Your Emotional Health

Caregiving requires you to take on new roles. You will need to learn new skills to help the service member or veteran with TBI. Keep in mind, all these new demands happen at the same time that you and your family are coming to terms with the impact of the TBI.

You want to give the best possible care and support for your family member’s recovery. You may find yourself spending all your time and energy dealing with their needs. This may leave you feeling drained.

You may be tempted to put your own health and needs on hold. It’s not wise to do this. You won’t be able to give the best care or cope with your new tasks.

You may move through a series of stages as you come to terms with the changes in your family member. In the first couple of months, for example, you may be feeling happy that the service member or veteran is alive and hopeful that they will recover. As time goes by, progress may slow and you may feel anxious and scared. Sometimes you might think that a full recovery could happen faster, if only they would work harder at it. As recovery progresses, you may find yourself feeling discouraged and depressed or even guilty. You may even think that you just don’t know how to help them get better.

Feelings of depression may progress into feelings of despair and a sense of being trapped, if the service member or veteran’s recovery slows down over time. If they sustained a severe TBI and recovery is difficult, you may find yourself experiencing a period of grief and deep mourning for the loss of your previous life and “what could or should have been.” Eventually — and this may take up to two years or longer — you may find yourself stepping back from the pain and accepting what is.

You may not go through these stages exactly like this. Knowing what many caregivers and family members go through as they adjust to life after TBI may help you know that your reactions are normal.

Although your reactions are normal, there can be unhealthy effects if you focus all your attention on the injured family member:

  • You may experience caregiver burnout.
  • If you do not take care of yourself, it will take a toll on both of you emotionally and physically.
  • You may feel listless, isolated, or bottled up. Those who are burned out may try to use alcohol or other substances to cope. You may have poor hygiene or have emotional outbursts. These are signs of burnout and compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is an outcome of chronic, unrelieved stress.

If you do find yourself suffering from caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue, take heart in the knowledge that you are a deeply caring person.

Here is a list of what you can do:

  • Find a friend or family member to talk to about your feelings or join a support group with other families affected by TBI. Talking with someone can relieve stress and reduce anxiety because you will learn you are not alone.
  • State affiliates of the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) can help you find a support group.
  • If stress, sadness, or anxiety begins to feel out of control, seek professional help from a counselor, therapist, religious or spiritual leader, or social worker.
  • The Coping With Caregiver Challenges table describes many of the common issues that caregivers face. Also, the table offers ideas for steps you can take to cope.