By Guest Blogger Adam Anicich, PolyTrauma/Blast-Related Injury Executive Committee Member for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
In my line of work, I’ve heard too many Soldiers, Sailors, Airman and Marines share their frustrations about their recovery and their concerns about the difficulties of reentering “normal life” after an injury. “I can’t…,” “It’s too hard…” and “I’ll do it later…” are phrases spoken all too often. These Warriors begin to doubt themselves and become overly critical of their limitations – and forget to focus on their abilities. These feelings are understandable – after all they have been through, who can fault them? I know, because I was one of those Soldiers.
Many people with brain/blast injuries, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other acquired injuries can feel isolated – either from cognitive difficulties, troubles keeping pace with daily life, lack of focus or just not being able to engage in the same lifestyle they used to. Such isolation not only inhibits a person’s recovery, but also takes a toll on their emotional state. It discourages friends and relationships, marginalizes enjoyment and inhibits professional aspirations.
As a result, many people with injuries or disabilities refrain from enjoying life or impacting society with the zeal and passion that they once had. PTSD can crush a person’s spirits, scars can make people feel trapped within themselves and the loss of a limb can make a person feel incomplete. My challenge to all of you out there struggling with a traumatic or acquired injury or disability is to push yourself to do things you used to enjoy before your injury – find ways to overcome physical limitations, engage your mind in intellectual discourse and discover renewed enthusiasm for life. This is your life – take it back!
As a community, we do however, also have a responsibility – as individuals who have sustained injuries; as family members, friends and caretakers; or as the support network of those individuals with disabilities, to encourage positive attitudes and promote best practices for rehabilitative outcomes. There still exists a stigma about mental health problems and readjustment after combat – but these conditions are treatable! The work of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists is amazing and making a real impact on people’s lives. Let’s help build an environment that is supportive and prepares our injured colleagues for success.
It’s hard enough to persevere through the immediate recovery of an injury and overcome the daily challenges of living with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), without the added pressures of scheduling physical therapy and vocational rehabilitation appointments, juggling prescription medicines and deciding on the right path for your future. We also need to take a look at how we are relaxing and unwinding. De-stressing can have both physical and psychological benefits during the recovery process and beyond. Do you like to watch TV? Do you enjoy quiet walks? Do take pleasure in just being alone for a few hours and thinking? For those suffering from PTSD, this relaxation can be critical to finding inner peace. Find what you like to do and make it happen.
One thing that has had great success in recent years is volunteering. Many people who have overcome obstacles find helping others in the community to be therapeutic – both for their own recovery, and that of others. Giving back to others helps people share their stories, gain insight from others who have been “in their shoes” and discover satisfaction in mutually-admired activities.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of giving a tour of The Capitol to a severely wounded Veteran and his family. Although his appearance was scarred, his limb count incomplete and a steel external fixator stabilized his arm, he was thrilled to see The Capitol and filled with energy as he described his experiences and future plans to people we met along the way. His energy and vigor should be an inspiration to those recovering after a traumatic or acquired injury and showcases the true strength of the human spirit – the true strength of America’s Warfighters.
Today, there are huge leaps in research and clinical strategies being promoted by both private and public entities that are helping people like you and me overcome the challenges that would have been insurmountable just a decade ago. Advances in healthcare access, technology and adaptive equipment, physician training, community awareness and patient engagement are all contributing to a more normalized lifestyle expectation from individuals with disabilities. These are not fluffed-up innovations in a perfect world; these are real changes that are happening now.
Start the Discussion
Start the discussion with your healthcare provider about how these innovations impact you and how they can make your life easier. Things are changing constantly and there are always new products being developed. Search online for new ideas, get involved with blogs and social media and connect with other in similar situations. Maybe a voice recorder for storing thoughts on the go is the solution for you, perhaps it’s a different combination of medicines designed to help you sleep better without the “jitters” or perhaps it’s a water-resistant prosthetic better designed for your lifestyle.
Many larger health clinics, hospitals and rehabilitation centers have patient advocates who can advise on costs, insurance coverage and assistance programs that might help defray the financial burdens associated with specialty care. Seek out these counselors and share your story – you might just be surprised how much you can improve your life with just a little effort. One of the most respected physicians in the field of rehabilitative medicine once told me that “many patients may look for a passive cure, but it takes active participation to move forward.”
YOU are the only person who can change that “I can’t…” to “I DID!”
For More Information:
- Visit the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury’s website at http://www.dcoe.health.mil/.
- Check out the resources available from the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD.
- Caregivers can call the Caregivers Support Line at 1-855-260-3274.
Adam Anicich serves on the PolyTrauma/Blast-Related Injury Executive Committee for the Department of Veterans Affairs and is a national expert in the fields of PolyTrauma and traumatic brain injury. A former Army Sergeant and polytrauma patient, he now uses his unique mix of experience and understanding of traumatic and acquired injuries to help our nation’s Veterans.