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Brain injury blog by survivor

Brain injury blog by survivor



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Brain injury blog by survivor

Brain injury blog by survivor



How my self-esteem plummeted after a brain injury.

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Before my brain injury, and being a realist about my strengths and weaknesses, I was comfortable with them. I was in my early 30’s, and had just got to that point when you really know yourself. Being honest with myself meant I achieved things by playing to my strong points, and asking for support on the things I wasn’t confident in. (Sounds obvious but previously I had been too scared to admit when I was finding something hard.) Life was good, and my self-esteem was in the best place it has ever been.

Enter stage left: Brain injury shakes everything up.

By now you will have heard me talk about how my career ended following my accident. And you might have read how looking for a new job didn’t pan out well for me in Unexpected interviewing disaster for TBI survivor. All of which is bad news for anyone’s self-esteem. But maybe that’s just ego, and I’m over that (sort of).

I have a problem with ME. My consciousness, spirit, soul…. whatever you want to call it. Weirdly, I’m not even sure that I’d noticed. That is until my partner, James, said to me “What’s with all the negative self talk?” This was after days of me listing my perceived faults at any given opportunity. I left like I was just being realistic and acknowledging the facts. But actually this is a change in my “self-concept.”

What is self-concept?

This is the feeling that you’re not the person you were, cognitively or physically, wrapped up in your level of self-esteem. But I’d been through to darkest phase of wondering what was the point of surviving my accident to be left with this inferior version of me. As I knew what that felt like, and how all-consuming it is to question your own existence, I had been brushing under the carpet what I was now feeling.

It appears to me that this can keep coming in waves or cycles. First when you return home and start to see how you can’t go back to life as it was is the first one. But then you adjust and on some level accept what you can achieve. However  I allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security. Yes I’ve come a long way, and I do have a place in this world. But as my priorities had changed I’d let go of my vanity. I’d become fat and ugly. (Please don’t feel the need to write in telling me what a ‘beautiful’ woman I am. I realise that this is my inner voice being unreasonably hard on me, and I’m not attention seeking or craving compliments.) I think as my life moves forward my attention and priorities move. Thus I have become more interested again in my appearance and how the world sees me. Basically I am regretting letting myself go.

I thought I had adjusted to life following my brain injury. But my self-esteem has taken another knock. I didn't notice how I'd become my own worst enemy. It's time to acknowledge this cycle will keep happening....

The importance of self-care.

I thought to worry about my appearance was self-centered. When you have been faced with your own mortality and continuing health issues it seemed trivial. But that’s really not the case. I know pride is one of the seven deadly sins and as I’m an atheist you might think I’m falling into its trap. But you have to look after yourself in order to have the strength to give to others. I know I said this before in Confess to pressure: being a voice of brain injury, so I’m not going to bang that drum again. Just know that it’s something that you have to keep coming back to and maintain it.

I know that as a natural part of aging everyone has to face changes in their life. Be it our role in society or how our bodies change, no one is immune. Of course each stage means we have to adjust, and sometimes it’ll be harder than others. You don’t need to feel like you’re failing just because it’s hard. After all, it’s the biggest challenges that teach us the most.

Do you struggle with your self-esteem following a brain injury? Have you got an advice you want to give to others?


28 replies on “How my self-esteem plummeted after a brain injury.”

Hello Michelle, I can definitely relate to your words and thoughts. My last appointment with my neuro psychologist, we chatted about this, ‘ why do I keep revisiting the same place, of being overwhelmed, dissatisfied with who I am and where I am at?’ It’s like I make progress then it all creeps up on me again. I asked him will I ever be as I was before the brain tumour and surgery? I wanted honesty, because why put all this energy into something that I am never going to achieve.
He was straight with me and said ‘you have a brain injury, that means you cannot use your brain in the same way as you used to’. Wow, why do I think I will function as I once did and why do I keep trying to adapt everything and try to push the uncomfortable to live as I used too? It’s totally exhausting to keep revisiting, the disappointment and dysfunction of trying to live as I did. Yes I have made progress, but it’s not enough, I too need to stop looking in the mirror and compare myself to the old fast paced person I was, she is living with a brain injury now. It makes me sad, but also has challenged me to question my thinking. Do not compare yourself, you are enough as you are, yes you can still evolve, still learn and conquer, you are brave, in fact you are living a life as best you can in a difficult situation.
We can soon become dissatisfied, living with a poorly brain can make you overthink, make you sensitive and more aware of how life is so different and your fit in this life. I know I can easily go down the thinking path of not getting it right, not being enough, it’s time for stop believing that wrong thinking, you are enough, even in the midst of this really hard time you contribute to others, you get up and get on, small steps are still steps.
Be the best person to yourself and learn to love yourself again, with that in mind you will evolve and grow even with a brain injury. This is our life now, you are enough. Hard words but self acceptance of our new reality.
Thanks for your honesty, it’s thought provoking, Joanne

Thanks Jo, I guess I keep thinking that I should be able to draw a line under it and move on. But that’s nonsense and I need to get that out of my head. I agree that being honest with yourself is the best thing. Even if it’s not what you want to hear, and least you can work with it.

