is transmitted, lowering our immune system making us more prone to illness and unable to recover.

Others

EFA’s (Essential Fatty Acid’s including Omega 3 and Omega 6) – Foods containing EFA’s: Walnuts, Broccoli, Eggs and Olive Oil.

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The important role of EFA’s is that they are an anti-inflammatory as well as playing a vital part in maintaining healthy blood, skin and nerves. EFA’s are also believed to improve the responsiveness of the immune system. EFA’s can also be commonly found in oily fish such as fresh mackerel, tuna, salmon etc.

Serotonin Stimulators

Foods that can increase the production of serotonin: Eggs, Salmon, Nuts & Seeds, and Pineapple.

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As I stated earlier in the post, Serotonin is a hormone produced to help regulate our moods. As I mentioned in my post regarding exercise, the release of serotonin is the hormone behind the so-called “Runners High”, the feeling of happiness and ecstasy one get post-exercise. While exercise is certainly something that I would recommend for those looking for the uplifting feeling of higher levels of serotonin there are other methods such as the type of foods we eat that can induce higher levels of serotonin production.

Drinks

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I am certainly not an expert when it comes to dietary needs and exercise but if you want to find out some alternative drinks to try, have a look at my friend Chelsea’s blog on various teas and their benefits: specifically her post on teas more suitable for patients whttp://www.tastethetea.co.uk.

Common Appearances In Healthy Diet

It would seem as though there were a fair few foods that made repeat appearances through the various categories I have listed. It would stand to reason then that the foods that crop up in different categories I have mentioned should be incorporated as a key part of our diet. From the evidence and research I have provided it would seem fairly clear that a diet high in oily fish, poultry, rice, grains, nuts & seeds, as well as green leafy vegetables are the foundation of making us healthy and making us feel good physically, cognitively and mentally. While I did not do a section on this particular dietary supplement I would encourage the consumption of anything with Flavanoids, which helps with the maintenance and repair of blood vessels, muscle tissue and aids circulation. Flavanoids are commonly found in Seeds & Nuts, Berries, Tree Fruit (Plums, Cherries etc.) and Kidney beans.

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All I can suugest is that we try to continue to eat a varied and healthy diet. The issue nowadays is that so much food is processed, preserved or artificial that any goodness is cooked out of it. Many people believe that supplements and vitamins tablets can provide everything we need. However the more we try to cook ourselves, the more we are willing to experiment with our diet, the bigger the benefits we will receive. Even if you don’t consider yourself a dab hand in the kitchen just give it a go. Buy a cookery book. Here’s a link to get you started to Jamie Oliver’s Super Food cookbook.

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Holistic Health

Holistic Health

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Brain injury, in all senses is an incredibly complex issue. There are numerous debates on different recovery methods; which works best? What’s the first step? What’s the best method of recovery? Finally, what I’m sure is the most common question, what is the cure? The truth is, as I and I’m sure you also have learned that there is no prescribed cure for ABI. In fact, I don’t think it can be cured; situations can improve but complete recovery? I’m very dubious. It is not the same as taking Ibuprofen to relieve a headache. The damage ABI does and the way it manifests itself can potentially affect everything from cognitive function to physical movement. Down the centre of my head is a huge scar that spirals round to the front of my right ear. And at the back of my head a large scar that slides down from just above the base of my skull to the upper parts of my neck; both visible mementos of my brush with death. The biggest scars, the ones that trouble me most today are the ones that can’t be seen.

Invisible Wounds & Injuries

I often feel that the things I am battling with most are issues such as anxiety, anger and depression, in essence factors connected to how I perceive myself and others perceive me. I will talk about the type of alternative choices and helpful lifestyle practices that can install a sense of calm and help achieve an inner-peace. These are methods of healing that are not just prescriptions to cure an ailment but to aid the healing of the whole, the mind, the body and the soul; in essence, holistic healing.

(Holistic – The belief that the parts of something are intimately connected and that you cannot separate one part without referring to the whole. For example when I was referring to a person’s health I used the term “mind, body and soul”, meaning that only when all are healthy and content at once can one be truly what you would call “healthy”.)

