1) Things that are planned go to plan
Something I still say to myself all the time is, “If I had planned it better, I wouldn’t be this stressed!”
When I do plan ahead, life is so much easier and less stressful. Get a weekly planner so you can see your week as a whole and plan what you want or need to do and spread your activities out through the week. Plan in a siesta (like the Spanish!), ideally 3 pm – 4 pm and put anything cognitive (involving a lot of thinking) in the morning and anything physical in the afternoon. Try not to do anything more than twice in a row, e.g., don’t exercise 3 days in a row as you will become exhausted.
If I wake up and follow a plan, I will be productive. If I don’t, then I will do things aimlessly thinking about how to be productive. Thinking tires me out, the morning is wasted, I end up tired and frustrated that I have done nothing, Long story short: make a plan!
2) Keep a diary
Keep a diary, honestly, you won’t regret it! Things from the past are so interesting to read, but even more so when you have a brain injury.
Reading a diary entry can tell you much more than the words written, it can also show you what you were able to deal with at the time. It can give an insight into your sense of humour (which was probably terrible!). The more details you can write down, the better. You can use it to compare yourself to now and see how much you have improved. We don’t really notice changes day to day, but if you look back a few years, the difference will be staggering! Trust me!
3) Make a video as evidence to look at later
Same reasons as above but even better. I was asked to do this about two years into my recovery, and I didn’t do it because I was shy about videoing myself and worried that I wouldn’t come across well on camera. That’s the point of doing it though, you won’t come across well because you’re not well! I really regret not doing this because now my memories of that time are very hazy.
Now in the age of camera phones, there is no excuse! It will be great to look back on in 5+ years and see how far you’ve come.
4) Be kinder to yourself. Compare yourself to you yesterday and nobody else
Being bullied causes massive amounts of anxiety any time that you are near the bully, but if that bully is yourself then you can’t get away.
I have had a neuropsychologist and also a therapist I saw privately that both said the same thing, that I need to be kinder to myself. I have always had a really low opinion of myself and see others as so much more advanced and more interesting than myself. This is probably because I’m comparing myself to people without a head injury, people that don’t have any neurological challenges, so obviously they are going to be faster and more efficient. As for being less interesting, well you’ve had a massive life changing injury, that’s what makes you an interesting person but its what you go on to do that makes you an inspiring person.
Stop aiming for perfection and the end product, change happens slowly, a bit at a time so don’t get stressed that you haven’t made a lot of progress but make yourself a to do list of all the things you need to achieve, write everything on there no matter how small and mundane. Aim to do one thing from the list per day, any more is a bonus but don’t go mad and burn yourself out but limit yourself to 3 things in one day. Your to-do list should always be changing with things being added and getting ticked off all the time. Keep it somewhere you can see it often (because if you have an injured brain then you will forget!).
Don’t worry about your progress, don’t worry that you haven’t done what others have done. Worry about being consistent and trying to tick 1-3 things off your lift every day. Worry about being better than yesterday, it won’t be fast, but if you stay consistent, then the change will happen.
5) Tomorrow is another day and remember it’s a marathon not a sprint
If you’re having a bad day then that’s probably what it is, you need to recharge your batteries! Don’t dwell on it and beat yourself up just do something calming for the rest of the day. Write a plan for the morning of one or two things that you are going to achieve tomorrow and don’t give yourself a hard time about only doing one thing because you have a brain injury. There will be a day you can do more, that is called a good day but if you could do ten things consistently then your injury wouldn’t be that bad!
Attempting to do anything cognitive when you’re in a state of frustration or stress will further exhaust you so nothing positive will happen, call it a day and work on being back to your best form for tomorrow.
6) Be as active as you can
Being active is one of the best things you can do for your brain. Someone once said to me that your body is not important and you should focus on your brain. It’s true that the brain is the most important part of the body, in fact it is the organ that consumes the most energy at around 20% of the body’s energy. That energy comes from your body in the form of oxygen and from your food. A fit and healthy body will be able to transport oxygen from your lungs and digest your food and transport the required nutrients to the brain faster. Think of your body as a network of motorways, the fitter you are and the better your cardiovascular system is the wider and the clearer the motorways are. The faster your brain will receive the fuel it needs to be at it’s best.
And the more active you are, the better you will sleep at night. The more energy you will have and the more refreshed you will be going into the next day. Monitor your activity by getting a step counter, there will be one on your phone and try to do 10,000 steps every day.
6.2) Eat well but don’t be greedy!
