Ok, first of all, sorry, but this is a complicated question that it is not possible to give a general answer to as every head injury is unique. But a traumatic brain injury is highly likely to make a permanent impact on your life. When researching how long it will take for me to get better, I read in various textbooks and websites that you will see rapid healing at first, but it will plateau after about 2-3 years. Taking this as the gospel truth I saw my mood drop considerably at the 2 and 3-year mark post-injury as I was still ‘not better’. However, I later learned that this refers to the physical healing of the brain and in fact, you can continue to make progress for many years afterwards.
My life changed instantly and massively the moment I sustained my traumatic brain injury (TBI) and for what seemed like a long time I was full of fear, uncertainty, anxiety and confusion. I knew there was something wrong, but I didn’t know what. Looking back, this was like a stage of shock and panic which I suppose is a natural reaction to such a sudden and traumatic change. It felt like I had traded the body I was living in for an older, faulty model, where not everything worked. Like I had bought a terrible second-hand car and the person I bought it from wouldn’t let me return it!
The TBI meant that my brain was much less able to deal with this change. However, the good news is that eventually I adapted to the change and my life became easier. The TBI meant that this adaptation was slow. I had, and still, do have good days and bad days, but I have learnt that providing I don’t give up then I am always going in the right direction. I am still experiencing improvements 12 years after my injury. I hope to read this in the years to come and that still be the case. Some things are out of your control, but one thing you are in control of is your attitude towards your recovery. A positive attitude goes a long way. I can honestly say from experience that the only times I have seen my recovery stop or start to go backwards is when I have thought negatively or thought about giving up, so definitely don’t do that!
Before you can start to recover, you need to accept what has happened to you. Whilst this process of acceptance can be quite depressing, you must remember that not everyone with a TBI recovers to the point of acceptance, so you’re not lucky (I hate that word), but you should still give yourself a pat on the back for that. What I needed to do for my sanity was to stop putting a time limit on things and giving myself a definitive deadline on when I was going to be ‘better’. Ask yourself if you even know what ‘better’ means and are you realistically ever going to get there? I consistently kept falling short of the high standards that I set for myself and constantly reminding myself I was not better didn’t result in a lot of positivity.
What really helped me was education. To better understand what has happened to you puts you in a much better position. I was given a recommendation by my Neuropsychologist to read a book called ‘Head Injury: A Practical Guide’ by Trevor Powell, which deals with some pretty complex issues but is written in a way that is easy to read and digest. I would thoroughly recommend buying it. It helped me to clear a lot of the fog of confusion.
Recovery from a TBI is certainly not going to happen any time soon. Stop aiming for this unattainable goal of ‘being better’ that you are forever failing at and inject some success into your life. Make a daily list of short term goals that are achievable, no more than 3 at first. Start simple with something like get 20 minutes of fresh air or eat 5 pieces of fruit/vegetables in a day and when you have completed it tick it off the list. Ticking something off a list gives a sense of achievement that replaces the usual feeling of failure and gives you the confidence to add a little more to that checklist. Get rid of that long term unachievable goal of ‘being better’ and replace it with smaller goals that you will achieve. Work towards achieving something every day, no matter how small, make sure you write them down, or you will forget and make sure you tick each one off the list with a thick pen!
Your recovery won’t happen fast, it will be a marathon, not a sprint. You are in it for the long haul, so you need to make the journey a more comfortable one. You need to change the way you do things. This can’t be done all at once so do this by starting slowly. Introduce one thing at a time and don’t add anything else until the last one becomes habitual. A great one to start with is making a list of 3 things you want to achieve tomorrow. Make a habit of doing this every night for the next day. Write down your list on paper and set a repeating daily alarm on your phone to remind you. Paper and phones don’t forget, you do!