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Five tips to help you accept your new life with a brain injury

A traumatic brain injury is life changing and learning to accept your new life with a brain injury can be challenging. Many aspects of your life change overnight, you feel like a completely different person and it’s scary not knowing if you will ever recover, or what brain injury recovery may look like for you.

I have been living with my brain injury, post-concussion syndrome, since March 2018. Read on and I’ll share my experience and give you 5 tips to help you accept your new life with a brain injury.

My struggles to accept my new life with a brain injury

Accepting my new normal with a brain injury has been a challenge. I’ve had to grieve for the person I used to be, for the life I had before my brain injury and it’s been difficult not knowing if I would gain the same physical and cognitive abilities I used to have.

 

Anne Johnston sat on a rocky ledge on Quinag, Assynt

 

I remember my physiotherapist asking me at 6 months after my accident to set a goal and it was to climb mountains. I was told I needed to set a more realistic goal. I thought if I couldn’t aim for that well what was realistic for me? At that point I was learning to walk using parallel bars. After 10 months of physio I still need crutches to help me walk and I still want to climb mountains. It may take me a few years to get there but I’m not prepared to give up on that goal.

I have learned that there are other things I can do with my physical abilities, things I never ever imagined would be possible for me. Keep reading to find out more.

Accepting my new normal with a brain injury hasn’t been one decision. I didn’t wake up one day thinking that I was fine with my new life. Job done. I slowly became accepting of the new me over time but like grieving for a loved one that has died, you really do go through a process of grieving the old you and acceptance.

I never know when my emotions will hit and I’ll struggle with acceptance again but it’s happened enough times for me to know that it will happen again. I know that I’m strong enough to let the emotions come and go and I will feel ok again.

 

At the start of the 2020 I did a bit of reflecting as we often do. Not only did we have a new year but also a new decade. I was feeling low, like I’d lost my zest for life, that fire in my belly and that spirit of adventure that I used to have. I reached out to the brain injury community on Instagram and lots of you warriors were so kind to leave comments and send me messages with how you accept your new life with a brain injury. Achieving a goal in the gym really gave me a lift and made me realise that life really isn’t so bad.

 

How strength training helps me accept my new normal with a brain injury

Last summer after my physiotherapy ended I hired a personal trainer, Alanna Donaldson at Results Gym in Forfar. To begin with I could only do 3 reps of the lightest weight on the seated weight machines. Yip, not 3 sets, just 3 repetitions!

Before my accident I went to spin class 3 times a week, I hiked mountains and I’d just started a weight-lifting class. I was physically fit so it felt like a real kick in the teeth seeing just how much my physical abilities had changed. But it also felt great being in a real gym, rather than the hospital one, and I was determined to put in the work and get stronger.

Over time we kept working away, setting little goals and recently I hit a really big goal. In December I leg-pressed 100kg which felt amazing. I then set myself a goal to leg-press 150kg by the end of 2020. I felt like adding an extra 50% felt achievable for the year. Little did I know I’d achieve my goal in the first week of the year. I was absolutely buzzing!

 

Strength training has given me back the sparkle in my life and made it easier for me to live with my brain injury. Yes, there are times when my post-concussion syndrome symptoms stop me going from the gym. And yes, I find it difficult when my body doesn’t move the way I want it to and my speech goes really slow. But when I see and feel my body getting physically stronger it’s incredibly empowering.

I’m around 54kg so I’m leg-pressing nearly 3 times my body weight. Never in my life did I think I’d be leg-pressing 3 humans and that’s with a brain injury. It feels freaking awesome! So as much as I have a lot of struggles and things that I can’t do, I prefer to focus on the things that I can.

 

5 tips to help you accept your new life with a brain injury

Now I’ll share my 5 tips to help you accept the new you with a brain injury. I’ve also done a video too which you’ll find below:

1. Find something new that you enjoy and challenges your brain

I like to see my life since my brain injury as evolving into the new me version 2.0 and you can do that too. For sure, for many months I fought against it and hated living life in the slow lane but now I embrace it.

Try out new things and find something that you really enjoy that gives you a challenge too. For me it’s strength training but it’s so personal it’s really up to you to decide. Why don’t you give yoga a go, or puzzles or sudoku? You don’t have to think that you’re doing it specifically to try to heal your brain but over time if you continue to challenge yourself it will help.

