It took me months to learn all the details I needed to know in order to create routines in my new area.
Some time after I moved the weather turned cold, and I needed to buy a blanket. If I had still been in Georgia, it would have been easy but when I thought about it, I realized that I didn't know where the best places to look for a blanket might be. Until that moment, I had not needed to know. Of course, I figured it out, but it took time and information and concentration. The point was I needed new learning to do something as simple as buying a blanket and I was fully able at the time.
The other day I spoke with a woman who suffered neurological injury in the 1950s and spent time in rehabilitation. In the 1950s people spent much longer in rehabilitation before going back to their lives than is possible today. This woman was in a rehab center for a year. Today people are in a rehab center, on average, 16 -18 days. Think about it.
Imagine for a moment that your life has suddenly changed. One day you can walk, go to work, play with your kids or grandkids. The next day you are paralyzed, perhaps without the ability to think or speak clearly. You spend a week or two stabilizing medically and then, if you are fortunate, you are sent to an acute rehabilitation facility in which you will be given intensive therapy. Eighteen days later you are sent home. In 18 days, by and large, you haven't even begun to figure out what has happened to you. The change is so sudden and so big. You are likely still very weak and recovering physically just from the injury itself. You are by no means fully healed and to recover as much as you can, you must continue to work on your rehabilitation, sometimes for years.
How can a person learn and internalize the coping skills necessary to work with such a major change in a couple of weeks? This is a lot more change to accommodate than moving to another location. The answer is that most people can't. Most people are not able to learn all the skills they will need before they are sent home. Many would benefit from support for a longer period of time. But where does that support come from? With few institutions to turn to, that support generally comes from our extended families of relatives and friends. If at all possible, injured loved ones go home into their care.
But this is not an easy job for our extended families either. Other family members may be more able physically than the person who is injured but everyone's life has suddenly changed. Every person in the extended family is faced with learning new skills. What can help?
A key is recognizing exactly this: that all members of the extended family are learning and will keep on learning, not just the injured family member. Everyone is internalizing new coping skills. If we can acknowledge that we are all learning together it is easier to find patience, openness and the willingness to let go of criticism. It's OK for each of us not to know, to make mistakes and to discover what works and what doesn't. If we are willing to talk about this process with one another and find ways to listen deeply to what each person says, we can share our challenges and discoveries. When I am injured it helps me to know that all of us growing and changing together. I don't feel so isolated.
If you tell me how you go about solving a problem, I often can see a way to adapt what you have done to what I need to do. If I am able to talk openly with you and you are willing to listen as I find my way to my own solutions, my ability to develop the skills I need to work with my own challenge is supported.
The healing process is a journey of discovery for everyone. None of us can know all the things we need to learn before we learn them.