As children, in our teenage years, many of us keep journals. We document our feelings and our thoughts. Diaries can serve as a reflection of the era in which we lived, a testament to the fact that we were alive, and we were here.
Journals As a Means of Shaping Personality
In our formative years, when most of us take up journals, it can be an exercise in developing what will become our adult personalities. As teenagers, we experience the world differently. Taking the time to write down one’s thoughts, during these years where our perspectives and views are being shaped, can help put the world into perspective.
How Journals Can Help in Life After Injury
Beginning life after injury is, in many ways, a lot like going through this process of self-discovery. Even if the injured is an adult, adapting to their new reality — the “new normal” — can feel a lot like being back at square one. You will have to relearn the limits of your body and mind, discover ways to cope, and sort out your emotions.
Writing down your thoughts on life after injury can have many advantages.
- It can help progress seem more concrete. You might not realize how slowly, for example, your vocabulary and eloquence are improving. But any step forward, however small, is still a step. And being able to look back at writings from months ago can help you see your improvement more clearly.
- Documenting what works, and what doesn’t. If you and your family are trying new ways to do things, such as chores, writing down your thoughts on how you’re adjusting can help you pinpoint what works for you and your loved ones.
- An outlet for feelings. Victims of injuries may experience new, strong emotions as they try to cope and adjust. So can their families — it can sometimes be frustrating to adjust to a “new normal”. Having a safe place, such as a journal, to air these frustrations can help keep peace. It can also be helpful to look back at these feelings, and analyze what you can do as a family to minimize negative emotions and stay positive.
Giving The Injured a Voice
Journals can be a great way for the injured and their families to feel like they have a “voice” — that they don’t have to bottle up their thoughts and emotions. It can be part of the healing process, helping everyone involved get a better insight on how the tragic event has affected them.
Writing, whether on a notebook or on an online blog, can be an emotional and practical aid, and help those who are living life after injury adjust.
A severe injury — one that leaves the victim changed forever — does not only affect those who were involved in the accident. Life after injury is not just about the victims, but also about their families, and their journey in adjusting to their new reality.
One very common reaction to seeing a family go through such a turbulent time might be, “They need their space, some time to clear their minds and sort things out. I should step back.” You stop calling. You stop asking them to hang out. You stop going over to their place, arms filled with sodas and snacks, to spend a Friday night watching movies like you used to.
But, sometimes, the best way to help a family deal with life after injury is to not drop these behaviors, and stick around. Tragedy is where the art of being a supportive friend, and just being there, truly shines.
In an NY Times column titled The Art of Presence, David Brooks recounts how Catherine Woodiwiss dealt with the traumatic events that befell her family — and how the handful of friends that reached out and stuck around made all the difference.
“Trauma is a disfiguring, lonely time even when surrounded in love; to suffer through trauma alone is unbearable,” she wrote.
So what are some ways in which we can “be there” for someone going through a tragedy?
Understand that there is no “getting over it”. Traumatic events can be life-changing. After such an experience, life is redefined. You find a “new normal”. There is no true way to fully get over it, just adjusting to a new reality.
Do not compare stories. Everyone’s story is different, and everyone’s grief deserves it’s own attention. Take it for what it is. Be a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on if needed. Comparisons are not necessary — you do not need to “prove” that you have suffered as much in order to understand what the victim is going through.
Do not underestimate the power of non-verbal gestures. Picking up a few groceries that you know your friend needs, or helping them tidy up, can speak louder than any consoling words.
Most importantly, what we need to understand is that, sometimes, all a victim of tragedy wants is just companionship. A friend showing up with snacks and a DVD, to give them a little respite in the grieving process — a little glimpse into what they once knew as normalcy. A friend who is just there.
A broken bone can easily be recognized. Cuts, bruises, and other physical injuries could also be quickly spotted.
But what are the long-term, often unseen, effects of brain damage? And how do families cope?
How Injuries Affect The Brain
When the brain is injured, it is more than just a mere broken bone. The brain is the foundation for human behavior, thought, and communication. It is a network of cells, working together to orchestrate all of the functions a healthy person must carry out.
When the brain suffers injury, this can disrupt the harmony of that network. Brain injuries can affect how the brain itself works — each section of the brain handles a specific set of tasks (such as processing language), and injuries that that physical areas of the brain can affect the person’s ability to carry out said task. Moving, speaking, reading, learning, and socializing all make use of our brains — it is easy now to see why brain injury can have such broad, varied, and devastating consequences.
How Brain Injury Affects Speech
When the brain suffers injuries to the areas that handle speech and communication, the person’s ability to understand others — and covey their own needs and feelings — might be affected.
The injured person might have problems understanding humor or sarcasm. They might find it a challenge to convey their thoughts into spoken or written sentences. They might have frequent issues with “finding the right words” to say, and struggle to clearly communicate their needs and feelings.
How Brain Injury Affects Social Skills
Other times, the areas of the brain affected are those that handle impulse control, or cause a drastic change in personality and mood.
The injured person might seem distant and aloof. Or they might act inappropriately at times. They might make brash, impulsive decisions. Families and friends might feel like the injury left them with a total stranger.
How We Can Help The Injured
What is important to remember, is that brain injury goes far beyond just physical scars. It can have a lasting, devastating effect on everyone involved.
