I was asked recently by someone who has had a brain injury for about a year if things ever get better? You know what I can remember being exactly like that, I just waiting to heal so that I’d be better. All I could think of was being tired all the time, forgetting things, being left out and being that poorly person for the rest of my life. The one that has to go home early, the one that everyone worries about I was so negative and felt like such a waste of space!
What happens is that after the initial trauma your brain is still in massive shock and you’re not able to think about things in any kind of detail because your brain is simply not up to it. As your brain begins to heal you are able to think about things in more detail, I started to become more interested in what had happened to me, why I felt the way that I did and what this meant for the future. The more I learnt the more depressed I became, I was devastated I lost all confidence I wore glasses now, put on weight, I grew my hair long, I had trouble speaking to people. I thought I was uninteresting and avoided conversations I didn’t want to inflict myself on them!Things seemed hopeless I couldn’t see any solution, was I going to be like this for the rest of my life? I was just waiting for someone to tell me its all going to be ok and everything will be fine. It was 2008 and social Media was in its infancy, everyone looked amazing and so happy and all I could see were lives that were better than my own. I didn’t sleep well, my skin was bad, I had put on weight, I was always tired, I could never go on holiday because the sun exhaust me, I could never go out drinking with my friends again, I was boring I wouldn’t have any friends anyway. My God I was a barrel of laughs! Moan Moan Moan thats all I did! You’ve got to think does complaining actually help? Does it make your life better in any way? We all know that person on Facebook that never writes anything positive and always complains about their sleep, how their life is so hard, the self pity person! You know one we all do! Do you want to be that person? Do you want to drain the life out of people? I hope you don’t!
It made me think about a lot of stuff and ten years on I realised that yes my memory is pretty much non existent, sometimes I feel as though I’m about as sharp as a wooden spoon! its not as bad as it used to be I do still get tired. Do I think about negative things every day? Do I think about things that I can’t do? No! I realised that moaning, complaining don’t do any good at all, in fact they only make the problem worse so I had to man up and slowly I started using strategies to overcome a lot of my problems. Nobody is going to fix your brain injury for you, there is no cure yet but there are things you can change to make your life better you start to do them automatically without thinking and life becomes easier I thought I’d share some things I do now to make life easier:
MEET OTHERS IN YOUR SITUATION: Look up local brain injury groups e.g. Check https://www.headway.org.uk/supporting-you/in-your-area/
Don’t ever suffer in silence! Type in your postcode and it will give you the services most local to you. There you will meet others make connections and learn that you are not suffering alone! There is so much to learn about your condition and here is a great place to start learning! When I was in Salford Royal Hospital I learned about a place called the Brain And Spinal Injury Centre, they have been an absolute lifeline to me and I still go to their Memory Workshop on a Wednesday if I can. It is run by an amazing lady called Dr Mary Todd and before she sues me I have to say that just a lot of the things I know about brain injury I have learnt from her!
DECLUTTER: You won’t be able to remember and keep track of as many things as you once could so make life easier for yourself and make things as simple as possible. If you’re a hoarder then this will be difficult but the less junk you have in your life and the more tidy your surroundings are then the clearer your mind will be!
This is a kind of ‘do as I say and not as I do’ piece of advice as it is something I battle with all the time I’d love to live in a pristine clean minimalist environment all the time but I don’t! I do know it is so much nicer to though. I definitely have a bit of OCD because i do things like if I scratch my left elbow I have to scratch the other and I like straight lines but I don’t have the obsessively tidy type. I wonder if you can train your OCD?
GET ORGANISED: You will never remember everyones birthday, plans you have made, when to call someone etc. If I’m told something, no matter how important to me it really does go in one ear and out the other. Instead of stressing yourself and trying to remember give the job to someone or something else because I tell you what won’t forget, a smartphone. Now I know they are the killer of conversations but they are so useful for someone with a brain injury, if you use the calendar and Notes and write stuff in there as soon as you are told it not in 5 minutes (because you will forget!)
