I wasn’t entirely sure this topic was for this blog. But, brain injury and the recovery process thereafter has been a huge part of my life for the last year. In the process, I’ve learned a lot about life, my priorities have changed, and these lessons were certainly a driving force in starting this blog and following my passions. This is a long story – it covers the course of 15 months – so here goes….
To make a short story shorter, I got my head closed in a car door. It was a silly split second mishap: my hubby wasn’t paying attention and I put my head where it shouldn’t have been.
I was definitely hit in the right temple, that part I remember. We still aren’t sure if my head impacted on the left as well, but we suspect it did. My first memory is being really annoyed that Steve would be so careless. That’s awful, but true. I didn’t recognize something was wrong until I noticed my own tear marks in the snow below me and realized I was crying. Steve thought he closed my fingers in the car door and was trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t really understand him, and definitely couldn’t respond.
Immediately after the impact I was nauseous, in pain, and completely delirious. I recall thinking to myself that I wanted to get out of my body. It was the most horrible feeling, one that I still cannot explain.
After about an hour, Steve had called my Mom over to help us out and check on me. I laid down, composed myself, drank a big glass of water and somehow convinced them not to drag me to the hospital – a place I am highly un-fond of.
I didn’t sleep that night – it was the beginning of months of difficulty sleeping – but at the time I figured I was just hyped up on adrenaline and trying to process what happened.
Here’s lesson number one: I can’t control everything.
I’m kinda incredibly type-A. The way I see it, the universe literally smacked me upside the head, to give me the message that I am not in control of everything around me. Sometimes, things happen… and I’ll be better off if I’m more flexible and can roll with the punches.
In true Veronica fashion, I went in to work the next morning – although I had Steve drive, because I didn’t feel quite right about driving myself. Within 20 minutes of being at work, I knew there was something really wrong.
My co-workers would ask me a question, and it would take me a long time to respond. I couldn’t stand without feeling like I was on a boat. The fluorescent lighting was especially harsh, it felt hard to keep my eyes open. So, I laid down in a dark, quiet spare room until Steve could take me home. Steve kept telling me I probably had a concussion, but the way I felt was not what I had imagined a concussion felt like. I didn’t believe him.
I visited my family doctor the next day. He did a couple quick tests, and said neurologically it didn’t look like anything was amiss. He suggested I continue working, but just sit down to rest when I felt like I couldn’t do anymore.
So, that’s what I did. For the next week, I did my best to maintain the status quo. Every day I pushed myself to get work done and care for my family, and would rest when I felt I couldn’t do any more. The thing is, every day I felt worse and worse and was able to do less and less.
I went back to my family doctor a few days later to tell him my experience. I was finding it difficult to understand people speaking, didn’t feel I could drive, and could barely see out of my left eye. Again, he said nothing looked the matter and to continue resting as needed.
I had never felt this horrible in my entire life. I cannot explain the myriad of discomfort I felt during this time. I knew I needed a second opinion.
My husband suggested I consult a physiotherapist. I had been seeing one for some craniosacral work – and decided this was a good place to start. The clinic I had been going to was a sports medicine clinic, so I figured they’d have experience with head injuries.
I drove to my appointment, which was about a 20 minute highway drive. My physiotherapist knew exactly what to ask and test – she was fantastic! But, through all the tests, it really triggered my symptoms. I had to leave prematurely because I was worried that I wouldn’t make the drive home. In hindsight, I should not have been driving, period.
Before I left she drilled into me that we only know the severity of concussions after they heal – and that the only thing I needed was ABSOLUTE REST! No screens, no noise, no light, no activity, no nothing. Just a brain break. I wasn’t even supposed to think hard.
By this point, I had been pushing myself through a serious concussion for 10 days and could barely function – my anxiety level was through the roof, I was becoming paranoid of my family’s intentions, I couldn’t understand people’s speech, I had a difficult time responding to questions, I still couldn’t see well out of my left eye which made reading and driving terribly tough, I wasn’t sleeping, I had headaches, dizziness, and a whole host of other symptoms that were driving me even crazier.
