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The Process of Recovery; from mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI)

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Message Laura L. Whittemore
excerpt from chapter 12, "How Long Before I'm Better?" from the book, RECOVERING from MILD TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY (MTBI) by Mary Ann Keatley, PhD, CCC and Laura L. Whittemore

To some, the word "recovery" means getting better, regaining what you lost, the pain goes away and the brain is as sharp and attentive as it was before the accident. However, every brain injury is as varied as the recovery process because of the uniqueness of who you are. A brain injury is unlike all other injuries.

In the morning, you may be able to do two or three things at one time and by afternoon, you can barely focus on one thing and follow it through without being distracted. Or, you start out in the morning and tasks become more difficult as the day goes on. There are many things that you can do to adjust to the new demands. One of the most beneficial things is to sleep at least 8 hours a night. In the early stages of recovery, sleep may be what your body and brain need most of all. Give in to it because that is a natural healing response. Perhaps your body rhythm is off and you have difficulties sleeping at night. Consider taking naps throughout the day whenever you feel tired. Eventually, your body will adjust to normal sleep and awake patterns.

When injured, the brain shuts down to protect itself. As the recovery process continues, the brain wakes up and the fog lifts. If you haven't started the rehabilitation process, it is now time for the gentle help of cognitive, physical and emotional rehabilitation. There are many articles and books about people who have made miraculous recoveries from head injuries and gone on to thrive and live happy and productive lives. In fact, some individuals actually report that they are better than they were prior to the injury because they now understand how the brain works. They have learned how to stimulate brain functioning, how to exercise their bodies efficiently, how to judge the amount of sleep they need, and how to feed their bodies nutritionally to help them maintain healthy lifestyles.

Consider this. We are always growing and changing. The cells of the body are constantly being replaced according to their own schedule and demand. As we mature, we may change our beliefs, attitudes and life strategies which are influenced by experiences, relationships, and current situations. We may change our preferences for foods, music, leisure activities or where we want to live, whether it's near cities, mountains, plains or oceans, or even the kinds of people we want as friends.

The process of recovery is about growing and changing. Certain events in our lives can change the course or direction you thought you were going. Recovery is not only about regaining what you lost but about adjusting to the change. Recovering from a brain injury is kind of like reinventing yourself on some levels. Not to say that you entirely lose your previous identity or self image, but your perspective, your view of the world, or even of yourself, may change.

Another perspective of recovery is about returning to the familiar, to whom you were, to the friends and family that you knew and to a place of comfort. It's like "coming home." So where is home for you now? Where do you feel the most comfortable, happy and at peace? Is it the home of your childhood or is it the home you left before your brain injury?

You've heard the old saying, "Home is where the heart is." So where is this place? To some "coming home" isn't really a physical location. It is a place inside of you. It is a state of mind, as they say, or a state of being your true self. It is a place where you can make sense of the world and trust your gut feelings and your intuition. In order to achieve this state of being, it requires you to slow your life down and become more conscious. This allows time for introspection, to gain insight and the ability to make confident decisions and wise choices.

When you are feeling stronger, find ways to immerse yourself creatively through music, art, writing, reading, inspiring others, hobbies, etc. Find ways to give back to those caring people who have helped you in anyway. As you heal and start to reach out and interact more, there may be a desire to bring meaning and purpose into your life. Also, there may be a yearning to have a sense of belonging -- to be part of something or a group, a place where you feel validated, a place where you give and receive respect, love and support and above all joy, fun and laughter. Perhaps it is with your friends and co-workers, in your career, family, community, church, or in nature.

And finally, rather than focusing on your disabilities, focus on your abilities. When you shift your attention, you will be surprised to find new skills that you have acquired while learning to adjust and compensate to the changes. Take a moment now and honestly ask yourself, "What's new and different about me that I like?" "What's new and different about me that other's like?"
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Laura L. Whittemore has been in the field of psychology, early childhood education and an entrepreneur for over 30 years. She sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury in 2001, caused by a horseback riding accident. Fortunately, she was wearing a helmet. (more...)
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