Relationships, as most adults know, are a symbiotic balance of give and take–a two-way street, if you will. Where the relationship becomes a problem is when it goes from being a two-way street to becoming a one-way major thoroughfare. Like the clownfish protecting and cleaning the sea anemone. The clownfish, in return, is protected from predators by the anemone’s stinging cells, to which the clownfish is immune. That is a symbiotic relationship. Imagine now, if you will, that the clownfish sometimes wants and even craves the tasty delight of snacking on the anemone’s protective tentacles. Without warning, the clownfish starts to destroy the relationship by satisfying an immediate desire or need. That is what often occurs to families when a member suddenly goes through some sort of trauma.
Those who have suffered some sort of trauma, such as a TBI, PTSD, a stroke, Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any other condition which affects the neurological health of the survivor are particularly at risk of becoming relationship “Vampires.”
- The first sign that the survivor (or the caregiver) is not contributing to the relationship is that one person is not allowed to flourish. For example, many parents may find themselves putting their lives on hold when their child is injured in a car wreck. They become immediate caregivers, even if it means putting a career, education or writing a book on hold indefinitely. The problem is when the survivor keeps expecting to be treated as if he or she is the center of the world. In my case, I can remember being the deciding vote as to where or what my family would have for dinner. If I wanted to go to Houston’s, that’s where we went. If I wanted to have tacos four nights a week, guess what we had four nights a week. But now, some 25 years after my TBI, it would be unreasonable for me to expect to have those same expectations placed on my parents and sisters. But I know that occurs, and it occurs within communities which are not trying to recover.
- If you, the caregiver or the spouse of someone with PTSD, find that the needs of the other party seem to always come before your own, you may need to find a way to satisfy yourself emotionally. It’s kinda like having a cup of coffee. You are happy to share your coffee, but the more you give, if you don’t put anything back into it, you will eventually run out. You have to sit your cup upright, and then replenish the contents. The more you do that, the more you can give. Not only can you give more, but you also give better quality. I’m a caregiver by profession, and when I feel like I’m approaching burnout, I just excuse myself and go outside to make a phone call. When I return to my client, I have more energy and a better attitude than I did when I left.
- Survivors need to understand that it’s not all your fault. You, the caregiver, didn’t decide to have the snack bar close just so the survivor couldn’t get the treat he wanted. I know it’s difficult for the survivor to understand this, but not everything is someone else’s fault. Sometimes life just happens. Survivors often blame their current circumstances on the ones who are closest to them, such as a parent or siblings. However, they need to know that they are the only ones who have power over themselves. I read a book last year call Choice Theory, by Dr. William Glasser. Choice Theory states that we as individuals actually choose to do or feel or think about a particular way. Like if you are depressed, Glasser says that you are choosing that emotion. If you are anxious, Glassser says that you are anxiety-ing. You are choosing to feel anxious. No one else, no circumstance can make you feel that way. The survivor needs to understand that. I can think of a soldier returning from combat overseas blaming his/her spouse for making them feel depressed or anxious, but, in reality, the soldier is choosing that behavior or emotion.
- Another condition for the caregiver to be aware of is being needed. As a caregiver professionally, I know it makes me feel good when I help one of my clients get dressed or shave. They are able to do it themselves, but I realized that I feel better, like I’m needed, when I do it for them. I can remember when I was in in-patient rehab my mother tied my shoe after a PT session. I immediately untied it and said, “I love you, but I wanted to do it.” She wanted to help me, although I could do it myself. (Well, that part is debatable.) The caregiver needs to be careful not to become codependent and need to feel needed.
- Read inspirational quotes. Each and every day, there are loads of inspirational quotes on Facebook. I think there is even an app to have the sent to you, if you happen to need that.
