Brave New Who?

Bereavement

Hello all,

No, nothing to do with Doctor Who’s regeneration. This month I thought we’d cover bereavement. Not the kind of bereavement people usually talk about – after a death of a loved one. I mean the kind a brain injury brings.

The following is drawn from my experience, counselling clients with ABI and stroke.

Similar to the grieving process we all go through after a death, people finding themselves with a life-changing brain condition go through their own. This process has its own stages / periods. N.B: Theses stages / periods have no particular order.

Bereavement02

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Loss of Focus / Identity
  • Depression
  • Reflection & Self Awareness
  • Acceptance & Adaptation

Let’s look at these in turn.

(Denial)

This can be either a willful or unconscious non-recognition that a brain injury has happened. This is different to a client not perceiving the difficulties they are having; some clients know they’ve for example, suffered a stroke but remain unaware of the true extent of adaptation they need.

However, sometimes the shock of a life-changing event and the initial fears that go with it are all too much. It seems easier to go with the idea that nothing’s wrong, or that others are making things up, or exaggerating.

When it’s obvious that short-term memory problems and/or “simple jobs” are no longer being done “properly”, both the brain injured person and those close to them can find it helpful at first to pin problems on another health condition. Or age.

(Anger)

Even before a brain injury, some people have short tempers. After a brain injury those tempers can change either way – become even shorter, or if not stay the same, become harder to tell. Some people hardly ever get angry. Some are good at hiding it.

As part of bereavement, anger is often aimed at the cause of the injury, the world for not understanding, life in general or God for what’s happened. Or the patient / client can target their anger towards themselves.

N.B: Anger can alternate with guilt, for example when a person labels themselves as a “burden”. (I like to balance this with a further note: That a good number of people also find comfort in being needed by others.)

One good thing about anger is that, in the right place, time and company, it can be a great motivatior.

(Loss of Focus / Identity)

The crux of the matter. The immense yearning to again be that person who was. Because all that’s left is, for this time being, a nobody. For one client it was like the voice saying: “I don’t know who I am anymore,” was coming from a faceless shadow, not the person himself.

(Depression)

No kidding, this is a difficult period to move on from. Because of the change in neurology, medications may be necessary to help. Being actively listened to and listening to one’s self can also help. Keeping as active as possible is important too, even when not feeling motivated.

For more on motivation and ABI, click here.

(Reflection & Self Awareness)

In Western society we are quick to confuse who we are with what we do; we identify ourselves with our job. Meeting a stranger the question most asked and answered is: “What is it you do?”

Reflection and growing aware of the person who the person was who appled for that job before they had it, asking: “How much of that person is still here?” and paying attention that remaining person is very much part of the brain injury journey. Especially for the patient / client themselves.

(Acceptance & Adaptation)

This is not the end result of the process. The process goes round and around like a wheel moving forward.

Recently, I also used this metaphor: Bereavement is like two feet walking – an emotional foot, and a managing foot. Some days emotion take over, some days practicalities can be done.

Living with a brain injury yourself, or indeed getting to know someone all over again can be rewarding too. Some people consider themselves a nicer, or stronger, or more confident person than they were before. Some discover talents that had never shown themselves before.

I’m going to end this month with a song.  It’s not about brain injury. But the words kinda fit. Alicia Keys: Brand New Me Skip the ad’.

Take care.

Sean

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Someone Walks into a Bank – Brain Injury, Modern Technology and Isolation

This month I’d like to highlight isolation. To help, I’ve the story of Mike. Mike is not a real person, but he is inspired by several real people – people living with the social effects of brain injury as well as cognitive.

What is Isolation?

The state of being separated from someone and/or something else. A “something” might be our community, which means being separated from lots of people. “Community” also implies, by its own definition, that those lots of people are helpful to each other.

So isolation can also mean ending up without help.

Chains of Isolation
  • Invisible cognitive problems
  • Communication difficulties
  • Emotional difficulties
  • Poor access to work
  • Reduced daily living skills
  • Relationship strains
  • Feeling sidelined
Modern Life

On the theme of computers and social skills, here‘s a “Little Britain” sketch I thought you might like before reading about “Mike”. Enjoy!

