Wouldn’t it be something to start the New Year off without that nagging, ever-present feeling of doubt? Just think what life would be like without those voices in our heads questioning and second guessing every decision we make?
It’s true that one of the fiercest battles we, as TBI survivors, find ourselves engaged in, is the battle against doubt. After a Brain Injury, self doubt creeps in on us, spreading like rust, rotting our confidence and certainty to the point where we become frozen; unable to act, react, or make decisions.
The brain injury itself does not necessarily create the doubt in us. Much of the doubt we feel is a by product of having so many of our abilities, and so much of our past, ripped away. Since we can no longer rely on either our bodies or our minds the way we used to, we constantly doubt our abilities and perceptions, and this is made worse because our wiring does not work the way we have become accustomed to.
The doubt we feel affects us like this: just as we are trying to find our place in the world following TBI, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to make decisions and take actions . On top of that, the idea of actually taking a risk seems incredibly far-fetched and destined to fail. We want to act, but doubt has surrounded us like the green slime; freezing our feet to the ground, and locking us in agonizing powerlessness. Doubt is paralyzing. It is deadly and all-pervasive, and after a brain injury it oozes uncontrollably from every pore in our body.
Also, often that doubt is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you doubt yourself to begin with, and then things go wrong, you say, “See? I told you so.”
What should we do? How do we fight back?
Well, let’s first take a look at what that doubt actually is. The doubt we feel is insidious and deep-rooted. It is not going to just disappear by saying we should doubt ourselves less. The doubt we feel only took the instant of your brain injury to make inroads into your psyche, but now it’s there, firmly ensconced, always ready to pounce when you have to make a decision or undertake an action . The tough thing is there is nothing you can do to actually rid yourself of the doubt; you have to work around it.
“Hmmmm,” you think as you scratch your chin thoughtfully, “Work around it? I want it gone.”
Sorry. Won’t happen. Just like your brain injury, some element of doubt will always be there. The doubt will be lurking, like a thug hiding in a dark alley, waiting for the right time to pounce, and you need to be aware of that in order to beat it. Doubt will be waiting for you to mess up, and when you do, doubt will sit there, holding its belly while it laughs, shrieking, “There! I told you so!” The trick is you have to figure out ways to overcome the doubt, and replace it with confidence.
You need to be stronger than the doubt. How? Although it seems a little backward, fighting doubt isn’t the battle we need to concentrate on. We fight doubt by regaining our sense of self so we feel whole again. Only when we have won the long battle to win back our self-confidence and our sense of self can we move forward in such a way that doubt is not a hindrance. When we focus solely on getting rid of the doubt, we neglect the bigger picture. The bigger picture is how you, as a human being who has been through a traumatic experience, can recapture the feelings of trust and belief in yourself.
Recapturing the ability to trust and believe both in yourself and what you are doing, will enable you to overcome the doubt. That, however, is a big job. Trusting yourself is a difficult thing to do after a brain injury. We need to start small and work our way up. Start by trusting your instincts. You were born with these and developed them, and they didn’t leave with your brain injury.
Develop a map of your values, or standards you follow in life so you learn to trust your ability to do the right thing. Start by taking on, and winning, small battles. Develop a “way to be” based on your standards and values, and learn to be consistent so you and others can trust your behavior. Erasing the doubt is all about re-establishing yourself as a vibrant human being. The road is long and tedious, and you’ve got start with small victories to build yourself up to a point where you can trust and believe in yourself again.
Again, that trust and belief didn’t leave your body as a result of your brain injury. They are simply on vacation waiting to be called back to work when you are ready. Together, trust and belief will help to restore the confidence and the core beliefs you need to overcome the doubt.
Doubt … That’s a powerful word that describes me. Just yesterday I had to be rescued from the grocery store . I was unable to shop. My moped accident happened 6-21-13.
Jeff Sebell says
I feel for you, Pam. The doubt is so tough, and it is especially strong early on, when this huge change is so recent. I wish you the best in finding your path and overcoming the doubt so that you can live a fulfilled life.
Ric Johnson says
Gaining the upper hand on doubt is a long, long ride. But we can, I know I did, start believing in ourselves once again. I called my doubt as self-preservation, and it took maybe 3 – 4 years, before I started thinking “I can do it” and then follow though. My injury was 10+ years ago, doubt still comes in once in awhile, and when it does I was look carefully at the task at hand and figure out how to proceed.
