Ask Kathy M. Archives
A Collection of Questions and Answers from TBI Advice Expert - Kathy Moeller

Topic: Work-Related Difficulties - Registering for School

Question:

Dear Kathy M.,

I'm in Voc. Rehab. and plan to go back to work as soon as I finish school. I have three more classes to take and should be done a the end of this next term. I usually only take one or two classes a term, but my VR counselor says I need to finish up faster, so I need to take three this time (three is a full load). I can't decide what to take and am kind of scared to take the ones I want to take because they may be too difficult. I feel paralyzed and am thinking seriously of just giving up. After all, if I can't take three lousy classes, maybe I have no business going back to work.

Mark in California


Kathy's Response:

Dear Mark,

First of all, try not to overreact to the pressure you are feeling to take more classes than you are comfortable with. Everyone who works with persons with brain injury knows that most of us do not learn as quickly as others, so perhaps your counselor is either ignorant of this or is feeling internal pressure that has nothing to do with what is in your best interests. In either case, there are remedies for this that do not include you taking too many classes. After all, if newly acquired learning disabilities are part of your disability, it makes no sense to expect you to take so many classes that you will be likely to fail.

Decision-making
Making decisions can be difficult after experiencing a brain injury. There are lots of steps in the process of making a decision (any decision), though we are probably not aware of them. Prior to our injuries, our brain seems to just "produce" decisions (hopefully good ones). After a brain injury, many of us get stuck part-way in the process, and we may not be aware of how or why this happens, so we just stop and get kind of paralyzed. Ringing any bells?

I'm curious, if you felt you only needed to take one class, would you be able to choose? Or only two classes? I'm wondering if the idea of taking three classes is contributing to a kind of "shut down"? Clearly, you are beating yourself up (and having doubts) about all this - to the point where you are thinking that working is out of line if you can't meet the standard of taking and passing three classes. This would be a mistake. The benchmark for getting back to work IS NOT based upon the ability to take and pass a full load of classes!

It might be helpful to simplify the decision-making process. One suggestion would be to look at the available classes as if you felt comfortable taking three classes (yes, pretend). See if this reduces your stress enough to pick three classes. Then, look at all three classes, and imagine that your VR counselor told you that you only needed to take two classes. Which ones would they be? Then imagine he or she said you only needed to take one class? Which one would you pick?

After you are done with this process, write a good, complete Memory Note about what you decided - complete with the day and date you wrote it, where you got the idea to make a decision this way, and what your decision was. Then put it someplace where you will have access to it when you make the appointment you need to make with your Voc. Rehab. counselor.

Negotiating with your counselor
Suggestions our vocational counselors give to us are not "cast in stone." Depending on the counselor we have, it may or may not seem that way. Keep in mind, that you have the right to give your counselor feedback about things he or she may recommend for you. Also, different counselors have different levels of understanding about brain injury. If you feel (or if your doctor or therapist feels) that taking three classes is out of line for your particular situation, this information needs to be communicated to your counselor. And if you continue to feel pressure to do more than you are able, there are steps you can take to have his or her decision reviewed. In other words, you are not stuck with your counselor's suggestion to take three classes.

Getting back to work
You did not mention what type of work you were pursuing, nor if it was part-time or full-time. Working full-time at a "high level" job is not generally the best goal for someone recovering from brain injury - at least not when you are just getting started getting your work like fact. So please do not think you need to be able to take a full load of classes in order to be "qualified" for getting back to work. Physical and cognitive fatigue can often interfere with working full time, and going back to work at your former "level" may not be possible at first. This does not mean it will necessarily be impossible forever, but it is often not possible at first.

Hope this helps.

Kathy M.
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