(Mike’s Story)

One Saturday morning, Mike decided to visit his bank. He had to cancel a direct debit. Not feeling confident, he had it in his head that a staff member would help from across the counter or in one of the side offices.

A reminder on his mobile three hours before the bank closed prompted him why he needed to get up in good time. (Being a Saturday Mike’s bank closed early.)

He arrived at the bank and stood in line to be seen. As he waited, a member of staff approached him. She had an ipad in one hand and a cheerful greeting for him. Before he could answer she asked if Mike banked on line. She told him that if he did, he need not have made the journey into town.

Mike felt awkward. He heard himself say: “I’m not interested. I’m just here to cancel a direct debit. Sorry.”Bank2

She carried on regardless. Mike tried to concentrate, but panic rose and her words began to wash over his mind. Anger began to take over from panic. The level of his voice matched the level of his emotion. “Stop!” Embarrassed he apologised. He tried humouring her. “I’m a dinosaur. I don’t get on with technology. I prefer to speak face to face with someone.”

Eventually, Mike felt telling her he had a brain injury was the lesser of evils. He coped better when not having to think about PIN and customer reference numbers, and yet another password. Telling her was his only way out of this situation. He did not like doing it; he worried who else might be listening.

The lady accompanied him to a desk and another member of staff. And even though that member of staff tried to help, her computer would not allow her to authorise the cancellation. In the end, Mike was led into a cubicle with a phone and given a number to ring.

Eventually Mike and the voice at the other end cancelled the direct debit. It had taken the voice several ways to answer Mike’s one last question, but the voice did not mind. The voice belonged to a human whose relative had had a stroke.

Mike was grateful but eager to get home. He felt drained and in no hurry to talk to anyone else that day.

As the “Little Britain” sketch shows, you don’t need to have a brain injury to be frustrated with modern technology. But for those with ABI, the problems can double.

Take care for now.

Sean

 

Transactional Analysis & A.B.I. (Part Two)

Easter may have gone but we’re not yet donning jingle bells around our knees nor skipping around May poles. Hoping you had your fill of buns and chocolate be it milk, dark, diabetic or any other alergen free treat.

I promised last month to look at how Transactional Analysis might add extra insight into relationships with a loved one or client with an A.B.I. – how T.A. might help.

Ever tried to see the point of view of someone else? Maybe you end up saying: “I don’t know where you’re coming from.” Or when someone said something hurtful, as if out of nowhere, you’ve said: “Where did that come from?” Perhaps someone else has said this to you and you’ve not known yourself.

Transaction01

Where That Came From

We looked at the three “ego states”last month – Parent; Adult; Child. These are three simpler way of viewing our frame of mind – especially the networks of feelings, thoughts and behaviour during our interactions with others.

When our words and attitude towards another lay the law down, having decided that person is in the wrong, those words are as if from a Parent.

When our words are factual and fair so that compromise by everyone is most likely, we are “behaving like Adults”.

Our Child is viewed as taking control if our feelings are so strong, we go back into old ways that were helpful before, but not now.

In everyday life, we don’t just say one word or sentence to someone and then walk away from them; we ask them to respond, or look for their reaction. We have conversations. Each back-and-forth statement is a “transaction”.

Ordinarilly, our frame of mind is changing as fast as we react and respond to the Parent, Adult and Child of others. But what when one of us has a brain injury? It depends on the type of person and extent of their brain injury.

For example,  some time ago, I worked with someone presenting with expressive aphasia. Let’s call her Daisy. Paraphrasing, I learnt quickly, was a no-no. Making sure I understood Daisy correctly was doubly difficult. If I didn’t repeat back to her precisely the same words she’d used, and in the same order, Daisy believed me stupid; even though to my mind my sentence meant the same as hers, she would get very impatient with me.

Daisy’s default ego state was Parent. (This also had been reflected in her choice of job prior to her injury.) It’s possible her injury caused her ego state to be less flexible.

How did I cope? Honesty. I apologised, said I was slow to learn, and maintained a judgemental tone as I kind of told myself off. My words (one of which was often used by Daisy) were Adult, my tone with myself (as she listened) was Parental.

Puppy love

Types of Transactions

(Complementary)

These are transactions that parallel one another.  Ideally, they are realistic and factual, from person to person – both as Adults. Parent to Parent is also parallel. Child to Child too. But Adult to Adult works best. Both people want to have a mutually good outcome.

