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Younger brother suffered a spinal cord injury... Need advice on how to help motivate him to k...

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Younger brother suffered a spinal cord injury... Need advice on how to help motivate him to keep working towards recovery.

Posted by Wesley_2153515 on Oct 14, 2013 10:15 am

I'm 25 & my younger brother, 21, suffered a spinal cord injury while skiing a few days after new years day earlier this year. The diagnosis was an L3 Incomplete. I believe the recovery process has begun slowing and this is consequently very hard on him. I can't even begin to imagine what kind of affect this has had on him on all levels of his life, but going from a past life of an active, 21 year old college student to that of one in a wheelchair can't be easy...

He initially had to use a wheelchair, but has progressed onto using crutches primarily to get around. He is pretty limited to shorter distances, but I feel like if he works on hard on rehab and PT, he will be able to continue making progress, with the eventual goal of being able to walk again. 

He has semi-frequent angry outbursts and it seems like he keeps all of his emotions bottled up deep inside of him. He has told me before that he doesn't want anyone to help him/feel bad for him/treat him differently, but from the outside that it looks like by not talking about his thoughts with anyone, it could be a factor contributing to all the negativity.

Whenever me or my older brother reach out to him to tell him that we're here to help him and that he needs to keep up the hard work, we are often met with a cold response, if we receive any at all. I know it must be hard to accept this type of injury, but we just want him to know that he isn't in the fight alone (except he doesn't like acknowledging that he might need help). My parents have suggested to him that he could see a therapist to talk to, but he has repeatedly said that he would just lie to them. I brought this option back up with them recently, and they are going to look into getting him to see someone... While he may lie at first, I do believe he would eventually open up and that this could help him vent, accept, and move on.

His doctors tell him he has an 80% chance of being able to walk again if he works hard. He tells us he wants to walk, yet he then goes and doesn't do the exercises that he's supposed to on a daily basis. I believe the environment he lives in probably isn't the best for the current situation, as he lives in an apt with a bunch of his friends who are also college students and drinks a lot frequently (mostly on weekends though).

How can I best help him along this path towards recovery? I want to help him stay motivated to workout, exercise, and continue to push his boundaries, move out of the comfort zone, and make positive changes in his life. I believe that seeing a therapist initially could be a good start, but I want to help him keep his spirits up, focus on the positive, and to continue working towards his goals. Any advice and comments are greatly appreciated.
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RE: Younger brother suffered a spinal cord injury... Need advice on how to help motivate him to keep working towards recovery.

Posted by charlotte415 on Oct 15, 2013 3:50 pm

Just be supportive and support his decisions. I became a quadriplegic about a year ago and the biggest thing to me has been for those around me to show their support and let me make my own decisions.
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RE: Younger brother suffered a spinal cord injury... Need advice on how to help motivate him to keep working towards recovery.

Posted by Dan Gottlieb on Oct 16, 2013 4:25 pm

hi Wesley,

thank you for reaching out to us. Does your brother know you have made this connection? If so, I wonder if he would be interested in snooping around this website? And at the very least,  would he be willing to read  what I am about to say?

"Nobody can understand me" is the mantra of anyone  who has experienced a trauma like ours. And to a large extent it's true. And I even felt that when I went through rehab as I was 33 years old and a father  when my accident happened  and most of the other people in rehab were around your brother's age.. So I felt profoundly alone.. But the worst pain (and what pissed me off the most)  was when my family tried to get me to do things or feel things or think things I didn't want to.  What that meant to me was that my own family  didn't get me anymore  and I was truly profoundly alone.

I am 67 years old and have experienced multiple traumas  and deaths. But the worst pain I've ever endured was that of feeling alone in the world..

"They don't know what it's like, so how can they tell me  what's good for me?" That's another thought process  your brother is going through. He's angry. And he's scared.  And he feels alone.  And all of these emotions  cause even more pain than paralysis.

Here's what you can do-honor the fact that you really don't have any idea. Respect your own ignorance and your brothers suffering.. Don't try to fix him, just try  to understand what it's like to live inside his skin, knowing you will never quite  get there..

Always be curious about what it's like for him..  That is an act of love. So when he says he wants to walk  and doesn't exercise, approach that fact  with curiosity rather than  fear. Perhaps you could simply ask him what's going on with him that he doesn't want  to exercise? Don't ask it with a judgment or a hidden agenda to try to get him to exercise  any way..  Just ask it because you  want to know  what's happening with him.

Nothing grows without safety..  You guys can help  foster safety.

I am curious to hear your reaction and I would also like to hear if you shared it  with your brother and what he might have said
Dan www.DrDanGottlieb.com
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RE: Younger brother suffered a spinal cord injury... Need advice on how to help motivate him to keep working towards recovery.

Posted by Jonathan_2153769 on Oct 24, 2013 8:34 am

What's up Wesley? I have an incomplete spinal cord injury. I broke my neck at eighteen in 1995, couldn't move for a month and then slowly started walking, though  I now have a ton of spasticity. As I was in the general neighborhood of your brother's situation, I can give you my thoughts related to your questions.

Have your brother start seeing someone.It probably wouldn't hurt any of us to get in a room with an impartial person and talk about what's going on in our lives-  hopes, dreams, fears, and what is stopping us from achieving what we want. I've noticed as I've aged and my life has become more regimented that I ask these questions less and less frequently, to my detriment. Your brother has a lot going on upstairs right now - giving him an hour a week to say whatever he wants could help, even if he might just lie to the therapist initially. Even if he's lying, he's probably trying to convey something. I saw someone for a good amount of time, and spent a lot of it talking about my life before my injury. I was athletic and popular before my injury, so those pre-injury memories were much easier for me to spent my time thinking about than my very uncertain and scary future. Those hours waxing reminiscent may have seemed insignificant, but they built towards revelations down the road - some small, one or two biggies, and they helped me come around to some truths that probably seemed obvious from the outside looking in. Your brother is probably dividing his time between his past life and his present one.

As for trying to motivate him, that is very tricky. I worked pretty hard, but my spinal cord healed better than most people's did, and I always have felt that I could've done more. I do remember the words that my dad told me which still ring very true and apply to your brother too, and could be a way for you to approach him - in life, you only have so much time to devote towards getting better from an injury like this. Once you start going to school again or working, your opportunities to really devote time towards recovery are restricted. Now, things clicked for me when my parents dropped me back onto a college campus - I made a couple new friends and realized that I could be accepted in my new state, and I pursued an independent life up until now. But I do have regrets about really pushing myself physically after my injury, and I'm finally getting back to exercising. But I can tell your brother personally how much freaking harder it  is to do it when you're 37 and have less free time and have built up bad habits. If your brother has a shot to improve his life significantly, now is his best time. You could wait until he states an intention to walk, and then bring up his opportunity now versus later, while still keeping the ball in his court.

I don't read a ton of success stories, but this guy impressed me a lot, and I reread this article often to recharge my batteries:  

http://www.christopherreeve.org/site/c.ddJFKRNoFiG/b.7934505/k.B58F/Rob_Summers_Robust_Recovery.htm

That age is tough though - who doesn't want to still live carefree with no responsibilities, like many 21-year-olds do? Unfortunately, your brother now has more than his buddies. But getting that taste of "normality" is very important. I would just say spend as much time as you can with him, treat him normal, and listen very closely to what he says and how he says it. He will probably give you opportunities to bring up your concerns.

Hope this helps a little. Give me a yell if you have any other questions. 

Have a great day,
Jon
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