Emotional and Physical Recovery Are Two Different Things

Jeffrey Kreutzer and Victoria Powell, The National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care
Emotional and Physical Recovery Are Two Different Things

Many different kinds of problems develop after brain injury. You want them all to get better and go away. Understanding more about brain injury problems can help you get better more quickly. One of the most important things to understand is that recovery can be divided up into at least two categories, physical and emotional.

Physical recovery means getting the body to work right again. Physical recovery is the biggest focus of most rehabilitation programs, especially hospital-based brain injury programs. When people talk about physical recovery, you may hear them saying things like …

“He wants his headaches to go away.”
“I’m tired all the time. I can’t work for more than 30 minutes without taking a break.”
“He wants his coordination to come back so he can play the piano at church again.”
“She’d like the ringing in her ears to stop.”
“He wants the dizziness to go away so he can jog again.”

On the other hand, the injured person and their family members are often emotionally affected by the injury. When talking about their emotions, you may hear people say things like …

“Since the accident, everyone in the family has been worried and upset.”
“I’m emotionally drained. I’ll settle for just one good day.”
“We’ve done everything we can to help her. I’m not sure our lives will ever be the same.”
“His older sister cries all the time and I’m afraid she’s going to fail in school. On the other hand, his younger brother acts as if nothing has changed.”

Each person will be affected differently, and each will have a different rate of emotional recovery. Emotional recovery means feeling good about yourself and your life. When people have trouble with emotional recovery, you may also hear them saying things like …

“I wish our lives could be back to normal.”
“He wants to feel like his life means something.”
“She wants to feel like she’s as good as everyone else.”
“She wants to have a reason to get up in the morning.”
“He’d like to feel good about himself.”

Here are some things that you should know about physical and emotional recovery. Knowing more about each one can help you do better and feel better.

  • Physical recovery is usually faster than emotional recovery. In fact, many people don’t have noticeable physical problems 6 or 12 months after their injury.
  • Though family members have not had a physical injury, most will feel some emotional pain. How and when each person shows emotions differs greatly. One family member might seem to sleep “all the time,” while another may have problems sleeping. One might be jumpy and argue with everyone, while another may be quiet and stay by herself. One family member might be upset for two months and then feel fine. Another may show no reaction for two months and then suddenly start crying a lot and report feeling hopeless.
  • Emotional recovery for the patient and family members can take a very long time, five or ten years or longer.
  • More serious physical problems can mean more serious emotional problems.
  • Getting better physically or emotionally isn’t necessarily a smooth process. Sometimes people stop getting better for a time (plateau) and then make progress again. Sometimes people take one step back for every two steps forward.
  • New problems and stresses can affect emotional recovery. These may include the illness of another family member and problems at work or school.

Most people have a pretty good understanding of their physical problems and what they need to get better. Many people have trouble thinking about and talking about their feelings. Try to understand your feelings and talk to others you trust about them. Doing so can help you feel better about your life and your recovery.

This article was written by staff of the Virginia TBI Model System and the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury (NRC). Our mission is to provide practical information for professionals, persons with brain injury, and family members. For more information about our educational and clinical programs and publication catalog check our website (www.neuro.pmr.vcu.edu) - or call Mary Beth King at 804-828-9055 or toll free at 1-866-296-6904.

Survivors and their family members may also be interested in our family education and support program at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. The VCU TBI Model System Family Support Program was designed to address the needs of survivors, their family members, and other persons close to the survivor. Participants in the program learn about what to expect after brain injury and important skills for adjusting and extending the recovery process. For more information about the program, please contact Taryn Dezfulian by phone at 804-828-3701, or by email at tdezfulian@mcvh-vcu.edu

Posted on BrainLine May 5, 2009.

From the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care. Reprinted with permission. https://tbi.vcu.edu/

Comments (3)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

Most with brain inflammation are not able to figure out how to get help. I had a great life. After a car rear ended me and I hit my head, I started not being able to focus on Movies. I could no longer do my job easily. I couldn't do simple things like paint a wall or pack a suitcase. I didn't know I had brain swelling until getting better and finally realized it. I even had a spinal tap showing I had brain swelling but had a doctor who didn't explain this to me or how to treat it. I started having a hard time doing things. Rarely left my home. Felt emotionally off. I kept telling doctors that I was having a hard time with simple things. Just getting to the doctor was hard. I went from top of my class, jogging 6 miles a day, living a happy, fun life to not understanding simple things. Not one of them caught the classic symptom until I brought this up to them. I live alone and my family lives far away, so I had no help.

Always remember there are other treatments you can utilize. Herbs can be great when working with a qualified herbalist. Dr's think it's ok to just give pharma pills one after another which will destroy any kind of personal relationship. There are other treatments you need to try first. It's really disgusting you aren't given the option. 

And accepting that you ARE changed is another thing altogether...which may also take even longer.