Once we begin to understand that something serious has happened to us, the first things we always want to know is, “When will I be all better?” Our natural reaction is to want to be fixed and have our lives magically to return to what we once were and what we once knew.
And we want to do it fast.
We are a society of fixers.
When your car is on the fritz you want someone to get under the hood and fix what’s wrong.
When you have a brain injury it makes sense that you would do the same sort of thing: get under the hood and fix those skills and abilities that are not working.
But your brain is not car, and you are not a machine.
Certainly, there can be any number of areas that need to be addressed, like the ability to live independently or to walk or remember, but we must realize there is no manual for being a human.
We start by going to therapies; occupational, physical, cognitive and speech, in order that we regain some of those skills and abilities. These are important pieces of living our lives after brain injury, but, we have to ask ourselves this: is that all there is?
Let’s think about this for a minute:
Sometimes we forget we are people with wants, needs, and desires, who want to live full lives. Instead, we focus on fixing ourselves: re-learning our skills and abilities.
When we set out to fix ourselves like this, which by the way, makes perfect sense, we are concentrating on the stuff that is most visible. We think of ourselves as broken, and doing this gives us a path to follow at a time when we desperately want reassurances and a routine to fall back on.
The reasoning is that once we get our skills and abilities back we will be on a track to recapturing our lives.
However, while it is important to be able to function properly in society, we have to ask ourselves the question: will relearning our skills and abilities allow us to live a fulfilled life? Our long term goal shouldn’t be just to be able to perform tasks and chores, but to put everything together so we can make ourselves whole again and function as human beings. That way, we can work to create a fulfilling life.
It’s All About Focus
I’m not saying to stop going to therapies or to forget about wanting to get better; you still need to “get under the hood” to reclaim your skills and and abilities, but what I am talking about is how we approach our lives after experiencing a brain injury.
What I am saying is that you might be better served not by focusing on fixing yourself, but on living and being yourself. Perhaps we spend too much time fixing what we have become rather than learning to be who we are. That is, maybe we should stop looking at ourselves as broken.
My idea is to stop focusing on what you are unable to do, but to focus instead, on who you have become. In order to do this we must give up some of our expectations that are based on how we used to be, and begin to adapt to our new abilities.
In my own situation, I turn my back on some things that I had earned before my brain injury, thinking that I wasn’t that person anymore. One thing in particular was an academic honor I had earned the previous year, but I decided not to accept.
It was so important that I not look at myself as being broken.
I wanted to learn who I was and be the best that I could be, and I tried to live my life deliberately and step-by-step. Sometimes that meant putting things off that might be fun to do other things that I knew would help me in the long run. The way I lived my life became important, as did the lessons I learned.
I tried to make the fixing always be relevant to my becoming a human being, and to fix myself not by focusing on it, but by integrating into my life. In this way, my life became my therapy.
The key for me was wanting to be a complete person, and not just someone who could perform all the tasks I needed. That required learning how to be comfortable in my own skin, not learning how to change my skin so it would fit the way I thought it should.
I really believe I’m richer for it today. By approaching my life this way I was able to turn my brain injury into a positive experience where I was always trying to move forward and discover who I was, rather than always having to fix what I thought was broken.
Thanks for reading, Jeff
robin luftig says
Great job on this post, Jeff! I look forward to reading (and reposting) your work. Blessings to you, dear survivor.
I read all your posts and I always find hope on them.
I really like this post. I’ve been thinking about this very topic myself lately. It is how I have been living and recovering for the past 5 years. My injury was 8 years ago. I really believe that living life this way had done more to help me recover than anything else. Living life intentionally, in the moment, helps me move forward and live a full life. Thanks for sharing.
Paul W. Giunta Jr. says
Jeff, THIS post I want to share with EVERYONE I KNOW in this World. They ALL told me “the old Paul has died”, and they keep looking at me and evaluating me to see if I’ve gotten back to the “normal” way I “used to be before my accident in 2006”.
THEY have the problem, NOT ME! I understand that I am different today than I was before my accident. I WANT to be different. There are things I was taught my entire life were correct, and I’ve learned since 2006 that they are INCORRECT, so I implement ways to remove them from my current life, and IMPROVE MYSELF every day, THE WAY I WANT TO IMPROVE!
When people I know ask me “what are you doing? or why are you doing that?”, they don’t understand the answer I give them, and attribute it as a PROBLEM caused by my brain injury. THEY are the ones who think I’m “broken”, because they do NOT understand my thought process.
I have days where I agree with a friend who told me she “hates people”. I also have day when I agree with my 73 year old Mother, when she says she wants to “buy an island” where she can escape to when she’s stressed out (which can be on a daily basis if her anxiety medicine isn’t working!)
I’m thinking of mailing out this post as a Christmas card from me this year, with a link to it emphasized in bold print!
Jeff Shaw says
I think the same.
I had a double Stroke in 2007.
10yrs ago ago I couldn’t walk or talk at 38.
Still can only just.
But my Stroke was the best thing that ever happened to me.
If I had my time again, I’d have the Stroke because of lots of thing.
I have done so much since, and it’s given me a real sense of purpose.
I started Give a Care in Australia to name just one
Danette Rowse says
Once again, your wisdom is inspiring. Thank you…
Jeff thanks for sharing. The article(experience) is very informative and inspiring. It is true that most us even those without brain injury spend most of our time in fixing broken pieces with in us instead of living life. We miss out a lot while we try to fix our selves.
Another excellent blog. Just what I need to read as leave the single track of rehab, and start to discover that I have a number of trains to look forward in the future. I know that I will always be coming back this track on some days, but I also not there are numerous opportunities still waiting for me.
Yes, I have a broken brain, but like a broken cup that has been stuck together, it still carries water and it will always ferry me to my life and future.
I am starting to enjoy coffee my cracked cup.
Thanks for your insights as they help me through this mist in my brain.
Have a good day.
Joanne N says
Thanks for the post. I was a Type A and spent the first few years of my stroke trying to get back the abilities I thought I’d lost. Instead I came upon acceptance and now I’m normal in a different and better way. Former friends may not think so, but I no longer care what they say or think…and they’ve become “former” for a reason.
Like you say, we need to concentrate on what we can do now vs what we used to be able to do.
Rolf Gainer says
Thank you for sharing your insight and how you moved forward with living your life. Clearly, you have resilience. I look forward to sharing your blog.
Cathy Frietsch says
You are amazing- this was such an uplifting and motivating read for me. I will cherish this piece and also be forwarding this on to others.
Thanks for these words. Came at the right time.