Obviously, when you have had a brain injury, life changes; we are well aware that skills and abilities can change, but also personalities and temperaments can change, and sometimes we don’t even realize it. In general, we, as human beings can change…in a fairly big way. Nearly everything we do after our brain injury will be different than it would have been if we had done the same thing before our brain injury, and if not different in the details of exactly how it is done, our motivation and how we feel about what we do is different. Life isn’t the same, and it shows in how we approach and follow through on our actions.
One thing, though, doesn’t seem to change , and the fact that this does not change leads to problems and complications, and causes a great deal of heartache and confusion among survivors. What doesn’t seem to change are our expectations; our expectations of how we are, how we should respond and act, and the expectations of the results of the things we do. Somehow, most of us feel that changing our expectations is the same as giving up, or is just too hard, and so we plod on, doing the same things, sometimes not even realizing exactly what we are doing. Let’s take a look at this.
The creation of a brain injured individual is swift and sudden: there is no warning and there is no time for preparation. If only we knew it were coming, maybe we could somehow prepare our ourselves in a way that would make it easier. We’ve all seen how hard it is to adapt once the injury has happened. Maybe looking at it this way would help clarify the task in front of us. What would we do, and can we learn anything from the preparations we might make?
I would probably start by organizing my living space differently, make it uncluttered and clean, the way I would want my brain to be. I would get all my affairs in order, so that finding and understanding any important papers, plans or documents would be a piece of cake. I would simplify virtually everything, knowing that living was going to be much more complicated after my injury.
I would try to think of a way to prepare my friends and the people who are close to me, although right now I’m not sure what I could say to them that would communicate what was going to happen. Even though I would want to give them a heads up, I don’t think I would know how.
Everything I just wrote about, what I would do with all the stuff that I interacted with physically, would also apply to how I would have to clean out my mind. I can see now I would have to spend a lot of time preparing myself for such a huge change, but something else is becoming clear. I see there is something I know I have direct control over that would make my life less stressful; those are my expectations.
I could prepare my friends and relatives, and also my physical space, but what I really need to prepare is that part of my mind where I think about what I expect from others and from myself. This way I would be better able to deal with whatever comes my way, and by giving up trying to control things I can’t control, my energies would be focused productively on controlling my reactions, to both events and to others.
I would look differently at things like fulfillment, or success and failure. The way I measure these things would probably have to change, and if I was preparing for a TBI or ABI, I’d want to spend time looking at how I react not only to what happens, but also to what others say and do.
Some of the most debilitating effects of brain injury are the negative feelings that we develop about ourselves, and how these feelings and thoughts affect what we do. How we feel about ourselves is driven by our expectations, and thus, is one of the few things we can control. I realize now that I would have to spend a lot of time looking at what I expect from myself and others, and examining just how important those expectations were to me. The equation is very simple; I feel lousy if I don’t meet my own expectations, so what can I do to correct that? In order to feel more successful I would need more successes, and in order to have more successes I’d have to change my expectations of what success is.
This doesn’t mean giving up my dreams and aspirations, but it may mean changing them or examining them in order to either make them come true, make some semblance of them come true, or make something else happen.
The goal here is not to beat ourselves up all the time, either for things we can’t do that we think we should be able to, or for ways that other people act towards us. The ultimate goal should be to feel successful and productive, and we can start by making a very personal choice to change the expectations we measure success against so they are realistic and attainable. .