(Crossed)

Crossed transactions can happen when one person misreads the other person’s ego state. Even when one person talks from an Adult stance, the other person might respond from vulnerable feelings (Child) or believing the speaker is being insubordinate (Parent). Not helpful.

(Ulterior)

Here we are into gameplay. There’s a more complex transaction on two levels at once –  social and psychological. And it is important that both people understand what game is being played! Ulterior transactions happen when someone says something but means something else.

N.B: As family, friends, carers, therapists or other supporting professionals, the onus is on us to pay attention and respond in the appropriate way. If and when possible, our goal must be to bring out and engage with the other person’s own Adult self. The best way to do that is with our own.

Until next month, take care. I’ll leave you with a useful presentation by the Latimer Group called The Recipe for Great Communication

Source: Berne, E: “Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy”

 Grove Press; NEW YORK; 1961

SMART Pacing

 

pacingHappy New Year Everyone!

Here we are at the start of another twelve month cycle. If you’re anyone like me, this thought will have crossed your mind: “Is making a New Year resolution good for me?”

The Problem With Me

My neurologist once told me: “Sean, you can do most things most people can do. The difference is that they only need fuel themselves on one Mars bar. You need two.”

I’ve come to the conclusion, having a brain injury myself, that eagerness and enthusiasm to achieve works against me. I set myself too many ambitions. And those ambitions have been too big. I try to run before I can walk. I get fatigued and burn myself out.

I also set myself one year in which to achieve my goals. I’ve already said: “Here we are at the start of another twelve month cycle.” BIG mistake! Next Christmas becomes a Finishing Line. A Finishing Line that’s only half way down my imaginary racecourseeaster bunny.

When I get to Christmas, I feel a failure. My ambitious project still has a lot of time to be spent on it. In any case, the truth is I’d be out of puff before I’d got to Easter.

SMART Eggs

Specific   Measurable   Actionable   Relevant   Time-boundaried

That’s what S.M.A.R.T. stands for. It’s a way of working out the best goals to set. No one needs to be an egghead to use it, either… (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

Rather than have a New Year resolution, why not start smartly at Easter? Easter’s about new beginnings too. Better prepare yourself. Give yourself the best step forward. Consider your current experience and go on from where you are.

For example, the need for memory aids etc. Knowing who to talk through your hopes and wishes with might be your first step. Collaboration can help everyone involved be more aware and focused.

(Specific)

Be clear and certain. Set your sight on something simple. Very often, brain injury lets in all sorts of clutter – too much info’ from too many places – facts, opinions, advice. The more specific your target, the greater your chance of staying on track.

Let’s use the example of changing weight. “Changing weight” is an unclear statement. “I’d like to be 10 stone” leaves no-one uncertain about what’s wanted.

(Measurable)

For the purpose of demonstration here, let’s say “One pound difference a fortnight”. Weight can be measured every two weeks and a record kept.

(Actionable)

Again, stay specific. What treat can you not do without? Are medication and special dietary needs important factors? What is realistically achievable?

Memory and organisational problems can be reduced by dicussing meals for each day of the week. If need be, ask someone to add them to your diary, or tablet, or on something stuck to your fridge’s door.

It doesn’t have to be as strict as keeping count of how many calories per plate. Once a sensible menu has been agreed, just keep to that day’s meal.

Exercise, however possible is also something to be discussed.

(Relevant)

How relevant is weighing 10 stone to health and happiness? Maybe our existing weights are already ideal for us. Maybe something else is in more urgent need of attention.

(Time-boundaried)

Let’s say the difference between our start weight and the desired 10 stone is 3 stone. There are 14 pounds in 1 stone. 14 (pounds) x 3 (stone) = 42 (pounds). Pacing, targeting and measuring one pound difference every two weeks sets the target time 84 weeks… So we may as well, allowing a bit of leaway for celebrations and lapses, set a time boundary of two years.

And hey, if the 10 stone weight is arrived at sooner, what the heck?

Take care. I’ll be back in February.

Writing Therapy (Part Two)

Hello everyone.

How many of you, I wonder, challenged yourselves to put something into words? If you did I hope it freed you and was a help to you in some way.