This goes hand in hand with being active. I can show you photos of when I have been really overweight and really under weight. I used to always think I needed some sort of eating plan and I would worry about how much I was eating and was I getting the right nutrients, get so stressed then go and eat a bowl of cereal!
Don’t try and over complicate things, every meal should contain protein (meat, fish, tofu, quorn) carbohydrates and as much veg as you want (careful if you’ve had a load of sprouts!). If you want to know how much then use the area of your fist as a guide, a fist of protein and a fist of carbs. Eat as many veg as you want (but like I said, go easy on the sprouts!)
Without any qualifications in nutrition, I have found a formula that works: don’t be greedy! That’s pretty much it! I sometimes have difficulty finding that ‘off’ switch. Brain injury causes a lack of impulse control, injury to the frontal lobe causes you to do things without thinking about it clearly first. This lack of control can cause overeating, over drinking or doing anything too much with a lack of self-control. I have been pretty big in the past and it’s been through over eating, I have to tell myself to stop before I’m totally full these days and remind myself that I’ll survive - I just don’t have to be greedy!
7) Don’t hide away
Living with a brain injury is hard, believe me I know! I am not good with dealing with more anxiety and stress now and I have had 15 years’ experience living with a traumatic brain injury. At first it is unbearable but if you take the easy route and hide away from social situations then it is really easy for people to forget about you, people become comfortable with the fact that you are not there anymore.
Fitting back into a social circle is so much harder so you have to put in some effort early on, don’t expect too much too soon. Any good friends will want you to be there and so will be understanding, keep hold of any friends like that. Nothing works for me without a plan so have a plan of how you are going to get there and back, even if you are enjoying yourself don’t stay too long.
8) Learn to be prepared and to be early!
There is so much more to say on this subject but people with a brain injury tend to be a lot more spontaneous but also a lot more chaotic, being prepared makes things go much more smoothly. If you have somewhere to be in the morning then wherever you can, get things ready the night before to make the morning easier. If your home is a mess and chaotic (which mine often is) have a little area which is clean and tidy, iron and fold the clothes you are going to wear the next day and leave them folded at the foot of your bed, have a towel ready, you can even pour your cereal and leave it on the kitchen top covered in clingfilm.
I like to be as fresh as possible so if I have to be somewhere and have to leave at 8:30 then I will try to be ready to walk out of the door at 8 and I will lay down ideally with my feet elevated for 25 minutes, brush my teeth and leave. The feet elevated thing I saw on social media, its apparently a Navy Seal trick to leave you feeling more refreshed in a shorter period of time. But whatever, it seems to work and the brushing the teeth thing is an extra little boost and leaves me feeling fresh.
This little routine leaves me refreshed and feeling good as I leave the house rather than leaving the house tired and getting a coffee on the way (and still being tired!)
9) It’s better to be good for a short time than just there for a long time
I often used to experience massive FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) so I would try to go to anything that I could to convince myself that I still had a social life. I would turn up for any event I could, often I would be exhausted and not really enjoy being there. I just thought I had to be when I didn’t enjoy it and I was exhausted, so I doubt anyone else appreciated my company. I’ve learnt since that the rule quality over quantity really applies, i.e., it’s better to be there for a shorter amount of time and be a better more enthusiastic version of myself than to just be there for the sake of it. The happy enthusiastic version of me is more likely to get invited back than the tired version that clearly doesn’t want to be there! Bottom line is ‘if you’re not feeling up to it then don’t go’, if you go when you’re tired and miserable then you won’t be invited in the future.
10) Don’t Overwhelm Yourself
A roundabout I go on in life is that I can feel like I’m not doing anything in life so I tend to take on a couple of challenges, realise that is too much, panic, give them up, forget why I gave them up then feel bad for not doing enough and take on more things only for it to happen again.
It happened about 6 months ago when I thought I wasn’t doing enough so I started learning Spanish two nights a week, I took on another big run, as well as working, its summertime so I want to sort my garden out, go for days out or have people over for BBQs. The result is that I get highly stressed about doing homework, I’m not training so I’m putting on weight, every so often going for a run out of guilt, garden is a mess and I’m not sleeping well. This tend to happen, if I’m stressed about one thing I don’t seem to be able to do anything.
I’ve decided to have a break from Spanish, it was overwhelming me and making me stressed to the point I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. In a week I’ve started running again, I’ve planned my weekly fitness plan and I’ve organised a barbeque. I feel so much better now, the problem was overwhelming myself, I just hope I’ve learned my lesson and won’t take on a load more, but I never know!