The Importance of Self-Care During Difficult Times

David and his wife smiling in a restaurant, in front of red drapes

In the 10 years that I have been chronicling my life here at Brainline, the depth and breadth of topics I have written about have been quite diverse. From dealing with the loss of my verbal filter early on and navigating the often-challenging medical system to intimacy after brain injury and working through personality changes and family struggles — not much has been off limits. In fact, it’s been just the opposite; the bigger the challenge and the deeper I dig into how I work my way through life as a survivor, the greater the good realized as I open up my life as a living example of how to best navigate through the challenges we all face.

It is with profound sadness that I share that someone very dear to me is nearing death. In fact, he may not still be with us by the time this is published. As one of the most cherished relationships in my life, his imminent death is kicking the legs out from underneath me.

I have been around the block enough times to know that much of what comes to pass in my life is just part of what every human experiences. I am also comfortable enough in where I am in my own brain injury recovery journey to know that my actions and reactions to all that is happening are completely within the realm of normal. 

However, normal does not equal easy. Not even close.

Over the last few days, I have had to take a step back and refocus on my own wellness. I cannot be of service to anyone if I am in such a state of exhaustion that the very act of “being” is too much. Most of us have heard the term, “Put on your own oxygen mask first.” And I am trying to do just that. Though I want to forget about my brain injury and how it can still affect every aspect of my life — at least for a while — my brain injury has certainly not forgotten about me. I have had to recommit to practicing self-care.

“What exactly does that look like?” Here are a few of the things that I am doing to keep my head above water:

Slowing my pace – I count myself as one of the fortunate ones because I have been able to work again since my injury, although it often comes with a price. As a quintessential overachiever, I have had to learn how to pace myself. But, for right now, I am intentionally lightening my work schedule. Not slowing down is a recipe for a hard crash.

Sharing my struggles – Holding my emotional pain inside is toxic, something that is true for everyone. I am fortunate to have a small circle of close friends in whom I am comfortable confiding. Every time I share my inner pain, it gets a bit easier. And it goes both way; my friends know that I am a “safe person” they can confide in, too. Sharing pain is not easy, but it helps.

Acknowledging my challenges – While I would love to say that my TBI is secondary right now as my loved one nears death, that is simply not true. Over the last week, my brain fog has been off the charts. My tinnitus has again reached very uncomfortable levels. My processing speed is often so slow that it feels like I am a new TBI survivor rather than one in his second decade of recovery. And stress rocks every TBI-related challenge into overdrive.

Practicing gratitude – Although not easy to do when life is difficult, focusing on reasons to be grateful can make each day just that much kinder. In the midst of the pain and grief, I intentionally start ticking off countless reasons to be grateful: I have my soulmate, Sarah, to walk through life with. Our home is a safe sanctuary for all who visit. I have a small but cherished circle of friends. And I have purpose in my life and reasonable health. I am lucky to say that my gratitude list is never-ending.

This too shall pass – This is perhaps the most important thought to keep in mind. The way things are today are not the way they will be forever. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end. With life comes change that needs to be embraced. 

Like every human being since the dawn of time, I have and will experience profound loss. We all will. But it is in that very pain that some of our strongest bonds with each other form. 

I have no positive words to close with, no promises that all will be easy for anyone. But, I can share that somehow, against seemingly insurmountable odds, we all seem to find our way. And, for me, there is some comfort in that.