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Loving ourselves after brain injury

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

I’m sure that many of you would have heard comments along the line: ”unless you love yourself, no one else will love you”. Loving ourselves often comes in pair with personality traits such as confidence, trusting ourselves, acceptance, respect of others and most importantly respect of ourselves. If you have those aces up your sleeve, it may come easier for some, but the reality is that at a point or another in our lives, most of us will struggle with loving ourselves.

Encephalitis and acquired brain injury have flipped many things on its head for me and my family and loving my new self has been really hard at times. For a long time I did not even recognise the person that was standing in from of the mirror. All that used to be familiar or come easy to me, now required JUST SO MUCH effort. I was completely lost and I was desperately trying to hold on to aspects of the old me that I could no longer sustain. The brain injury shook everything to its core and it felt as though I was left to pick up the pieces one by one whilst trying to make sense of them all and finding the right spot for them.

Countless are the tears that have been shed on trying to let go of the old me and accepting to love what the new me had on offer. It took me YEARS to stop comparing myself with the old me and to start appreciating some of what the new me had brought into my life. I think I need to be honest with myself as well, some days I still go back in time more than I should. A part of me believes that it’s going to be an ongoing work in progress for the foreseeable future as I’ll always come across reminders of the old me. However, I’m getting better at breaking the cycle and at not letting it sting so much.

How to love yourself again

Message about loving ourselves on a white piece of paper with greenery in the background

I’ve been reading a lot about trauma and the effects of trauma lately. I have realised that trauma can take many shapes and to me, encephalitis was indeed a traumatic event in my life. So much so that I can draw a clear line between my life before and after acquired brain injury. While reading a book on trauma, I came across something that really helped me rethink and redefine the whole “loving yourself” part of the equation. See in times where I was at my lowest, where I was the hardest on myself and probably loved myself the least, I eventually worked out that I still had lots of people loving and caring for me. It didn’t fit the love yourself or no one else will love you theory at all. It gave the following quote from Bruce D. Perry that I came across so much power and sense.

“The truth is you cannot love yourself unless you have been loved and are loved. The capacity to love cannot be built in isolation” Bruce D. Perry*

I want to acknowledge the fact that I was lucky because I was blessed with a network of people showing me unconditional love and reminding me of all that I can look forward to. When I couldn’t open some doors, I had people opening them for me or at least showing me the way. Had it not been for all the love shown and felt and the support from a few key persons, I don’t know whether I would have found my way back to loving myself once again…in all my Weird Wonderful Brain wonkiness. The truth is that we sometimes need support and to be reminded of what really makes us, US in order to grow the love for ourselves. We sure have an important part to play in loving ourselves, but it’s also very much of a family affair.

I am lucky, in spite of all the ups and downs, in spite of all the changes that occurred with and within myself, I was shown love and compassion which help me tremendously in rebuilding the love that I have for myself…whether it’s the old or new me.

*The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz

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