As a 19-year survivor of severe traumatic brain injury I remember how difficult my first five years were post-injury. The physical, mental, and spiritual challenges faced were the most difficult ones I had experienced in life! My first challenge was coming to terms that I could not move my body as I once had. My next challenge was frustration because the injury stopped me from performing my job the way I previously had, and I had to look for another one. Finally, it was hurtful that I was not able to go to the places I wanted or do the things I used to do. This was due to the fact that brain injury took away my ability to drive my car, therefore I was no longer in control and I relied on others and their schedules to take me around.
You would think that after having everything you appreciated about your life taken away would be humbling?? It wasn’t for me, INITIALLY!! Honestly, it took a bit of time to digest and feel the effects of ‘humble pie’. I tell everybody brain injury is very frustrating, especially when you’re used to being independent! I had moments of frustration where people would hear me and my complaints. I was also known for writing letters to people to share my reality pains. Yes… I call them what they were! I was adjusting to my new realities, and it was not pretty! I needed to remember that it wasn’t all about me!!
Reflecting on those times, I feel it is important to share that recovering STINKS!! I think much of the frustration comes from traveling down the road to recovery. I was 29 years old when I had my accident. I was also single, owned my house, my SUV, and no one could tell me what to do! However, post-accident I wasn’t trusted to make my own decisions. I had to ask people to buy or make my favorite food because I wasn’t cooking. If I wanted to go to watch my favorite baseball team, and I had tickets, I had to find someone to drive me to the stadium and make sure I was safe the entire time. It was like I was a child again and I had to be supervised.
This can be a tall hurdle to get over when you go from complete independence to dependence! When you’re independent you ‘just do it’, and when you’re dependent, you have to ‘ask for it’. I know it may not sound like a lot, but trust me, it is harder than one would think! I did a bit of research and wanted to share how survivors can adjust to the disappointments of dependence. As a survivor, I remember being told ‘No’ to a number of requests and it was really hard! I wondered if I was being told no to be punished for having the accident. Or was I being told no to learn a lesson from my poor decision. Either way, I took it as rejection. I was no longer in control of my life, for the time being. Maybe it would be easier if I considered these four suggestions for handling disappointment:
1. “Begin by engaging in some self-reflection.
Was your request reasonable, given the other person’s circumstances and abilities? A mom with two toddlers is not the right person to ask for a ride to and from the doctor’s office, and to wait until you’re done. A friend who’s unemployed is not the right person to ask for a loan. Sometimes we don’t realize until after we’ve asked for help that our request was unreasonable. If that happens to you, forgive yourself immediately and move on. (Who doesn’t misread a situation at times?)
2. Ask yourself, “Am I sure?” before deciding that the person who turned you down doesn’t care about you. The idea to ask “Am I sure?” comes from Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. (I ask myself this question whenever I’ve decided that my opinion about something is irrefutably right. It amazes me how often I realize that I’m not absolutely “sure.” This allows me to let go of a major source of stress in life: clinging to views.)
If you’ve been turned down after requesting that someone help you in some way, ask yourself “Am I sure?” before deciding that the person doesn’t care about you. There could be several reasons you were turned down.
First, like many others, the person may be uneducated about chronic illness. (Chronic illness includes chronic pain and can include mental illness.) Because most chronic illnesses are invisible, the person you asked may not know that you can look fine but feel sick or be in pain. This ignorance can persist even if you’ve explained your situation. (I’m constantly amazed at how often people will suggest that I go to this or that event, even though I’ve explained over and over that I cannot be far from my bed for an extended period of time.)
A second reason to ask “Am I sure?” is that the person may care deeply about you, but be facing difficulties of his or her own, with family or work or even health problems you don’t know about.
Finally, some people may turn you down because they’re uncomfortable around others struggling with their health. Our culture does a poor job educating people about the fact that pain and illness are a normal part of the human life cycle. Family and friends who aren’t present for you may think about you frequently and wish you well, but not be able to be part of your life due to their own anxieties and fears. (I remember the day I realized this and forgave the people who’ve “gone missing” from my life. It brought me the peace that comes with anger-free understanding and acceptance.)
The next two suggestions are always good to try, but are especially important if you’ve considered the two above and have decided that your request was reasonable and that you are “sure” that the person you asked for help was callous in turning you down.
3. Administer self-compassion immediately!
It can hurt badly to be turned down when you ask for help. When you’re hurting, the best thing to do is to ease your suffering in whatever way works best for you. That’s all self-compassion means: treating yourself with care and kindness.
You might do something special for yourself, or you might do what I do. Try this: Speak silently to yourself about what happened, using a comforting voice and words that express how you feel. Your words might be, “It hurts to be told ‘no’ by someone I thought would be there for me.” When you give voice to your feelings, you let yourself know that you care about your suffering. In my experience, being kind to myself never fails to ease my emotional pain.
4. Practice equanimity.
It can help to minimize your hurt and disappointment to recognize that, for everyone, life is a combination of pleasant and unpleasant experiences, successes and disappointments. Sometimes people come through for us and sometimes they don’t. Such is life. You may never know why a person has said “no.” The best thing to do is to chalk it up to human unpredictability and move on. When you cling to the way you want others to be, it only makes you feel worse emotionally. This adds a second layer of suffering on top of your disappointment and hurt at being told “no.””
I have been through this and I know it is hard to humble yourself post-injury. There are many things you are adjusting to in life and they may or may not get better. But I want to encourage you to stay as positive as you can. I believe that we are all still here for a reason! Despite the statistics of brain injury, we are alive and it is up to us to decide on the attitude we choose to have! I am going to share a quote from Charles Swindell. “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”
Stay strong survivors!!
“Handling the Disappointment and Hurt of Being Told ‘No’ | Psychology Today.” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-straw-gold/201910/handling-the-disappointment-and-hurt-being-told-no#:~:text=Try%20this%3A%20Speak%20silently%20to,you%20care%20about%20your%20suffering. Accessed 20 Aug. 2022.