As I continue to recover and evolve with my weird wonderful brain following a brain injury from encephalitis, I’m able to take a few steps back and notice how some of the beliefs I was holding onto earlier in my recovery may have held me back.
I believe that we always do the best we can with the information and knowledge that we hold at a particular point in time, but as we keep discovering new concepts, trying new things and reading on brain injury recovery, it becomes our responsibility to take actions to tweak the beliefs that may impact our recovery.
Ways in which my belief system held me back in recovery
Looking back, I held a lot of doubts regarding the ability of my brain and body to heal. It was healing, but never fast enough or enough compared to where the old me used to sit. In my mind, this equated to I’m never going to heal. When you first join the brain injury community, there are many frustrations. Adjusting to the new pace of life is not something that comes easily for most and it certainly didn’t for me. But I urge you to not underestimate the ability of your body to heal.
In the first few years of recovery, I was focusing a lot of my time and energy on what I could no longer do instead of looking at the progress made or valuing what I could still do on a day to day basis. Had I known more about the concept of gratitude back then, perhaps practicing gratitude would have been greatly beneficial in tweaking my mindset.
I was very hard on myself too. Because I could no longer operate as before, in my mind this equated to failure. I truly believed that I was failing at everything that I was undertaking. The concept of self-compassion wasn’t part of my vocabulary. I eventually started to realise that much of what I thought I was failing at was outside of my control. Some people within my network also mentioned how hard I was on myself. Little by little, I did start to understand that being kind to myself isn’t a weakness, it’s about doing what’s right for your body, brain and mind depending on your current set of circumstances. I slowly started relabeling the word failure for words that provided a more factual description of what was going on.
Some beliefs are also passed down from a young age and impact your actions until you become aware of the fact that they no longer serve you. "Pushing though" is one of those belief that I now believe held my brain injury recovery back on more times than I can count. Rest, taking pauses, not working hard was synonym of laziness in my family household when I was growing up. Although pushing through can be very useful in some situations, when it comes to brain injury recovery, it often doesn’t allow for great fatigue management which goes on to affect how your body, brain and mind operate. I’ve made headways in terms of tweaking this belief, but it’s something I need to keep being mindful of as it is deep rooted and can often sneak back in.
Neuroplasticity is a pretty incredible concept, but it can also be a double edged sword. Neuroplasticity allows us to rewire our brain through repetition, however, you need to be mindful of what you feed your brain. Feed it positive thoughts and actions, and it will help build patterns that promote healthy habits, but feeding it negative thoughts and repeating unhealthy habits is likely to be counter-productive and have the opposite effect.
How to tweak your belief system
Taking a few steps back and noticing how certain patterns I held were holding me back was a good first step for me. A good way to do this might be to keep a diary where you note thing such as your sleep, levels of energy, exercise, eating habits, level of connection with other people and the way you’ve felt during the day. Sometimes, unless you get to see black on white or have someone point the obvious to you, it can be hard to acknowledge those patterns.
Catching myself in the midst of thinking too many bad thoughts, using harsh words or executing an action that wasn't promoting recovery meant that I was becoming aware of some of my unhealthy habits. Bringing those into conscious awareness became an opportunity to change my next course of action and start working on neuroplasticity.
I also spent a huge amount of time on redefining my priorities and defining sets of actions that were in lines with my core values. My values hadn’t change, but the ways in which I could maintain and work on my values had. Once I identified a course of actions that allowed me to withhold my values to a high standard, I felt empowered and it also allowed for a more positive mindset. It implied a huge reshuffle of my priorities because I couldn’t do it all anymore, but it became an opportunity to concentrate on a few things and do those well.
Talking to others with similar experiences has been hugely beneficial too. It helped me normalise what I was experiencing, brought a sense of belonging and made me feel less alone. I found people within the brain injury to be quite supportive in ways that even the closest people to me couldn’t. We could exchange tips and learnings, offer support and provide a sense of hope.
Knowledge brings power. Reading on brain injury recovery and holistic ways to support my body, brain and mind brought an element of curiosity and opened my mind to new avenues to look into, try and implement. If reading isn’t your thing, there are various podcasts dedicated to brain injury recovery which provide a ton of information. I’d recommend learning as much as you can as a first step and then making a plan to break down some of those learnings into actions.
Sustainability is key. You don’t have to change everything at once. Implementing small steps is less daunting and increases your chances of successfully letting go of the beliefs that no longer serve you. Brain injury is a process in itself. Although the sooner you start implementing changes, the less likely you are to fall in unhealthy patterns, I personally also believe that some things can’t be rushed. As an example, brain injury recovery often includes grieving the old you, but we all do this at various pace. Take the time to live and process the array of emotions and don’t compare the pace at which you do things with another person’s pace. We are all different and our challenges vary as well.
I’d love to hear about some of the beliefs that in retrospect held you back and to share ideas you have implemented to tweak some of those beliefs.