Swim with the Current

Blue Swirl

Struggle, like a man
swimming against the current.
Accept, to survive.

–Haiku: Undertow by Cyndee Williams Bowen ©2013

I have a friend who is an awesome, committed champion and caregiver for her husband. He had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) over a year ago. In a recent blog she wrote about one of those episodes where a loved one with TBI presents the challenge of a behavioral outburst. One of those he’s melting down — I’m so tired and just need him to cooperate — how do I get him to cooperate moments.

I don’t pretend to relate exactly to my friend’s experience. We all have our own unique path to travel in this life, and I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her in person. Still, I can say that this scenario is very familiar to me. My husband and I have experienced it repeatedly and in different manifestations over the years while serving as caregivers to multiple family members. Problem behaviors and emotional lability have often led us say where the heck did that come from?! The day-in-and-day-out battles for equilibrium often left us feeling helpless and exhausted — like people swimming for safety against a strong ocean current!

A swimmer battling a rip tide is going to be in deep water sooner rather than later if s/he struggles to escape by a direct route. The best course of action is to accept the situation, swim parallel to the shore until out of the wash, then turn toward your goal. It seems counterintuitive to turn away from the destination so desperately desired; go with the flow. Panic is ever ready to take hold; stay calm. Despair threatens; have faith you will succeed.

Beyond this metaphor, I hesitate to advise any more specifically. I know what worked for our family, but every person’s situation is unique. We accepted the behaviors were occurring, remained completely aware of what was happening but withdrew direct attention, waited for the negative energy to dissipate somewhat, then gently redirected our loved one toward a more positive state. There were times that we would assure safe surroundings and leave him/her alone for a few minutes. Withdrawing attention removed at least part of the “fuel” that fed the behavior.

So, basically, the positive parenting techniques we learned to use while raising our children were called upon again to manage the problem behaviors presented by our adult loved ones. I can’t promise they’d work for everyone in all cases, but they were a godsend to us!

Good luck! I wish you favorable tides and an easy paddle into calm waters!



Cynthia Williams Bowen, MS, CCC-SLP owns Bowen Speech-Language Therapy, LLC in Clearwater, FL.  Cyndee provides quality, creative, collaborative treatment to adults and adolescents with communication, swallowing, Parkinson’s, and related disorders.

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