Last month I promised to show how story writing can help organisational skills. Here’s how:

Beginning, Middle and End

Diaries and journals have a “yesterday – today – tomorrow” flow to them. It’s natural. Stories, on the other hand, need to have their beginning chosen. Even if we want to retell something true as fiction, the question has to be asked: “Where did it all start?” Answering and getting our story going therefore requires memory (long-term, usually) and thought.

From then on the questions come in a mix-up that needs sorting: “What happened then?” “What led this person to behave that way?” “Could it have gone differently?” “If something had happened earlier, would it have changed the outcome?” Answering and sorting out the order of all the events and explanations forms the middle.

Endings almost write themselves in a way. Some plots within our stories will have a one way conclusion. And this can also be true of some of our characters. Those who we find reasons to change their minds, become tougher or more relaxed about things, may resolve their adventures in ways they (and we as writers) would not have thought of at the beginning.

All the above is about a true story, even if it’s told as though it’s fiction. What if it’s all a fiction and we are making it up from scratch? It can be as complicated and as much fun as you like.

Creative Writing (2)
Themes, Characters and Genres

By “theme”, I mean topic – an emotional or philosophical one. For example, our story might be our way of figuring out what makes people brave. Or exploring what the world might be like without money.

Obviously, we all know what characters are. But who do we want our characters to be? A few months ago, I introduced you to the Drama Triangle. The Perils of Penelope Pitstop is a good example of this. It has a persecutor (the Hooded Claw), victim (Penelope),  and rescuers (the Ant Hill Mob). And then there are our lesser characters playing their part.

Characters can represent things too. For example, in mythology, the Viking god of storms, Thor, is often shown as quick-tempered and sometimes moody and unpredictable – just like lightening and thunder.

“Genre” is just a posh word for story type – Romance, Comedy, Adventure… Genres can be helpful. If we are exploring bravery, Fantasy might be a really good choice. Think about it. Game of Thrones, The Hobbit, even The Wizzard of Oz all explore bravery. If we think of imagining a world with no money, how about making our story a futuristic Science Fiction story? Or maybe a satirical farce?

Conclusion

Having said all the above, it might be that all we really want to do is tell a good yarn. We have no need to write anything complicated. We just want to tell a simple joke with a few added descriptions about the places and people involved to make it more interesting, more memorable, perhaps.

Perfect. The joke becomes a story. But complicated or simple, there is always a structure and our thinking behind it. And on that note, I’ll leave you with a link to two of my comedy heroes. Haurel & Hardy in “County Hospital”.

Until next month. Take care,

Sean

Writing Therapy (PartOne)

Hello all.

I was talking to someone a couple of weeks ago who once felt they wanted to bring things to an end for themselves. But then he began to write. Not a novel, short story nor a poem; nothing complicated. Just free-flowing words about life with an injured brain.

He got out of his head and onto his computer screen, all his thoughts as they swirled to the front of his awareness again. That done, he read through it.

With all the “c**p” in front of him, he was able to put his thoughts into a kind of order – cutting and pasting, creating a beginning and a middle.

The middle is where he still is. It is a middle made of challenges and support, ups and downs, downs and ups.

He’d stopped after a while. Two weeks ago he began again.

“Writing is something you find really helpful, then,” I observed. “Any idea what it’s doing for you?”

“Do-gooders mean well. But no one else can understand what it’s like being me. It’s hard to explain in any case,” he answered.

Here’s how I see it: A way of stepping out of one’s experience.

How? By taking what’s on the inside, placing it outside, looking back at it all. Uncluttered, one’s mind is free to organise, re-read, check out if it looks/sounds right, re-organise and read again. When it does look/sound right, mixed emotions and confusion have become more understandable.

Dr. Gillie Bolton is a therapist heavilly influential in Writing Therapy circles. Click here to learn her thoughts on its benefits. It’s a publicity video for one of her books, but even so…

Typing is not for everyone. There are packages available out there that can turn speech to text. If the right words don’t come, so what? Comics / graphic novels tell it all in pictures and bubbles.

Writing Therapy

Keeping a diary can be great for compensating for poor memory too. As well as appointments, some people put descriptions of new faces as well as their names. Blessings can be counted, addresses and phone numbers, doodles – anything.

Next month, Part Two with how story writing can help organisational skills and more.

Take care.