Reclaim your life after TBI—with patience and persistence

Every year, thousands of Military Service Members are diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The grief that follows a TBI happens for both survivors and their loved ones. While the grief people feel after a TBI is a normal response to loss, every loss involves a unique journey to recovery. With some help, patience, and persistence, military families can recover after a TBI and go on to lead long, full lives.  

Grief basics

Whether you’re grieving the loss of function and independence from a TBI, or the death of a loved one, loss of a relationship, or loss of a job, there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.

People grieving a loss typically go through a range of emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and eventually acceptance. Other common grief responses include emotional numbing, anxiety, shock, and “survivor’s guilt.” Physical symptoms of grief can include nausea, headaches, loss of appetite, fatigue, memory loss, inability to focus, tiredness, and insomnia. Most people experience grief for about 6 months, but for others it can take a year or more before they feel better again.

TBI recovery

TBI can cause dramatic changes to a person’s personality, cognitive abilities, and independence. Many TBI survivors grieve losing their prior identity and self-worth. As a TBI survivor, you might feel frustrated and overwhelmed, while loved ones might have to grapple with anger, guilt, and blame. TBI survivors often question who they are now, what they’re capable of doing, and how that compares to who they saw themselves as before the injury.

While the transition to a “new normal” is hard, it’s different for everyone. Consider the following strategies for easing the transition to life as a TBI survivor:

  • Understand that recovery from a TBI takes time. Recovery from a TBI—both physically and emotionally—is built on slow progress. Give yourself time to experience, express, and sort through the range of emotions you feel.
  • Acknowledge there’s been a loss. Think through what’s changed since the TBI and how that impacts your goals for yourself and your family. When you’re able, share your concerns, worries, fears, and grief with your loved ones.
  • Consider finding a support group. It’s helpful for TBI survivors, partners, and other loved ones to talk with others who have experienced similar losses—whether in person or online—to gain perspective on what you’re going through and what the future might hold.
  • Accept help. Loss of independence is tough, but help from others allows you to focus on your strengths and the many things you can still do. You might need to gradually take on responsibilities you once handled easily. Lean on your loved ones and your medical team.
  • Support caregivers too. Caregivers experience loss, grief, and burnout. High levels of caregiver stress and anxiety can impede the TBI recovery process. But caregiver support is available and should be accessed as often as needed.
  • Look for growth opportunities amid the changes. While dealing with grief is challenging, it also can lead to finding personal strengths you didn’t know you had, a deeper appreciation for life, and a connection to a greater sense of meaning and purpose.

Bottom line

It takes time to heal—physically and emotionally—after the losses that follow a TBI. With support from your loved ones, a willingness to accept help, and the understanding that slow progress is still progress, you and your family can recover from—and thrive—after a TBI.

References

Carroll, E., & Coetzer, R. (2011). Identity, grief and self-awareness after traumatic brain injury. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 21(3), 289–305. doi:10.1080/09602011.2011.555972

Clements, P. T. (2003). GRIEF: Promoting adaptive coping after loss and death. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 41(7), 6–7.

Haller, C. S. (2017). The relatives’ big five personality influences the trajectories of recovery of patients after severe TBI: A multilevel analysis. Journal of Personality, 85(4), 481–493. doi:10.1111/jopy.12254

Nagraj, S., & Barclay, S. (2009). Bereavement and coping with loss. InnovAiT: Education and inspiration for general practice, 2(10), 613–618. doi:10.1093/innovait/inp104

Saban, K. L., Mathews, H. L., Collins, E. G., Hogan, N. S., Tell, D., Bryant, F. B., Janusek, L. W. (2016). The man I once knew. Biological Research For Nursing, 18(1), 50–59. doi:10.1177/1099800414568661