LEARNING TO ENJOY THE MOMENT
COMMUNITY STORIES | 11.25.2017 | By Sharon Royers
I learned the hard way that even a mild concussion can turn into a life-altering ordeal. I was the principal of a high-needs elementary school and was simply looking for a file on a new student. I did not realize that a cabinet door above me had popped open and so I stood straight up into it, hitting my head hard. The school nurse and I did not realize I had a concussion and I waited a week to see my doctor. The mistake of not realizing the signs of a concussion and then not taking precautions sent me down the rabbit hole of Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS). My symptoms intensified quickly. I was off work for several weeks and ultimately retired early because my brain simply was not healing under the stressful conditions of my job. I hit my head over three years ago and am still working my way out of the rabbit hole.
The paradox of PCS is that you desperately miss your former life. Who you were before the head injury. But the more you want your life back, the more you reach for it, the further down the rabbit hole you fall. I longed to be able to exercise and walk without overwhelming my brain. I wanted to shop without the lights and sounds of the store being too intense for me. I wanted to be able to race my granddaughter down the slide without feeling head pain.
I am now able to do all these things, but it took years. The key to finally making progress and getting bits of my life back was to stop pushing my brain to do things before it was ready. I had to accept the circumstances of my concussion while simultaneously remaining hopeful. I learned to accept baby steps, literally. Initially I could only walk at a geriatric pace for about five minutes before the pain and head pressure would become too great. But I started from those five minutes and slowly built my stamina. By being patient and focusing on what I was able to do, instead of would I could no longer do, I was able to stay positive and make slow, steady progress.
There is no one thing that fixes a brain injury. I use a variety of strategies to aid my healing process. Perhaps the most important and effective strategy has been to learn to be still. Old me loved to barge thoughtlessly and quickly through life; never thinking about the moment I was in and always busy planning for the next thing. My nickname at work was "Flash" because I was known for zooming through the school hallways in my suits and running shoes. Always in a hurry. Learning to be still and becoming more mindful was ironically a personal goal of mine before my concussion.
Strangely and thankfully, through my healing process, I have learned how to be more in the moment. By focusing on the moment I am in, I feel far less stress. Stress is the enemy of the healing process for any brain injury. By learning to be still and more mindful in each moment I am able to move forward. Investing the time to sit still and clear my mind recharges my brain's battery so that I can shop, exercise, drive, play with my granddaughters. Learning to enjoy the moment I am in has been the greatest gift of my concussion journey.
Tai chi, yoga, and meditation have all been invaluable to my recovery process. Often times throughout my healing journey I would make progress only to get stuck on a plateau. A trainer at the YMCA suggested I try their weekly tai chi class. It was incredibly helpful for continuing to improve my balance, ocular motor skills, and memory. I always feel more relaxed and a reduction in head pressure after I do tai chi.
Beginning my days with meditation has also helped me to continue healing as well as maintain my hopefulness. It has been the primary strategy that I use to be still and remain mindful.
I had been avoiding yoga because I was worried that some of the yoga positions would be too strenuous for my head to handle. Fortunately, I was invited to participate in the six week Loveyourbrain Yoga program. These weekly classes led by a specially trained instructor gave me the confidence to do yoga. More importantly than the yoga, however, this class connected me with others who have survived brain injuries and are finding their way to who they are now, just like me.
I had never heard of PCS prior to my own injury. I have learned from various readings that females are more vulnerable to PCS. I have also learned that despite all the hype about concussions in the media, parents and schools really are not knowledgeable about head injuries. I am currently volunteering my time with the Nebraska Brain Injury Alliance. We are working together with the state department of education to find ways to support schools with protocols for students who return to school after concussions. By lending my personal story, I hope to make a positive difference for others.
The word "concussion" is used so often today that it is almost treated like a common cold, not taken seriously. I learned the hardest way possible just how serious even a mild concussion can be.