So, I took her advice. I sent an email to my colleagues at Healthoholics letting them know I’d be away for at least 10 days and to only call me if it was an emergency. I cancelled all of my upcoming appointments. I delegated my urgent tasks. I set-up an email auto-responder to let others know I was away. I uninstalled email and social media from my phone. And I unplugged.
For 10 days I rested. After a few days, I felt I could comfortably read or watch TV for short periods of time. I watched Friends on Netflix, read little articles, sat in a dark room trying not to contemplate life and my current situation, ate, napped, and repeated.
When I returned back to work, I let everyone know that I would need to ease back in slowly. I really had to prioritize my time.
I came across the spoon theory, which I found incredibly helpful. The premise is that those who are chronically ill, in pain, or suffering from an injury, only have a certain number of “spoons” to work with every day. “Spoons” are like our energy currency. So, one morning I may wake up with 10 spoons, and the next morning, I only have 3. Obviously, I need to use those 3 spoons wisely! Different tasks, depending upon how demanding they are, given the person’s current limitations, cost different amounts of spoons. The whole idea fascinated me, and helped me better frame and communicate my new needs.
So, if I woke up and felt like I had 5 spoons to use – and had an activity planned that would take 7, it wasn’t happening that day. I simply had to honour that. THIS was probably the biggest a-ha moment I had.
This is lesson #2: sometimes, you can’t just “push through” life’s difficulties.
Sometimes brute force and sheer willpower are not enough. Sometimes you can’t do as you said you would do. At first, this REALLY hurt me, but I learned. I am still doing my best – even if my best is different from moment to moment. And in amongst this discovery, I also learned to ask for help.
Over months I continued to work hard at my recovery, while trying to meet the needs of my work, family, and child as well.
Of course, as a Nutritionist, I altered my diet and took supplements to support my healing. I also sought the assistance of a chiropractor, naturopathic doctor, optometrist, and massage therapist.
Of all the things I did for my recovery; I’m most thankful for my physiotherapists, who worked with me to re-pattern my brain and nervous system. Together with their help; I taught my eyes how to move together again, re-learned how to walk without needing to hold things for balance, relaxed my tense cranial muscles, trained my left and right arms to function in harmony, I practiced balancing without watching my feet, I re-learned how to breathe into my left lung, I got stronger, and I learned to be patient with myself.
This is lesson #3: having no expectations will help you be happier with the outcome.
It’s important to have goals, something to work towards is valuable. But, we must be detached from how, and even when, we reach those goals.
After I was initially injured, I thought, in 3 days I’ll feel better, then 3 weeks, then 3 months, then 12… but now I realize, I can’t put a timeline on my healing, and the same is true for many other things.
I may never completely heal, and that’s a reality I’ve come to accept, but I’m still going to try – no matter how long it takes. And honestly, every improvement I continue to have, feels like the biggest win!
If you are struggling with chronic illness or injury – please reach out for help, seek second or third opinions, and don’t give up until you find an answer that feels right for you. If someone you love is suffering with chronic illness or injury, please ask them how you can help, and honour their answer – they might just ask you to sit in a dark room with them and be quiet.
So, as I’m writing this, I’m 15 months out from a traumatic brain injury. I still struggle to drive, and limit my time on the road; I must be mindful of how much time I spend reading, because the eye movement is difficult; I’m not as active as I’d like to be, but I’ve gone from not being able to stand on one foot AT ALL, to going for short jogs; loud noises and environments still trigger symptoms; and I need to fiercely prioritize 10 or more hours of sleep per day.
But, I am enjoying my life again – I’ve learned some treasured lessons – and I’ll continue to work hard at learning more and getting better. Thanks for coming with me on this next step of my journey.