TBI – My Journey to the Mountain

A year ago today my daughter and I left for a road trip. It was to be a 12 day trip.

It lasted three days.

Twelve hours after leaving, I was flat on my back, in a pool of my own blood, one hand holding my daughter’s. The other holding the hand of a hotel staff member, in shock, under blankets with onlookers making comments as if I had gone deaf. We awaited the ambulance.

Thus began the long road back from a Traumatic Brain Injury.

It’s been a very long year.

The most obvious thing is that the most obvious injury gets the attention. The gushing wound on my chin got the attention. Two and a half weeks later I was diagnosed with two concussions. No wonder my world had become surreal. It had never entered my mind – no pun intended at all. I just didn’t understand what was happening to me.

I was on a journey to the mountain top without climbing the mountain.

I couldn’t read; I couldn’t spend much time on the computer. I could not enjoy YouTube videos or educational learning products. Music sent me over the edge – unless it was instrumental or the vocals were in a language I could not understand – and at a ridiculously low volume. I couldn’t be with more than one person at a time. Two at the most – even that was a bit much. Silence was my preference. I would feel drunk from the tiniest amount of alcohol.

My brain didn’t have the capacity for boredom, in case you’re wondering why I didn’t go stir crazy.

I learned the art of stillness. I learned to BE. I learned to easily find my mountain top. I joked that I changed chairs to change my view. It was either that or cry in my soup. And I had lots of those moments, too.

For the second time in 11 years my life was distilled down to an empty calendar for business and lots of appointments with service providers/medical professionals who evolved into my team for the next many, many months.

After years of nudging to begin yoga and take up tai chi chih again, now I had no excuse. I had nothing but time. I attended a Yin/Restorative yoga class and fell in love even though I found it super hard, and I had my neck/upper back injury to take into account. Tai chi chih is like riding a bike. I became dedicated. And nothing interferes with my Friday morning Yin. Unless I am traveling, I am there.

My creative juices were channeled into cooking and art. I took up acrylic painting. My home doesn’t have enough walls.

While this may on the surface sound like a charmed life, it wasn’t. With all that I was doing, what I was not doing was sleeping – I was exhausted. In bed for 8-10 hours each night, I’d be so happy if I slept 4-5 hours – not all at once. When I was over the edge exhausted, the only way I could sleep was to take sleep medication. Yes, I’d sleep 6 hours or so, uninterrupted, but I’d feel like shit – a different kind of shit – the next day. This cycle was horrendous. It was getting so old… No wonder I was healing slowly. – The body rejuvenates in REM sleep. If you don’t get to that, restoration doesn’t happen. Multiply that by six months. (more on my miraculous sleep remedy in a future post)

So while I lived for my Friday Yin class and my other pretty much daily appointments around the city for one facet of my healing journey or another, under it all I was extremely tired. Naps were a normal thing – without apology. I’d look back and think “yes, I’m better” and another month would go by, and I’d think the same thing. I could see progress, but it is shocking to realize how easily we can settle in to the “new normal.”

  • I learned a lot about the brain. And still there are questions and wonderments.
  • I learned that when I had my daily dizzy spells, my body required sitting while my brain required nutrition.
  • I learned to habituate repeating directives over and over and over again as I would go to do something. What would happen would be I’d get to the room or the fridge, etc. and completely forget what I had wanted… So I would recite I’m going to the fridge for – I’m going to the fridge for… It worked.
  • I learned that when I found myself in an environment with stimulation overload (bank lobbies, restaurants, essentially any public place), I would recite you can get through this – you can get through this and then do what needed to be done and get the hell out of that situation – fast.
  • I learned that when I did have the desire to be social, I would GO wherever the social was because guests had overstayed without compassion and I suffered for days in the aftermath. Experiencing that just once was enough.
  • I learned that people who have not had a traumatic brain injury truly cannot understand the vulnerability, stress and fear.
  • I learned that as much as our traditional medical community thinks it is serving this type of injury, it isn’t and it doesn’t. Expensive tests are ordered – some necessary, some not. But a test does not aid or propel the recovery forward.
  • I learned the visceral reality of PTSD.
  • I learned that there are many remarkable alternative and extremely effective tools that help with TBI. Thank god for that! I am so grateful.
  • And in relation to that, I learned that I had to take my recovery into my own hands if I wanted forward movement. Had I not done so, I honestly don’t want to think about where I would be – or rather where I wouldn’t be.
  • I learned that if cutting my chin open can result in a brain injury, then that, too, can feed into the trauma to my body. The fascia, connective tissue, muscles and bones are all affected in a fall. This is also something that the medical community does not address. Everything plays into everything.

I see a concussion specialist who really knows and understands the brain. On one appointment she was describing what I needed to do to strengthen my upper back. To this day I do not know what she said, but my response was, I can’t even remember what you just said, but it sounds like something physical therapy would help with. And so that’s what I did. I rebuilt my strength and range of motion in my neck. And that fed into weekly massages. My massage therapist told me several times that my previous years of lap swimming helped me – who would’ve thought… I haven’t swam laps diligently for many, many years. Everything plays into everything.

Everything plays into everything. All is connected.

For today, these are enough words. My story is not yet finished. It’s taken a year to live it, you can wait just a bit to read the rest of it!