TBI Survivor Blog Series 2020

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“Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength.”

Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

Statistics say that most car accidents happen when you’re within minutes of getting home. Mine was 5 km’s to be exact. On October 26, 2019 I was hit by a red light runner at high speed. I remember the impact being significant however I genuinely felt that I was unhurt. I didn’t seek medical attention and I went home to rest. Over the next few days the adrenaline wore off and an array of symptoms started presenting. Neck pain, headaches/pressure, brain fog, confusion, speech problems, slowed thinking, forgetfulness, ringing in the ears, fatigue, dizziness, vertigo, light and sound sensitivities, anxiety and weakness on the left side of my body.

The cause? A small subdural hematoma; a brain bleed was responsible for what was making me feel like a stranger in my own body. The symptoms were debilitating, things seemed to get worse before they got better, and I had never felt more alone. Fast forward a year to the present day; I have improved significantly thanks to countless hours of rehab, therapy, support, and perseverance. At times I am still learning how to navigate the complex recovery of Post-Concussion Syndrome, however I have learned so much about life and most importantly myself.

I have spent a lot of time trying to grasp the concept that we can’t always control what is happening to us, but we can control how we respond to it. For me, being patient was the key to doing this successfully. Patience is defined as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset. I learned quickly that this was not a simple task and was most apparent when I discovered that healing is not linear. Through countless set backs and disappointments, I knew I needed to learn how to do this more effectively. I had to find a way to get myself successfully through recovery.

So how did this all begin? I learned early on that concussion recovery involved a lot of self advocating. I remember one night laying in bed feeling extremely uncomfortable, my body felt like it was shaking, my anxiety was high and I had gotten to the point where I was afraid to sleep alone in fear that something bad would happen to me. I experienced countless moments like this where I felt like I had zero control. It was in these moments though, the lowest of lows, where I found out how strong I truly was. I knew there was no way I was going to fall asleep in this condition and I didn’t want to keep taking sleeping pills. Although it was next to impossible for me to look at a computer screen, I pushed through to research ways that I could help myself because I was desperate. One of the first things I stumbled upon was deep breathing. I came across the 4-7-8 technique and in a matter of minutes, I felt like a completely different person. The shaking had decreased, I felt heavy and relaxed, and my mind had stopped racing. I felt clarity, like I was in control again and it made me realize I wasn’t completely powerless. For months I did this breathing technique. Some days were better than others, but I was really grateful for this new tool. Not only was it helping with my symptoms, but I was learning to become more patient with myself. The way I was speaking to myself started changing; my internal dialogue became more positive. During moments of defeat when symptoms were overwhelming, I stopped questioning them like I had in the past. I acknowledged them instead, and shifted my focus to something I could control, my breath. Although it didn’t change the reality of what I was going through, it did in that moment allow me to pause and find some relief.

With my new grip on patience, I also learned to become more self-compassionate. Recovering from an invisible injury results in a lot of comments made by others that can be hurtful. I remember feeling frustrated hearing “you look fine” or “you must be doing a lot better now if you can do that.” Most of the time, people were trying to be encouraging, but I couldn’t help but feel invalidated. I used to wish that people could spend just one day in my shoes, but did I really want anyone else to experience what I was going through? No. All I wanted was to explain to people how I felt, but I couldn’t get it into words. This thought process only made matters worse for myself. I didn’t want to wish pain or suffering on anyone, I just wanted to be understood and I had to acknowledge that not everyone would be able to comprehend what I was going through and that was ok.

As I continued to be patient and self-compassionate, I eventually found myself experiencing joy. My psychologist taught me how to stop putting energy on the negatives and to shed more light on the positives. Instead of focusing on the things people said that rubbed me the wrong way, I chose to focus on the fact that I was able to engage in a conversation with them at all. This wasn’t always something I could do without my symptoms getting worse. I began to find joy in the small things; in the things I once took for granted. Who knew emptying the dishwasher could be so satisfying? I remember at one point I couldn’t handle the sound of cutlery touching without it aggravating my noise sensitivity. How about vacuum cleaning without having to lay down after? Or simply walking into a grocery store without having to wear earplugs and sunglasses. Although these weren’t things that I would have considered joyful before my accident, they now have a profound new meaning. By changing my focus to the positives, I no longer felt like I was looking for my identity in the lost and found, but rather a whole new one was being created.

Early on in my recovery I was attached to the idea that I was my injury. I struggled with this greatly at first because I couldn’t do anything without symptoms getting in the way, not a single thing in my life wasn’t affected by my brain injury. I strived not only to recover, but to go back to who I was before the accident. As time went on I learned there was no going back and that this journey would eventually reinvent who I was. I have to thank every single person in my rehab team for encouraging me to push through and for giving me the tools to get through this life changing experience. I can’t imagine how different things would be if I didn’t have all of the support I have, and every single day I am grateful for that.

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