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My Tips for Finding a Job After Brain Injury

Imagine everything is running smoothly in your life. You may have a job you like or love, or maybe you hate it, but still you have a job that provides a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of responsibility and independence.

Many folks take pride in their jobs or careers. In fact, “What do you do?” is one of the first questions we all ask folks we meet for the first time. For some, like me, it’s curiosity. I love to find folks who have the same interests as I do. I score when I find another elementary-school teacher or someone who works in the theater, or another jewelry crafter. I can talk for hours on those topics. So sometimes people just want to know because they are curious.

But other times, folks ask as a means to measure up with others. They want to see where their job falls on the job-ladder-of-success.

Either way, it seems having a job is very important to most folks. It not only provides the monies to support oneself and one’s family, but in this time when jobs are hard to get, it provides a sense of achievement.

When a person has a brain injury, that person’s brain may not work well enough to return to his or her former job. In fact, it may be difficult for survivors to retain any job.

A survivor of brain injury may have a number of disabilities that could interfere with job performance. Extreme fatigue, memory loss or emotional or behavioral issues could easily cause disruption and interfere in a normal workday. Many survivors have sustained physical injury with their brain injury. Disabilities like compromised sight, lack of balance, ataxic hands, or any number of other physical conditions may impede a survivor from adequately performing a job.

Having no job and not being a productive part of society can pose a myriad of problems for survivors, often lowering their self-esteem. These can add to the complications life has already wreaked on them, and again that question — “What do you do?” — looms.

Survivors with no job may sense a lack of purpose in their lives, which can easily cause them to feel embarrassed or worthless or even to become depressed. With no job, paying the bills each month becomes an all-encompassing worry. For many, it may be as daunting as climbing the 16,000-foot-high Mount Kilimanjaro. Needless to say, it is problematic when there is little money to cover the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Survivors may feel they’ve become a burden to their family members, especially those survivors who once were entirely independent and now must return home for care.

A survivor friend of mine once said, “I am still me, but at the same time I am not.” That’s a very insightful statement. She realized that though she is still the same person in her mind, she has limitations. When a survivor comes to grips with what he or she is able to adequately do or to accomplish, I believe that survivor is headed in the right direction. When survivors pine over their lost life and strive to regain that pre-injury life, which understandably so many do, it seems to take them longer to grasp their new selves and move on with their new capabilities. That’s not to say to give up or surrender to the brain injury, but rather to focus on what is now attainable and forge ahead.

So, what can a survivor do to overcome this challenge? How can he or she find a productive job and prosper in it?

There is no advice that will be a one-size-fits-all, just as there are no two brain injury survivors with the same brain injury. So the survivor must assess his or her own capabilities — perhaps with the help of family and/or friends. Doctors or therapists who know the strengths and weaknesses of the survivor may be welcome assets. As a survivor, make a list of the things you like to do. If you are personable and like to help people, you might want to get a job working in a home improvement store or a small boutique. If you are techy, perhaps an office-supply store that sells computers and other electronics would interest you. If you are the quiet type, maybe you could work in a small office. If you have an aversion to loud noises and/or bright lights, you may want to avoid jobs in sports bars and restaurants. Only you can decide what would work best for you.

What can a survivor of brain injury do if he or she is not able to find and adequately perform a job? That happens all too often. If the injury is so debilitating that it prevents the survivor from holding any kind of responsible job, he or she may possibly want to pursue a volunteer position with less restrictions on hours and commitment. Though no money will exchange hands, the payment is bountiful with smiles, accomplishments, feelings of pride and social interactions.

Volunteering in a nursing home, animal-rescue site, or food pantry can provide immense satisfaction. Local libraries or YMCAs often need volunteers. Google volunteer sites in your area and see what opportunities are available. You will not only be helping others, you will be helping yourself.

If you simply cannot obtain a paying job, you may want to consider disability from Social Security. Getting approved is not always easy, and you may have to apply more than once, but don’t be discouraged.

Survivors may also check the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAUSA) for assistance. The website has a plethora of information including a directory of locations in almost all states. The Brainline Resource Directory offers a one-stop page to locate services in your state.

Life after brain injury is not easy. Finding a job or some kind of work/volunteer placement will no doubt be challenging, but with patience and persistence and maybe a little creative thinking, I hope you can find some enriching opportunities to enhance your life!

Follow this journey on Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury.

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