Just as important as the patient’s well-being is the well-being of his or her support group. This includes family, friends and caregivers. It is easy for the loved ones of a brain-injury survivor to get engrossed in caring for that individual and putting their own needs and wants aside. What many people don’t realize is that by not taking care of themselves, they are also hurting others. If a person burns out to the point that they can no longer function, then how good a caregiver can they be? Think about what would happen if you burned yourself out and weren’t available for your injured loved one when you were really needed? And as human beings, we have the need and the right to live our own lives and take care of ourselves to a reasonable extent.
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. You can find suggested ways for you to do this in the SDBIF Brain Injury Guide.
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, such as those available through SDBIF.