Phil v2.0 (part 1)
Compelling insights from traumatic brain injury survivor
I am a survivor of a severe traumatic brain injury, which I incurred in 2010. This was the result of a cycling accident - and “yes”, I was wearing a helmet! It resulted in me being hospitalised for a few months and I spent a significant part of that time in a coma. I have also had a couple of subsequent periods of residential rehabilitation.
As you can see – I was feeling a little under the weather!
Now, let’s take a look at some of the outcomes of my brain injury:
There have been big (and distressing) circumstantial changes, in that I now live alone and can no longer pursue my former career as a senior, international lawyer
I am now visually impaired and have limited hearing
The really big issue for me is that I incurred significant psychological damage
I would now like to briefly outline some of my mental health problems. As you are probably aware, our minds have a number of psychological capacities, two of its major functions are cognition (thinking) and emotion (feeling). Both of these have been adversely affected by my injury.
In terms of thinking I have massive memory loss and can’t, for example, remember my children being born or much of their formative years. I also experience executive dysfunction, which has the effect that I find personal planning and organisation to be rather difficult.
The biggest challenge which now faces me though is emotional impairment and in particular, extreme depression. Some of this seems to be driven by tangible factors. For example, the fact that I can no longer pursue my career nor (much more importantly to me) live with my family. Also, the fact that very many of my other former activities are now impossible or require significant adaptation. It is also a source of distress that I now need significant care. At times though, my distress has a more abstract source...
I feel that enough about me has changed as to be now denoted as “Phil v2.0”. This is coupled with an exaggerated sense that the new me is worse than his predecessor. I have had a strong tendency to believe that Phil v2.0 isn’t just new but that he is both new and inadequate. I have felt rather worthless and that my life is a shadow of its former self. I have grieved for the past and felt directionless and hopeless. I have feared for the future and am unsure as to where life will take me.
I have not been proud of many of Phil v2.0’s characteristics and indeed, some have been a source of shame. We are not talking about feeling a little sad. “Absolutely devastated” is a better expression! Now it took me quite a while to get there, but with the help and encouragement of others, I decided that something needed to be done about it...
But what was that “something”? Guided by others, the conclusion that I reached was that I should seek to obtain:
A positive acceptance of my alteration, to Phil v2.0; and this included the acquisition of a true sense of self-worth. I am not the same as I once was but am striving for a conclusion that different isn’t necessarily worse – and might indeed, be rather better!
In order to get there, I needed to set off on a journey in the direction of this goal. I have indeed done so and, while my travels are ongoing, they are headed in the right direction and things are steadily improving for me. I must stress that I am not a solitary traveller - my journey involves significant (and much welcomed) input from others. This is quite right as they provide “version control” in my transition to Phil v2.0.
If I might take the opportunity to thank some of those categories of individuals who have provided such “version control”: there is, of course, my family and then there is my psychologist, care manager, day to day providers of care and my occupational therapists. For their assistance, I am very grateful.
In terms of the vehicle that is conveying us, a very large part of it is:
Trying to find ways of using one mental function as a tool to chip away at another – and, as you will have gathered, the one that is crying out for repair, is my emotional capacity.
Earlier on I mentioned cognition (thought), and this is indeed a useful part of our toolkit. For example, it helps to make a point of undertaking positive reflection at regular intervals – looking back at what I have been doing and how I felt about it. Often in doing so I can appreciate more, and that life is not as bad as I sometimes consider it to be.
One thing that does have a negative effect on my emotional state is mental fatigue. One way of using cognition to manage this is through attempting to de-clutter my mind and slow down every so often. I find that a good way of doing so is an adoption of meditative practices. It also helps to plan activities in advance, so as to space out tiring mental activity. As I suggested earlier, planning is not too easy for me now – but I am gradually learning.
So much for cognition. Is there anything else lurking in the toolkit? For myself at least, there is another mental function that I consider to be extremely helpful in addressing my emotional difficulties:
Our mind tells us what to do (or not do!). To put it another way it controls our behaviour.
Personally speaking, I really do find that my behaviour (how I spend my time) has the capacity to move towards the achievement of my goal - and significantly raise my mood, accordingly. I find that meaningful occupation is very much facilitative of my emotional wellbeing.
I think that there are a few reasons for this:
If I am busy, then I have less time to feel sorry for myself.
Prior to the accident my lifestyle was very full indeed. I was well used to this and once taken away; it was severely missed. I am now filling my life up again (albeit with different things) and on reflection, these things are actually a lot more enjoyable than a highly stressful job. With no longer going to work, I have a lot more time in which to enjoy them: loss = opportunity.
My activities might also have some indirect benefits. For example, they can be a source of some, much needed, pride.
With all this in mind, and in summary - I am striving to achieve a new, full and worthwhile lifestyle which fosters enjoyment and pride. Its construction has taken over 10 years so far and it remains a work in progress, but nevertheless, I am getting there and feel that it is making a very large contribution to a prospective, full and “positive acceptance of my alteration, to Phil v2.0”. This includes the re-capturing of a sense of self-worth and an increasing belief that “different isn’t necessarily worse”.
In Part 2 of this blog, I am going to outline some of the ways in which I now fill my time.