Do people with brain injuries have the superpowers to emerge from lockdown?
Updated: Jul 28
By Dr Sarah Gillanders, Clinical Neuropsychologist
I can imagine that many of you will be thinking that this is a strange idea, but I am not so sure. I wonder whether you actually have some of the most important skills needed to manage this next phase of the pandemic.
No! I hear some of you say. How can a brain injury be of assistance? Surely it is just another thing to be dealt with in addition the pandemic.
I hear those fears, but I wonder if you think about it, whether you might realise that you are better placed to cope than you think.
The video screens
I would like you to imagine you are sat in an art gallery with two large video screens in front of you.
One of them shows the story of your brain injury and the other shows the story of Covid. I would like you to think about the similarities between the two films.
What do they both have in common?
Let’s start with the element of surprise. You never expected to have a brain injury. You didn’t see it coming. You didn’t have the chance to avoid it and find yourself in a different situation.
And what about Covid? I think it is fair to say you didn’t see that coming either. You had no way of preventing it from happening and now you are trying to find a way to live with both of them.
Both movies show that element of shock, surprise and the accompanying fear that comes with finding yourself living in a world you didn’t expect to be living in.
And importantly, there is no rule book about how you are meant to cope with either of them.
I don’t feel in control
As the movies play out, another similarity comes to light.
This one is the impact that the brain injury and Covid have on your sense of control, your ability to decide what to do and when to do it. The movies show that both have brought limitations to your life, have reduced your ability to be spontaneous and of being governed by forces greater than you.
The brain injury movie might show physical injuries, cognitive problems, and psychological stress.
The Covid movie shows government control over what you can do and when you can do it.
What both movies have in common is that nothing feels familiar anymore. Navigating everyday activities takes extra thought, extra planning, extra effort and it feels different.
It is tiring.
Sometimes it is easier just to stay home
In both movies, life has become more home-based.
What happened to all those hobbies and the social circle you had? They seem harder to access or beyond reach. It might seem easier to stay at home but is it as fun and enriching as life once was? No.
The question then becomes – what do you do about it?
Getting creative at home
As you watch both movies, you can see times when you managed to make life inside your home more interesting. It might show you enjoying a movie, listening to music, ordering a takeaway and treating it like a meal out, connecting with people remotely…
Outside of your house it might involve approaching places with caution but approaching them nevertheless.
Do the movies show you missing the things you used to enjoy? Yes - but they also show you finding joy within the constraints of a brain injury and Covid.
So what do we think?
One of the things that I am aware of is that there are as many types of people with a brain injury as there are people without a brain injury. We can’t group people together, but there are some common experiences that many do share.
To me they include the ability to deal with the unexpected; the ability to be aware of what is lost or feels out of reach and to find different ways to connect.
What really stands out is the need to be flexible and adaptable. To know yourself and what you need and to live your life your way no matter what is going on around you.
Perhaps people with brain injuries who have the superpowers of flexibility and adaptability are actually well placed to deal with whatever restrictions lie ahead.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you are struggling, please do seek help.
Reach out to others and seek professional help if you need it. The NHS has information online and your GP can also be a good source of support.
Headway is always a valuable source of information and they have information on their website about brain injury and Covid.
Dr Sarah Gillanders
Edinburgh Neuropsychology Ltd
About Dr Sarah Gillanders
Dr Sarah Gillanders is a clinical neuropsychologist who works part-time for the NHS and part-time in private practice. She has specialised in neuropsychology since 2006 and has a special interest in working with people who have been diagnosed with complex and chronic medical conditions. She has obtained the Qualification in Clinical Neuropsychology (QiCN), is on the BPS Specialist Register of Clinical Neuropsychologists, is the Honorary Secretary of the Division of Neuropsychology Scotland and is a Teaching Associate at Canterbury Christchurch University.
Sarah works in private practice at Edinburgh Neuropsychology Ltd and her work involves carrying out cognitive assessments, psychological therapy, cognitive rehabilitation and producing medico legal reports. She is interested in how self-identity is affected by neurological conditions and likes using innovative treatments including outdoor therapy.