FINDING MY BALANCE
COMMUNITY STORIES | 5.4.2017 | BY NATHALIE KELLY
I was taking my first sailing lesson in 2010, when a storm hit Lake Champlain, Vermont.
Gale force winds capsized my tiny dinghy and each time I tried to right it, the wind would catch the sail and flip the boat back over and throw me 30 feet across the lake. During my last attempt, I held onto the boat, and the boat and I somersaulted across the water together in a fraction of a second. It happened so fast! The boat hit me in the head so hard, I sadly spit my front tooth out into the stormy lake. At the time, I thought losing my tooth was the tragedy. As I bobbed toothless in the cold waves waiting for a Coast Guard rescue, I had no idea that I was about to lose so much more.
The force of the fast rotation had twisted and torn my brain, while getting hit on the head added to the damage. No one realized I had a brain injury. I got worse each day and eventually lay on my couch for months as my amazing friends took care of my son and I.
I was dismissed by doctors because, other than using a walker to walk, my massive challenges were not apparent from the outside in a short office visit. I had severe visual and vestibular and cognitive issues. Eventually I was told I had a traumatic brain injury and sent home with no support or referrals. A single mother, unable to read, I had to figure this out myself. I have learned so much in the process!
Healing after a brain injury is a marathon, not a sprint. Brains heal so slowly we often think we aren’t improving and it can get discouraging. Change is often imperceptible unless we look back 6 months or a year, then we can see some progress. I believe one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to constantly look for the progress and focus on every little bit of improvement we are making, so matter how small. I believe what we focus on expands, so let’s try to shift our focus to our successes so we can have more of those!
For me moving forward is about acceptance. Until we accept where we are, we are resisting the our new reality, and that creates a lot of suffering. But acceptance is so hard with TBI! How in the world do you accept the unacceptable? Grieving the losses is important. And being compassionate with ourselves is also important. I look at this as a graduate level course in self-love.
LoveYourBrain Yoga Class is one of the best things I have done for myself. It was so sweet and supportive to be in a group of people who understood each other and could share openly about their struggles and accomplishments. As a long-time yoga practitioner, I loved that we were doing yoga together, not just talking about our struggles. Thank you LoveYourBrain!
While we never understand why tragedies happen, it helps to make meaning out of our suffering and to explore the questions of how to turn this into something positive. I have answered that for myself by helping other brain injury survivors.
I have started a YouTube channel and website, www.TheTBICoach.com, to share all that I have learned. I have searched the country for doctors and healers with solutions and interviewed them so others could benefit from what I learned from going to countless practitioners. I also work with individuals and groups of brain injury survivors to find the healing, acceptance, and resilience.
Like a seesaw, there is a constant vacillation between accepting where we are and the hard work to improve. It’s like the balance between stillness and action. We need both. After we learn to negotiate that balance, we can begin to focus on finding the gifts in the tragedy. While none of us would chose this journey, I believe a gift can be found in every experience. Every brain injury is a massive tragedy, and looking for the good and articulating the gift helps us to feel less victimized and more empowered.
Personally, I find that the gift of a brain injury can only be found on the inner plane. Perhaps you are more present, less living in the past or the future, less controlling of life, or have a greater connection with the divine? Perhaps you are more self-expressive and less concerned with what others think, more creative, compassionate, have more time for your kids or enjoying a simpler life? For me, it is all of the above. What gift can you find? It helps us to hear how others find the positive in this, so please put yours in the comments below. In finding that gift for ourselves, we can find peace and positivity with our new lives.