An Initial note about how irritating positivity can be
I have a very fine line to tread here, between giving positive advice and seeming dismissive of illness altogether – the ‘buck up and you’ll be fine!’ bollocks that well-meaning idiots come up with. The latter is never my intention.
So I will clarify: Brain injuries are often impossibly tough to deal with. Many times during my recovery I gave up, I decided that it was too difficult and I couldn’t cope. Unfortunately, simply giving up didn’t help much, the problems didn’t go away, so I had to carry on.
For anyone going through this now, my heart goes out to you, you have absolutely every right to think Fuck your positivity! My life is shit! And when you are feeling like that, this blog probably won’t help. However, there will be other times, when you feel a little more able to make plans and hopefully I can pass on what I learned about how to do that.
Losing the Things I Loved
With the BI, one of the toughest things to come to terms with was that I could no longer do the things I loved. I was struggling so much with getting my brain to work, that I had to give up studying; my job as a gardener; I couldn’t read books; I struggled with seeing my friends; I couldn’t even think of going on an adventure to a new country. I felt that everything that made me happy had been taken away from me and that there was nothing in life I could enjoy. This was a distortion of my situation, maybe an understandable one, but one that didn’t help me at all. I still had people in my life that I loved, but what I needed was purpose, without that everything felt meaningless.
There are three points to this blog, they take time to be fully understood (or at least, they did for me), but I believe they are crucial to being happy when recovering from BI:
- Your situation now, is not your situation for ever. Try not to think about what all this means for the future, the important thing is to find a way to be happy and calm now (not just for happiness’ sake, but also for your health), and one way to do that is to find something that will engage you, stimulate your mind but not stress you. Any more complicated questions can be left for later.
- Happiness lies in having purpose and that comes from investing time and energy into something and then getting something back out as a result. The two ‘something’s can be almost anything
- There are infinite ways to live your life, even with massive restrictions, there are many passions to pursue, and many ways to get a sense of purpose, but you will never discover this if you are focused only on what you have lost.
Notes on Happiness
I believe that happiness and meaning in life are far simpler to achieve and far less restrictive than we are trained to think. You do not need to have a relationship, career, kids or money to be happy. Those things can all make you happy, but they can all make you unhappy.
I think the reason for this is that it doesn’t matter what you invest your time and energy in (eg children, a career, painting, learning French, collecting thimbles) so long as you make an effort and get something in return (love, success, beautiful pictures and the joy of painting, knowing French, a beautiful thimble collection).
- If you don’t invest time and energy, but get something out anyway (I imagine being the child of rich parents is a little like this, without any effort you can have whatever you want) then you will feel there is something missing, an emptiness.
- If you invest time and energy into something, but then get only bad things in return (for example, when the child you’ve loved and nurtured says she hates you, or your boss ignores the project you’ve been working on, or if you decide you actually hate thimbles) then you will feel your passion has been wasted and you will be unhappy.
- If you invest energy in nothing and get nothing, you won’t be happy at all.
Being ill does not change this, but it can make it tricky. It may be that the things you invested energy in before the BI are either no longer possible, or no longer bringing you joy, and this is why you may need to find new passions.
When I was ill, my frustration came from thinking that the only things worth doing, were the things I could no longer do. However, the truth is they were just the things that I had been doing up to that point, they were not better or any more conducive to happiness than the things I was eventually able to do after I got a BI. It’s true that taking up new passions was extremely difficult, and I worried that I’d never be able to enjoy them because of that, but luckily that isn’t how enjoyment works.
Having to invest more energy into doing something can, with time, make it more enjoyable than when something is easy.
Some tips on finding new passions
- Experiment, try as many different things as possible: painting, writing music, getting a penfriend, sending postcards, knitting. You may hate many things that you try, or find that you aren’t able to do some of them, but there will be something that you can do.
- Pay attention to what other people are doing and copy them. Ask your friends and family, look online (here’s a Wikipedia list of hobbies )
- Revert a little to childhood. With a BI, you have the perfect excuse to pursue hobbies you loved as a child. Play with Lego, draw cartoon characters.
- Don’t compare your ability now with what you could do before. For starters, if you are just setting out on a new skill, it will take time to learn to do it properly. For seconders, although having a BI can make things massively difficult, it can also give you a unique perspective on whatever you pursue. Personally, I’d rather be unique than good.
- Use technology – there are now so many apps that can aid a new passion, it’s worth exploring them to see what’s available. I have a friend who has become a master at creating beautiful music using free instrument and editing apps. .
- The Internet is an incredible aid. Even people who have grown up using the Internet, tend to stick to the same kind of sites that they’re used to. Instead go exploring. With a BI, change and unfamiliarity can be quite unnerving, but the Internet is a fairly safe place to be adventurous in. Take it slow, read blogs that suggest sites, use sites like Stumbleupon, bookmark anything interesting you find even if you can’t cope with looking at it the time. Plus forums are a great place to meet and connect with people.
- Approach any new activity without the expectation of a specific end result. Even more tricky is that you might not enjoy the process of what you’re doing at first, but don’t give up for that reason. Once you have mastered the basics it gets easier and you can start actually enjoying it. I took up drawing at this time (some examples are in this blog), I’d done an art degree years before, so my expectations were high. Often I hated what I did. It took months of trying different doodles before I found a new style that I both enjoyed doing and liked the end result. Some of the pictures from that time have ended up part of the Xogulano Islands blogs that I write about. They aren’t great drawings, but I love them because I don’t know anyone else drawing pictures like that.
- Don’t dismiss something because you tried it before the BI and didn’t like it. With a BI, your abilities have changed, your passions may also have changed.
Final Advice on Investing your time:
- Don’t have all your eggs in one basket. Almost any endeavor can fail, and if all your time has been invested in one thing, that can be upsetting.
- Try not to be swayed/dissuaded by what society/peers tell you, you should/shouldn’t be doing. It’s irrelevant. It’s always irrelevant, because people are massively varied and the things that can make them happy are also massively varied.
- Try to take into account how much energy and ability you have at any one time and try to have different interests for different levels of ability. Sometimes I didn’t have the energy to draw, sometimes I had enough energy to go out and take photographs, sometimes all I could do was shut my eyes and think up stories. It was good to have this choice. Because my memory was so bad, I found it useful to write down the options and then refer to them when needed.
Note: I haven’t dealt with motivation at all in this blog (I’m trying to keep them to a manageable size) although I’m aware that with a BI or just when exhausted from illness, motivation is a real problem. I will focus on it later.
As always, any comments, additions or questions are welcome.