Adventures in recovering from a TBI... (Traumatic Brain Injury)

This past year I've experienced some huge changes.  I've earned my certifications in both the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method and Indigenous Wisdom Studies programs. I've traveled to Colorado, Virginia, Hawaii and California. I became a published author for the 2nd time. I gave motivational speeches to different groups. I added another horse to our family, his names Calvin. I rode both Teddy and Calvin with Buck Brannaman for 4 days. We are in the midst of an extensive remodel of our home - while living in it! I sustained a serious Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in March which I'm still recovering from and a Porsche lost control and literally landed upside down 2 feet from where I fell trying to escape it.

Most all of the things I listed are great things, (granted I wouldn't volunteer from another brain injury or the Porsche) however even great things come with their own amount of stress.  The TBI has been not only my greatest challenge this year, it's also been my greatest learning opportunity.  For 2 months I couldn't drive a car, I wasn't allowed to elevate my heart rate for a month and a half, I couldn't watch TV or be on the computer or even read for very long.  Even having a conversation was draining.  I had a speech therapist, a special balance physical therapist and of course a brain specialist.  

The hardest part of having a brain injury is that I look fine. I'm not fine, but I look fine. My brain specialist referred to me as one of the walking wounded. Almost 10 months later I still experience symptoms. Imagine waking up every single day with a hangover but never having had a drink the night before. Some days the hangover is worse than others, it's always there. The headache, the spinning, the disorientation, the nausea and the tiredness all while feeling physically fit and able.  If I push too hard through the 'hangover' I make it worse. The only thing that makes the hangover go away is to rest. Rest not just my body, but rest my brain while it repairs itself. For someone who has always been extremely physically active this has been a real game changer. Seriously the only thing that heals a brain is not using it, for anything.  I’ve spent a LOT of time meditating over the past 10 months.

Some imagery I've come up with to help give understanding to what is happening inside my brain is to have people pull up an image in their mind of a natural disaster. There is wreckage and debris everywhere.  That's what the inside of my brain looked like. Now imagine living somewhere your whole life then moving away for a while, like say going to college. When you come back home everything is familiar but things have changed while you've been gone so it's disorienting. Now imagine a skyscraper under construction. Imagine the sparks flying as the welders are welding the metal skeleton of the building together. 

The blow to my head scattered all of the information stored in my brain destroying the connection and synapses. Natural disaster. My brain stored things wherever there was a space for it, whether it went there originally or not which is what creates the disorientation. New things in the neighborhood. New synapses are being constructed so that both sides of my brain can once again communicate. Welding the skeleton. 

While being injured but not looking injured has had its challenges the learning and growth I've experienced as a result of my injury has been enormous. Every day I am granted a certain amount of what I call 'energy credits'. I get a different amount every day and different activity 'cost' different amounts. The cost of different activities changes daily as well so I never know how many energy credits I get to spend or how quickly they'll be used up. I do know that once they're used up a switch gets flipped and my brain turns off. At which point all I can do for the rest of the day is rest.

While I've been getting more energy credits to spend over time and things are beginning to cost less, I still have to be extremely careful how I structure my day so that I can accomplish all the tasks that are the most important to complete. At this point you may be asking how this is different than everybody else. A fair question. A few short months ago I could only have a maximum of 5 important things to accomplish on my list. There were days that my list was simply to feed animals, walk dog, make dinner, train client(s), clean horse stalls. A year ago my list looked like: train clients, attend a networking event, run errands, clean house, walk dog, ride horse, clean stalls, feed animals, help mother, answer emails and phone calls, cook dinner, go out with friends. Today the list is a longer but nowhere near what it was a year ago.

A list of a few of the activities that I used to enjoy that I’ve discovered that I can’t do yet and have no idea if I’ll ever be able to do again include biking, golfing, softball and jogging. I’m taking the healing process one day at a time, trying my best not to focus on what I can’t do but on what I CAN do. I do my best to focus on the fact that 8 months ago a 3.5 mile walk took me over an hour and a half and today it only takes me 45 minutes. Looking at what I could do a year ago versus what I can do today isn’t helpful and is really frustrating.

A great TED talk by Jane McGonigal had me in tears because she was able to articulate the frustration that comes with a TBI as well as sharing a game she created to help make life better for those of us facing a health challenge.  While I have heard quite a lot about Post Traumatic Stress during Jane's TED talk I learned about something called Post Traumatic Growth. Until I watched her talk I'd never heard of such a thing!

This huge shift in energy has resulted in my reprioritizing what’s important and how to best use my time. For example if I attend a networking event that’s all that I plan on accomplishing for the day because it is so draining for me energetically. Things I used to get all fuzzed up over no longer phase me because I simply can’t afford the cost energetically any more. This is part of the experience of Post Traumatic Growth. Reprioritizing what’s important in life. I’ve also been blessed with deepening my compassion and understanding for those who are deconditioned. It’s HARD to make the choice to get up and get moving. Its HARD not to get discouraged because it is such a challenge to move. I know the rewards that wait for me on the other side of my effort because of all the years I competed and all of the fitness challenges I completed. There have been times over these past 10 months that it’s been so hard that I almost gave up. Those who have never been active or competitive don’t know what’s on the other side of the effort, they just have to trust and believe that it will get better. That’s a pretty tall order for anyone.

While it’s been pretty frustrating and continues to be I’m extremely grateful that I’m merely inconvenienced because had I not been wearing my helmet I would no longer be here.  Yes indeed, this past year has seen some pretty big changes for me and my family.  I do know that I'm not alone when it comes to experiencing changes in my life. Many other people have experienced some big changes this past year too. While change isn't always easy it is a natural part of life.  The ups, the downs and the sideways events are what go into creating this thing we call life.

In the end, for me, it’s how I learn to navigate the changes that happen as well as learning and growing from the different experiences that determine the overall quality of life.  I can focus on being discouraged, depressed, angry and just want to quit OR I can choose to feel my sadness, express my frustration in a healthy way, look for and embrace the learning being offered and stand in gratitude for all I am blessed with. The choice is entirely mine as it is for you as well.

Here's to change, growth and gratitude. 

Love Jennifer