(Editor’s Note: Writer Isaac Peterson has shared his journey forward after having a stroke in November 2016 on this blog. Today, he shares his personal self-care strategies, that are not only beneficial for fellow survivors, but are terrific tips for everyone and anyone. Enjoy! K.T.)
I’ve been told that self-care is kind of a hot topic these days, but I’ve never checked out any sources on the subject. I do think that I have been practicing self-care; I’ve written about my version of self-care here several times.
I won’t talk about what other sources have to say, since I don’t know what others are saying. But I can and will talk here about my take on self-care. I’ll do it in bullet points to make it a little easier to read. And keep in mind that since all this is from my experience and no two brain injuries are the same, what’s worked for me may not apply to you. You can skip over those; I won’t mind. If you see something that might work for you, feel free to use it yourself; I won’t mind that either.
To thy own self be true and know thyself
A good starting point for me was with the old sayings, to thine own self be true and know thyself, which I think are self- explanatory. Shakespeare wrote the first and Socrates the second. I’m not going to argue with those guys since they were obviously much smarter than me. I’m not as good a writer either, since I doubt anyone centuries from now will care about what some schmoe wrote on the internet once. But I do know that their advice was a good place for me to start when I needed to start taking care of myself, and I hope my words will have some value here, in the present.
It’s good to know where you are now, because how can you figure out how to get where you need to be if you don’t know where you are now? Self-knowledge is invaluable to taking care of yourself and charting your own course. If you don’t care about yourself, how can you expect anyone else to care?
After my stroke it was clear that I wasn’t quite who I’d been before; so, it was obvious to me that I needed to learn who and what I am right now. Putting myself in various situations, some against the advice of the experts, was something I felt I had to do. I wanted to explore the limits of my capabilities–my strengths and weaknesses and work from there. I learned a lot about me and what I’m made of doing that. I became the world’s leading expert on the subject (in fact, I’m the only expert in that field).
Following are a few of the most important things I do to take care of myself.
Don’t stop seeing your doctor
Although I do indulge in self-care, I do still see my doctor regularly. If I tried to go completely cold turkey and insist on doing it all myself, I would have a knucklehead for a doctor. My doctor can see the progress I’m making and encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing. He’s a good guy and I like seeing him (what I don’t like are the occasional blood tests. If I had a choice between getting needles in my arm or drinking a mayonnaise milkshake, I’d go with the mayonnaise shake).
I can’t do the tests myself; I go because I want to be healthy and the blood tests can let me know if there is some hidden condition I ought to know about. I’m still waiting for the nurse to give me a lollipop for being such a brave lad, though.
I would hope you don’t do what I did before my stroke, when I went through a lot of years without seeing a doctor because I felt good all the time. If I had gone, my undiagnosed hypertension would have been noticed and treated. I wouldn’t have had the stroke I write about all the time.
That wasn’t self-care, it was self-neglect, and it almost cost me everything.
Although I’ve had people tell me I shouldn’t be out walking, I go out and walk. I think walking every day is good for my body, especially my heart and circulatory system.
I think it’s a good idea to also exercise my mind as well, to give my brain a workout and keep it well-oiled. I read all the time, and I do it every day. I’m really into words, and I don’t think it’s a bad idea to learn new words. If I run into a word and I don’t know what it means, I will look it up. I do other things as well, besides reading every day, like when I’m out walking, I play word games in my head. One of my favorite head games is taking a word and rearranging the letters to see how many words I can come up with from the letters in that word. I know it sounds goofy, but I think it’s a good way to exercise my mind, and I’ve had a lifelong love affair with words.
A positive attitude is important. A can-do attitude is a part of my self-care program. But I keep it realistic–as much as I want to fly, I will never be able to fly, no matter how hard I try to flap my arms. Find out what you can do and work from there. Be aware of both your strengths and your limitations.
At least that’s what I do, and it seems to work for me.