Last week I got a text from an old friend from uni asking if we were still on for meeting for a drink the next evening? Thats when my stomach dropped because I had made other plans, as soon as it was mentioned I remembered discussing it but I didn’t put it in the calendar on my phone. My memory now is like being outside on a breezy day and things I need to remember are like pieces of paper. My phone is like a note board, if I don’t pin the paper to the note board (or put them in the calendar on my phone) I will forget them! Sorry Nick I didn’t put it in my phone!
DON’T THINK YOU’RE BETTER NOW: An easy mistake to make is to think that you don’t need the strategies any more and stop using them. Its just like having sensitive teeth and starting to use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth, the pain goes away. You think you are cured so go back to regular toothpaste and the pain comes back, you always have sensitive teeth so you shouldn’t stop using the sensitive teeth toothpaste and you will always have a brain injury so you should always use the strategies.
I was wondering what to write as an example because this has happened to me loads but I can’t remember! Then this morning I was in a bit of a rush so I drove to my GP’s appointment and stopped off at the gym, now parking is a bit of a nightmare near where I live so I parked in this little car park where you get an hour and a half for free. 90minutes is more than enough so I parked up and got on with my workout, now I should have set an alarm on my phone but I was happy that I would remember (can you see where this is going!). I did my workout and had a shower, walked to a mini Tesco where I live then bumped into someone else who is going to help me with public speaking before eventually walking home to see my drive empty. I left my car in the car park but by the time I walked there it was 45 minutes over and I was greeted by a lovely parking fine on my windcreen! I’d love to tell you this was the first time this has happened but lets not pretend that anyone is going to believe that! It happened because I didn’t use my strategy for remembering!
PREPARE: One thing I have lost is the ability to be spontaneous, my TBI has slowed down my thinking. Imagine your brain as a clockwork device, a kind of thinking machine and all the cogs well oiled and spinning fast and freely when you have a massive hangover can you imagine that some of the cogs are sticking and you are not thinking as clearly. Well thats what a brain injury is like, some cogs don’t turn at all and others turn more slowly I can’t ‘think on my feet’, I am probably as good as I ever was in thinking up a solution but I need time to do it and that is not always an option. For this reason I do my best to avoid an argument, every argument I have had with my girlfriend Sarah I have lost but of course I would have won them all if I had time to think! (I don’t think I am convincing anyone of that am I!)
When I first moved to Manchester I joined a big gym but I used to get stressed about going not because of any gruelling workouts but because of the light chat I used to have with the lad on reception. He always used to ask one of my least favourite questions like “what have you been up to?” or “what am I doing at the weekend?”. I didn’t have a clue what to say and I just froze! Its such a simple question requiring a simple answer but I couldn’t think what I was doing or remember what I did! The more I tried to think of an answer the more stressed I got and so the less likely I was to think of an answer. I went bright red, just mumbled something and went to get changed it was a wonderful experience! I had come to Manchester a couple of weeks before determined to really pick my life up, make lots of friends and make something of myself well I think its safe to say my first public interaction was a massive success wasn’t it! I showed confidence and charisma as I went bright red, stuttered and ran off when asked what I was doing at the weekend.
So that didn’t happen again I started checking my diary to look back over the past week before I left the flat. The next time I went to the gym I went in fully prepared and had quite a long conversation with the lad on reception, as I write this I realise how stupid it sounds but I felt quite victorious the day I conquered simple chitchat!
My traumatic brain injury has caused me some strange problems over the last ten years and no doubt will do for you as well. Every TBI is different and will come with its own problems I hope you enjoyed that I have loads to say on this matter so I am doing this in parts. I want people to join in on this I know lots but I’d still like to learn more. If you know any strategies that help you then please share them in the comments below and maybe you can help someone else or me! Please leave me a comment below or if you’re welcome to send me a message on my Facebook page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to hearing from you!