I was an enthusiastic language student for years but it was only when I became a language
teacher myself that I discovered that our capacity to learn does not go in a straight line. A student might doggedly practise something but never really learn it, or conversely, find they were able to rapidly and painlessly master some things which are known to be complex and difficult.
The adage of a journey of a thousand miles starting with a single step is true, though. I noticed the one element which would invariably guarantee success for my students would be if I encouraged them to - repeatedly and regularly - attempt to master diverse small parcels of information. They might also mix things up for a while; trying one approach, then a different one, abandoning a certain exercise and choosing a related but different task; later on, students might return successfully to the first approach. No straight lines to victory, but it is easy to envisage the possibility of completing a huge and complex jigsaw puzzle if you quietly added one piece a day.
An injury to the brain can be challenging in many ways. Before, in your life, you made large strides; now you take tiny steps. Overnight you are required to embrace and adapt to some messy and alternative realities, and you may well find you are marking time in a different way. Everything is different and life has changed. Time and perspectives have subtly shifted. The things you do, and the way you learn, may have changed too.
When you have a brain injury you might find yourself being cared for by highly qualified
professionals who although they are experts, seemingly cannot give you any proper answers. A damaged brain is not like a broken leg; there are no certainties. No one will tell you that in six weeks the cells will be knitted together and you can start taking your brain out for a walk, and you will be playing football with it after twelve weeks have passed. Even the most distinguished doctor will give you an evasive and woolly answer to the question ‘when will I be better?’ ‘How much progress will I make?’ ‘How can I help myself?’
Image: This is me on the Lokomat. It took a lot of work to wake up those mobility muscles, but it felt so good to be standing upright even if it was via robot legs!
The amount of specialised care you receive doubtless makes a difference to your progress,
especially in the early days. People with brain injuries hopefully receive outstanding care when in the acute emergency phase, however once the drama has died down and you have left the safety of the hospital ward, you find yourself at home, on your own, waiting for something to happen. If you are lucky you might have a few photocopies of exercises to do and some vague instructions on how to do them. Your wonderful physiotherapist might have sped through some great techniques and exercises, and it is only when they have gone that you realise you cannot remember whether it was left first, lift up or press down, stretch right, do 3 a day or 3 every Tuesday, or was it 2 a month? It might be difficult to motivate yourself as you painfully try and take a few steps across your living room whereas before you were used to an active lifestyle, running about all over the place. That pain is literal and metaphorical because your muscles are stiff from too much inaction, and your sudden immobility has left you demotivated and demoralised. What is major progress to you - open the Champagne! I moved my toe! I lifted my hand!- is laughable to someone who has the use of all their faculties. Oh, wait, you are no longer eligible for Champagne. Pop the kettle on then, or ask your helper to do that, and you can have one biscuit as a reward!
LEGS is a wonderful group to join because not only will you find sympathetic experts who will encourage you to do the exercises that are so important to making progress, but you are amongst a peer group who understand that taking 1, 3, 15 or 150 steps is a huge achievement worthy of celebration. You may find motivation in seeing others clearly improve, and also feel encouraged to note you yourself are making progress too. The LEGS physiotherapists have endless patience and eyes in the back of their head and will ensure you are doing the movements correctly. They will suggest you practise when making coffee, washing up, going about your daily life. What a pleasure it has been to join this group and to see how many improvements people in the group have made in even a short space of time. It all starts with one step.