Keys to Re-empowerment after a Brain Injury

Our bodies want to naturally heal and operate at optimal condition. Take that little cut on your finger, for example. You don’t have to do much except keep it clean and covered, and voila! Your body mends itself to create a new barrier between you and the outside world.

The same is true for your brain. But just like broken bones, your brain may need a “splint” and/or some prompting to heal and get back to working toward surviving and thriving.

In Session II of the Brain Injury Hope Foundation’s BI Survivor series “Getting Hit, Getting Up and Moving Beyond – 13 Keys to Re-empowerment for Survivors of TBI” speaker Joanne Cohen relayed her experience of overcoming numerous brain injuries to lead a fulfilling life.

During the course of her recovery, Cohen, who is the Vice-President of the Brain Injury Hope Foundation, developed a baker’s dozen list of tools she used to get her life back on track. And she passed along these keys to a group of 67 people, who attended the Survivor Series luncheon, which was sponsored by a grant from the Spalding Community Foundation.

“What I hope to do with my story here today is to give you some tips on your road to recovery,” Cohen said. “And take from today what will work for you and leave what won’t. This is not the ‘gospel.’ We are all a work in progress, and all brain injuries are unique.

“When people thought I had it together,” she continued, “what they didn’t know was that it took me everything to keep it together.”

The 13 keys to successful recovery and empowerment:

Key No. 1: The first key to unlocking a successful recovery is: Live your Life to the Fullest as the New and DIFFERENT You – You are NOT your TBI. A former participant made a great distinction when she said, “I am a person with a brain injury, NOT a brain-injured person.”

“Don’t get into a victim mentality. Let go of your story,” Cohen said. “What is important is what I learned from it. You need to come to terms with your injury. We all want our old life back, BUT this is MY life now. It’s about the journey, and working toward a ‘new normal.’ Focus on what you can do, and what you can do to remedy yourself. Take care of yourself. I like to say, and the truth is, I am highly functional until I’m not.”

Key No. 2: Focus on the ABILITY, Not the DIS-ability.

We encourage our client’s to focus on what they CAN do and accomplish and celebrate those improvements and the small steps, from point A, to B, to C, etc.

Key No. 3: Acknowledge the Small Steps.

Per Dr. Gerard Erker “progress does not have a timestamp on it.” Cohen spoke about an “attitude of gratitude” for what we can do, the step by step improvements we make, and keeping a positive attitude, focusing on what we want instead of what we do not want.

“Do the best you can do, and don’t beat yourself up,” she said. “Know your limitations, and celebrate the small stuff.”

Key No. 4: Be Your Own Advocate.

Work with professionals who “get us” and who understand brain injury, who encourage rather than discourage, and who do not discount what is going on in our lives. If you are unable to advocate for yourself, then find someone who will be your advocate.

Key No. 5: Consider Medical and Alternative Healing Therapies/Trust the Process and
Do the Work.

There are SO many healing options, from traditional to holistic and everything inbetween. Some options Cohen tried: Cognitive Therapy, Vision Therapy, Neuro-Physical Therapy, Chiropractic, Neuro-Psych  Testing and Cognitive Testing, Nutrition/Power Foods, and living in the now moment. She also mentioned art therapy, music therapy, EMDR, Neuro-Chiropractic therapy, equine therapy, yoga, acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen, to name several more.

Key No. 6: Develop a Support Team/Develop an Advocacy Network and THRIVE.

“You can’t get better if you don’t believe you will get better,” Cohen explained as she reiterated her experience of doctors telling her she would never walk, or that she would walk with a limp, or that it was all in her head.

“Be your own advocate, and put your dream team together,” she said of different therapies such as cognitive therapy, vision therapy, physical therapy, chiropractic sessions, massage, acupuncture yoga, meditation, nutrition, hyperbaric oxygen sessions, etc.

“Wellness is a three-prong approach: body, mind and spirit,” Cohen said. “Body—exercise; Mind—meditate, yoga, and Spirit—prayer, forgiveness and nature.”

Key No. 7: Move Out of the Closet and Into the World.

