Accept, Survive and Thrive

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TALKS: ACCEPT, SURVIVE AND THRIVE

Have you ever thought about how you would feel if you woke up and didn’t know why you were, wherever you were? I’m not talking about waking up after overindulging in some substance or forgetting where you slept. I’m asking if you’ve ever been betrayed by your memories? All of a sudden you find that you are unable to do what you remember. Your life terrifies you, you trust no one and you can’t remember needing the assistance you now require? How do you survive? What do you have to do differently now and in the future? Is doing all you can worth the struggle?

I will answer all those questions, but first I need to tell you what circumstances lead me to the conclusions I make.

Over 45 years ago in November of 1971 I was an active, liberal, rebellious college student. I was very social, well organized, intelligent, goal oriented and fiercely independent with just the right touch of passive aggressive resistance to authority figures. I remember laughing a lot and handling stress without much thought or anxiety. I was able to manage multiple demands with ease. In the fall of that year my world collapsed. I was a passenger in a car, involved in a head-on collision in the Ann Arbor area. In that split second, my career changed from one of a special education teacher to an entry-level position in the field of brain injury recovery.

I got an impressive set of credentials that afternoon. My right wrist was crushed, both my eyes would never again work together and I sustained a severe brain stem injury. Fortunately, the driver of the other car was a doctor who immediately began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to restore my breathing. I was rushed to the University Hospital in Ann Arbor , where I was placed on life support.

In 1972, I was concerned with learning to walk without using furniture for support, go up and down stairs, cook my own meals and set my hair. Things that I unconsciously do today were very difficult and required deliberate effort. I could only do one thing at a time. I couldn’t eat and have a conversation at the same time. I used to hesitate between groups of words so often that I was told I sounded retarded. I did not like that at all. So I started listening to how people in the mainstream talked and I copied them.

I also had no idea how to interact with people after my injury, so I watched how others did that wherever I went. I chose role models from the people I like and respected. I decided to be the kind of person who got treated the way I wanted to be treated. Somehow I knew I had to treat others the way I wanted to be treated.

I’m not going to talk about my trials going back to school, trying to work and getting fired. And I’m not going to discuss my seizure, sleeping and breathing disorders. Those events and conditions are simply facts of my life. The question is what do I do now?

Today I live as a Trauma Recovery Expert/Disability Life Coach.  I have become a Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress, with a Board Certification in Disability Trauma.

How did I accomplish all of this?

  • I LEAD AN INTERDEPENDENT LIFE AND I’M ABSOLUTELY COMFORTABLE FOR ASKING FOR ASSISTANCE WHEN I NEED IT.
  • I’M AWARE OF THE ACTIVITIES THAT DEPLETE MY ENERGY AND TRY NOT TO DO THEM.
  • I KNOW WHAT I DO WELL AND I KNOW WHEN I NEED HELP.
  • I TRY TO DO ALL THAT I CAN AND ONLY ASK FOR ASSISTANCE WHEN IT’S ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.

(For instance, I was pulling weeds while my husband and his sister were planting flowers in our garden. After working for almost 4 hours, I couldn’t get up from the ground without assistance. I made my needs known and was instructed to stop immediately.)

Now I’m going to mention some difficulties I confront & some success strategies I use to overcome them.

My fatigue— SUCCESS STRATEGY No. 1

I rest and try to remain calm. Mornings are my best times & that’s when I try to schedule activities.

Another difficulty I have is my need to be organized – a skill I find extremely difficult to incorporate in my life — that brings me to

SUCCESS STRATEGY No. 2

  1. IT’S BEST TO CONFRONT RATHER THAN AVOID MY PROBLEMS.
  2. I THINK OF MYSELF AS HAVING A BATTLE WITH THE DEFICITS CREATED BY MY INJURY AND BY MY AGE.
  3. AS LONG AS I REMAIN IGNORANT OF MY DIFFICULTIES, I WILL BE UNABLE TO AVOID OR REDUCE MY OWN SUFFERING.

When I familiarize myself with the difficulties that might occur, my distress seems to be reduced as well as my fear and anxiety about life with all of my problems.

When I no longer need to be afraid of what might happen, I can better prepare myself for the options or what the health care professionals call: compensatory strategies. I choose to call them Success Strategies

I have learned that in order for me to make changes, I need to have goals.

SUCCESS STRATEGY No. 3: Those goals must be realistic and attainable.

I recognize my difficulties in the here and now. When bringing about genuine change, I need to make a sustained effort.

My experiences have taught me that it takes determination, effort and time to modify my behavior. While it’s important for me to set reasonable expectations and be respectful of the reality of my situation, I feel that I must never lose sight of what I hope to achieve. In his book called Authentic Happiness, Dr. Howard Cutler writes, “ Without expectation and hope, without aspiration, there can be no progress”.

One statement that I like and helps me to feel good about myself is:

RECOVERY IS MAKING PROGRESS!

  • It doesn’t matter where you start, doing anything to make your life better is making progress.
  • How do I win the war against the residual effects of my problems?
  • I have learned that I have to accept what I absolutely can’t do, before I will allow myself to learn the skills necessary to do what I want to do. Then I must remember that every day and every task is different. Just because I am able to do something today, at one particular time doesn’t mean I’ll be able to repeat the process on another day, at another time.

I have created a guide called, ACCEPTANCE GROUPS FOR SURVIVORS, A Guide for Facilitators. It is a structured format designed to help people accept themselves and their new life circumstances. It can be used by anyone.

Since all people learn through repetition, each meeting starts and ends in the same way. Before each group, a participant reads,

  • Recovery does not mean that you wake up one day and you’re fine.  Ir does not mean that your memory becomes intact.  It does not mean that you don’t get confused and it certainly doesn’t mean you regain the life you had prior to the Injury/disability/illness.
  • Recovery to a person with an injury/disability/illness is making progress.  Making progress is accepting your deficits, learning success strategies to help you with those deficits and learning to love and value yourself.

Is it Worth the Struggle? I say YES!

  • I accept myself with all my limitations. I do the best I can with what I’ve got.
  • Making progress is simple but it’s not easy. It requires commitment and a single-minded, sustained determination to overcome obstacles and improve. My life has taught me that I as not singled out for the misfortunes I’ve experienced. That insight doesn’t eliminate or minimize my problems, but it does reduce the suffering that comes from struggling against the unfortunate facts of my life.
  • I wish things were different, but they’re not. All I can do is the best that I can & like myself in the process.