Although a traumatic brain or spinal cord injury (SCI) is undoubtedly most devastating for the person physically experiencing it, it’s also an emotionally harrowing time for a friend or family member. Watching a loved have to go through such an ordeal, and putting their life in the hands of the medical professionals, can leave an individual feeling completely helpless.
As a friend or family member, you want to be there for your loved one in every way possible; whenever and however they need. This means both extensive physical and emotional support in the following days, months, and years after the injury. Whether or not the individual is paralyzed from the injury, they will need an environment of love, care, and trust during their recovery.
Your role in their recovery will be invaluable. It is not uncommon for brain or SCI patients to grieve their former lives and abilities, suffer low self-esteem and body image, and even become depressed. It is also not unusual, nor selfish for you to feel this way too.
You may grieve for that person and the future you imagined for them, and this is a totally normal response. You may have even passed through a period of time of worrying whether your loved one was going to survive their injury.
There are many emotional stages an individual with a SCI will experience, including, denial, grief, adjustment, anger, and bargaining. You too may experience these on a different level. You can only truly begin to move on with life, however, when you address the problem and accept it. This is the start of the emotional recovery process.
As a family member or friend, it is your duty to first help the SCI patient to begin their journey of recovery and acceptance, and by doing so, allow yourself to find acceptance too. In time, they may become ready to talk about their injuries and what life holds ahead and it may also help you to discuss how you feel about their injury.
Perhaps educating yourself on their condition can help you both to feel as in control as is possible, or attending their medical appointments with them for some moral support and as an advocate if they are unable.
Try to point out all levels of positive moments by reinforcing small achievements and major milestones, as this will help to build the individual’s confidence in their ability and encourage progress toward recovery. Small congratulations can be just the thing that keeps the injured person’s self-esteem up that day. For example, keep the focus away from things which may get them down, such as hobbies they can no longer take part in or things they can’t wear anymore. Instead, encourage them to explore recreational activities their abilities do allow such as a day trip with you or their family.
You are probably under a large amount of stress - financially, employment-wise, and socially - all of these are to be expected with a life-changing experience like a SCI. It’s not uncommon for these types of worries to exacerbate your emotions, and likely make all problems and feelings seem all the more insurmountable. When you start to feel overwhelmed, it’s important to remember that you are not alone.
There are online forums and support groups that can provide mentoring and peer guidance on how to navigate such trying times, as well as to offer resources which may aid your role as primary caregiver. Below are some links to a few family and friend support groups:
Do you need some assistance navigating your role as the family or friend of a spinal cord injury patient? Click on the button below to be connected with a recovery coach who will connect you with other resources in your area.