When your life has been shattered by brain injury and the door to your old life has not just closed, but slammed shut, how do you find a new door of happiness and acceptance? Where do you look? How do you begin? Below is a list of actions that gradually helped me in my journey from banging against the closed door of my old life to walking through the open door of my new life. I hope they can help you, too.
- Get to know your new self
- Listen for the wisdom of the little voice inside
- Take action
- Start small, find success and build on it
- Find ways to give to others
- Take risks: Feel the fear and move forward anyway
- Make something: Create meaning out of suffering
Take Risks: Feel the Fear and Move Forward Anyway
When cognition doesn’t work right due to brain injury, the world can seem dangerous. It’s easy to become isolated. Experiencing failure after failure can make us extra cautious and scared to try anything new.
Moving forward into a new life means taking some risks. I don’t mean negative risks that are impulsive and can lead to dangerous situations. Instead, I mean positive risks that are calculated and can lead to growth, increased confidence and new opportunities.
My most important calculated risk came four years after my brain injury. I was asked to participate in a workshop on creativity at my state brain injury conference. This meant displaying my crafts and talking about how they’d helped me as a brain injury survivor. It was my first opportunity to speak publicly about my brain injury.
Sharing my story in front of others felt risky, because at that time I was still very embarrassed by my brain injury symptoms. I was afraid I would get overwhelmed and wouldn’t be able to talk. As a former teacher and musician, I knew how to deal with performance jitters, but brain injury had erased all my confidence. My legs shook from nerves the entire time I spoke, but I did it.
Pushing my boundaries at that conference had many benefits. My self-esteem and self-confidence increased. I experienced the power of using my story to help others. I began to feel like there could be some value and purpose in all that I’d been through.
When I spoke at that conference, it felt like I was coming ‘home’, and for the first time since my accident, my way forward was clear. I knew that speaking about brain injury was what I wanted to do.
That calculated risk was the beginning of more opportunities. Doors opened that I never could have foreseen. Taking risks can push us in new directions we couldn’t have imagined. Over the years, I’ve gone from being part of panel discussions, to giving short talks, organizing workshops, delivering keynote speeches and writing a book.
In 2010, my mentor Bev Bryant and I founded the survivor group Brain Injury Voices. As a group, we volunteer approximately 2500 hours each year as brain injury educators, advocates and peer mentors. I still cannot hold a job, but I do have a career, one that started with taking a risk—by being afraid but choosing to move forward anyway.
Taking calculated risks can push your boundaries in a positive direction. When you begin to stretch yourself, life becomes richer.
Making it Your Own
What’s an activity you’d like to do, but feel apprehensive about trying? Below are some possibilities to get your thinking started.
- Try a different coping strategy
- See a new medical provider
- Get out of the house
- Socialize with others
- Do something new
- Share your story
- Attend a brain injury support group
- Go to a brain injury conference
What’s a small risk you can take to begin moving forward with that activity?
Carole Starr is a 20-year brain injury survivor, national keynote speaker, author of To Root & To Rise: Accepting Brain Injury, and the founder/facilitator of Brain Injury Voices, an award-winning survivor volunteer group in Maine.