A Neverending Recovery (25 Month Update)

August 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Our Recovery Journal

Our world is a short term world.  It is a world where we concern ourselves with our immediate circumstances.  Most of our time is spent doing work that we wish would get done on its own.  We anxiously await the end of our work week and the excitement we feel about having a little time for ourselves.

Monday morning comes too soon.  We are back at it… each little task we complete like a tiny piece in the larger puzzle of life.  No two weeks are exactly the same, but most weeks are similar to the week before.

Our larger goals are pursued over long periods of time.  When they are accomplished, we take a moment to enjoy our success.  Once that moment passes, there are always new tasks that need completed… new goals to work toward.

Life is a neverending journey.  It is an endless quest filled with short term goals.  Although we live like there is a greater purpose, we do so without ever defining our ultimate finish line.  No accomplishment we can possibly achieve that gives us the feeling that this life journey is over.  No matter how much we achieve today, tomorrow always seems to come with brand new challenges.


Major Recovery Never Ends

Early on in the recovery, we sought a finish line of “normal.”  In my own mind, I defined normal as “as close as we could get to what life was like before trauma.”  We figured that life’s timeline would contain a recovery period.  This period would be one where we focused intensely on the recovery.  When that period was over, logic dictated that we could readjust our focus and begin living again.

This view comes from the fact that smaller injuries can fully heal.  Bumps and bruises can heal so well that we eventually forget they ever happened.  Even more serious injuries follow a similar (albeit lengthier) healing process.  Deep wounds, broken bones, and concussions take longer to heal, but normal living is certainly possible after each of these injuries.  The scars and the headaches remind us that we once experienced a trauma, but life can once again be similar to what it was before.

Traumatic injuries are a different story.  Serious trauma comes with permanent damage, and this kind of damage can force changes in the way we live.

Stroke and TBI recovery are just as much a neverending journey as is life in general.  No matter what is accomplished today, full recover demands that we continue on.  A life of major recovery is much more than just an interval on the timeline of life.  It is woven into the very fabric of the timeline itself.


Meeting New Challenges

Two months ago, I detailed a brand new challenge in the recovery.  Instead of being a physical challenge, this one was the emotional threat of post-traumatic stress.  An ironic but necessary solution was to add yet another doctor to our team and visited a neurological psychiatrist.

The irony comes from the fact that our time is so precious.  Our family is already limited and Jess already has a full schedule of appointments and therapy.  Every additional task is a huge stressor.  Our days are already stuffed with activity and the kids can only be asked to make so many adjustments.  Every additional hour spent on the recovery is another hour that is stuffed into an already overfilled life.  It is an activity that forces us to rearrange or eliminate something else we would have liked to accomplish.

The amount of time spent on recovery has squeezed out a lot of other potential activity.  It has increased the value we place on our time.  If we have to forego something worthwhile in order to see a new doctor, then the pressure placed on that visit is even greater.  The expectation of success leads to even greater disappointment if we feel that time was wasted.  In the case of the psychiatrist, the time spent was well worth it.

Instead of sitting there discussing our problems, the focus of the first appointment was on identifying stress triggers and adjusting our lives to minimize them.  Small changes were made in medication and we did our best to dwell more on the positives we encountered every day.


Sometimes it Just Takes a Tweak

When you take 10 or more pills each day, the meds take on a whole new meaning in life.  The pills become a pervasive intrusion into everyday life.  They become a ritual that becomes attached to the act of eating a meal.  The psychological impact of medication is one of being a prisoner.  The patient loses independence because they are shackled to these tiny little ovals.

Outgrowing the need for certain pills is a cause for celebration.  When one is consuming a dozen pills each day, any reduction in that number is a welcome change.  Even reducing it by one or two pills per day can feel like significant progress.  In Jessica’s case, she had outgrown several of her pills.  About six months ago, she stopped taking one that helped with alzheimers and memory.

The main change to come out of our psychiatry appointment was a small tweak in the meds.  The main source of frustration came from frustrations having to do with memory and reading.  The doc added a baseline dose of adderol to help with memory.  After just a few days, Jess began having more consistent success managing her time and reading words on a page.  The inderlying symptom had been removed, so the depression magically went away.

We had expected the session to be the first of many where the doctor attempted to dissect everything there was to know about Jess’ psyche.  My imagination cringed as it pictured a person staring at us and peppering us with questions.  I imagined this person judging our every statement and movement in a quest to uncover everything we were doing wrong.  These fears were unfounded as the therapist focused on the facts of the case and initiated treatment at the conclusion of the very first session.

That little tweak was all that was needed.  Jess feels more capable, which has eliminated much of the stress that had kept her down.


It’s Cruel to be Kind

The best way to promote independence is to insist on it.  Each month, our insistence becomes more frequent and more obvious to Jessica.  At the beginning, her function was so low that someone stayed in the room with her at all times.  I liken the amount of help she needed to that of a child getting on a bike for the first time.  Not only did she need training wheels… hers had to be oversized to maintain stability.

“The best way to promote independence is to insist on it.”  [Click to Tweet]

Sticking with the bike analogy, I now imagine her riding with small training wheels.  For many activities, they are about ready to be taken off and thrown in the back of the garage.  When she can do something independently, I picture her riding her bike with no training wheels at all.

As every dad knows, one day you just need to take the training wheels off and let the kid try it on their own.  There is a chance they will fall, but if they don’t then they’ll feel like they’re soaring.  They must now do the entire thing on their own, and it is the feeling of ownership that inspires confidence and growth.

In major recovery, the feeling of ownership is sometimes trumped by the irritation at the most difficult parts of a task.  When the frustration reaches a boiling point, Jess sometimes asks for assistance.

It is human nature to want to help.  Especially when the person in need is specifically weak or needy.  It is so tempting to want to help bend and get knife that has been dropped to the bottom of the dishwasher or to take the family’s last cup out to the table.  One must learn many ways to say “no” in order to promote independence.  Taking over the toughest part of a task is perhaps the worst thing one can do to a person recovering from major trauma.  It robs them of the feeling of accomplishment and promotes continued dependency.

My favorite strategies for saying “no” are:

  • The look – I’m sure you’ve tried this one before.  Turn your head slightly to the side and just stare.  The eyes send the correct message of expectation
  • The argument – Sometimes the first thing to come to mind is simply to say “no.”  A better version is to encourage by saying “you can do it!”
  • The disappearing act – Go down into the garage while the task is being completed (or just pretend to)
  • The old man hearing aid trick – My personal favorite.  Act just like an old man who turns down his hearing aid when his wife just won’t stop talking.  Always keep earphones handy… they work perfectly as a prop.


The Beginning of Year #3

A neverending recovery is a life we’ve accepted and embraced.  Hobbies and activities have been adjusted so that we can find joy in all the things we are still able to do.  While we look forward to tomorrow, our main goal is to first decide on how we will live today.

Even after two whole years, goals are constantly analyzed and adjusted upward.  Recovery is a neverending process and there will always be new things to learn and new ways to grow.  If you have been the victim of traumatic injury, please remember that the same holds true for you.  Regardless of what has happened in the past, a positive attitude is the first step toward a rewarding future.  We wish you the best as you meet all of the challenges in your own life.


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Feel free to add your comments, and especially stories where you promoted independence by saying “no.”

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