- Realize that each day is a gift, and that tomorrow is never guaranteed. I have a friend who has had a brain aneurysm years ago, but she is always so happy. I questioned her about that, and here’s what she told me: “Because I have had an aneurysm, I’m much more likely to have another one, which would kill me, totally out of the blue, with no warning. I’m not gonna waste my time or energy being unhappy or angry about something just because someone cut me off in traffic.” A little morbid, I think, but when I think about how amazing and unbelievable that I can do all the things I do, it makes every day seem like a good day.
- Make an effort to go the extra mile. Be altruistic. I have recently come to the realization that when there’s someone not pulling his own weight, I tend to get a little resentful. I can overcome this feeling by really making an effort to do more than my share. By making a point of doing something for someone else, I’m able to change my thinking from resentment to that of joy. Thanks, Anne.
- Google happiness. Peruse through some of the images. It’s almost impossible to keep from smiling at some of them. I suppose you can also look at another search engine, but it’s really up to you.
- Watch what you eat. If you eat only fast food and Twinkies for dinner, you will feel like crap. Last summer, I did just the opposite and had kale smoothies for a few days. For three days bananas, kale, apples and strawberries were the only things I was eating, or drinking, rather. I felt amazing! It gave me a boost to the immune system and it cleaned me out. I’ve never eaten that much fiber in three days in my life. And yes, it does turn green.
Well, these are a few more ways to improve your mood, and if you know of any others, please tell me about them! Remember, you are the only one completely responsible for your own happiness.
I know that when I was just going through life without a sense of purpose, I had a hard time being happy. Sure, I had more than most people, but that still wasn’t enough, something was missing. Although I now know that I wasn’t happy because I wasn’t really “following” Jesus, there are things we all can do to make ourselves more positive. This is especially poignant for the BI survivor. We all find what we cannot do what we once did without hardly trying. Everything we lost looms in the forefront of our minds. I’ve come up with five things that I try to do on a daily basis to make myself positive—to help me from becoming so blue that it actually becomes a depression.
- Thank God. Everyday, I thank God (substitute your chosen Higher Power) because I woke up. I’m able to get up and get dressed, and I am able to start my day as normally as most people do.
- Make a List of Gratitudes: When I start to feel down, I take a moment to make a gratitude list. I don’t deserve to have anything I have, but sometimes it’s good to just get my head in the right place by making a list of all the things I’m grateful for. Doing this keeps you from taking things for granted and wishing you had things you don’t.
- Give back. There is something inherently good about giving your time. Teaching someone to read, helping with Habitat for Humanity, serving at a local soup kitchen. These are all things you can do which will help others, but they will help you even more! Take my friend Eddie. He is one of the most giving people I know. Whatever someone needs him to do, Eddie does it. And only a few times since I’ve known him in these past 10 years has Eddie ever not had a smile and a laugh for those around him. Those were the times when he was in tremendous pain from a kidney stone.
- Think about everything you can do! When I feel blue, I think about the awesome things that I can do. Not like the other things that anyone else can do, but things like “I’m the best father to my son possible.” Notice, I didn’t say I’m better than anyone else, I just said that I’m the best possible. Or, you could say you’re better than you used to be.
- Get a pet. Studies have shown that having pets significantly lowers blood pressure of owners. And generally, pets are excellent secret keepers. I talk to my dog all the time, and I think, “If you ever learn to talk, I’m in trouble.” Play with your animal. This is the reason I think dogs are better than cats, but kittens love to play, too. Pet rocks don’t reciprocate love in most circumstances.
Although sometimes it can be easy to find yourself in the dumps and just want to wallow there, these 5 ways to improve your mood are easy and, best of all, free! Let me know if you know any more ways, and how these work out for you!
Keep getting better, and I’ll talk to you soon!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love to eat, and I have 260 lbs to prove it. The Wii Fit says my ideal weight is 140-something…but what does it know, right? So because I have a brain injury, I have a hard time denying myself anything. When I want it, I usually give into that urge or desire, no matter how bad I know it is for me. When I want ice cream, by God, I’m gonna have ice cream. When I want coffee, nothing, not finances, doctors’ warnings, or inconvenience is gonna stop me from having coffee.
