We lose much when we experience a TBI. There are lots of small losses; skills, abilities, etc., which, together, make up a much larger loss, the loss of ourselves.
While it’s necessary and important to learn and relearn things to correct those small losses in order that our lives work and we function in society, our family units, etc., we need to go beyond this in order to learn how to be a human being and live a fulfilled life.
Yes, learning or relearning tasks is important in the sense that this allows us participate, feel whole, worthwhile and a member of society, but just learning the tasks and tools we use in life is not enough; beyond that there is the need to be able to use these tools appropriately, correctly, powerfully, and with purpose. Only by regaining our sense of self and our ability to function as human beings, will we be able to come full circle and be able to use these tools as they were intended.
As individuals, pre-TBI,we are all equipped with our own toolbox; those physical and mental abilities that make us who we are and play such a large role in our daily lives. We grow up with these tools and learn how to use each; whether it is humor, empathy, mathematics, walking or singing. A brain injury plays havoc with our toolbox: some tools are left bent and contorted and some are lost for good, while others get misplaced temporarily, and we need to find them and reclaim them.
We need to find a way to either repair these tools, find new ones or develop workarounds for tools we no longer have. That is an all-consuming job, and requires nearly all of our waking moments, especially early on after a brain injury.
Somehow, in addition to rebuilding our toolbox, we need to find the time and energy to do the things necessary to regain our humanity and sense of self; which involves knowing when and how to use these tools. The reality is that, with all the urgency around learning and relearning the skills necessary to live, reclaiming our sense of self is not always a priority or even thought about much.
But our sense of self is important because it is our guidepost or compass, directing how we use our toolbox, and who we are in the world.
There are steps we can take to reclaim our sense of self. Quite simply, these steps are; 1) Resetting zero, or beginning again from a place where we have no expectations, 2) Discovery, or the opening up of ourselves to experience life in a way we haven’t before, 3) Erasing the doubt, by finding a way to trust and believe, and 4) Turning off that Brain Injury Control, or learning how to live without being controlled by your brain injury.
Those of us who have experienced a brain injury don’t return to our lives the way we lived them before our TBI. In fact, I will go so far as to say that there is no such thing as “recovery”. While you may be able to return to aspects of your life, there is no way everything is the same; nor should things be the same. However, even though you have had this life-altering experience, you can flourish and live a fulfilled life. The important things aren’t always what you can and can’t do, it’s how you look at yourself, and how you are as a person that determines your level of happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment.
That is why my focus is on survivors regaining their humanity and purpose, as well as on finding their “place” in the world, where they know themselves enough to find this place where they belong and can flourish. This may look very different from the way you thought about your place in the world, pre-TBI, but it is a spot you call your own, belong to and feel comfortable taking risks in.
Having experienced a brain injury, we need to go through these stages in order to really discover what and who we are. There are no shortcuts.
Although I have touched on some of the important points here, I am able to talk about all of these in a much more effective and detailed way in my book, “Learning How to Live with Yourself After Brain Injury”. If you are interested in finding out more, please click here.