Set goals for yourself, but don’t expect miracles overnight; I don’t think there is such a thing with a TBI. I find that setting yourself up to experience a series of small victories will go a long way toward keeping a positive attitude. For myself, my nerves are still somewhat out of whack and I don’t walk as well as I did before my injury and I get tired much quicker than I used to. However, I started walking as much as I could, and gradually increasing both the time and distance I am out. Every little increase I have been able to handle is a small victory–not a break out the champagne kind of victory, but it does help me feel like I accomplished something and makes me want to keep doing it.
Meditation and positive mental imagery can be quite helpful in keeping a positive attitude, and I use them.
And this is extremely important–if you fall short of your goal, don’t dwell on it. Just always do the best you can, and if you don’t quite get it done today, there’s always tomorrow. If you’re constantly not meeting your own goals or expectations, don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you; just revising your goal and starting over never hurts.
The important thing is to keep trying.
Give yourself a balance between exercise and resting
Don’t feel like you always need to do something physical. Watching TV, playing board games with friends, or any passive activity that gives you pleasure and relaxation are important things to do to keep yourself in balance. Do it every day, or whenever you need or want to. Just don’t forget to get some physical exercise as well. You can reward yourself after you are finished exercising. Just don’t forget have fun whenever you have a chance.
Diet and Hydration
A healthier diet is a good, positive thing. I would recommend what’s known now as a heart healthy diet. It can help your overall wellness, not just your heart. Give your TBI healthier grounds to help it get better.
I hear the advice stay hydrated so much it almost feels like a cliché. What I don’t hear much about is how to stay hydrated, so awhile back I decided to find out.
The traditional advice is to drink eight glasses of water every day. But somebody finally realized that more specific information was needed. One important thing is that eight glasses is kind of vague, because people have and use different size glasses. While eight glasses are enough for some people, it may be too little for some, and too much for others.
The standard has been revised to make it more specific, since there isn’t a one size fits all way to keep hydrated. It seems that a good way to figure out how much water to drink in a day that will work for in your own case is to drink one ounce of water for each pound of weight.
I’ll use myself as an example. Since I weigh about 180 pounds, I would need to drink 180 ounces of water a day. I found out that my water bottle holds 30 ounces, so I would need to drink six full bottles of water during the time I’m awake to stay hydrated. There are also other sources of water to consider. There is water in fruits and vegetables as well as in fruit juices.
Keep in mind that alcohol won’t go far to keep you hydrated; alcohol has a dehydrating effect, from what I understand.
In everything I learned, staying hydrated will help make your body work better overall and you’ll feel better.
Social supports: friends, family, support groups
Having a TBI doesn’t have to mean you drop out of society. Human contact is vital for your emotional and mental well-being. Any type of social support goes a long way.
I think spending time with family and friends are obvious; but support groups can be important and useful as well. Support groups give you an environment where there are people going through their own version of what you’re going through. You can interact with all sorts of people, get good advice about different coping methods or programs, and make new friends, the kinds of friends who can really relate to what you’re going through.
You also may find the world is not as small as it might feel sometimes.
Those are some of the things I do, but I urge you to design your own self-care program. The benefits of doing so will help you know yourself better and be your own best friend.
Isaac Peterson grew up on an Air Force base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, he embarked on a career as an award-winning investigative journalist and as a semi-professional musician in the Twin Cities, the place he called home on and off for 35 years. He also doesn’t mind it at all if someone offers to pick up his restaurant tab. Peterson also welcomes reader comments. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This summer event was attended by survivors, caregivers and family members. The celebration spanned the ages: picnic goers ranged in from age from seven to 80 years old!
Clearly, a great time was had by all for this special celebration!
BEST is excited and honored to announce our BEST Superhero of the Month for 2018, a true beacon of light for the brain injury community and beyond.
Congratulations and BEST wishes to Maggie DePuye-Phillips!
DePuye-Phillps serves as a BEST board director and BEST guest blogger. She is also a dedicated caregiver, instructor, counselor and mentor.