This past week, I was listening to something on NPR where they were talking about the gastric banding surgery for weight loss. Seems that this surgery is on everyone’s mind since NJ Governor Chris Christie announce at a press conference that he secretly underwent this surgery in February for health reasons and not for political ones. The expert said that this surgery was intended for people who could not seem to lose weight, though they had tried all the traditional means by dieting and exercise.
Before I heard this last statement I had been thinking that laparoscopic surgery might be good for me. However, I’ve not been able to effectively stay on a diet. “Why is that?” I asked my friend. “Because you have a brain injury,” she said matter-of-factly. “But just because you have a BI, does it mean that you can’t do it?” Hell, no, I thought with a renewed sense of challenge.
Just like doing anything else with a brain injury, it doesn’t mean we can’t, it just means it will be harder for us. I think back to when I quit smoking; I was told by my hip surgeon that I needed to quit smoking (by this time it had been 20+ years) because of complications which would potentially lead to two additional surgeries and lots more pain. (If you haven’t guessed by now, I don’t like pain.) I smoked two cigarettes on the way to pick up my son from my parents’ house, and I just kept putting off that next cigarette for like 5 minutes at a time. Then after about 24 hours, I thought, “Hell, I’ve made it 24 hours and that was sucked, so I don’t want to give that up right now, but maybe tomorrow.” My family (and I) noticed I was a bit angrier when I was going through withdrawal. But tomorrow never came for me. I still have not lit that next cigarette-even though I think about it almost everyday. And it’s been 29 months at the time of this post since my last cigarette.
But now I’m just bragging. My point is this, just because something is difficult for us, even more difficult for us than for most people, we still can do it. It may take more work, more times of trying before we succeed. How many times have you gone to bed saying, “I’m never doing that again,” only to find the next chance you get, what are you doing? The same darn thing you told yourself you’d never do again. At least that’s what happened with me. Hundreds of times I quit smoking, saying okay that’s the last cigarette I’m gonna smoke, and then the first thing I do when I get up is light up and think, well shit!
I’ve seen a video of the motivational speaker who has no arms and no legs. He talks about how he overcame a dark time in his life by being thankful. It’s hard to be thankful, he says, when you only concentrate on your shortcomings. The key to being able to push on through the day and get better is remembering what I-and you-have. How much have I been blessed to 1. survive a car wreck that should have killed me, 2. come out of a coma which lasted a month, 3. graduated high school, 4. been accepted to–and graduated–college, 5. gotten married and stayed married, 6. have an amazing son whose raising I’m very involved, and 7. found an outlet for me to be creative and help others at the same time! That’s not all, I’m blessed everyday by just being able to walk. Period.
Yeah, it’s hard for me to do things like calculus or balancing a checkbook, but I can still do it, and so can you, but you have to work a little harder ,maybe, than you would like.
Probably the most famous (or infamous) example of someone having excessive anger without the coping skills to go with it is Coach Bobby Knight throwing the chair across the basketball court.
I know just how he feels, just not about basketball. Sometimes I just get so mad! You know, the feeling of rage you get when it’s hot, your sitting in traffic and some butthead behind you is blaring his music so loud that the bass makes your chest vibrate. You’re reminded of the opening scene in the movie Office Space. Then sone dang yahoo just cuts you off. And that’s the catalyst that makes the fuse in you head just blow, leaving you with smoke wisping from your ears. You could kill that asshole in front of you. Quite literally, if you had a gun, you would shoot that person in the head. That’s kinda what a full-blown rage is like for a BI survivor.
