ANTs in Costume

2013-1031 Atom AntSome time ago, I wrote two posts (Eliminating ANTs and Anteater Saves Human) in which I mention the work of Dr. Daniel Amen who suggests that Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) are responsible for much of our challenge in recovery. The following list includes five destructive thoughts (ANTs) that will sabotage your progress to recovery. The reason I selected the following ANTs, out of the thousands of negative thoughts that could hold us back, is that in the past few days I have received or seen numerous messages from survivors that fall into the following five categories.

I Can’t Do It

Sometimes survivors and caregivers suggest they simply cannot continue doing what they have tried so hard to do. Sometimes the statement I hear is as straight forward as “I can’t do it,” but I also hear many variations such as “it’s too difficult,” “I could not do it before and I can’t do it now,” and “look how easily they can do it.” There is no benefit in comparing yourself to other survivors or caregivers — their circumstance may be different than yours. Furthermore, there is no benefit in comparing your abilities to the abilities of people who have not experienced trauma — their circumstances are considerably different than yours. The best approach is to continue trying. If something is not working, try something else, but never ever give up.

It’s Too Late for Me

This ANT hides behind two costumes. Sometimes I hear survivors say they are “too old” and sometimes I hear them say they waited “too long” after their injury to seek help. Both statements are without merit. There is no reason to believe that recovery is impossible due to a survivor’s age or the speed with which a survivor started treatment. I have met several people who are almost twice my age and recovered from their injuries more quickly than I recovered from mine. Similarly, I have met people who lived with their brain injury for almost 40 years before seeking help. Age and the time from injury may affect the time to recovery, but there is insufficient evidence to prove that it’s too late for you.

A Partial Recovery is Not Recovery

There are many tasks that are difficult now, that were easy before my brain injury. For example, I used to be able to drive, but I haven’t driven in more than ten years. Some people could suggest that I have experienced a “partial recovery” and I should be upset, disappointed, or depressed. I see things a little differently. I don’t need to worry about leases/loan payments, fuel prices, maintenance fees, replacement parts, car insurance, lack of parking space, or parking fees. As I see it, brain injury helped me save several thousand dollars per year that I can now use for food, travel, fun, donations, and helping family members. Do I equate my partial recovery as an imperfect recovery? Never! Will I continue to challenge myself to achieve a more complete recovery? Always!

I Can’t Be Positive . . . Look At My Life

Brain injury, and the many effects that often accompany brain injury, can be life threatening, permanent, and challenging. I understand. I have been dealing with the effects of brain injury for more than 10 years. However, chances are that you cannot blame your caregivers or the people around you for what has happened. Think of brain injury as a gift – you now have an opportunity to reinvent yourself and become the person you have always wanted to be. I realize you could have done this without a brain injury, but the time you spend recovering from brain injury is a perfect time to begin the journey. The people you interact with will be much more helpful if you have a positive attitude rather than a negative attitude.

Nobody Understands Me

There may be many people who don’t understand you, but it is self-defeating to believe that nobody understands you. There are many doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, and caregivers who do understand, regardless of whether or not they have personally experienced a brain injury. Their experience as unbiased observers allows them to see opportunities for improvement that you might not notice. My physical, occupational, and cognitive therapists had not experienced a brain injury themselves, yet they all understood me and many offered helpful suggestions. My classmates in a cognitive recovery program all understood me, even though each person received a different type of injury. There are support groups for survivors and caregivers of every injury. There are virtual support groups where you can attend anonymously online. Many people will understand if you give them a chance.

Your Turn

  • What are your ANTs?
  • What are you doing to terminate your ANTs?
  • What advice can you offer to people who have stepped on an ANT hill?

Thanks to all the people who directly and indirectly made it possible for me to include the picture and text I used in this post.

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