In the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury (TBI), life can feel chaotic. There is so much to sort out, and doing so isn’t easy. By knowing what losses TBI brings, we can take action to turn loss into opportunity.
TBI can affect people more profoundly than (almost) any other injury. It can impact our physical and mental wellness, who we think we are, how we think, how we feel, how we act, and what we do. The brain is our control center, and when it is injured, we feel much of the damage in the form of loss.
Among the losses that people can experience after a brain injury are
• Physical abilities
• Feelings of wellness
• Confidence and self-efficacy
At the heart of all of this is the self, the feeling of knowing who you are and where you fit in the world (and where others fit in your world).
When it comes to TBI, some things don’t completely heal. Some people don’t fully recover movement. Others have permanent vision problems or concentration problems or difficulties with whatever functioning is related to the injured part of the brain.
That said, it is absolutely possible to triumph over TBI. You can turn loss into opportunity and create a life worth living.
How to Turn TBI-Related Loss into Opportunity
Once the dust settled (it took several years), I used my own TBI as opportunity to create the life I wanted to live. This didn’t really involve sweeping changes, as I had always been happy with my life. But it was an opportunity to intentionally shape my quality life the way I defined it despite the lingering effects of TBI.
To take charge of your life when you’re recovering from a head injury:
• Define and create a sense of purpose—what do you want? What are your values?
• Prioritize your losses. Which of the above loss areas is causing you the most difficulty?
• What will make it better (realistically, within limitations you might face)?
• Create a plan of action—what intentional actions can you take every day to move you toward your purpose and values?
Write down your answers in a way that is meaningful to you, such as on the computer or in a journal. Use colors and artwork, or keep it plain. Go with what makes your brain happy. Sometimes brain injuries interfere with memory, focus, and comprehension, so putting your reflections in writing can help you internalize and remember them.
Two Key Themes in Thriving After Brain Injury
As you work around the injury and losses, to re-create the quality life you desire and deserve, keep two important concepts at the forefront of your thoughts:
• Your SELF: Who am I…now?
• Action: Determined and purposeful, planned in order to move you forward toward what you value
To understand your self, who you are now, discover, observe, and embrace your character strengths. With TBI, it’s easy to feel your deficits, those losses of who you thought you were and what you thought you could do. That’s why it’s important to attend to your strengths, what you do well, and discover ways to use those strengths to create a quality life.
Keep in mind, too, a truth that is easily forgotten when you’ve sustained a TBI and are struggling to function and to find yourself: Despite the loss and the difficulties and the changes and all of the sequelae, you are functioning, and you can take action to move forward.
The loss of our sense of self after a TBI can be devastating; however, it isn’t the end. We have the opportunity to redefine ourselves and our goals.
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