But there is hope. Speech therapy, with some patience, can help families communicate better with the injured person. Learning to redefine “normal”, and helping the injured adapt without developing any harmful habits, can go a long way towards helping them get their lives back together.
Victims of injury, as well as their families, might sometimes feel lost and lonely. Your social life might suffer. You might not know where to start looking for information.
Luckily, the internet can prove to be a great tool. Not only in providing with information, but, also, in connecting you to those who can help you.
The Internet As An Information Source
In the case of physical injuries, it might be difficult to visit attorneys, care facilities, and file the paperwork needed to get your life back together. The internet, with it’s wealth of information right at your fingertips, can make this process much easier.
- Research professionals — You might need legal and medical help in order to get through your injury. But how do you find the right physician or attorney to help you? The internet can offer an opportunity to research and review. There are many websites that allow, for example, past clients of personal injury attorneys to discuss their experiences working with a particular law professional. There are also websites where you can find information on care facilities and hospitals, and even schedule phone or in-person appointments with the ones you are interested in knowing more about.
- Find similar stories — Likewise, the internet can also provide you with access to stories similar to yours. This can not only serve as a comforting read — a reminder that you’re not alone in this — but, it can also provide cautionary tales. What missteps did others make in dealing with their injuries? This information could prove invaluable.
Well-informed people are rarely easy to take advantage of. Utilizing the internet as a tool, you can inform and educate yourself about what to expect, and what to avoid.
Connecting With The World
Severe injuries can affect your social life. Hobbies you once enjoyed with friends — such as working out and playing sports — are now a thing of the past. Changes in behavior resulting from head injuries can alienate your from friends and loved ones. If your injuries keep you at home for too long, you might find yourself with little opportunity to socialize with others.
In recent years, however, the internet has grown as a social tool. Now more than ever, people meet and befriend each other — and even fall in love! — online. As a social tool, the internet can offer:
- An outlet for your thoughts — There are many websites that offer “blogging” tools. These can be used as a sort of online journal, where you can document your journey living with injury. For the more adventurous, websites like YouTube can offer a more personal experience, allowing you to record your thoughts in the form of video. Recording your thoughts and feelings can be a powerful tool in rehabilitation, since you can then look back on these achieves to see how you have improved and recovered.
- Finding support — Many smaller communities exist online, dedicated to bringing together people with a common struggle or goal. Here, you can find encouragement and support, and join people who are going through the same as you and your family.
Finding Information And Support For Life After An Injury
The internet has become a powerful tool for everyday life. It can provide a means for research and source of information, and it can also provide a comforting source of support — improving the quality of life after injury.
Caring for an injured person can put stress on their families, and disrupt relationships — research shows that divorce is more prevalent in couples where one partner suffered a brain injury. It is obvious, then, than one of the main goals of rehabilitation should be to reduce stress — not just for the injured, but for the family.
But how can you reduce stress in life after injury?
No guilty feelings
The first step to coping with the stress of your new “normal”, is to realize that you are not to “blame” for anything you might feel.
It can be easy to grow frustrated, even angry, with an injured person. Our drive to see them recover — to see things go “back to normal” — can set off emotions in everyone involved. This entirely, and completely, normal. You are not a bad spouse, parent, child, or friend, for feeling these emotions.
Communication is key
In dealing with life after injury, communication is key. Help the injured — and yourself — by keeping clear, simple instructions to tasks the injured needs help with.
This can greatly reduce frustrations, since everyone can quickly refer to the written instructions when in need — even the injured person. It can be a very small step that reduces a lot of the everyday stress those caring for the injured face.
With a little help from our friends
Pride can sometimes be exactly what is holding us back. When facing life after injury, you might feel like you need to “do it on your own”. That this is a test, and you have to prove how strong your family is, by overcoming this without anyone’s assistance.
Allow yourself to accept help. Network, make friends. Working together, so that no one person bears the entire burden of keeping things together, can reduce everyone’s stress.
It’s not always easy
Life after injury is not always easy — as many say, it is a journey in discovering a new definition of “normal”, with many ups and down. There are, however, things you can do to help you and your family cope.
If you have a loved one who suffered a brain injury, you might be asking yourself — What should the goal of rehabilitation be? What can I do to ensure that I am helping, not hindering, the process?
There is no “going back to normal”
The first thing to understand about brain injury is, full recovery — “going back to normal” — is highly unlikely. A brain injury is not a broken bone, and, thus, we should not expect it to just “heal up”. While we should not underestimate the extent to which the injured person can recover, we must remain realistic in our expectations.
The first step for setting rehabilitation goals is to redefine what “normal” will mean to you and your family. Communicate with the professionals — doctors, care staff — that are working with your loved one. Ask them questions.
- What can the injured be expected to do?
- What can they be expected to, eventually, be able to do?
- And, most importantly, what can they be expected to not ever be able to do?
The last one is, possibly, the most important question. If the injury has, for example, severely impaired the person’s motor skills, then it is unlikely that they would be able to go mountain climbing. Getting an honest view of what to expect can be crucial in avoiding future disappointment and frustration.
Each step is a step forward
Setting unrealistic goals can blind us to the small but meaningful improvements the injured makes. This is why our goals should be realistic, keeping in mind with the injured’s condition. Redefining “normal”, and striving for the most productive, independent quality of life possible is the best strategy — and the building blocks to life after injury.