But it doesn’t take a traffic jam to set us off. Anything can do it, and I was sent into a rage just this past Wednesday because I knocked over a glass of water on the dining room table. Normally, this wouldn’t set me into a rage, but today it did because I was running late. So off I went screaming at the top of my lungs, throwing stuff into the kitchen sink, removing the tablecloth and making sure I wiped the table well enough that it wouldn’t leave watermarks. Then I thought, as I got most of it all cleaned up, If I throw shit all over the house, essentially, throw a tantrum, I’m gonna be the one who has to clean it up. Well, duh! Why would I make more work for myself.
My wife works full-time and then some, which leaves me at home to write, go to a coffeeshop, read, watch TV, and of course, clean up. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t mind, but I just came to realize that my mother would not have, nor did she, clean the mess from a “temper fit,” almost rewarding me for throwing stuff all over the place or breaking something. My wife wouldn’t do it for the same reason. She doesn’t want to reward bad behavior, and thereby encourage me to remain the same. That’s something my wonderfully amazing wife always encourages: my getting better.
People who have sustained injury to their temporal lobes can become enraged rather than just becoming irritated or angry. This, too, affirms my belief that I sustained damage to my temporal lobe. Unpleasant noises can often set the survivor with temporal lobe damage into a rage. Also, these people have can become enraged by difficult or troubling social situations.
The people who have frontal lobe injuries, such as myself, can react impulsively when they fly into a rage with little or no regard to the appropriateness or the consequences. These folks can over-react, which is not well-tolerated by the “Normal,” outside world. They think the survivor has lost his mind and gone berserk, which can lead to jail time or commitment into a mental hospital. Many times, so I am told, survivors often don’t realize how they appear when they are raging. I know that my wife tells me that same thing, but I don’t realize how angry I’ve gotten until it’s all over. If you are the survivor’s significant other, try to film him or her. Make an audio tape of the interaction. My wife says that the rage happens so fast that she doesn’t have time to get to the camera, so actually documenting the rage may prove difficult. (iPhones make this so much easier, if you have one.)
I remember when I was driving again after my wreck, I was on a date and got rear-ended at a stoplight. I jumped out of the car and started yelling at the other driver. “What the hell are you doing?” as loud as was humanly possible. The driver, a woman, sat terrified in her car looking straight forward. She didn’t dare make eye contact, since there was a madman standing just inches from her window screaming at the top of his lungs at her. My date did something similar to the other driver. She just remained silent in the car, not daring to move. Granted, this was my first wreck since the one which gave me the TBI, so I’m sure I had some incredibly poignant emotions, and I was probably scared half-to-death. But this does not excuse my behavior, and I’m lucky I didn’t get pepper sprayed or arrested for verbal assault.I was rear-ended a couple of weeks ago, and I just got out, asked the other driver if she was okay, and said, “Are you okay? Let’s see how much damage was done.” I was otally calm, and I am quite proud of that.
One thing that survivors need is to be allowed an escape. Whether physically or mentally. I had a behavioral therapist that suggested when I go into a rage, that my wife and son leave the house. Not really liking that idea, we decided jointly that it would be better for me to go for a walk. A walk, not a drive. Driving provides too much risk for myself and those around me, not to mention the property that could be damaged if I drive off the road. So I can go out and talk to myself as I make my way at a rapid rate down the streets in my neighborhood.
Essentially, whether you are a survivor, a caregiver, or a significant other, rage can prove destructive, frightening, and when it’s said and done, embarrassing. Remember, the BI survivor needs to be provided a means of escape, and often exercise can provide a means to blow off steam while releasing endorphins, which make you feel better.
Remember, keep getting better, and I’ll talk to you soon. (Below, I have included a video of hockey fights for your entertainment.)
Have you ever thought, why is that person so happy? How do they do it? What’s the deal? More times than not, it has to do with connecting their passion with their occupation. Within the past few years, I’ve been doing just that. Living MY dream. What’s my passion? What’s my job? As many readers know, I sustained a TBI 24 years ago, and even now am working on my recovery. Just ’cause no one else sees that I (or you) may still have residual issues or problems, we still do. So we continue to work to improve. Or not.
