A Tool to Support You in Healing After you have received treatment, or are feeling better, and are no longer feeling like your concussed/traumatic brain injury (TBI) self, you may find yourself still holding back or saying the words “I can’t.” It was a traumatic injury, sometimes the recovery can feel traumatic as well. You may have had many months while healing from your TBI where you struggled with various aspects of your life, including but not limited to, calling in sick to work because of headaches, forgetting important events, not remembering a word during an important presentation, inability to run on your treadmill due to dizziness, and feeling too tired to take care of your kids. Subsequently, you learned to set limitations for yourself. For this reason, once you’re feeling like yourself again, it can be a difficult transition to the new you.
Acceptance is the ultimate goal with regard to the stages of grief, your TBI or concussion, and the new you. Acceptance is accepting who you are, where you are, how you are. This is it. This is YOU. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And you are truly amazing. Struggles and all. You are a survivor. No one can do it better than you! Acceptance may mean distancing from people who don’t understand, give you ultimatums, enforce deadlines for healing, or get upset with you when you aren’t who you once were. You are worthy. You are deserving. You are brave and amazing. You are different than you were before your injury, but different can be good.
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Many believe the five stages of grief last weeks or months, but according to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, the stages of grief are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. As a reminder, we do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may experience one, then another, and back again to the first one. Let each stage happen. Embrace it, learn from it, and then keep going. What is bargaining? Bargaining is a stage in the grief process that is helpful when you feel powerless over circumstances, especially after a brain injury. Bargaining is an attempt to regain control. Bargaining is frequently done with God, or a higher power, that you feel has some control over the situation. Bargaining is similar to negotiation. “I promise I’ll do this, or be this, if I can just go back in time—or have five more minutes or have one more day.” It’s interesting because you know all the bargaining in the world won’t help, but it doesn’t prevent you from trying, begging, “Please? I’ll do anything. I just want my brain back. I want me back! The way I was.” You want to go back in time—stop the accident from happening, put on protective gear, yield to that stop sign, put on your seatbelt. If only, if only, IF ONLY.
Depression, one of the five stages of grief, may be the most familiar, and frustrating, feeling experienced after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or concussion. And it’s not a fun one. Depression is a feeling of loss, emptiness, sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, and/or confusion. Depression as Part of the Five Stages of Grief After a TBI, typically you’re told to rest for days, weeks, maybe even months. A forced withdrawal from society, family, friends, work, school, everything. Then, once the rest period is over, you still may not instantly go back to the activities you’ve done in the past. You may find yourself getting lost driving to familiar places. You put food that belongs in the refrigerator in the pantry. You leave things in a very specific place to prevent losing them—only to forget where that place was! You read the same sentence seven times and still don’t understand what you read. You find yourself yelling at your spouse/children/friends for no apparent reason. You get a headache just walking across the room. The activities you used to enjoy may now cause you pain. You get dizzy running on your treadmill, and staring at your computer screen feels like torture. You may find yourself questioning your faith, your choices, your mindset, your abilities, questioning everything. Your TBI has changed your life. All of it.
After a traumatic brain injury or concussion, relationships can become strained. Communication can be difficult. Let’s be honest, thinking can be difficult. Sorting out your feelings and sharing them in a healthy way may feel impossible. After a TBI, the areas of your brain that affect processing, language, and word retrieval, can be affected. It takes extra energy and effort to communicate after a TBI. It may feel overwhelming or exhausting. The good news is it is possible to have healthy communication after a brain injury. It may take more effort and practice, but it is a real possibility. My memory struggles didn’t make communicating more difficult, but it did require me to come up with some simple tools to remember how to communicate effectively.
Anger is a stage in the grief process. Many times when we experience loss, or trauma, we experience anger, irritability, frustration, or even frequent annoyance. Anger is a healthy emotion, one we don’t necessarily like, but it’s not wrong to feel angry. Experiencing anger doesn’t say anything negative about us. We feel like just about anything could be the “straw that breaks the camel's back”. Anger is a common emotion most of us are familiar with, prior to injury. We frequently pretend we have control over it. After the injury, we recognize we may not be able to control it. Why do we have anger? Anger can cause us to do, or say, things we don’t mean, we later regret, and can’t take back. Anger isn’t the problem, it’s what we do with those feelings that matters. Anger can cause us problems, but anger is also beneficial.