Stare down fear. “Fear is False Evidence that Appears Real,” Cohen said. “The jobs I thrived in were jobs in which my bosses knew I was recovering from a TBI. There are pros and cons to disclosure. Know thy neighborhood.”

Key No. 8: Ask for Help.

Ask your family and friends to gently and compassionately let you know if you repeat yourself; sometimes we do not know when we need to ask for help and that is when our friends and advocates play an important role in our lives.

Key No. 9: Compensate! Compensate! Compensate.

“It takes a courageous person to ask for help,” Cohen said. “And use things that help you – write things down, use GPS, Siri. I was called the ‘sticky note queen’—not funny then however I can see the humor in that now. I use different colored bottles for shampoo, conditioner, etc. and put my keys in the same place as I walk into my home—just a few ways to compensate. Ask yourself what you need and want to do to compensation for YOUR disABILITY!”

Key No. 10: Be Patient with Others Who Do Not Understand.

“We have all heard when you tell someone you have memory issues or you are fatigued, and they say, ‘So do I.’” Cohen said as heads nodded in agreement. “Be patient with your friends and family members. They are just trying to help.”

And, show them the Mary Lou Acimovic Reserve Model that depicts a non-TBI brain and a TBI brain to help them understand the cognitive fatigue you are experiencing and why in addition to HOW it is different from them.

Key No. 11: Helping Others IS Helping Yourself.

“Being here today and sharing these 13 keys with you—you do not realize what a gift you are giving to me,” Cohen said. “It’s part of the community. It is the silver lining. If you have a depressed or ‘bad hair day’ ask yourself what you can do to help, assist, and support someone else. It WILL make a difference!”

Key No. 12: Your Journey/Your Life.

“Work toward the new you and your next new normal. Fall in love with your life. Embrace it,” Cohen said. “It is what you DO with what happens to you.”

Joanne quoted Jeffrey Therrien, Purpose Writers: “The time has come to learn to fall in love with the punches in life, and how to handle the new ME. This is quite the realization, and that alone is huge.” And, Cohen quoted a very wise one, Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne: “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Key No. 13: Resiliency is a Key to Survive and Thrive.

“The only way out is through,” Cohen explained. “It’s exhausting, but you have to have a mindset of getting better.”

It’s about a mindset of resiliency, an intention of resiliency, a focus on resiliency, and a belief in resiliency. Cohen mentioned a T-shirt she saw that said, “I am, and therefore I matter.”

Yes, our bodies are amazing healing machines, and given the proper therapies we have the ability to recharge, refresh and reprogram our brains and bodies to live a life of purpose and prosperity.

Written by: Eliza Marie Somers

13 Keys to

No. 1: Live your Life to the Fullest as the New and DIFFERENT You – You are not your

No. 2: Focus on the Ability, Not the Dis-ability.

No. 3: Acknowledge the Small Steps.

No. 4: Be Your Own Advocate.

No. 5: Consider Medical and Alternative Healing Therapies/Trust the Process and Do the

No. 6: Develop a Support Team/Develop an Advocacy Network and THRIVE.

No. 7: Move Out of the Closet and Into the World.

No. 8: Ask for Help.

No. 9: Compensate! Compensate! Compensate.

No. 10: Be Patient with Others Who Do Not Understand.

No. 11: Helping Others IS Helping Yourself.

No. 12: Your Journey/Your Life.

No. 13: Resiliency is a Key to Survive and Thrive.

Brain Injury Survivor Series Schedule:

March, April, May and June sponsored by Spalding Community Foundation

March 9: Disclosure

April 13: Brain Injury Treatment Panel

May 11: Beyond Surviving: Fatigue & Energy Management

June 8: Brain Foods & Nutrition Tips for TBI Survivors – Eat to Thrive

July 20: Brain Injury Treatment Panel #2, Sponsored by Jordan Law.

Each luncheon is Noon-2:30 p.m. held at:

Rocky Mountain Human Services

990 E. Iliff Ave, Denver 80231

Please register

via email [email protected]

720-389-0670 Ext. 2

FAX 303-904-1725

or mail Brain Injury Hope Foundation
6732 West Coal Mine Ave. Suite 227
Littleton, CO 80123