The first step in learning to take care of yourself is learning how to cope with your feelings. Acknowledge that you have them, that there is a reason why you have them, and that you need to do something positive to manage them. We will suggest ways for you to do this.
The next step in taking care of yourself is knowing what to expect from yourself and from others. If you expect someone with a broken leg to go for a run with you, you will only set yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Similarly, you cannot expect someone with a brain injury to function the way he used to, or even the way you think he ought to now. Part of knowing what to expect is learning not to expect anything other than one’s best efforts. If a brain-injury survivor is taking months to utter one word, then perhaps that is the best he can do. If you are disappointed in yourself for not being with the patient seven days per week, give yourself a break—you are probably doing your best as well. When you don’t have high expectations, you learn to appreciate and be happy with the little things.
The third step is learning to strike a balance between encouraging progress and accepting limitations. Look for support groups and other resources to help you create this balance.
ACCEPTING AND MANAGING YOUR FEELINGS
Many of the emotions you felt during the first few days may last for days, weeks, or even months. You may still have moments of panic, fear, anger, confusion, frustration, stress, and feeling overwhelmed. What is helpful to know is that, with time, most of these feelings will subside. It is important not to suppress your feelings or blame yourself for having them, or even wonder why it’s taking so long for the feelings to go away! There is a reason you are having them, and they will lessen when they are ready.
One common emotion that family members experience is denial. They refuse to acknowledge that things are as bad as they are. They believe that they are handling things just fine, and that everything will be back to normal soon. Although this does not represent reality, it can be a healthy, short-term way for some people to cope. In a sense, denial gives those experiencing it a “vacation” from the constant turmoil they