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Some of the things I am going to suggest are things that one can obtain by walking into a shop and buying, or looking up the methods online but those parts are just a small part of the overall recipe. Much of what I am going to advise is definitely not easy. Most of these things involve a lot of discipline and awareness of both yourself and what’s happening around you. If we master these techniques though, believe me when I say this, we can learn to carry and manage the burden that is ABI and obtain a sense of peace, something I lacked for three to four years until I made the effort to learn, change my lifestyle and accept myself for who I am now.

What Is Peace? How Do We Get It?

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The pursuit of peace, I believe stems from the every day stresses one endures: work, family life and commitments or, in our case, past traumas and the basic human need to escape from those stresses. I also believe that moments of peace where we are not in a state of constant mental conflict are essential for everyone’s day-to-day health. I am a great believer in holistic methods for creating periods of time where a person can be at peace and feel peaceful.

We all know that the ever-elusive pursuit of peace (a pursuit that on some level, all people whether they have suffered an ABI or not are on) revolves around our state of mind. It is a journey we try to go through each day so that we can arrive at a place, if only for half an hour each day, where we feel we have arrived at the desired destination; a place of comfort where none of the worries that we have been through during the hours before matter and they no longer concern us. What peace is depends purely on whom you are, the type of person you are, the intricacies and character traits that make you an individual. But I will explain to you what my place of peace is later on.

I also think that much of finding that feeling of peace within the self is being at peace with yourself and who you are. I think that accepting where your limitations are and finding alternative ways to overcome them or achieve the same end by a different means is how we can empower ourselves and feel that a brain injury does not rule our lives; that with hard work, the ability to accept certain defeats but not let them defeat you entirely and an open minded outlook and willingness to try new things we can be proud of who we are and be at peace with our injuries and the effects they have had on our lives. It’s a case of staring down the brain injury. The question is, who is going to blink first? I’ve found in the last seven years that I can stare for a long time.  

My Place Of Peace

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Near where I live (on the south coast) there are numerous cliff paths. I can walk up the cliff and onto a long coastal path. I have brought nothing with me except a bottle of water and my iPod. As I approach the uneven path up the steep cliff, I select my relaxation/mindfulness music album and press play.

As I set off I walk up the steepest part of the cliff walk up the steep green path until I come to a flat level where I can walk across the tops of the cliffs with ocean views as far out as you can see, I take that time to do some breathing exercises to get my already pumping blood full oxygenated. It is hear on these cliff tops that I can put aside the battles I have with myself in my own mind and stand and appreciate if only for half an hour, that there is so much beauty in the world. I can walk up and down that path for as long as possible. This is where I find my time of peace. A place where I can admire the beauty of the world, a world that seems much quieter, much more beautiful and relaxing that I enjoy far more than a world where I often see little to admire which only aggravates an internal struggle that I am battling with everyday.

Exercise

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There are many different ways to keep the body healthy and that can lead to a sense of happiness (a topic I covered in my previous post Exercise: Body vs. The Mind). Happiness is key to us finding a place of peace. Peace and relaxation is not what I would call happiness, more a sense of satisfaction or contentment. They are still though, in my opinion, branches of the same plant.

With regular aerobic exercise such as jogging, swimming or walking comes with it the release of endorphins into the blood, endorphins – the healthy person natural drug of choice. I think this is why my feelings of peace often come after a period of exercise. The oxygenation of blood, achieved by rhythmic steady breathing during exercise is also important during periods of relaxation. When oxygen passes through cell walls and attaches itself to red blood cells the oxygen is transported to the parts of the body that are most fatigued and need it most. The brain needs a steady supply of oxygen to operate at its maximum capacity. In other words, for people like us with brain injuries, providing the body with a supply of well oxygenated blood will ensure that our brains operate at a higher capacity that if we don’t do exercise.

Diet

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People say that dieting or eating healthily is a chore what they don’t know is that often the foods we eat can have a big impact on the way that we feel due to their content. Certain foods can help us cleanse and detox our body, even eliminating certain chemicals and molecules that can negatively affect our mood and yielding ones that produce a positive effect. I do not pretend to be in expert so I will link you to a couple of website that include far more information than I can give you. As I said, much of what disturbs my sense of peace is the ongoing battle in my mind and the effects that my emotions and mental health have. Changing ones diet can have a huge impact on the way that issues such as depression or anger can affect our day-to-day lives.

