Never underestimate the power of the human spirit. It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout the years of working in brain injury rehab.
My motto while working on the brain injury unit at TIRR Hospital in Houston Medical Center was “you never know” what someone’s full recovery will look like. I always tried not to focus on the damage but instead on the strengths the patient had at the time I was meeting them and how to build on that.
The brain is able to rewire due to neuroplasticity with the right stimulation, rest, challenge and attitude.
When you go through something traumatic like a brain injury, it’s the things we take for granted that become important goals: walking, talking, eating, or spending time with your loved ones. In order to stay motivated to achieve those goals, it’s your attitude that plays a huge role in staying the course.
Working with and helping people is a two way street. I always learn a lesson or two (or three) from those I have the privilege to guide through their recovery as a Physical Therapist.
From Steve Lawton, I learned the power of positivity in the healing process. I was thrilled to hear in January that Steve was sharing his story of recovery from a ski accident through his new book, “Head First- a crash course in positivity”.
You CAN build your capacity to be positive just like you can build strength in a muscle.
Steve’s new book is a great way to learn how to strengthen your positivity muscle. His book launch at Book People happened to be the week prior to my dad’s colon cancer surgery.
Hearing Steve share his story reminded me to take one day at a time and focus on what I can control. My thoughts and attitude were really all I could control.
I’ve been through two cancer journeys with my mom and brother that showed me the difference between catching it early versus catching it late. Deep down I felt that we had found my dad’s cancer early but it’s so easy to get worked up about the what if’s when your waiting for a diagnosis. I didn’t want dad to spend the next several years battling this disease into his late 70’s.
I needed to trust the physician and nurses to do their best and that we could handle whatever they found during the surgery. I also chose to focus on all the things that had led up to us finding this tumor and the timing of it.
There is never a good time to go through a cancer diagnosis/treatment but if it had been a year ago, my dad wouldn’t have been a surgical candidate. And we wouldn’t have found it if he hadn’t been on blood thinners to decrease his risk for another stroke.
Ironically, I heard Steve speak again two weeks after my dad’s colon surgery. We’d gotten excellent news. We’d found the cancer early and no further treatment was needed.
That was a huge relief but due to my dad’s age he was recovering slowly from the anesthesia which meant a week in the hospital plus 10 days in inpatient rehab.
My goal after his surgery was to get him out of the hospital environment as fast as possible. The longer you’re in the medical system, the more medications you can end up on and the higher your risk for infection. It’s also stressful and disruptive to not only the patient but the family to be in that world.
It just wasn’t safe to bring dad home yet. He needed more time to heal.
This second time I heard Steve speak, I was struggling with balancing all the demands from my dad’s medical needs, the delay home and trying to get myself out of survival mode.
Steve’s message was perfectly timed as he shared with us how he shifted from survival to recovery mode during his amazing journey back to life. He emphasized the importance of making the shift from “why me” to “what now” to get out of overwhelm and victim mode after a traumatic event.
To make the shift, you can begin by looking at what went right, finding the gratitude for those things and refocusing on your next goal.
Even though I was very grateful for the good news from the surgeon and all the things that caused us to find my dad’s cancer early, the delay in getting my dad home was making it difficult to calm myself and my life back down.
I recognized I needed to take advantage and get myself back on track with my daily routines to be ready for the next phase in dad’s recovery.
I didn’t have total control of my time yet but I could focus on the small moments I did have available to do breathing exercises, make healthier food choices, do some type of exercise, spend time with my dogs and get outside as much as possible. I also made an acupuncture appointment to help reset my nervous system.
All of these choices added up to help me get out of feeling overwhelmed and refueled me just in time to help my dad transition home.
Another way to build your positivity muscle and ability to reset your attitude throughout the day is to have a daily practice from 10 minutes to an hour where you focus on things that calm, center and refocus you.
You have to find what works for you but doing some form of meditation, journaling, and/or exercise is usually a good place to start. Steve’s book has some practical tips on how to begin a morning routine as well.
I had been doing this kind of a practice most mornings prior to my dad’s surgery so I was able to tap back into the routines to help me get out of survival mode much faster than if I hadn't developed one.
Steve’s story of recovery is powerful- fighting for his life after hitting a tree head first while skiing at Breckenridge, CO in 2014 to writing and launching a book about it in 2017!
I encourage you to check out his book that covers 8 steps to increase your positivity, watch his Ted Talk and/or take the Positivity Quiz on his website: stevehlawton.com to learn more about building your positivity muscle. It’s been a great resource for me.
Remember -Anything is Possible!
Mollie Miller, PT