A concussion can have a post-traumatic effect. That’s because a concussion often is a traumatic event for a lot of us. It also brings about all kinds of adverse side effects in our lives.
I was lucky enough to find a book by Professor Stephen Joseph in the library of The Hague when I needed it most. He is the first person who helped me understand what had been going on with me. His words are healing by themselves, and I want to share his ideas with you to help you move forward in your recovery.
Prof. Stephen Joseph
Professor Stephen Joseph is a professor at the University of Nottingham. Over there, he’s co-director of the Center for Trauma, Resilience and Growth. He is a Brittish psychologist specializing in the psychology of traumatic stress and psychotherapy.
If you’ve ever had trouble reading books by theorists, because they don’t seem to understand you and just end up feeling alone, rest assured. Stephen Joseph does everything BUT this.
For over 20 years, he has interviewed so many people who have experienced trauma, that he knows. I don’t know whether he has experienced trauma himself, but reading his books, it feels as if he has.
He isn’t afraid to dive into all the hard stuff that comes with adversity, and is sensitive at the same time. The way he writes, and especially what he writes, has made a significant impact on my life. I hope to thank him in person one day. For now, let me pay it forward and tell you about his book.
What doesn’t kill us
The book I read back then is called “What Doesn’t Kill Us – The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth”. Its cover reads:
“What happens when we’re confronted with the worst? Conventional wisdom holds that trauma scars us for life, wreaking psychological heavoc that affects everything from our sleep cycles and relationships to our very will to live.
But as pioneering psychologist Stephen Joseph shows in What Doesn’t Kill Us, traumatic events can actually be triggers that improve one’s life by strenghtening relationships, changing one’s perspective, and revealing inner strengths.
Drawing on the wisdom of ancient philosophers, the insight of evolutionary biologists, the optimism of positive psychologists, and his own groundbreaking studies, Joseph reveals how to find new meaning, purpose, and direction in the face of change and adversity “traumatic or otherwise.”
When I read this, I thought: I want to try and read this book.
In the beginning, I had a lot of trouble with the word “trauma”. It sounds so… dramatic. But Stephen Joseph described so many kinds of trauma by giving examples, including -specifically – TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). I felt I could relate – and I felt less alone.
A concussion can cause trauma
A traumatic event can be seen as an adverse life-event that overwhelms our ability to cope (that’s not his definition, but my interpretation). By that definition, a concussion and especially post-concussion syndrome, can certainly be seen as a traumatic event. For me, it was.
Trauma had affected my life
Although I hadn’t paid attention at the beginning and didn’t even know I had a concussion, it had gotten hold of me – and my life. Symptoms like my inability to concentrate, to plan, or to be among people or in traffic tore down my life day by day.
And because I had never encountered adversity before, I had no way of coping constructively. And thus I avoided the pain – and everything became an even bigger mess.
Chronic adversity because of TBI
While most specialists focus on physical tests and scans, professor Joseph was the first person who recognized all the psychological problems I’d had for a while now.
Aside from “What Doesn’t Kill Us, I read his book “Trauma, Recovery and Growth – Positive Psychological Perspectives on Posttraumatic Stress”. In it, it felt like he wrote directly to me when I read his sentences about ABI, Acquired Brain Injury.
“ABI […] combines initial acute trauma with emerging chronic adversity. This is because primary physical disabilities have a secondary effect on employment status, financial position, and social relationships.” Yes, I recognized all of this!
The emotional impact of TBI
And then he writes on about the emotional impact of ABI, and for the first time, I feel like a caregiver knows what I am going through.
“A person with ABI is likely to be troubled by major problems in areas such as memory, concentration, language processing, empathic feeling, social skills, and spatial orientation. He will thus have reduced psychological resources with which to make sense of his new situation (much of which is itself psychological in nature).”
How to heal yourself with a broken brain?
This was exactly what I was experiencing! How could I fix my brain problems if my brain wasn’t working and I felt completely overwhelmed whenever I did anything? I wanted to know more from this man.
Personal identity changes
Then he wrote something that touched the core of what I was experiencing.
“Perhaps the most distressing aspect of ABI is the effect that the combination of losses has on the sense of personal identity. A patient with ABI may be experienced by both herself and others as a totally different person.”
There it was. This touched me deeply, because I had felt that I was changing.
I felt disconnected from everything & everyone
I couldn’t care anymore about things I used to care a big deal about. My perspective shifted about what was important in life, and I felt a huge disconnect with a lot of people I cared about. It felt like I didn’t know where to start to explain to them what I was going through, and they were too busy living life as if everything was OK – luckily!
I felt a disconnect with almost my entire life, because I didn’t know who I was and what I wanted anymore. As I’ve written in another blog, I suffered from depression. So Stephen Joseph touched me right at the core of my pain.
