Most head injury support seems to be focused on the early days post-accident. My focus is now on long term rehabilitation. If you want to do more with your day than rest after a head injury, it’s also important to make a deliberate plan for adding on. The trick is to gradually introduce new challenges to this threshold level of stimulus that your brain can tolerate. There is a real art to finding the rate of increase that will help you to improve your overall function. The experts on this are Neurologists, Speech/Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, not me, I’m just reporting on the advice I have been given from these experts. For your own support, seek help from professionals. A blog is just a personal account, hopefully a resource for people who are looking for a place to start to get help.
Daily Challenges: It is important to continue to work at increasing your overall functioning long after having a head injury. Any increase in the level of activity you attempt must be taken at a very gradual rate. Whenever you introduce a new activity, give yourself a few weeks to include that activity within your day to day routines. It’s normal to feel an increase in symptoms initially when you add to your day, but after a week or so your brain will start to have learned the new activity well enough not to set off the ‘alarm’ of symptom flare-up. If you find you can get used to new activities in this way, then you’re adding on at the right speed. If your symptoms are intolerable, cut back.
I’ll use my own day to day plan to give you an example:
- I give myself two hours to get ready in the morning, one for rehab exercises, and one for breakfast/shower/dressing/getting out the door on time.
- Brain Exercises: I start each day with three brain-type exercises on my phone: Red Herring, 7 Little Words and Lumosity, and a coffee. The first two apps are free, Lumosity has an annual fee. The key to using these types of specific brain exercises is doing them absolutely every day and in just treating them as fun games. They all target memory and attention in a very contrived way- they aren’t going to cure anything, they may not even transfer to real life, but they give me a daily workout on the things that are difficult for me so I feel they’re worthwhile. If I have time, I’ll add either meditation or some sketching. Any relaxed, enjoyable and mindful activity is an excellent way to prepare for a successful day. Without a purposeful start to the day, I tend to have a frustrating day full of mistakes.
- Cardio: If I leave this out, I really notice the difference not only in my energy level, but in my ability to think. Even if it’s just a short walk outside, getting some exercise every day is really important for your brain. Increased blood flow=more oxygen=better thinking.
- Work/hobbies/errands/social time: Over the long term, the core of each day is not focused on rehab, so I have to approach every activity in my day with my overall brain rehab in mind. For example, I don’t rush anything. As soon as you rush yourself, you’re adding more work to the already increased brain activity and that’s when you start to mess up on the little things. I plan for breaks throughout the day and I limit the amount of time I spend on any one activity-even having a visit with a friend. A break in between activities is quiet time alone. Initially, I used a meditation app on my phone called Headspace to help me with this. You can set it for a 10 minute meditation to take a quick break. I don’t really need the guided meditation anymore now, but I think that’s because I used the app to learn how to quiet my brain down. In summary: Plan your day, include breaks, and don’t rush or multi-task.
- Long-term commitments: I think it’s really important to find something beyond your own rehab to focus your energy on. I’m talking about volunteer work, and exploring new interests. I have made a deliberate effort to make the best of my situation both by trying to help others, and by exploring new interests. My first volunteer activity was in starting this blog when I was in a brain injury rehab program. I’m a teacher-if I can’t teach in a classroom, I’ll find a way to share information that I feel is important. I have also worked with a local health resource person to form a head injury support group. She manages the organizational details, and I provide a way for people to share. My personal exploration of a new interest is through art. I think it’s important to look not only at the deficits caused by a brain injury, but also the changes that may be beneficial in some way. For me, my visual strengths seem to be making up for the problems with my auditory function. So, I’m learning how to paint. It’s fun, it’s quiet, and it’s also a very gentle way to increase my ability to focus using a part of my brain that feels strong.
- Long-term lifestyle changes: No accident is something you’d chose to experience, but even the most minor accident gives you an opportunity to learn and to grow. A head injury causes you to slow down and pay closer attention to things that matter. It forces you to make deliberate choices on the way you spend your time. I would imagine that even just slowing down to plan out your day with rest breaks for your brain is probably a very big shift for most people. It’s not a bad thing to shift to a proactive approach to life, rather than a reactive one. Below is a peek at one of my early paintings. I took a painting class and really enjoyed the opportunity to focus on making something. I strongly recommend trying something creative like this-who knows where it might lead?