7. Find That Happy Place
Take a minute and think.....where is the happiest place you've ever been? So, now that you have that place remember how you felt when you were there. I'll bet it has put a smile on your face and maybe even a little warmth in your heart. Well, thats the goal of the happy place. When things are getting to you and you just need to get away but, you can't just leave, then you leave mentally. Go to that happy place in your mind and relax, think about the things you did there, the sound, the smells, anything that helps you go there and relax. You can't run away from your problem, you must eventually confront them. The happy place is just something to allow you time to refocus or calm down when your feeling stressed. Once you've calmed down and feeling more relaxed then you can refocus on the issues at hand and move forward. Remember strategy 1 is accepting your injury. By moving forward you are accepting. The happy place can be used anytime you need a mental getaway not just when dealing with your brain injury.
10. Begin With The End In Mind
Once you've chosen to accept responsibility for your brain injury you are ready to move forward with your new life. So what's next? Begin with the end in mind, but what does that mean? Simple, what are your goals now that you have this brain injury as part of your life. Things have changed so what you want will change as well. Sometimes, the rehab can be very hard to deal with because some of the exercises don't seem to make sense. So when you start the rehab ask what is the goal of each exercise? From there you can then begin with the end in mind. For example, once I got mobile after my accident one of my rehab goals was to be able to go for a walk longer than 5 minutes before I got dizzy, nauseous and sick. My thought was, how the hell is this helping my brain injury? So I resisted and complained. Finally, during one of my angry outbursts I asked, how this was going to help? It was explained that building physical stamina releases endorphins which help the brain. From there, we set a plan with an end goal of being able to walk 30 minutes each day without being completely wiped out after the walk. I eventually achieved that goal and then set a new goal. Now, my days consist of goals some long term some daily and some hourly. This gives me purpose each and every day and that's important when living with a brain injury. It's easy to fall into a pity party and from time to time you will but, I even have a goal for that. Make sure your new life with a brain injury has purpose each and every day! Begin With The End In Mind.
My goal in this section is to share strategies I've learned over the years and any new strategies I hear about. If you are living with a ABI it is important to have strategies to help you cope and minimize your frustration. It is also very important to be open to new ideas.
8. Power Down When YOU Need To
This strategy becomes easier once you've accepted your brain injury but still require diligence. When you are feeling drained, frustrated, angry or just "off" it's time to power down. Take a break from what you're doing and relax, go to your happy place, take a nap or just find a quiet place and refocus. Do what you need to do to feel better mentally and/or physically. If you don't, then your situation will likely get worse and you will most likely feel worse about yourself. Your are going to have these negative moments and you need to know your body and understand how it reacts to these situations and then remove yourself and power down. If you do this consistently you will find these events will not seem so intrusive and that will help you feel better about your overall self.
That's The Power Of Power Down!
Driving for me is becoming a thing of the past. Since my last injury, I rarely drive myself anymore because it makes me very sick to do so. I only drive myself if it is absolutely the only option. When I do drive, the motion, turning my head and the oncoming traffic give me a nauseous vertigo feeling and as a result my headaches also spike. But, if I need to drive I do have some strategies.
a) I don't change lanes unless I absolutely have to which means less shoulder and mirror checks. Give yourself plenty of time that way you won't rush and therefore you won't feel the need to change lanes.
b) I try to mirror check by just moving my eyes slowly and limiting the amount I move my head.
c) I give myself lots of time to change lanes or turn so I can move my head very deliberately to minimize the vertigo affect.
d) If at any time while I'm driving I start to feel anxious I pull over, turn off the vehicle, close my eyes and wait for the feeling to pass.
e) If I'm feeling really rough when I'm ready to go I'll cancel my appointment and reschedule, don't put yourself or anyone else at risk trying to push through.
3. Your Smart Phone and You
If you live with an ABI you most likely you have some memory issues, I know I do. The thing I find interesting is how many people have a smart phone (can't really buy a non smart phone anymore) but rarely use all the features of that phone. As an example, when we go to the doctor and have to book a follow-up appointment, the nurse gives us that little card with the appointment details. I know if that's what I counted on to make my next appointment I would miss it because I would forget I had the card or where I put it. So when I book a follow-up appointment I stand there and create an event right in my phones calendar and then repeat it back to the nurse to ensure I have the details right. And if you're worried you are taking up valuable time of the nurse just politely tell her/him you need to do this to avoid forgetting the appointment, they will understand.
Daily journalling is important because you can't remember everything and it helps you identify any changes you may being going through. Try to rate your symptoms at least a few times a day as they tend to be all over the place. Here is a example of journalling.
