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Meditating Recovery

In July 2013, I had an accident that resulted in a skull fracture and brain hemorrhage. While in the hospital, I had no understanding of how my life would change. I was told I couldn’t work for six weeks, at a minimum, which, in my mind, wasn’t possible because I was a single mom, and not working was not an option. I had decided that I would rest for a week or two and then get back to work. It’s easy to think that when you’re lying in the hospital bed medicated, but once I got home the reality of the injury hit hard.

I kept a log of symptoms because the weeks after the accident were foggy. I couldn’t lift my feet, so I had to be assisted with walking; my vision was blurry, I had vertigo, I couldn’t enunciate, I lost my senses of taste and smell, I struggled with the coordination to write, I couldn’t handle light and noise, I couldn’t find words, memories were vague or lost…and I was scared.

As time went on, the external and obvious symptoms eased. I could walk, I could see, and I could mostly enunciate. When I was released by the occupational therapist to drive, I returned to work part time and then slowly resumed to full time. No one knew that I was commuting two hours a day with vertigo…I felt I had no choice. I was having to work twice as hard to accomplish what I did prior to the injury. I had such overwhelming mental fatigue at the end of the work week that I would spend the weekends sleeping. During that time, I would constantly hear from friends, family and colleagues about how great my recovery had been. What a comeback! You’re a trooper! Those around me didn’t understand the degree of symptoms I was still experiencing, because I looked better. I wasn’t going to let anyone at work know, because I needed my job. I also knew my outcome was so much better than so many with brain injuries that I felt I needed to push through and just deal with it. As a result, I became depressed and felt very alone.

For a couple of years, I continued to struggle with vertigo, cognitive impairments, no taste or smell, agitation, mental fatigue and an overwhelming sense of fear. I had all the health care support I needed in the beginning, but then the treatment that was covered by insurance ran out. My prognosis was unpredictable, which is common with brain injuries. The neurologist couldn’t say whether I’d fully return to who I was before, and I realized the health care community had done all they could do to help me.

I knew my recovery was up to me, which was both empowering and daunting. I had my sons to support, and I was determined to find a version of me that could do that. The neurologist, at one point, mentioned meditation. I went online to find out how to meditate, but the amount of information was overwhelming, so I simply came up with my own. My brain craved quiet, so I thought if I could sit quietly for a few minutes every day then maybe that’s what it needed to revive itself and to have the endurance to meet the demands of the day.

Meditation has been my saving grace and I continue to do it every single day. With meditation, I found a better version of myself. While my recovery felt slow, meditation helped me accept its pace. The agitation lessened and the vertigo finally went away. I imagined my brain as an electrical grid, and as the hemorrhage spread, the power was knocked out and the meditation has slowly but effectively turned the power back on. As time went on, the cognitive impairments improved, and in some ways, morphed into a different type of cognitive strength. It’s as if the neural pathways re-routed themselves.  I’d never been a detail-oriented data nerd, but now I am. Before, I was definitely way too busy to smell the roses, but now I am able to be quiet in a way that allows me to study and appreciate life. Prior to the injury, I was in a mode of reacting to life’s demands at a pretty hectic pace, but once I was stripped of the ability to meet those demands, I now embrace simplicity and calm. I still will have a bout of vertigo here and there, my senses of taste and smell have mostly recovered, but are distorted. For example, my favorite – milk chocolate – now tastes like dirt.

Yes, I am a different person than I was before. It is cliché to say, but so true. I won’t say that I’m glad I had a TBI, but I am certainly glad that I had a life event that slowed me down and made me realize that I wasn’t alone in raising my sons and that I needed to be willing to ask for help. Foolish pride was replaced with grace. The grace to reach out and allow others to help me as I would help them.

If you are a recent survivor of a brain injury, your journey will likely be very different than mine. No journey is the same. The hopelessness, fear, financial insecurity, and downright devastation of the injury will ease with time. I know that the path will feel too bumpy to endure at times. I encourage you to be open minded and willing to try whatever may help. You will feel better having some control over your own recovery. In addition to meditation, I also encourage you to try cognitive games and/or art. I have become a painter…who knew? Additionally, a great resource for support is the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado.