Tag Archives: adjustment

What Happened to Your Shoes?

We each have a way that we are used to visualizing ourselves. It is part of our identity. We may comb our hair in a certain way, favor certain styles of clothing or wear certain shades of lipstick. Catching sight of ourselves in a mirror presenting in our typical manner helps reinforce a sense of normalcy. Any change to our usual look or style has potential to cause us some level of discomfort or stress.

After a brain injury, survivors may change their normal looks or styles. Sometimes, this is done for safety or practicality. For instance, certain pairs of sneakers may not supply adequate ankle support for safe ambulation or certain shirts are too hard to put on independently. However, in other cases survivors fall into habits of “dressing down” on a daily basis. Survivors may say to themselves, “I am not going to same places that I used to go, so I will just wear my ugly jogging pants. Who cares, right?” Or, survivors may say to themselves, “Why dress to impress? I have no one to impress. I will just put on a t-shirt and sweatpants every day instead of my favorite shirt and pants.”

This “dressing down” can cause a negative emotional feedback loop. Dressing differently serves as a constant reminder that survivors are not living the same lives as before. Survivors see themselves dressed poorly, which may make them feel badly. Feeling badly causes survivors to be even less inclined to dress nicely so they continue to dress poorly. In turn, seeing themselves dressed poorly on a daily basis may make survivors feel even worse than before. For some survivors, this contributes to a downward spiral in mood.

As “dressing down” makes many survivors feel badly, dressing as they would have prior to their injuries often makes survivors feel better. Even if survivors are not going to the same jobs or activities as before, putting on nicer clothes on a regular basis may help them feel emotionally better. For ladies this often includes putting on make-up or jewelry (as they would have prior to their injuries). The experience of seeing themselves fully “put together” will often improve survivors’ moods. For many people, even without injuries, if they “look like a million dollars” then they “feel like a million dollars.” And when moods are improved, other facets of their lives are often easier and better. So break out your nice wardrobes and feel better!

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center! Visit us at: http://tlcrehab.org/

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Using the Open Chair Technique

Survivors with brain injuries push themselves to get better.  Staff members at TLC see this every day.  Survivors push themselves to walk better.  They push themselves to speak better.  They push themselves to improve their memory.  They push themselves in every aspect of the rehabilitation experience, but recovery from a serious brain injury can be quite slow.  It is almost always slower than the survivor would prefer it to be.  Unfortunately, this leads some survivors to speak poorly about themselves.  They say things such as “I am a failure because I am not 100% improved” or “I should be much better than I am now.  I am failing at therapy”.  This negative self-talk can lead to emotional difficulties such as stress, low mood and sometimes even to depression.

If looked at objectively, this negative self-talk is often due to unrealistic expectations that the survivors have regarding their recoveries.  The survivors may believe that the amount of time necessary to recover is in excess to that which they expected, even when the medical research shows that they are progressing at a normal rate.  By expecting faster or better results than are humanly possible, survivors can cause themselves unnecessary frustration.

Interestingly, these same survivors who hold unrealistic expectations of themselves generally do not hold these same expectations of others.  They are often more logical and understanding of other survivors than they are of themselves.  It is common at TLC for the same patients who have unrealistic personal expectations to support realistic expectations in other patients.  They will make supportive statements to other patients such as “Don’t worry and take it slow.  You will get better over time.  You are running a marathon not a sprint.”  When the patients with unrealistic expectations are asked if they believe the advice they are giving to others, they almost always answer in the affirmative.  They understand that the brain injury recovery process is a slow one which requires lots of work.  They understand it is a long-term process.  But they decide for whatever reason that their personal recoveries should take less time than those of others, holding themselves up to unfair (often impossible) standards.
One way to manage this negative self-talk is by using the “open chair” technique.  How this technique works is that patients are asked to imagine they are sitting next to themselves and that the person occupying their seat is someone else with the very same issues and deficits that they have.  The patients are then asked to give this “other person” honest feedback about how the “other person” is doing.  Often, patients find that this leads them to soften their tones and to make more supportive personal statements regarding their own progress.  Similarly to when they are actually talking to other patients, when they address themselves as that “other person”  patients demonstrate more realistic expectations and are less likely to attack themselves.  The “open chair” technique often helps patients treat themselves not only better, but also more fairly and honestly.  By being more fair and honest to themselves, survivors tend to have an improved mood.  And the better the mood that survivors can maintain, the easier it is to navigate the rehabilitation process.

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center!  Visit us at: tlcrehab.org

Lessons from a Blind Man

We here at the Transitional Learning Center often host patients and family members that speak Spanish as a primary language.  Spanish-speaking TLC staff members are generally on-hand to translate during therapies and other necessary interactions, but on occasion TLC staff will have need to use a phone translation service (in a meeting updating family on progress, for example).  To utilize this service, a staff member will call the service phone number which connects directly to a translator.  The translator can then translate between all parties involved via speaker-phone.

When using such a translator, it is important to pause every few sentences so as to allow the translator to translate that which has just been stated.  On one memorable occasion a therapist spoke for too long without pause and upon realizing her error, stopped herself and apologized for not stopping sooner.  The translator agreed that to do his job effectively he would require more frequent pauses.  He then added that he cannot depend upon notes taken while someone is giving him information to translate because he is blind.  He was doing his job utilizing memory and language skills exclusively.

Reflecting upon this situation there is an important lesson to be learned for all individuals with disabilities, including brain injury survivors contending with long-term deficits.  A translator position is the perfect occupation for a bilingual blind person.  The job requires excellent speech and finely-honed cognitive skills, but in no way requires vision.  The job matches the person’s strengths to a central task while sidestepping the influence of any weaknesses.  After an injury, many brain injury survivors need to find new jobs because newly acquired deficits do not allow them to return to their previous occupations.  It is important during the job search process to honestly identify post-injury strengths and weaknesses in order to find jobs that rely on strengths while minimizing the impact of any weakness.  By taking this important step survivors are more likely to enjoy success in the working world, just like the blind translator from our story.

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center! Visit us at: http://tlcrehab.org/

It’s Ok To Do It Differently

When I was a senior in high school, I had a physics teacher whose outlook differed from that of most science teachers.  Early in the year she told us that when we answered questions on her tests, she did not care about how we came to a given answer.  As long as that answer was correct, the method by which it was arrived upon did not matter.  Work did still have to be shown as in any other science class.  Even if that work bore no resemblance to that which she had prescribed though, a result was perfectly acceptable provided that the answers matched.

In many ways a healthy approach to rehabilitation is similar to this outlook championed by my former physics teacher.  Due to their injuries, rehabilitation patients are often unable to complete tasks in the same manner as they did before.  For instance, a patient with only one functioning hand will not be able to cut vegetables for a salad as he or she did prior to the injury but utilizing a one-handed rocker knife produces the same results.  A patient who has trouble speaking may not be able to verbally place an order at a restaurant but typing the order into an Ipad speech app produces the same results.  As you can see, there are often multiple methods by which to accomplish a given goal.  Effectiveness is the most important measure of a method’s worth, not whether it is identical to a previous method.

The idea of reaching the same goal through different methods sometimes bothers patients and their families.  In some cases, patients and their families refuse to use alternative methods because they are focused on doing things in exactly the same way as they have in the past.  A patient completing minor tasks just as he or she did prior to an injury holds strong appeal as a signifier of a return to normalcy.  However, due to the injuries this may not be realistic either at this stage of rehabilitation or for the foreseeable future.  Accepting alternative methods consistently allows patients to be far more functional in both work and home environments.  These alternative methods often allow patients to be more independent whereas insistence upon pre-injury methods can  bring with it a dependence on others.  It is important that patients and their families embrace alternative methods of accomplishing daily goals so that patients can achieve at their highest levels.  This open-minded attitude often yields the best long-term therapy results.

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: http://tlcrehab.org/

Just Be Grateful

“Just be grateful you are alive”

“Just be thankful you didn’t die”

“You should just focus on the fact you survived”

Brain injury survivors hear these types of well-meaning lines all the time.  They are used by family members and friends to help survivors see the “brighter side” during their recovery periods.  There is undeniable truth in each one of these statements; traumatic brain injuries, strokes and other forms of acquired brain injuries lead to death for millions of people worldwide every year.  It is worthwhile to be thankful for life.  But these well-intentioned statements can all too often serve as double-edged swords.

Taking a step back for a moment, most survivors are truly thankful to be alive following their near-death experiences.  But that does not mean that they have not suffered real, painful losses.  While one may feel the commendable impulse to encourage and support survivors, it is also important to allow them to mourn these losses.  There is nothing inherently wrong with lamenting loss of arm function or fluid speech, as long as this does not lead to a serious decline in mood or performance.  For instance, wouldn’t any person be upset if, after decades of normal walking, he or she would have to suddenly learn how to walk all over again because of a stroke?  A balance has to be struck between fostering positive mood and allowing for reasonable mourning of loss.  “Just be grateful you are alive” is clearly not an inherently harmful statement, but it can still nonetheless be overused and thus inhibit healthy adjustment to change.  Excessive  repetition of such a statement can often cause survivors to be frustrated and feel as if they are being discouraged from expressing their feelings.  Though it may be difficult for family members or friends to witness as survivors experience sadness or anger, this is often one of the steps necessary while making a successful transition into post-injury life.

 

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: http://tlcrehab.org/