For most family members, brain injury brings on many sudden and unwanted changes. Most people want their lives to be normal again as soon as possible. Often survivors and their family members describe feeling frustrated because progress comes slowly. You may have to wait a long time to get a doctor’s appointment, have tests done — and learn the results, qualify for disability benefits, or receive return phone calls. Waiting often leads to feelings of impatience and frustration. Try to realize that getting irritated or angry about the lack of progress can cause you to feel worse. Becoming irritated and angry can also scare off the help and support you need from family, friends, and professionals.
Learning about the normal recovery process is a first step toward learning patience. The recovery process has two parts — physical recovery and emotional recovery. Physical recovery means getting your body to work right again. Physical recovery is usually faster than emotional recovery. Emotional recovery, feeling good about yourself and your life, can take up to five or 10 years or even longer. People with more physical problems need more time for emotional recovery.
For most people, recovery is not a smooth process. Sometimes people will get better and better for a while and then have a setback or stop making gains. “Plateaus” or “taking a few steps backward” are normal parts of the recovery process. New problems and stresses can arise and slow progress as well. New stresses may be or may not be related to the brain injury.
We have talked to many family members and survivors about patience. Here is a list of their suggestions, which may help you master the art of patience:
- Being patient may be seem difficult, but remember that you can choose to be patient or impatient. You are the best person to be in charge of your emotions and the way you act. Your body is not "wired" to be impatient. Trying hard to be patient will get you the best results.
- Be persistent. Being persistent and working hard are the best ways to improve your life and help your injured family member get better. We’ve found that the most successful survivors keep picking themselves up after they fail, learn from their mistakes, and try again. When you run into roadblocks and barriers, try tackling the problem in a different way, but always keep trying.
- Remember that success is relative. Often we get a set idea of what success means. After injury, you may still be trying to use the same ruler to measure success as you did pre-injury. This may lead to disappointment and frustration for you and the survivor. Try to figure out a new way to judge success. Instead of comparing people to how they were pre-injury, focus on more recent experiences. Think about progress that’s been made since the injury.
- Focus on accomplishments not failures. People have a tendency to focus on the negative, on failure. Doing so often leads to feelings of sadness and low self-worth. Instead, try to focus on progress and accomplishments. Keep a list of gains you notice your family member — and yourself — making from day to day. Monitoring progress will help everyone in the family feel more positive and hopeful.
- Celebrate small steps forward. Usually, we reward ourselves only when we’ve achieved the goal we’re shooting for. Give yourself credit for the small steps you achieve toward reaching your goals.
- Avoid becoming overloaded. Impatience often comes about when we are overloaded or feel overwhelmed with demands and responsibilities. Remember that taking on too much can lead to frustration and impatience — especially if you take on too much too soon.
- Ask for help. When you feel yourself becoming overloaded, ask for help from your family, friends, and professionals. They’ll appreciate knowing what they can do to support you. Being able to take a break from solving the problem yourself will also allow you the time to slow down and find a better solution.
Remember you are only human! Everyone makes mistakes. Try to learn from your mistakes to make your future better.
"Learning to Be Patient with the Idea That Recovery Takes Time," from the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care. Reprinted with permission. www.vcuhealth.org.