The heart of the book carries a positive message. Trauma doesn’t have to have the last word. We can ressurrect from it, and even be the better for it. Its called posttraumatic growth.
I know it sounds like something that people say who have no idea what it’s like. “You’ll probably get the better for it.” Argh, how many times someone told me I had my concussion for a reason. Without understanding how it was crushing me. It was hurtful and unsensitive.
Survivor stories give hope
But if you read the stories of the people Stephen Joseph interviewed, most of us realize there are stories far worse than our own. And there are stories like our own. And many of these people declare afterward that their life is better than it has ever been.
And it is because of the stories of transformation that I got hope for my own recovery – and a vision about more. I’m going to quote him directly from “What Doesn’t Kill Us” for this.
The shattered vase
“At the core of this book is the theory of the shattered vase. Imagine that a treasured vase sits in a place of prominence in your house. One day, you accidentally knock it off its perch. It smashes. Sometimes, when vases shatter, there is enough left intact to provide a base from which to start the process of reconstruction. In this case, however, only shards remain.
What do you do? Do you try to put the vase back together as it was, using glue and sticky tape? Do you collect the shards and drop them in the rubbish, as the vase is a total loss? Or do you pick up the beautiful coloured pieces and use them to make something new – such as a colourful mosaic?
When adversity strikes, people often feel that at least some part of them – be it their views of the world, their sense of themselves, their relationships – has been smashed. Those who try to put their lives back together exactly as they were remain fractured and vulnerable. But those who accept the breakage and build themselves anew become more resilient and open to new ways of living.
The guiding principle that underscores this book is the belief, drawn from years of research and clinical practice, that focusing on, understanding and deliberately taking control of what we do in our thoughts and actions can enable us to move forward in life following adversity.”
Moving forward after adversity
“…can enable us to move forward in life following adversity.” I can move forward?? This means there is a way! I can move forward, pass this, and even “build myself anew”!!
I felt empowered to believe in my recovery
These were the sentences that gave me true hope after I had given up on my recovery, on my dreams, on my future. Before reading the book, I had empowered myself by consciously choosing to no longer accept that this was my life. That I would find a way, even if I had to create one myself. And then I found “What Doesn’t Kill Us”.
And here they were: so many accounts of people who survived horrible traumatic events – and had not only found a way out. They had better, richer, more beautiful lives later on!
Positive outcomes of adversity
People who reported positive outcomes of adversity, listed these results – among others:
- I value my relationships much more now
- I live every day to the full now
- I’m a more understanding and tolerant person now
I wanted this. I wanted it all. And thus I decided I’d take Stephen Joseph’s finding and put it to practice: “Those who try to put their lives back together exactly as they were remain fractured and vulnerable. But those who accept the breakage and build themselves anew become more resilient and open to new ways of living.”
I realized I had to let go of the idea to get back to who I was to get where I was going. I had to let myself go. It wasn’t that there was much left of who I was, it was more the idea of getting my life, getting me, back.
What followed was a period of mourning. I let myself pass all stages and grieve for months. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. It was an absolute leap of faith – I trusted the research that Stephen Joseph had done. I let go of who I was to have a chance to be born anew.
Mourning means feeling messed up
If you recognize yourself in this story, in whatever small way, please know there’s no way I can describe how hard this really was. So if you feel completely messed up: I was, too. You’re not doing anything wrong.
Recognizing the post-traumatic effect of concussions
I hope that Professor Joseph’s recognition of the post-traumatic side of concussions gives you a sense of recognition. Recognition of what’s going on with you and acknowledgment of the feelings you have. What you feel is not strange and you are definitely not the only one.
You are not alone in this
I went through most of my recovery by myself, and didn’t include anyone but my boyfriend. Back then, I still had a lot of trouble opening up to others and showing that I wasn’t doing well. I advice to do things differently. If I could do it all over again, I would first and foremost ask guidance from a psychologist experienced in trauma. Also, I would go to support groups to be able to relate with people who are going through the same. We often feel unique, while there are so many with us…
I would think of all people I trust to carry me whatever I tell them – and ask for their support and then tell them all. So if you recognize this, please see if my lessons would fit you. It’s not about being comfortable. It’s about not being alone. About being in the pain together, and from there, feeling your connection grow. The pain will still be there. But it becomes so much more bearable when we’re connected – when we’re not alone.
The Cure My Concussion support group
Should you decide the Cure My Concussion Course would help you in your concussion recovery later, you will have access to a private support group in which we cover topics exactly like this.
The purpose is for you to feel that you’re no longer alone – and to learn from other’s experiences. And of course, to that same end, you can find all the content that I make on this website. One of these that I think will be of great help to you is my guide that helps you speed up your recovery with 3 practical steps.
Did this blog post give you any insights? Let me know in the comments below! I would love to connect with you!