Once I looked outside of my own little world, and into the community surrounding me, my little world became so much bigger. In the years after my brain injury and diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder (with lots of anxiety thrown in for good measure) I was desperate to get better. I went to Doctors, Psychologist, Psychiatrists and counsellors. I joined online & in person peer support groups and I read everything I could. Despite all that, I couldn’t get myself back to myself. And that… that thinking… is what delayed my recovery.
Acceptance, in any situation, is not a step you can skip or fake. You can’t just say “Ok! I accept this” and make it so. It doesn’t work that way. Acceptance takes time and often has to be relearned over and over again.
My brain injury was almost 12 years ago. Wow. I had to double check the math there. I can’t believe I still long for the “old Cheri” some days. I’ve had a long time to deal with this. The change for me came about 5 years ago. Interestingly enough, that’s when my daughter got a dog, Jackson, who is a huge part of my life. I’m sure he contributed to my recovery. A dog forces you to get out of the house a few times a day. Even those few minutes of sunshine and fresh air and socialness can save your life in the winter. I don’t recall an Aha! moment or an announcement that the recovery had begun but it did. Slowly but surely. That was 7 years after my injury. 7 years it took for me to shift my thinking. Instead of getting the old me back, I had to learn to accept the new me.
The new me still had all the enthusiasm of the old me but much less energy. The old me could sit with a pile of accounting and enjoy the puzzles for 8 hours a day at work but the new me could barely read a paragraph without my mind wandering. It wasn’t all bad though. The new me is much more creative, is much better at brain storming and even more compassionate that the me I was before. (which was already a lot). The new me can see a problem & can find several solutions but would have a hard time listing the steps from A-Z. The new me is just different.
I don’t allow myself to think too much about “how I feel” physically. I know that if I baby myself too much I can slip into hermit status too quickly. But I also know if I don’t listen to my body & brain & rest, I’ll pay for it. That’s pretty common for brain injury survivors. We have a day where we feel great so we get everything done we have been meaning to, and we know it’s too much but we feel so good! We go to sleep feeling proud we conquered that day and then for the next 2 days we can barely get out of bed, forget concentrate on something or be in a crowd. Yesterday we were rock stars. Today we are stuck in our blanket forts and afraid to face the world. On those days, it’s hard not to get down on ourselves.
I remember when I was undergoing some testing for them to determine what parts of my brain were doing what. It was a bunch of memory tests and logic games and stuff like that. Normally I would love doing something like that because I love learning more about me but instead I cried almost the whole day. When the woman asked me why I was crying, I said it was because I knew I could do so much better before. I knew I could access those parts of my brain but I couldn’t figure out how to get there. She looked really surprised and told me I was doing fine. She said my test results were actually pretty good. But that was the thing. I knew I could do better. The only other thing I remember her saying was that I was really good at visual spatial reasoning. I couldn’t wait to get home to look that up. I couldn’t bare to tell her I had no idea what that was. I felt stupid enough already.
Like most Cheri stories, this has several points, none of which will be tied up neatly. My brain isn’t happy with me right now and my concentration skills are at a low. I walked into an open door at Christmas time. Hard enough that if I had been home, I would have taken the day to rest & watch for concussion signs. But because it was our family Christmas I pushed through it. In fact I have pushed through for the last few weeks not fully realizing the damage I had done because “I didn’t have the time”. Now looking back, the day I hit my head my eyes were really sensitive to light, and I was nauseous later in the day. Then on the way home I got a headache which was a migraine by the time I got to London. I’ve been so tired. All signs of a concussion. It took me 2 and a half weeks to put the pieces together. I called my doctor and have an appointment for next week but I know the drill. I have had many many concussions since my brain injury (since my balance is affected) and this is a minor one but it needs attention.
So here’s to acceptance. Again. And learning to listen to our bodies. Here’s to finding the balance between caring for ourselves and not being hypochondriacs. I know for me, balance is the key lesson in my life. It has to be. When my life becomes unbalanced it falls apart pretty quick. I know I’ve posted this many times before but I’m hoping it will help someone.
Here’s my recipe for balance:
Eat properly and regularly (for real.. not just talk about it) Whole foods. As few unnecessary ingredients as possible. Also drink a lot more water than you think you need. It’s super good for you!
Sleep Figure out how many hours your body needs and make sure you get it. It’s a huge difference in your energy level
Music! It’s very important but also becareful what you listen to! If you are feeling low, make a happy playlist to pull you out. Don’t listen to sappy sad songs if you are feeling low or angry songs when you are feeling feisty.
Dance! It goes with music but alternately you could walk, do yoga or whatever works for you. Just make sure you do something active several times a week. start small & build up.
Talk- Create a strong support system of people you can talk to. Beware of peer support groups that are all “Woe is me” You don’t need that.
Passion! Find something you love and learn all about it. Do it. Join in.
Create. make something with your hands. It keeps you in the now.
Volunteer. Helping others will help you in ways you can’t even imagine yet. Trust me on this one. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right spot but there is no shortage of places needing volunteers. An added bonus: You feel connected to your community. That feeling of belonging is glorious. I start the Free Hug days because it was my birthday and I wanted lots of hugs. The spin off has been incredible.
I know there’s other stuff but I need a nap now so let’s wrap this up.
Be good to yourself. Listen to your body. Let’s have an awesome year.