  1. http://www.webmd.boots.com/depression/guide/diet-depression
  2. http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression-pictures/8-foods-that-fight-depression.aspx

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I should also add that it is not just the things we EAT that can produce these positive effects within the body, but also within the things we DRINK. So here is a link to my friend and blogging colleague Chelsea Webster’s blog Taste the Tea particularly her post on the positive effects different types of tea blends can have in helping to relax the mind and the positive effects of Tisanes. http://tastethetea.co.uk/2016/05/10/abi/ You can also find out more about her and the writing she does on Twitter @TastetheTeaBlog.

Fulfilling The Soul

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One of the key parts to gaining peace within you is finding happiness and fulfillment in the things that you do. This is an extremely difficult thing to do after something like an ABI or TBI as it can seem that so much is against us. It can be difficult to find the right things for you personally due to the way your own individual injury has manifested itself and the things that you personally struggle with. These common feelings can often induce in us a certain fear, a fear of failure. Developing that kind of fear is the worst trap that we can set for ourselves. Instead, the approach that I take (and it’s not an easy mindset to get into) is that when we try new things, different things, there is always likely to be bumps in the road and difficulties the same as any other person. Those difficulties are emphasized by my injury and that is something that I cannot help. I hate and resent the idea that something that happened to me at the age of nineteen, seemingly at random, holds so much power over me but it does. That’s the way it is unfortunately and I can do nothing to change that.

What I can do however is use that as a motivation. Once we accept the fact that our injuries will affect certain aspects of performance, whether cognitive, physical or emotional and by proxy affect tour ability to do certain things I believe that we are in a much better position to try and do as many things as possible. When we do this, it is possible (and quite likely) you will find something that you do have a talent and passion for. I’m not saying we should try and do these things on a grand stage in front of a huge audience but why not try them on a small scale first. Why not (as I have mentioned it above in this post) try exercising and setting small goals to overcome, an example being losing a certain amount of weight in a certain amount of time. Or if you are struggling with issues such as depression then why not try experimenting with cooking recipes using the information I have provided with the links I have provided above to try and help improve your state of mind. Finally, an option that is my own preferred option that makes me happy; try expressing yourself in a creative way through writing (scripts, prose, poetry, songs). Why not try learning an instrument? Why not enroll in an arts class or maybe an amateur dramatics class? I am sure there will be plenty of information for local organisations online where these kinds of facilities will be available. If not then try speaking to specific charities and organizations’. Again I would suggest speaking to your local chapter of Headway UK who I am sure would be delighted to help you investigate where such local sports centre’s, organizations, clubs, societies and groups are and how to contact them to find out about different courses, lessons or meeting that take place.

The key thing is to find something that you can enjoy doing that gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Find where your talents are, embrace them and use them. The feeling you get when you are doing something you enjoy and it is yielding a positive result is an incredible one.

Peace & Relaxation

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Finally, I think that doing things that focus our minds, doing things that we enjoy and make us happy are a significant part of holistic healing. I believe that that lump in your throat and that feeling of heaviness in your heart that we feel so often after an ABI or TBI co-exist in the same part of you that explodes with happiness when England score a goal and the same part of you that brings a tear to your eye whenever you hear The Three Tenors –Turandot: Nessun dorma! They are just examples from my life, my point is that while there is sorrow that lives there, there is also passion, happiness and beauty in all of us. What we need to do is to find a constructive way to show our passion, our beauty and our happiness! When we can show that as well as absorb the beauty of the people and the world around us, while ignoring the slights of ignorant or unpleasant people and just continue living our life with good intentions and good morals and with gratitude. Then we shall be well on the way to being healed.I stress the importance of the wording, healed not recovered

ABI: Mind, Body & Soul (Day 3)

ABI: Mind, Body & Soul (Day 3)

Hi and welcome to day 3 of ABI: Mind, Body & Soul. As today is Thursday, my usual day for uploading a post I have tried to keep the subject matter in keeping with the focus of my weekly post regarding Life after an Acquired Brain Injury. So this week focuses on how different methods of thinking, different activities and ways of keeping yourself healthy, can help to fight off depression, the current subject matter I am dealing with in my regular weekly posts. I hope you enjoy part 3.