Another shitty nights sleep for the second night in a row! Nothing in my life has changed other than maybe being a little more worried about our money situation. All I know is now I am feeling really rough. Headache 5.0 ears ring 5.0 eyes 4.5 Dizzy 3.5 nauseous 3.0 tired 5.5. Unfortunately, certain chores can't wait for me to be feeling good, like cutting the lawn. By the time I got the lawn finished I thought my head might explode. I couldn't wait to sleep and when I finally did I was wrecked. Headache 6.0 ears ring 7.5 eyes 6.5 Dizzy 5.5 nauseous 4.0 tired 7.5. I slept for about 80 minutes and feel only marginally better. I am now just sitting on the deck relaxing but I still feel sick. Headache 5.0 ears ring 5.5 eyes 5.0 Dizzy 4.5 nauseous 4.5 tired 5.0. The balance of the day didn't get much better. We watched a movie and then went to bed. Headache 6.0 ears ring 7.5 eyes 7.0 Dizzy 4.0 nauseous 4.0 tired 8.0
Even though this may seem to be negative, it in fact just lets you look at things for what they are at the moment. Then, over time, you will start to see improvements and the negative feel gets replaced with hope. That's what journalling is reality and hope.
4. The 10 Minute Rule
It is so important to do as much as possible to stay active. For me all I can do is walk without getting really sick. My walking is split into 2 walks a day with my dogs Iggy (as in Jerome Iginla)and Chico. My daily goal is 8,000 steps but, if I start my walk feeling sick I have the 10 minute rule. The rule is simple, once I start the walk I must walk for 10 minutes before quitting because of how I may feel. So that means I walked for 10 minutes and it takes 10 minutes to go back home so I've then had 20 minutes of exercise even when I feel sick. Don't get me wrong this can be really hard to do when you are feeling like crap but once you get into the habit it does get easier. Emotionally you feel better about yourself because you were active for that day which is all that matters. Physical activity is important for your body and mind, find something you can do and stick to it every day, you'll be surprised how it makes you feel.
5. Taking Light Not So Lightly
One of the things I struggle with is light, any kind of light. So, I recently renewed my eye glasses prescription and this time went with permanently tinted lenses. This now helps with the management of light as every light source is somewhat muted and therefore helps a little with my headaches. If you're not able to get the glasses then wear sunglasses inside if it offers relief. That's what I use to do when I worked and every once in a while someone would try to tease me and my standard response which you are welcome to use was "my futures so bright I gotta wear shades!" There is nothing worse than feeling lousy because of the light of a sunny day, do what you gotta do!
9. Be Proactive
This habit is about change within you. Accepting the new you. Only you can change you. A brain injury is frustrating which impacts the quality of your life. Brain injured folk can improve their lives through the things that they can influence rather than by simply reacting to external forces. We as brain injured people have others trying to make us feel better by saying things like "I forget things too" or "I get dizzy when I don't eat". In fact, those things for most of us can be more of a source of frustration than a source of inspiration. But, they don't have to be. A proactive person understands that people want to help and by saying things that in their mind are helpful are in fact frustrating. Knowing that, you can have a standard answer that will acknowledge their kindness while not offending them and minimizing your frustration. Having strategies for the changes your brain injury has caused is also proactive. If you have memory issues then you use tools to help you remember such as a smartphone, a post-it or a pad and pen you carry with you. You have recognized the issues and you have planned ahead to deal with the issue if it arises. THAT's PROACTIVE!
The following strategies are my take on one of my favorite books;
7 Habits of Highly Effective People
11. Put First Things First
This one can be really tough because it's all about you and not those people around you, I'll explain. For about the first year after my accident all I could do was worry about how my wife and kids were doing because I was the "man of the house" and should be taking care of them. Because of those thoughts I was not moving forward in my recovery. Then one day while listening to another ABI person in a group session it hit me, I actually had a brain injury and needed to focus on that so I could get back to taking care of my family. So I put first things first which in this case was taking care of me, and that's tough but it was key to the beginning of my recovery.
If you can't accept your injury you can't move forward and heal both mentally and physically. It's not called the invisible injury for nothing, because to everyone even the survivor you look fine. So the survivor doubts if the symptoms are real or are they "all in my head?" The funny thing is, they are in your head but not in your imagination, THEY ARE REAL! It doesn't matter what anyone else says or thinks, if you've been told you have a brain injury, you do. Any external injuries will heal and everyone including yourself will see that, but the healing of the brain take time, lots of time and may never completely heal. Your first priority is to accept the injury. It took me 2 years to accept mine and amazingly once I did, my internal healing really began. My outlook improved, my strategies began to work and the hopelessness left me. 18+ years later I still live with the symptoms but they don't rule me. Why? Because, I've accepted my injury. You can too.
12. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
One of the hardest things with an ABI is letting go of the old you and accepting the new you (changes). How do we accept any change? We ask questions and learn how the changes will affect us. Again, let's us my lousy memory as an example. Once I accepted and understood my memory limitations I then began to conduct myself I ways that didn't put my memory front and centre. I use alarms and I ask people to email or text me information instead of telling me. I am now so aware of my limitations that they no longer feel like limitations, they are just a part of me. Do I slip up from time to time? Of course I do but so does everyone else. I UNDERSTAND THAT!