Those who choose not to are like the person who had hip surgery, but refuses to do the therapy. I know. I had two hip surgeries and although it was difficult, I did the therapeutic exercises. (Thanks, Sheila, Matt and Bren! You guys know who you are.) Although my hips are 200% better than they were two and a half years ago, there I still can tell that I wasn’t born with them. Nothing is the way it was 20 years ago. Yep, I turned 40 this past year. And although I feel a helluva lot better than I did even 5 years ago, my body makes sure I remember I’m 40. I’m not as strong as I used to be, I’m fatter, I’m grayer, my eyes are worse, and my joints hurt before it rains.
Where are you going with this, Mark? My point is to say that just like your body reminds us of all the twisted ankles, jammed fingers, broken bones and joint replacements, your injured brain reminds us that something has changed. My son was complaining about jamming a finger in a soccer game, and I told him that I jammed one when I was playing catch with a football, and it has never been the same. I don’t think about it most of the time, but there are times when I do know it feels different than it used to. Some things are never going to be the same, no matter how much surgery, therapy or wishing we do. That’s the way our brains are. No, we don’t think about them constantly, or about what we can or cannot do anymore, but there are times when it is very real. I was a whiz at math before my TBI, but now I’m better with words than I ever was before. Yeah things change. I may never be able to compute in my head like I used to, but I make the best of it, and just like my artificial hips prevent me from running an marathon, my injured brain prevents me from doing things which require a great deal of math in my head.
What does this have to do with living the dream? Well, I’ve kinda rambled, but I’m getting to my original point. Since I’ve come to understand that God knows more about His plan for me and my life, I mean really know, I’m more content with where I am in life. Part of my dream since the mid to late ’90s has been to write a book. Another dream of mine has been to provide the survivors and their families the knowledge that there is hope after a TBI–I’m proof! I also want to help educate people about brain injury and what they can do to, with and for TBI survivors. With this blog, I’m achieving my second goal–without a doubt. And as far as writing a book, well my blog is helping me get my thoughts down on paper, or the computer, and it’s helping me to educate myself about the amazing brain! I usually do much of my writing at a local Starbucks. And I thought how lucky I am to be able to have a job where I can go drink amazing coffee and eat good food. So when people ask me how I’m doing, I say, unabashedly and without hesitation, “Living the dream.”
Sure, I’m not making six figures, but I’m able to spend time with my wife and son. I don’t have to wear a suit and tie to work, but I don’t have to wear a suit and tie to work! In the same way I have to favor my right ankle that I sprained, I have to do things a little differently from how I would have done them if I didn’t have a TBI.
I’m truly living the dream: being a stay at home dad, writing, and drinking great coffee! Daily, I have to remember to turn my will and my life over to God, who certainly knows better than I what I need.
Keep getting better, and I’ll talk to you soon.
Okay, everyone knows I have sustained a TBI, so I’m always looking for easy and fun ways to increase–or stimulate–my mind. As many of my readers are aware, I frequent Starbucks a bit. (I’m trying to employ the British penchant for understatement here.) Seriously, I spend far too much time and money at Starbucks. But occasionally, I can find something that helps me to achieve my ultimate goals–which are to stimulate my brain and help others do the same.
Starbucks provides free downloads of songs and occasionally apps for your iPhone or iPod. This weeks download was for an app that allows you to do crossword puzzles! Now, believe me here, I have never been big on crosswords. The problem I have is once you start getting one clue wrong, it throws everything around it off, and you’re screwed until the next day when you get the solution.
This app has puzzles for every level. From amazingly hard to simple. I didn’t realize how much fun these are! And unlike the puzzles you find in newspapers, these have the ability to check your answers either one clue at a time or the whole puzzle at once. Additionally, you can get just one letter at a time or if there’s one clue you need it can give the answer to you all at once! And what’s so cool is that there’s no judgement. No one’s there to make you feel like you shouldn’t be cheating!