If you’re a TBI survivor, are you tired of being told how lucky you are? How it could have been worse? How someone else has it much harder than you?
If you are caregiving for a loved one with TBI are you tired of hearing, “Isn’t it a miracle he’s here? Think of all the blessings you have in your life!”
If a very loud internal voice screams in your head, “Are you freaking kidding me?” when family and friends encourage you to be thankful, you may be suffering from an episode of Irritable Gratitude Syndrome (IGS).
My periodic episodes of IGS started fourteen years ago when a car struck my husband and we trudged through two years of TBI surgeries, rehabilitation, and treatments before he returned to a version of himself that he could live with.
Irritable Gratitude Syndrome isn’t pretty. It’s not what we strive for, but sometimes it strikes us when we least expect it. It sounds like this:
Sure he lived through this accident, but look at the shape he’s in — how will he ever get better? What’s there to be grateful for? He’s miserable, and so am I!
Sure we have a roof over our head and meals on the table, but we are stressed to the max and hate our lives right now … and this injury will probably make us go bankrupt!
Sure we have friends who care, but they have lives of their own. It’s not their job to fix this. No one can fix this!
And for survivors, it may be worse. I know TBI survivors who have said, “Sure I’m glad the doctor saved my life; I only wish they could have given me back my function, my job, my lost time, my identity …” (Fill in the blank. The list goes on and on.)
Yes, it’s ugly.
IGS cannot be fixed with a gratitude journal. After a loved one survives a serious traumatic brain injury, you need a thick “to do” journal because you will be busy. Busy scheduling surgeries, visiting rehab centers, and running to the pharmacy; busy signing papers, driving to appointments, and looking up definitions of neurological words. Your computer will be burning up with brain injury websites. Who has time for a gratitude journal?
IGS cannot be cured overnight. It may take weeks and months to find your bright spot again. It is a condition that may rear its ugly head as you and your loved one struggle through plateaus, setbacks, and hard knock realizations.
IGS cannot be helped by a cheerful friend with great news of her own to share — in fact, this may cause the IGS sufferer to want to punch that friend in the face for being chipper.
So what’s an IGS sufferer to do? All I can tell you is what I know from my own experience, since this is an unstudied syndrome not yet researched by neurogratefologists:
- Feel sorry for yourself. It’s okay to do that.
- Demand a little space alone to scream and cry out your despair.
- Forgive yourself for not being perfect or able to feel happiness for others right now.
- Tell yourself that time will help and watch the time go by. (Consider it lost. Accept that.)
- Hug your pillow.
- Hug your kids.
- Hug the dog.
- Hug the cat.
- Hug the UPS man. You get the picture. Hugging helps. No words, just hugging. Hugging releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone. It lowers both our heart rates and our stress hormone levels. (Scientific evidence courtesy of the Huffington Post.
So there you have it. Irritable Gratitude Syndrome will come and go after a loved one suffers a TBI. Remember, you are not alone. And you don’t have to feel grateful for that.