The human brain takes a long time to heal after trauma, and so it follows that caring for a loved one with brain injury can feel like an eternity. On top of that, outcomes from traumatic brain injury are largely unpredictable. Odd symptoms come and go, personalities, roles, and relationships change, and stress can mount with each passing day. How can a caregiver tap into a sense of peace along the way? Here are a few strategies that worked for me, when I had the sense and presence of mind to use them!
1. Accept not knowing.
Accept what you know now for what it is, and realize that you cannot change what already happened. You cannot accurately predict what may happen. But you can draw strength and breathe life into today by accepting it as it is without judgment.
2. Create your own sacred space.
A special chair, a sun porch, or a window seat can be the place you visit when you need to catch your breath. Keep a few favorite items near that space: a sacred statue, your own personal amulets, a framed quote or prayer that soothes you, or even worry beads or a stress ball to grip when you feel combustible. Sometimes, you may need to leave a volatile situation — just walk away (try not to stomp) and visit your safe space. Returning there again and again can direct your thoughts — spiritually — and guide you when you feel a deep sense of anger, anxiety, or grief.
3. Carve out small bits of time to revive.
Make it a daily practice to use whatever small amounts of time you can find during the day to dedicate to yourself. When Hugh was exhausted after his rehab visits, he usually came home, ate, and fell asleep for a while. I would go out on the back deck and sit in the sun, read, or just take in the spring air and breathe. Using these small windows of time to listen to music, read poetry, stretch, or listen to a guided imagery tape for relaxation will give you the energy you need to continue on.
4. Discover your mantra.
The words we tell ourselves have incredible power over our moods and behavior. Find the words that calm you and repeat them to yourself throughout the day when you feel anger, fear, or frustration spinning out of control. I often said the serenity prayer in my mind. It seems to cover all the bases for TBI caregiving!
Song lyrics work well too … something short and sweet you can say over and over to yourself instead of the litany of defeat that replays in your mind. Here are two short lyric mantras that might work well: “Let it be” (the Beatles) and “All will be well” (the Gabe Dixon Band).
And don’t forget Norman Vincent Peale’s sage advice: “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”
5. Understand that your daily routine of providing care is a huge gift.
Recognize that caring for another person you love may be the highest calling you have here on earth. You do matter. The simple things you do, the care you provide, and small gifts you offer — a listening ear, a connecting smile, a gentle touch — will promote healing, give comfort, and enrich the life of the ones you love.
Remember Mahatma Gandhi's words: "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."