Yes, it’s hard thinking that you should be better than you are, or be over it, I need to get my ‘act’ together. I feel like I am in this battle a lot.
Why can’t we be ok with this? I suppose it was out of our control, getting a brain injury and there’s no easy fix. I have always been a determined person and a fixer, I still have this in me, which has brought me far, but is also my downfall. I am not prepared to give up, but also I am not going to feel a failure.
It’s hard to be ok with this, especially when your brain is poorly and takes so much longer to process this all.
We will continue to evolve, hey and maybe, just maybe we will be a better person, more aware of others and their daily struggles.
You are still achieving, I know you are not looking for compliments, but you have brought an opportunity to me, through your blog, and now I’ve joined a creative writing group, which I would have never considered. Who knows where these little opportunity’s will take us, it’s not what I had planned for my life, but I can still grab it and make something from it. Hold your head high girl, be proud of you! Joanne

After my accident I was definetly a different person but having a partner who has borderline personality defect who cannot see past herself I had to do something as I decided my then 2 yr old daughter needed at least one parent who was stable. So with both arms in plaster, shoulder that needed replacing and my TBI I brought her up and all the time partner was at university. I now have an 8 yr old daughter who I am mother and father, but I still have memory and temper issues but I remind myself of my progress and a daughter who is doing well at school

Graham I’m sure your daughter is more grateful and proud of you than you will ever know ?

One thing I’ve struggled with was believing my life had no purpose after the TBI. That people who said encouraging things were just “being nice” but it wasn’t true.

Eventually, after several years, I learned that my life’s purpose wasn’t GONE. Rather, it had CHANGED. A huge revelation that changed my outlook. I still struggle at times these days, but reminding myself that I do still have purpose helps.

Yes I agree with this so much as I went through the same thing. I do accept I have a purpose, I suppose I just have to be nicer to myself.

Ellen. How did your purpose change and to what? And how did you get to the point where you accepted the new purpose? I’m struggling with this. Thx.

Hi Allison. I was extremely angry. EXTREMELY. Like I said, it took several years to come to the point where I realized I still had purpose.

I was a medical social worker, working to help other people who were either in crisis or working through something they couldn’t handle alone. I made a difference. Once the stroke left me unable to work, I felt like that purpose was gone.

In truth, God still wanted to use me to encourage others, just not as a social worker. Now, even though I can’t work–15 years after the TBI–I reach other people through a lay counseling program at church called Stephen Ministry.

I can also relate to people who are grieving. That’s one of the things we have to do as TBI survivors. We have to grieve all the things we’ve lost. That can include a lot of things, depending on your situation. A workbook that made a huge difference was Recovering From The Losses of Life, by H. Norman Wright. It talked about how grief can apply to m ore than just death. Certainly a TBI falls into that category.

For me, there were more than 20 things I came up with. Naming all them, even what doesn’t seem significant–and it surprised me how many there were–validated my anger and depression. Then I was able to deal with each one. Don’t misunderstand. It wasn’t easy, but, after quite a while, it was possible.

Thanks so much. I just ordered the book from Amazon after reading your reply. I had an AWESOME job but can no longer do it. I too helped people, but my clients were typically technology entrepreneurs, looking for gov’t funds to grow their businesses. I loved helping them navigate the gov’t funds and learning about their early technologies and inventions that wouldn’t hit the market for 2-10 years. I’m looking forward to reading the book you suggested and also figuring out how to be a productive member of society again. Sewing and crafts for myself is actually good cognitive therapy and fun, but just not productive from a societal perspective. Thanks again for your reply. Alison

Thanks Michelle for sharing your thoughts- I read your posts from time to time and always get something out of them. Whilst I don’t have a TBI my chronic migraines and daily symptoms impact me in similar ways- I always appreciate your honesty- it makes me feel less isolated in my own journey.

I continue to miss the person I was before- I think I probably always will, but I am getting a lot better at feeling proud about who I am now- whilst I may not be as quick and resilient and strong as I was I am still doing my best each day and this is what I try to remember. I also try not to make comparisons between who I was before, and who I am now- or between myself and other people- I am getting better at noticing when I do and I engage in a lot of positive self-talk to help boost my self-confidence at these times. Wishing you well

Thank you for reading my blog, and yes I also think there are symptoms brain injury survivors share with other patients as the nervous system is so fundamental to all health.

I hope one day I will stop comparing myself, as there’s enough to worry about in the world. I need to celebrate the positives, not keep putting the negatives on a pedestal.

This is a wonderful place for us to let it out, to get it out, to express our feelings about all we’ve lost. We understand each other when no-one else can because they aren’t living this way, they don’t need to. It’s painfully hard, it hurts so much to remember our former selves and to see how we try and fail and try again and again, but never get there. We’re grieving. Maybe we’ll be grieving our whole lives. We live every day with feelings we hate even if on the outside we try not to feel them, or at least not to show them. Is it because we’re proud or because if we gave up we’d scare away the people we need most? This is hard, it’s so hard, it’s daily hard. We didn’t want this, no-one would. We know what others cannot know. Yet we can hold each other’s hands even if miles apart, we can imagine a warm strong hug, share tissues, and know that we do know even if no-one else does. We understand what it takes to be brave, to get up each day and accept the challenge because it’s the only thing we can do. Michelle, by offering us this place to be together you are so important to us. There’s no-one doing this like you. You’re humility, your friendliness and encouragement, the conversations you start, the subjects you write about mean something to so many. I doubt that anything you could have done before could equal the importance of what you do now. Thank you and believe this, you truly are a gem.

Oh Sandy, your words mean so much. I’m glad we’re building a community where we can share frustrations and ideas. Together we can get through this. It’s still bloody hard, but supporting each other this way makes us all stronger.

Sandy is describing ME! I am not dealing with this very well at all and it seems to get worse not better. People can’t understand the way I am and how I feel. I wish God could help them understand but unless it’s happened to you, you are blind to my feelings and that goes for my family too. I struggle all day every day. And sleep that is restful will never be in my life again. I am tired of trying to explain myself to people. I give up. My TBI was in 2013 and I had mid brain hemorrhage in 2008. I can’t accept myself as I am, because nobody else accepts me as I am.

Colettte I’m so sorry, I can hear your trauma in your voice. There are no kind words that I can give you to ease your pain, other than we are here for you.

Thank you for being there. Sometimes I can’t find the right words to explain how I feel and this blog helped me to find them.

Oh Colette. I’m so sorry you are in such a desperate place. I was there too. Have you been able to attend a concussion clinic? Mine has Occupational therapy, Physical therapy, Social Worker, Speech therapy. Most was in a group of about 6-8 people. Now my social worker and I work privately and he (retired now) and she have helped me a lot. Being able to work together in groups with others on the therapies for other a year really helped me to see I wasn’t alone. And for better or worse, to see that in some areas I was better off than others, and in some areas I was worse off than others. A reality check of sorts. Michelle has provided a wonderful forum here, but there are also facebook groups for both the affected and their family members that provide support to each other. For a long time I couldn’t sleep well either; but finally my nurse practitioner and I found a very low dose sleeping pill that is working for me. Please don’t give up seeking help and support; it really does make a difference. With kindness, Alison

None of my doctors have mentioned finding a group, but I am looking for one. The doctors in the USA, seem to be mostly in their line of work to just make money. No one I’ve seen, has any information to give me so I turned to the internet for help. This blog and the people on it are God sent help. Here EVERYONE understands. I am so glad I’ve found people to talk to and understands me. I has found friends here. My friends here in the USA are mostly gone now and the few I have still do not understand. Their phone calls get further apart.

I was brain injured in 1987 and didn’t know exactly what was wrong for 16 years. As it turns out, it was my short-term memory.

As a writer, editor and proofreader, I struggled, because where I lived required me to travel to work, making things difficult when I tried to make an interview or a first, second or third day of work.

Then, I fell into tutoring and am quite successful, now. My contacts are: and and my blog is at:

If you go to my blog’s search field and type “blurt” and hit “return”, you’ll be taken to a description of how I re-strengthened my short-term-memory, starting 16 years after my craniotomy.

Matt I’m sorry it took so long to diagnose your injury. I guess things weren’t as advanced back then and probably a lot of people slipped through the net. Thanks for letting us know how to find your exercises to strengthen memory skills. That’s very useful.

So it’s about 13 years post TBI and still to this day I struggle with self worth. I literally have maybe 2 friends, whereas before I had ALOT. I’m actually content with just having 2, but the awkward stares out of the corner of former friends eyes as I pass makes me feel uncomfortable. Still to this day alot of people think that I’m slow/retarded/etc… because I went from being a very extroverted person to the exact opposite. I’m really quiet depending on where I am and who is around. I worry way too much about the opinions of other people because I’ve pretty much conditioned myself to believe that I’m not worth anyone’s time and that I don’t have much to offer because of what I’ve become used to. So I guess I’m still trying to find my place and wondering why I was able to recover a whole lot further than alot of people, including the brain surgeon, expected for to how bad the injury was. I’m still getting used to who I am now, the second time around. I have so much fear that I let it dictate my every action, word, etc… But reading this helped a little, so thanks

Jonathan, I’m glad that you recognise that when it comes to friends quality over quantity is the way forward.
It is possible to train yourself out of worrying about “what people think”. Besides, if they are thinking that, they are not worth your time, but they could also be thinking about their guilt for how they treated you.

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