Here’s what Maggie’s nominator had to say about her:
Maggie often uses the symbol of a lighthouse when talking about caregiving and BEST: a beacon of hope where the light of support is always on.
Maggie herself is that very lighthouse she describes, offering care, support and hope to fellow caregivers and the brain injury community through her hard work, generous nature, unwavering support, strong leadership, advocacy for others and boundless positive energy.
Maggie is a caregiver for a veteran with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Through her personal experiences, extensive research and teaching background, Maggie has been a ray of light and valuable resource for caregivers and families in both the civilian and military communities.
Through Maggie’s service as a longtime board director for BEST, she brings amazing leadership, wisdom, determination and positivity to the organization.
Maggie also serves in the deaf and hard of hearing community as a counselor, instructor and mentor.
Maggie’s superhero-powered light shine bright for our community–we are deeply grateful for all she does for others.
Have a superhero in your life? Nominate them today by clicking here!
At the Brain Energy Support Team (BEST), we provide support, resources, services, education, social opportunities and more for the brain injury community and their caregivers and families.
Our online presence can be accessed at any time, from anywhere.
Looking to learn more?
Here are the five BEST ways to connect with us!
- brainenergysupportteam.org: Our website features information about who we are, what we do and how you can get involved. Whether you are a brain injury survivor, caregiver, family member, medical or health/wellness professional with an interest in brain health, we have something for everyone on our website. Please visit today.
- Our website blog: Our award-winning website blog features personal essays from the brain injury community, resources and tools, event information, health and wellness tips and strategies, educational articles, original art and much more. Our blog is updated regularly. Please stop by and give us a read. You’ll be glad you did!
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According to the Brain Energy Support Team’s Jeff Hartson, brain injury is prevalent in correctional facilities and the numbers of those affected to continue to grow. While estimates vary from facility to facility, traumatic brain injury (TBI) typically impacts from thirty to seventy percent of those incarcerated. Those individuals who have a TBI may experience significant and additional challenges in these kinds of settings.
A new project, Traumatic Brain Injuries in Corrections, is a collaborative effort with the University of Washington, the Washington State Department of Corrections and other participating entities, to assist front line correctional staff to understand the most effective ways to interact with people who have a TBI. The project team is working on creating brain injury training programs, resources and tools for correctional staff to utilize. In addition to corrections staff training, tools and resources that are being implemented, brain injury support group structures and other educational opportunities are being explored as well.
Hartson has been serving on the project as a subject matter expert, due to his vast professional and personal experience.
Hartson is a Brain Energy Support Team board director, brain injury support group facilitator and was recently appointed to serve on the Washington State TBI Council. Hartson’s previous professional experience in the public sector has prepared him well for his newest role: he has a combined thirty years of public service as a correctional officer, emergency medical technician, search and rescue team member, a role as a reserve sheriff’s department deputy and a volunteer firefighter. Hartson’s other recent projects have included providing subject matter expertise in brain injury awareness and education for disaster preparedness and local emergency preparedness efforts in Pierce County, Washington.
On the personal side, Hartson is also a brain injury survivor himself.
It’s with this foundation of experience and passion to serve his community that he can lend his support, ideas and energy to this critical project.
For Hartson, his participation has been deeply rewarding.
“Along with my role as a corrections officer for over 20 years, other experiences in public service, and now as a TBI survivor, I have taken my experiences and being a TBI ‘thriver,’ to help the team create and provide tools for the staff to work with to help them deal with de-escalation, crises and interactions with inmates who have TBI,” says Hartson.
“It’s been a great experience overall,” continues Hartson. “The interest has been phenomenal and there’s great comradery amongst the project participants.”
To learn more about the Traumatic Brain Injury in Corrections Project, please click here for more information.
Alice Fenske and her husband, Andy, are real-life superheroes to local animals that need them the most.