Anne Grady says
It’s been 4 yrs since my injury. I had been a music teacher, now on disability. Overcoming doubt I auditioned for a solo in my community chorus and sang this weekend fulfilling a dream I never thought possible. “Start by trusting your instincts. You were born with these and developed them, and they didn’t leave with your brain injury.” I have reconnected to ME! Yes I needed to sleep extra hours, see my PT for a treatment and depend on my husband for dinner, breakfast and friends to drive me BUT I sang!!!
I want to go back to school, but I’m scare that I can’t do it. I had A’s in account before. I’m a survivor of 26 yrs. I was in a marriage where he used my injury against me. He had me thinking that I couldn’t do anything. Between that and the TBI its hard to believe in myself a lot of the time. I have a 16yr old son with asperger’s also. I have to be strong for him. I’m so exhausted all the time that I am afraid that I couldn’t even do an online school. I know I can’t handle the on campus. I drive a bus to supplement my disability check, so I would have to drive 35 miles inbetween bus run. I can’t do that.That I know for a fact. 🙁
Thanks Jeff, always great to hear insights from a survivor of so many years. Sherie perhaps your knowledge of what you cant do at this stage is your instinct and you should be confident in what is obvious to you, and focus on what you can do within the limitations you currently have. Brain injury survivors can be ‘pushed to fail’ and push ourselves to fail. Its not about rushing out and thinking we can do anything, As Jeff said it is a long tedious journey with little victories. You are courageously dealing with a lot and have already dealt with a lot, by leaving a situation you felt diminished you. You will do something worthwhile, you are already achieving something major, by supporting your boy with asbergers! But it likely wont be exactly the same as your path before. Take care. Sometimes doing less and pushing less works, and brings clarity, if you can.best wishes.
Debbie Catarius says
This hit home for me. Doubt… what a word. I stay strong for days sometimes weeks, then that word sets in, almost like the plague. Sometimes the effects last days, but it’s better than the weeks that it used to be in the past until I start fighting to figure out me, but today is a big “doubt” day. My brain injury was in 2007, but it feels like it wasn’t that long ago, I’m loosing time. My main difficulty is recognizing the difference between “limitations” and “self-doubt”. They are very close indeed. When I realize a “limitation” I might have now due to my BI, I feel defeated and useless. I have to pick myself up all over again and give myself some credit for where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. I should be thankful I am here, never mind have the ability back to be able to think things through for myself. Thank you for your words.
Scott Chapman says
What if the injury when you were little before you got the chance to develop your instincts? In my case my injury was an ABI caused from having a tumor removed when I was 8.
Scott Chapman says
Let me add that I am 48 now.
Yes Jeff, that is what is stopping me from getting my learners permit so I can relearn to drive a vehicle, I’m afraid my retention skills aren’t good enough to take the written exam 🙁
Well said, Jeff! I have problems with doubt because of my filters and because I am more emotional. My filters have come a long way, but are not what they were, and my emotions have eased. However, I can’t always hold myself back, so I have to ask my spouse which makes me feel dependent. So when I’m feeling emotional I’m finding it is better to lay low, take some time and see if I feel differently later about saying something.
Doubt- you make it sound like we all doubt everything.
I always try but yes it is not doubt crab happens
I have had two major falls both my brain could not function properly to help me get up. One I was in the street and sidewalk just so happen a dr came by looked me in the face and realized I could not get myself up. He talked to me and helped the motions start. I could have been hit by a car. Doubt I had no doubt I could go for that walk, but I have to know the limitation of my brain functions that is not doubt. That is knowledge of your brain does not work the same even though I try.
Jeff Sebell says
Thanks for reading and responding.
I read the blog over, and you have a point, it may seem as though I could have been saying,”we all doubt everything”, as you say. You also bring up another good point through your story, things happen. Also, that knowledge of your limitations is no doubt, it is knowledge, and even if you have this knowledge you may not be able to avert bad things.
So wonderful to come across this. I have documented cognitive brain injury with unconfirmed cause. The whole experience was terrifying. I now am recovering but live alone with no family and very little personal support. I am going to college to try to help my brain “rewire” so I can get back to work. I can no longer do what I used to do. I have been dealing with doubt and so was reading online about it as it relates to TBI. It is just very comforting to hear from others who “get it”. There is a certain loss of self that goes with this and the recovery journey is full of curve balls, if you will. Thank you so much for sharing your journey! It is nice to confirm we are not alone.