Mind

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Positive Thinking & Self-Affirmation

The main issue I have raised in my blog over the last two Thursdays (Mental Health: What We’re Dealing With, Mental Health: What We’re Dealing With (Part 2)) has been on fighting depression, mental health issues and keeping out and fighting negative thought patterns. Last week I gave depression a more thorough examination, providing tips for carers and patients on how we can help ourselves fight depression in terms of both lifestyle and mindset. This week I am keeping in tone with my previous post, of things that help the mind, body and soul during ABI recovery. This week’s post will be focused around the technique of self-affirmation and positive thinking, how I approach it and how it can be used to make real improvements and progress in tackling depression in day-to-day life.

What is it?

Well, it is exactly what it says. It is taking a small amount of time a few times a day to move away from the hustle and bustle of the world to a quiet place and tell yourself positive things, think positive thoughts and master both yourself and your thoughts. You would be surprised as the calming, comforting effect that this process has.

How To Master The Process

This discipline is a fairly simple one to master. It is a case of remembering or writing down things that you perceive as victories or accomplishments and recalling those memories and thoughts to install confidence and a feeling of positivity and control. I personally found that it is much easier to master in a quiet place, away from people or stimulation (TV, Radio etc. although I have found that listening to Mindfulness music has had a very positive effect on me. I know that these can be purchased either on CD or on iTunes). I sit down in a quiet room or in my garden (if the weather is good) in the morning, with my Mindfulness music playing or with no noise at all (advisable when you are first starting to practice) and think thoughts that give me sense of calmness, comfort, happiness and positivity or a sense of control (all thoughts we often feel are lost after a traumatic experience like an ABI or TBI).

It is a process I go through once in the morning and once in the evening. If you can or feel the need to find time, maybe during a lunch break if you’re working or after lunch if you are at home, during the day then I encourage you to do it. Installing that positive mindset has helped me get through many difficult days and often helps me sleep at night and get started in the morning and last throughout the day.

Positive & Self-Affirming Thoughts For ABI/TBI Patients

It can be difficult to think of positive things in the early stages of recovery so here are a few examples of my own thought processes that help me to get by and install those positive and more optimistic thought processes.

  • (Being Thankful) Considering my situation, if I look at the world around me, I see people who are far worse off after an experience similar to mine. Instead of looking at what I don’t have any more, look at what I have retained.
  • (Sense of Control) That I control my situation as much as it is possible for me to do so. I control my actions, what I say and the manner in which I behave. Therefore, to a certain degree, if I do these things responsibly the repercussions are in my control. However, they are only in my control to a certain extent. I only control a certain amount. If someone misinterprets what I say and takes offence to that, it is not possible for me to control how he or she reacts. It is possible though for me to learn. I now know that certain similar acts, statements, questions and behaviors can be misinterpreted. However, there is nothing I can do about the ones that have already happened. I cannot control everything, so don’t try to.
  • (Well Being & Positivity) Everything I do each day is done to the best of my ability and with the best intentions. I know that and I can feel good about that.
  • (Giving Yourself Credit) Given everything I am dealing with, I am doing incredibly well. I do my best everyday to live with something I shouldn’t have to. Furthermore I am setting goals and achieving them. I accomplish things everyday and I am damned good!
  • (The Past & Regrets) The past is the past. It’s as simple as that. There is no point going over things I should or shouldn’t have done or said. Unless the consequences of the action/inaction or statement can be repaired or you made better, don’t dwell on it. There is nothing you can do.

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If we can move past the negative thoughts and be able to maintain this positive frame of mind then it is a useful technique to pick you up each day and keep you in that positive frame of mind. Being in this positive mindset should, as well as energise you, enable you to engage better with people, go into social situations in a more open and positive state of mind and see more of the positives that occur throughout the day for what they are; positives and successes.

Body

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Relax Tea

NB: To anyone new to loose leaf tea you do need a proper teapot and follow the instructions regarding serving methods to get the best results. Also I must advise you to check the ingredients on the packets for information regarding allergies or for ingredients that could aggravate or exacerbate a specific condition.  

Relax tea is the perfect tea blend to drink if you fancy a hot cup of something before bed. It does have fairly strong tastes and flavours in there. As a novice I am not sure if this is correct but perhaps this is due to it being an herbal blend of tea. When I first drank it, I did notice two of the stronger flavours of aniseed and liquorice root that are present in the mix, as well as a slightly citrus taste coming from the orange rind that is also in their. But there is a subtle sweetness and floral aftertaste that I particularly enjoyed while and after I was drinking it.