The Fenske’s own and operate the Gentle Paws Hospice and Sanctuary in Grays Harbor County in Washington State. Gentle Paws provides love, support and care for special needs and senior dogs and cats.
Gentle Paws also support the furry family members of low-income senior citizens and homeless adults. The Fenske’s provides love, boarding and care at no cost for the animals in the event of their humans having a medical emergency or if they need some time and support to get back on their feet; once they are ready, they reunite with their animals again.
What fuels the Fenske’s passion for animals, especially those with special needs, comes from their own histories and experiences. Both are brain injury survivors and have been members of the Grays Harbor County Brain Injury Support Group since moving to Washington State five years ago. For the Fenske’s, it was the help and support they needed.
“We couldn’t believe our luck that this tiny community would have a TBI support group for the first time since Andy’s accident,” says Alice Fenske. “We were finally getting answers, confirmations, and help. Thank you, God, for this group. Through the years I realized that with the accidents I have had, (I) broke my neck in 1996 and numerous concussions since moving out here, that I too, have had a TBI.”
The Fenske’s wanted to provide similar support, help, answers, and most especially, a voice, for special needs animals in need. Paired with big hearts and a great love for animals, the Fenske’s journey forward after brain injury would also include caring for animals.
For Alice Fenske, her passion for animals began at a young age.
“I grew up not having the very best life and I have always had animals in it and they have always been there for me. They love unconditionally and always forgive you,” says Fenske. “My love for animals started when I was very young, and the special needs and seniors grabbed my attention.”
Fenske continues, “When (my husband and I) lived in Wyoming, (where) the humane society from Longmont, Colorado had a 14-year-old very overweight female dog who had huge cancerous tumors hanging off her, was dropped off by her family. They knew nobody was going to even take notice of (the dog) Mia, so I got a hold of a rescue whom I had done another hospice dog for.”
The rescue group knew that the Fenske’s were moving to Washington State, but asked if they could come look at Mia anyway.
“We went down (there) and one look and I knew she was coming home with us,” says Fenske.
The Fenske’s took care of Mia’s health needs and showered her with love and attention. In turn, Mia taught them some valuable lessons in love and acceptance in the short remainder of her life.
“Miss Mia opened our eyes to how seniors and some special needs dogs were treated at the ends of their lives. We have been told, ‘They just won’t die;’ ‘They are no fun anymore;’ and ‘They just lay around.’ We have heard so many excuses it breaks our hearts.
We don’t have to go far to get animals; we have to say ‘no’ to animals every day, which breaks our hearts, but it is just the two of us and we are usually at 30 dogs.”
Fenske explains the mission and vision for Gentle Paws. It’s passionate and straightforward.
“They don’t have a voice that can been heard, especially the older or special needs (animals). The puppies always get seen and adopted and get the money they need for whatever. The seniors hear this: they are old, they will probably die soon, and should we really put money into them.
We are here to say, yes. They have feelings too; they love to be loved, go on walks, be on the couches, sit in front of our fireplace, jump into bed with us at night. They deserve the same things in life that people take for granted.”
Fenske continues, “People take a lot of their animals for granted and not go the extra step for them, especially the seniors or special needs when they get older. All that these animals want is a warm place to lay down and have a place to call home.”
While at this point, the Fenske’s don’t have formal plans for the sanctuary, they hope to keep taking in animals in need of love and support.
One of these special animals at Gentle Paws was featured on the international website, The Dodo, a hugely popular site for animal lovers, activists, and advocates. The video shares how the community came together to support a beautiful special needs dog named Sunshine. Please click here to see the powerful and inspirational video about Sunshine, Gentle Paws and her human supporters and friends.
As for the sanctuary’s immediate needs, monetary and food are always welcomed and appreciated. For those who wish to donate, please click here for phone contact information. Please call the sanctuary first to make donation arrangements.
In the meantime, Alice and Andy Fenske keep helping the animals.
“We just plan to keep putting one paw in front of the other,” smiles Alice Fenske. “This journey has been amazing.”