***DISCLAIMER: The purpose of my work is to assist people in holistically healing from stroke and brain injury from a cognitive and communication perspective. This content is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. I am a speech-language pathologist, not a licensed mental health professional.***
Today is Tuesday, not Monday, but we are coming off a three-day holiday weekend, and today had a bit of a Monday vibe. Let's get motivational.
I am an active member in a Facebook group dedicated to brain injury and stroke awareness, and this morning I woke up to a post from a member which simply read: "Do you think we can ever heal? -someone almost 3 years out."
That hit me square in the chest.
As a speech-language pathologist, I get asked this question from almost every new client, especially if it has been a year or two after their injury.
"Will things ever get back to normal?"
"Will I ever get my old self back?"
"Will I ever be able to do what I used to be able to?"
If I listen closely enough I can hear the real question which is buried underneath: Should I keep trying or just surrender to my injury and give up?
My answer is usually: a little bit of both.
I often encounter individuals recovering from brain injury or stroke with the mindset that acceptance is complacency. Many clients I work with in speech therapy admit that they do not wish to accept the realities of their injury because doing so would be weak, or would indicate that they were giving up on their goals. These are the people who end up spinning their wheels and find themselves burnt out and in a stuck place of fear and stagnancy.
We are powerless when we are in resistance to change. I'll say it again for those of you who really need to hear this today (myself included): We are powerless when we are in resistance to change.
This applies to anyone, whether you are recovering from a brain injury or not. It's part of human nature to resist and avoid change at all costs. After a brain injury or stroke, however, change is thrust upon you whether you like it or not. You then have the choice to resist that change or to surrender to it and let it empower you.
The truth is: Acceptance is not giving up. It is the act of taking your personal power back.
This is a well-known psychology method, first coined by psychologist Marsha Linehan in 1993 as "radical acceptance". Radical acceptance is the act of accepting life on life's terms and letting go of resistance to that which we cannot change. Radical acceptance doesn't have to mean agreeing with what life hands you; it is saying "I'm in this new scary situation. I don't like it. It's really hard, but it is what it is and I can't change that it happened. What is my next step?"
When we get stuck in a cycle of "This isn't fair", or "This was never supposed to happen", or "Why did this have to happen to me?" we are only giving power to the brain injury. These are thoughts of avoidance and anger, not acceptance. How can anyone make positive changes or self-improve from this space? True recovery and healing can only happen when we surrender to reality and accept who we are and what we are able to do in the here and now.
I am reminded of the serenity prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
When we practice acceptance, we take our personal power back. From that space, we can have the energy to make progress toward our goals, improve our lives, and heal.
Funny enough, I notice from my own practice that the clients that best embrace this radical acceptance mindset are the ones that make the most progress in recovery, and most importantly, are the ones who report they feel the most fulfilled in their lives.
Linehan, M. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993.