If you missed part one and two of this blog series, you can catch up by clicking the following links:
- Part 1 - 5 bits of advice from someone who’s been there, done it, forgotten it and done it again!
- Part 2 - 5 more bits of advice from someone who’s been there, done it, forgotten it and done it again!
1.) One thing at a time
You may have heard that women are better at doing two things at once; that’s not strictly true as nobody can do two things at once. What people mean by that is that women are better at dividing their attention between two alternating tasks. When it comes to dividing your attention after a brain injury, it is an area that you will suffer regardless of gender.
A good way to deal with this is to do one thing at a time. Do not start anything else until that is finished! Otherwise, you end up in this vicious cycle of starting something, getting distracted and starting something else. I have had really busy days ‘getting tasks done’ but in fact what I’ve done is begun several and finished none!
2.) DO IT NOW
This is how my dad would end all emails and text messages; asking me to do something, and even still occasionally now, haha! If I don’t do a task straight away, it generally doesn’t get done. That’s not because I had no intention of doing it when asked; it is because I have a concentration problem! If you have a brain injury, then you might have a problem with concentration too. There is a limited time that the information will stay in your head before it is lost. The ‘limited time’ that it stays in your head is not long at all so unless you immediately go to perform that task or at least write it down then it will not get done, regardless of how much you intended to do it.
3.) You can’t beat it, you know!
This relates to the endless ‘advice’ I have got from people that have no knowledge or experience of head injury. One thing in particular that they would advise me on was how my fatigue was all in my head, and I just needed to forget about it and get on with it! Well, they were half right because it was indeed in my head!
I suppose they just thought I was being soft and needed to get a grip, which of course would have been a solution that worked before my TBI but not after, as fatigue is far from fictitious and cannot be influenced by attitude. Just as a car needs fuel and to be well maintained to function correctly or it will simply break down, your brain needs adequate rest, and you need to eat, otherwise it kind of breaks down too. Fatigue has had a massive influence over my life for 13 years now, and it has limited or stopped me doing so many things, so if it wasn’t real, trust me, I would have noticed!
You really shouldn’t fall into despair as it’s not an end to everything, please don’t think that I haven’t felt that myself because I most definitely have. The truth is that you shouldn’t fight against it as it’s not something you can beat or ignore; it is just something you have to live with.
4.) A problem shared is a problem halved
If you’re worried about something, you’re constantly thinking about it, then that is a constant drain on your energy. There are things I’ve been really anxious and stressed about in the past; I lost sleep over it and everything! The moment I talked to someone that I trust, then it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
When you’ve got something on your mind as I did, it was constantly on my mind, keeping me awake at night, impacting on my mental health and because it was like a weight I was constantly carrying so it affected my fatigue. I chose the easiest route, which was to do nothing. Doing nothing though means that nothing will change and tomorrow will be the same as today. If you want things to change, then you must do something about it, and a great first step is to tell somebody about it and share your problem.
5.) Get to know your enemy and your body
In pretty much all the text that I have ever read on this subject it has claimed that anything cognitive (using your brain) should be done in the morning and anything physical should be done later in the day. I was told this in one of my early occupational therapy sessions but thought it didn’t apply to me; I was used to working late in a bar or being out late in, erm, a bar and that was when I felt at my best. I certainly wasn’t a morning person and that was a time of day I had always struggled with. That may have applied then but definitely not now!
It comes from the theory that in the morning your brain is well-rested but will tire as the day goes on, which I have found is just a fact I can’t get away from. There are times that I try to do too many things socially; I think that the more I do, the more fun I will be having. What happens is that I may be physically present, but that is it; I am too tired to make conversation or interact on any level.
I have got to know my body much better and realise that unfortunately, I’m not as youthful as I like to think I am anymore! I now know how much I can manage, and I plan accordingly. I work on a Tuesday and Thursday, not two days in a row as this leaves me pretty exhausted. I go to the gym on a Wednesday morning, I exercise on a Monday and a Friday, and I go for a couple of runs through the week. I always have a siesta in the middle of the day.
My enemy is and always has been fatigue. After 13 years, I have learnt what to expect from it and how to manage it. I think everyone that has a TBI will experience fatigue to some degree. Brain injury is a massive trauma, and after any trauma, you need to rest (a lot) as you need to heal, and you heal when you are resting.
Fatigue management is important for everyone, with or without a brain injury, you are at your best when you are rested and refreshed. You will find that your thinking is clearer and you have less brain fog. You have a finite amount of energy to expend on your five senses and think and move in a day, anything that involves thinking will drain your fuel tank. A full fuel tank is better than an empty one; it’s as simple as that!