I really did like the fact that Relax tea did exactly as it promised. It provided me with a clear mind, I felt myself becoming more and more relaxed as I continued to drink the pot. I did also, after a long day at work, feel the weariness of both body and mind begin to catch up with me. It does say on the back of the container that it should help with restlessness and sleepless nights. Well it certainly did that for me.

Of the teas I have sampled so far I would have to say that this one has been my favourite to drink. As someone who knows the difficulties of sleeplessness, anxiety and the inability to relax, having a beverage at hand that helps me to do handle and manage those things as well as having a delicious taste has been something of a revelation to me. So thanks Chelsea, I will definitely be ordering more of the Relax tea blend.

If you are struggling with issues regarding restlessness at night or are having trouble sleeping, order some of the Relax tea blend here: www.drjackson.co.uk/tea_relax.html 

For more information regarding teas of varying flavors and different properties and ingredients head over to Chelsea’s blog http://www.tastethetea.co.uk.    

Foods & Diet

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Food and diet can become a big concern when battling with depression. Two of the big signs that someone is depressed in fact is that they are either significantly over-eating or under-eating. Comfort eating is something that I struggled with particularly during my days of severe depression. It made me feel better when I ate things I liked, it gave me something to do and it was something I had to do anyway so why not go for it? When looking at our diet and the impact it can have on our health, our appearance (whether under-eating or over-eating), and anlysing the reasons we make the food choices we make, it can play a big part in how we feel in terms of our state of mind due to the vitamins and nutrients that are (or aren’t in some cases) present in what we’re eating.

If we over-eat and gain weight our confidence goes down, if we don’t eat enough we lack energy and motivation, that lack of energy can even cause irritability and irrational behaviour if it is something like a lack of blood sugars. Low blood sugars and energy levels can also have an impact on the likelihood of seizures if you are a person like me that suffers from epilepsy.

Experts have concluded that diet DOES play a significant role in depression and how it affects us. However there are foods that are readily available in every supermarket that, due to the vitamins, nutrients, fats and sugars can help our bodies and our brains become better energized by better fuel sources. By small changes in our diets we can improve the way our mind feels and keep that depression monkey off our backs. Foods such as fish containing fatty acids (mackerel, tuna), wholegrain foods (wholegrain breads and cereals) and low fat dairy products as well as green teas can have a hugely beneficial impact on our state of mind. For more specific examples and explanations follow the links below (the first link is a simple version, the second a more thorough examination on the effects of diet on depression):

  1. http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression-pictures/8-foods-that-fight-depression.aspx#02
  2. http://www.webmd.boots.com/depression/guide/diet-depression

Soul

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Being Charitable

When fighting a condition like depression, a condition that can suck any good feeling to do with self worth, happiness with who you are, things you do and things you achieve. Depression is a horrible condition to suffer from and a terrifying state of mind to be in. It’s like there is a vacant void in your soul that you can’t seem to fill up no matter what you try to do. I tried lots of things that didn’t seem to make a difference. I tried keeping a journal, I tried creativity and I tried to get involved in social activities. None of those things seemed to work particularly well for me. It was only really when I started this blog that I started to really gain some enjoyment from life again and I believe that was down to the fact that I knew I was doing something for other people. That is what has helped to fill the void in me.

Knowing I am giving something back gives me huge satisfaction. I realize I am only small time in the grand scheme of the Internet and the blogs that help so many people but I feel if I can get through to or help just one person each time a post goes up, I am filled with a great sense of achievement. It gives me a sense of confidence and a belief in my own abilities again. The idea of using this life changing experience I have had to help people just seems to make sense to me and really helps me to get through the day because I know what I am doing is not just for me, it is (hopefully) helping other people to.

If the idea of writing and raising awareness in that way doesn’t seem like your type of thing (I fully acknowledge that for many it wont be), then there are countless charities you can contribute to in other ways. You could donate to a particular charity in terms of financial contributions, you could volunteer at a local charity shop, you could do something as simple as bring a bag of unwanted items to the shop for them to sell or you could take a box of any unwanted food items, the ones that have been in the cupboard since it was first filled, down to the various food banks in the UK.

These actions of good will can be extremely fulfilling and the knowledge that you have done something good, that you are doing your best to help people can be an extremely uplifting way of drawing back the curtains and letting the light back in to your heart, soul and mind, to cast light on happiness that has for so long been gathering dust.

 

 

Socialisation & Engagement (Part 2)

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.

Exercise

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

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.