What does it mean when you say the disability habituates? 

Our bodies make habits as a way to make actions efficient. When a part of the body has been injured, disabled, the brain will concentrate on the parts that work well and create something called “learned non-use.” In other words, our brains will ignore the part of the body that is not working and make a habit of the disability. Habits become hard-wired in the brain and, as you may have experienced, become increasingly harder to change – not impossible, but increasingly harder. If the habituation of the disability is actively challenged from the beginning and throughout the recovery, the opportunity to gain more function is improved.


What does self-care mean?

Self-care is the basis of health and satisfaction in our lives. It literally means holding our selves with kindness, concern, and care, just as we would someone outside of ourselves whom we love dearly. It means loving ourselves.  Self care starts with two fundamental understandings:  One: that we are the only tool we will ever be given to build our own lives. We only get one body, one mind, one spirit. It only makes sense to take the best care of that tool that we can. And, two: with the understanding that we are part of the whole of life. When we care for ourselves, we care for life.  If we care for life, we include caring for ourselves. By caring for ourselves we give a gift to those who love us by taking care of the person they love. 


Why do you say it is important not to give up – how long can change occur?   

Giving up cuts short our ability to do anything. Each one of us has profound influence over the outcome of what happens to us. If we give up on ourselves we give up building a life. In stroke recovery this is particularly important. When we stop asking the brain to reconnect the functions that were lost due to the injury, the brain quits trying and the injury habituates. I have seen no limit to either the time or the age in which change can occur. Change may slow down as time progresses but it does not have to stop unless we let it.


What is living around your limitations?  

We each have the capacity to be stopped by what we perceive to be something which limits us – our age, our education, our physical ability – or to find ways to make a satisfying life with what we have. A tree root grows around a rock and finds nourishment. It doesn’t stop growing when it encounters something that blocks its path. This is a fundamentally creative approach to life. If I cannot accomplish what I want to do one way, I find another way. If we spend out time crying over what we do not have, we never discover what we do have and what we can with it.


What part does humor play?  

When something difficult happens in our lives we often think that it would be wrong to laugh – that somehow we have to insist that nothing can be funny in the face of a serious problem. If we focus on only the hardship we lose something essentially life giving. Laughter lowers blood pressure, calms the mind, and invites others into our lives. All those things have a powerful effect on recovery. Life seems more livable and problems seem more solvable when we remember to laugh. That doesn’t mean we are laughing at somebody else or are trying to be cruel. We are remembering that it is possible to find joy even in hardship.


How important is paying attention?

Paying attention is critical. First by paying attention we find out what actually is happening. We don’t make a story about what is happening. We honestly look.  When we have as much information about what we can do in this moment as we can get, we can make wise, safe choices about how to work on our recoveries or any other aspect of our lives. The second way that paying attention is critical is that paying attention helps the brain use itself well. We literally form what we study. If we study music, we become better musicians. If we study walking we become better walkers. If we study ourselves during recovery we create fuller recoveries.


What can family members do to help? 

Life is a team effort. Our families, those we are born with and those we choose, can provide us with the strength and comfort to face life’s challenges. Family members can inspire us by helping us believe in ourselves and our capacity to continue to improve. They can provide a social network while we recover so we remember that we are still a part of life. They can help us do things while we relearn how to do them for ourselves. They can remind us to stay safe and not hurt ourselves in our eagerness to recover function.


Why is letting go important?

It’s hard to walk facing backwards. The moment a major injury or challenge occurs our lives are irrevocably changed. That injury or challenge often leaves us with little energy to waste as we are trying to understand what has happened to us and find a way to deal with it. Letting go of what we thought our lives would be frees up our energy and makes space in our hearts to discover who we can be now.  This is the key to transforming our lives. The possibilities are always greater than either our imagination or our fixed ideas. Letting go allows us to see the possibilities and reach for life.


What do you do with the grief and anger?  

Grief and anger get in the way of letting go. There is only one way through grief and anger and that is to acknowledge the feelings and allow ourselves to feel them.  Not to act out and hurt other people with them, particularly those who love us – that is never a successful way to deal with feelings. We need to be willing to face the grief and anger and hold ourselves with love and compassion until the grief and anger move through us and we are able once again to remember those things for which we are grateful. Other people who have faced similar challenges and professional counselors can be a great source of support in talking through and holding our grief and anger. This process will occur throughout our recoveries and our lives. Realizing this and building support to deal it can be a great benefit.


How do you apply what you have learned to other places?

Fundamentally I learned that how we approach problems is far more important than the problem itself. Whatever problem we face is something that has already happened. Now that it has happened, the useful approach to find out what can be done with situation. I ask myself: What is the opportunity embedded in this problem? I pay close attention to fully understanding what the situation is, just as it is, then I look for creative responses that I can make – I seek the possibilities I can discover. It takes practice and once we know how to do it, we can help other people do the same thing. The 8 principles I teach are simple steps that allow us to move quickly through problems. When they are practiced, we begin to discover possibilities beyond anything we could imagine.


Healing into Possibility: The Transformational Lessons of a Stroke

By Alison Bonds Shapiro 

June 9, 2009 ·  Personal Growth  ·  Trade Paper

$14.95  · 224 pages  · ISBN: 978-1-932073-24-9


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