It doesn’t have to be something that you did in your life before your traumatic brain injury either. Do what you enjoy as the new you.

Since discovering strength training I’m doing amazing things with my body that I never imagined I’d be able to do. And what I have to remember is that it’s my brain that’s putting muscle on my body and making the physical changes.

 

Anne Johnston in Results Gym, Forfar

 

2. Try not to compare your abilities to your old ones before your brain injury

I know this is easier said than done. It’s natural that you want to compare yourself to your previous life. I like to think that everything you did and achieved before your traumatic brain injury helped shape you to become the person that you are now.

It might feel like so much of the old you is gone and I know it’s hard not having the same abilities. Rather than thinking about getting back your old life, try to think about becoming the best possible version of you.

3. Live in the moment and focus on the now

When you’re recovering from a traumatic brain injury such as post-concussion syndrome you can’t help but wonder if your life will ever be the same again. When will you recover and be able to live the life you used to? Where will you be in 6 months or a year’s time? The not knowing can be so frustrating. I get it.

I’ve spent countless hours pondering the same questions. I know my life won’t be the same again and I’m ok with that. It’s actually a good thing. My brain injury recovery has been and is the hardest challenge of my life. I’ve been in a very dark place where I didn’t want to carry on any more and I’ve fought hard to be where I am now. I’ve learnt to truly appreciate and take pleasure in the small things in life.

I believe mindset is everything and what helps me is to appreciate the good things in every day. Every day I journal when I wake up and write down at least 3 things that I’m grateful for. Even on the bad days when I’m in a lot of pain I still make myself write down 3 things. There’s always 3 things you can be grateful for and over time that adds up to a lot of things!

Sometimes it’s that I had a hot chocolate in my favourite mug the previous day. It could be that I played with my hamster and her antics made me laugh or maybe it was that I made the right decision to skip the gym to give my brain the rest it needed. There’s always 3 things.

4. Set yourself small goals and try to be consistent

Of course you’re going to have big ideas and goals you want to achieve throughout your brain injury recovery. There’s no harm in having big goals but I believe we really need to feel like we’re achieving things and it’s the small goals that help with accepting our brain injuries.

Earlier I used wanting to climb mountains as an example of a goal I wanted to achieve. That goal is a long-term goal but it’s not going to do anything for my mental health when it feels so far away. So instead I set myself goals in the gym like adding an extra weight or extra reps on the leg extension.

If you’re doing yoga then maybe you want to be able to hold a pose for longer or increase the length of time you can do yoga. For puzzles perhaps you could pick one puzzle and aim to complete it in a faster time. Or for sudoku maybe the goal is to complete your first one. Mine took me 10 weeks which sounds a long time but I got there in the end and it felt like a huge win!

Whatever goals you set try to be consistent. There will be brain injury symptoms that at times hold you back. If you’re like me then short-time memory can make getting things done hard. Fatigue can be an issue too. But if you have good intentions and you know what it is you’re working towards it will help.

5. Be kind to yourself

Recovering from a traumatic brain injury isn’t a walk in the park, we both know that. It challenges us in ways that healthy people might not be able to imagine. So lastly try to remember to be kind to yourself and cut yourself some slack.

If you haven’t managed to finish the puzzle yet, it’s ok. If headaches only allow you to do 10 minutes of yoga, it’s ok. You do that. Or if you’re having a bad day and you can’t get out of bed, that’s ok too. Remember that there will be better days to come.

Brain injury recovery takes time and unfortunately we’re not in control of the timescale. We want everything yesterday and we’re forced to live life at a snail’s pace. Or maybe a sloth’s pace, because they kinda rock!

You might not be able to see progress with your brain injury as quickly as you’d like but by finding new things that challenge you and setting goals to get them done, you can find other things to focus on that aren’t necessarily about recovery. Over time, possibly months, you will be able to look book and see the progress you’ve made with your brain injury recovery. And you’ll also have achieved lots of small goals along the way.

You too can learn to accept your new life with a brain injury and that new you is all kinds of awesome!

 

Over to you, warriors!

What helps you to accept your new life with a brain injury? Pop into the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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Keep sparkling one day at a time!

Much love and healing vibes,

AJ x