We cannot (or should not) discuss brain injury awareness without spending time recognizing the family and friends that take on the caregiving role after someone they love has an injury of this nature. Two years ago I co-facilitated a workshop for caregivers of brain injury survivors. What a great event! Not only was this well attended, but the speakers provided an amazing amount of education, skills and insight into how to both cope, manage, and achieve success as the care provider of someone with a brain injury. I wanted to take a moment to highlight my personal takeaways from this event:
Everyone has a story. As someone who lost a brother-in-law to the effects of a catastrophic brain injury, I understand how telling our story – be it about loss, change, remorse, guilt, fear, or triumph can bring people together and has immense therapeutic benefit. Caregivers benefit from collaborating, talking, sharing, laughing, crying and growing together. Our health system needs to create these opportunities, or caregivers need to find ways to make this happen.
Grieve. In my undergrad I studied grief and loss and even worked in hospice. What I realized at our workshop, however, is that the permanence of death allows people to grieve their loss, achieve acceptance, and eventually move on. When dealing with survival from a traumatic event, however, grief is not always experienced as our loved one is still present, albeit different. Yet, our speakers emphasized the importance of grieving: the life that once was, the life that may never be, and the changes and adjustments that have occurred. Caregivers need to let this grief process happen, or should seek support from a trained professional to experience this important emotion.
Find a new normal. Clients, caregivers, and health care professionals need to always consider that the old “normal” may never return. In that case, we all need to collaboratively look ahead to creating a “new normal”. Different does not always have to be bad, and it requires an open and optimistic mind to think that way. For OT’s that means taking the abilities of the individual, considering their resources, and helping them to create that new life of function, fulfillment, meaning and productivity.
Put on your own oxygen mask first. We spoke extensively about the importance of caregivers taking the time to attend to their own personal needs, to have positive coping mechanisms and sources of support. Then, at break I was speaking with a man whose wife suffered a brain injury. He talked about the “airplane analogy” and how this applies to caregivers – put on your own mask before helping another. I smiled and told him that I wrote a blog on that exact topic, with that exact title last year. As he found that analogy practical and helpful, I thought I would share the contents of that previous blog here, to highlight this important third point: