Exercising your brain

Jeff was 19 years old when he was involved in a car accident which caused a brain injury. He was a junior in college in America.  

You can read more about his experiences in his first blog here or visit his website where you can also find out about his book "Learning to Live with Yourself after Brain Injury".  

In this blog he talks about how he worked to exercise his brain following his brain injury.

The year was 1975. After a month in a coma and 4 weeks in the hospital, I was lucky enough to be accepted into the newly created Brain Injury unit at the New England Rehab. In 1975 we were in the infancy of learning about brain injury and the things it does to us. The knowledge we needed was still buried, waiting to be unearthed. When I look back at it now, it really seems as though everyone was fumbling around, just doing the best we all could.  During my coma I had right side hemiparesis, which put me in a wheelchair before I eventually graduated to using a cane.  I had aways been physically active, having played several sports in high school, and intramurals during my first two years in college, and I really had a hard time accepting  the shape  I was in. Using my youthful, I can do anything attitude, I set out to change my situation.  

Recovery begins at home

The day after got I discharged from the rehabilitation hospital I began exercising in my home, mostly lifting simple, light weights.  I felt a real need to get myself repaired and wanted to start with some type of workout, but I was completely on my own.  The exercising I was doing wasn't anything exciting or even interesting, but I knew I needed to start somewhere. Two things that go along with being young are being full of the feeling that you can accomplish anything, regardless of what is going on, as well as owning a stubborn disposition that says you are always right. While the thought of being able to accomplish anything may never become a reality, having that feeling, and believing it, is  powerful and makes you feel alive. This is important stuff.  

Setting my main goal: returning to college

About a week after I got out, a week spent mostly hanging around my house, exercising and reading  so that I could overcome the double vision I had, I went to see my neurologist. He asked me some questions about what my plans were, and I told him that I wanted  to go back to college in two months; for the spring semester. I remember him looking at me very seriously from across his desk, and handing me a piece of paper. He asked me to write some things. I realized I couldn't hold the pen very well, but I awkwardly scribbled out some words. He looked at what I had written, and said,
If you think you're going back to school, you better learn to write. Your brain is a muscle.  You need to exercise it."
That's what I set out to do. Going back to college became something I had to do because it was such a challenge. Was there a better place for me to exercise my brain?  Sure, I was no where near where I needed to be in order to be comfortable at school,  but I had the attitude of youth, and although it would be difficult and I knew I would have lots of failures, I was convinced it was the only way to go. College was going to be a big laboratory for me, but in order to approach it this way, I had to change my goals and objectives, and have a different set of expectations. No longer was I going to college with the idea that I would do well and go to graduate school. I went to college with the knowledge that my life had changed irrevocably, and I was going back there to discover who I was as a human being. Thoughts of employment and career after college took a back seat to learning and growing in a way most of the other students couldn't understand. I would need to deal with my future later, sometime in the future because I had very important stuff to do now: I had to exercise. In my mind, my main job was getting back to a "zero" state, where I would feel whole  again, and be able to move on with my life. The most important thing now was relearning and re-experiencing.  

Being back in education

Being back at college, in the state I was, brought much unhappiness and confusion. Not only was I trying to learn about myself, my schoolwork and my place in the world, I was doing it while I figured out why things were so different and most of my friends had disappeared. I made new friends; friends who only knew  the "me" that came back to college after my injury. I developed values and standards, which I followed in order to become the person I wanted to be. I was given a rare opportunity to throw the past aside, learn about the present, and gradually integrate what I chose from my past back into my life. I took the long-term view, that I was busy becoming someone, and tried not to let the day to day, roller coaster world get to me. Looking back on that time, the pain, unhappiness and confusion I felt is easier to understand and accept now that they have passed, and my life has moved on to places I never dreamed. I can see that I approached my life in a way that allowed me to have successes and build a new life.  

The key to my success

When you're stuck in the middle of all the angry, confused, rehabilitation stuff, it's tough to see any light at the end of the tunnel, or to see how the situation could ever work itself out, but it can and will, providing you're ready to take some steps.
Follow a path you choose for yourself, do things for the right reasons, and be true to yourself."
Approach life with new openness, and try  to accept this detour with as much enthusiasm as possible.  This is often difficult, given the pain and confusion many of us suffer, but the attitude you take towards you new life is the key to your ultimate success.
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