Do you have a brain injury? Here are 5 bits of advice from someone who’s been there, done it, forgotten it and done it again!
If you missed part one of this blog, you can catch up by clicking the following link:
1) Embrace the power of the power nap!
At first, I thought going for a nap was a sign of weakness, laziness or even just a psychological thing, but staying up all day definitely exhausts me!
The first time I became aware of power naps was bizarrely through George W Bush, remember the American President? Well, he used to speak of the benefits of having an afternoon nap. At the time, I thought nothing of it as I was a teenager, and energy wasn’t such an issue. However, being much older with a brain injury has really made me appreciate them! I have to be careful how I use them though; basically, don’t sleep too long and don’t rest too late.
To be honest, I rarely sleep on my ‘siesta’, but it’s just a case of having some downtime where I can switch off. Occasionally I do though, and I find that if I sleep too long, then I wake up really groggy, a feeling I can’t shake off for the rest of the day; that’s because I’ve fallen into a deep sleep. To prevent this from happening, I set a timer on my phone to go off after 40 minutes. This wakes me before falling into a deep sleep, which means I feel ok after a few minutes.
I have a rule where if it gets to 4pm and I haven’t yet rested for that day, then I don’t bother as it will stop me from sleeping at night.
I also steal little naps wherever I can, like if I am going somewhere on a morning, I get ready quickly then go back to bed for ten minutes before I have to leave!
2) Comparison is the thief of joy
By the way, I tell myself this all the time as this is something I still do! I compare myself to others that don’t have a brain injury; they don’t, I do, it’s stupid!
Don’t compare yourself to anyone. The only thing this will ever do is make you feel worse, so just don’t even start. When you think about it, actively putting your energy into something that will make you feel worse is stupid! Instead what you should concentrate on is trying to be a better person than you were yesterday.
3) People without a TBI won’t understand unless they want to, so don’t waste your time and energy trying to convince them
Those without a TBI have never lived with an injured brain and will try to give you ‘advice’ that will apply to anyone who has never had a brain injury. I’ve been told to “Get over it, the accident was (at the time) 4 years ago” and “You just need to forget about the fatigue, it’s all in your mind!” among many others since 2007!
I have let such comments bother me in the past and lost sleep over them, but for what? The important people in your life will make an effort to understand, but most won’t, that’s a fact. Those that make the effort care about you and those are the people you want in your life, value them!
4) My life has honestly improved since I started trying to be a positive person
This is not in any way meant to belittle depression at all, which is not a situation you can simply snap out of by cheering up. Depression is a seriously debilitating condition that should be carefully monitored by a professional. Please don’t think I don’t know because I have been there!
I’m talking about in general everyday life I have found great comfort in forcing a smile. I have found that I couldn’t just wait for things to get better. I had to try too. There is scientific evidence showing smiling can lift your mood, lower stress and boost your immune system (Google it if you want). Smiling causes a chemical reaction in the brain, releasing certain hormones, including dopamine and serotonin.
Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and aggression. Serotonin release is associated with reduced stress.
Low levels of dopamine are also associated with depression; dopamine release increases our feelings of happiness. Both of these you can get for free by simply wearing a fake smile! Try it the next time you go into a shop. Nothing scary, simply go in with a big grin and be polite and wish them a nice day. I’ve worked in a shop before; it’s boring, so cheerful people used to cheer me right up! As a rule, you should count your blessings and not your problems
5) Never give up
One of the early things that I read was that brain injury stops healing after three years. I remember hitting that three-year mark and not being anywhere near healed, which made me want to give up. I felt more lethargic and so low on energy which confirmed my fears.
That was around the time I started running again. I ran a 10k, then another, then another, before eventually running The Great North Run in 2012. This was the first big leap in my ‘recovery’, and that was three years post-injury. Others include moving to Manchester six years post-injury, getting my driving license back after six years and getting my job after 12 years. I have continued to make progress ever since my injury in 2007; the only time that I have stopped or gone backwards is when I have given up trying. The lesson I learned from this is never to give up! Even if it’s not 100% appropriate I really wanted to put a quote from Rocky Balboa in here:
“It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.”
Without a doubt you will look at your best and feel at your most confident when you are physically fit, you eat well, you slept well, your day is structured, you have a plan, and you are smiling!
So, I have had 13 years to perfect this; you would think that I am always looking and feeling my best, so am I? No, I am not and most likely neither will you! So why is that? Because nobody is perfect, life gets in the way, we are human, and we have a brain injury! All you can do is your best; the world will keep turning, pick yourself up, dust yourself off have another go tomorrow. As the great philosopher, Robbie Williams once said, “No regrets they don’t work, no regrets they only hurt!”
Don’t waste time worrying, regretting and comparing yourself to others. There is a sign in the Neuro Psychology Unit of Salford Royal Hospital that says, ‘don’t look back, you’re not going that way!’ which I think is perfect! You can’t change the past, but you can change the future! It’s never too late to start and just aim to be a better person tomorrow than you were yesterday! It won’t go away; it is something you have to live with, but your life isn’t over, a new one has just started!
What's your number 1 piece of advice for someone who has sustained a traumatic brain injury? Leave a comment below.