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From Recovery To Resiliency

FROM RECOVERY TO RESILIENCY 

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COMMUNITY STORIES | 7.2.2016 | BY ABBY LINN

loveyourbrain

My motor vehicle accident occurred in May of 2012, and I remember every detail of it because I  never lost consciousness. Therefore, my trip to the emergency room, and subsequent follow-up evaluations by my primary care physician meant that I went undiagnosed for six months; something that I later found is extremely common. I went for six months with an inability to sleep, debilitating headaches, short-term memory loss, tinnitus, and vision disturbances. Once I was finally diagnosed and put into the care of the proper physician's, my recovery really began.

After a few years of swimming through the sea of "recovery,” of feeling alone on a personal level, of losing friends, and learning to rely on my family and amazing physicians, I stumbled across The Crash Reel. I made everyone in my family watch it so that they could understand the feelings that I had been feeling.

In the summer of 2015, I met Kevin Pearce and reconnected with Janna Hockenjos, whom I had met at a brain injury conference in the summer of 2014. Then in September of 2015, my youngest brother suffered a massive brain injury, requiring a craniotomy and drug induced coma for two days. His injury was vastly different from mine in so many ways. He returned to work after 6 weeks, was medication free, and had no outpatient therapy. I was both relieved and jealous. I have never been so thankful for my accident as I was the day that my brother sustained his. Without my injury, my parents would have never known the questions to ask physicians as my brother went through his recovery process.

With my brothers post accident, and my brother on the left pre accident.

With my brothers post accident, and my brother on the left pre accident.

Recovery-It is such a loaded word for a brain injury survivor. First, everyone's recovery is both similar and different. So many of us have memory moments or feelings of frustration, yet at the same time, many others have acquired physical disabilities in addition to the neurological impacts upon the brain. The time frame to "recovery" or of feeling "normal" again, is different for each individual. I don't know that I feel recovered nor like my pre-injury "normal" self. After my injury, I went through so many emotions. It felt like the stages of grief, with anger being the first and most destructive and loneliness the one that lasted the longest. The self-fulfilling prophesy of self-doubt and denial plagued me for months.

Everyone has their words of advice regarding your recovery. I still have intense feelings of frustration when I am told to "relax" when I am feeling anxious, to "sleep" when I am feeling fatigued, and to "just accept it" when I expect things to be in certain places within my home, only to find that they have been moved. I have accepted that I had to go through a few different medications, therapies, and doctors, to find the things and people that understood me, as well as my short and long-term goals. I ruled nothing out. My recovery has included both traditional and nontraditional treatments.

loveyourbrain

Now, I know that I am me. I now accept that I can do more than I ever thought possible and that the accident brought out in me some of my best qualities, although in the beginning it was probably the opposite. I have lost many friends yet made many new fulfilling relationships with people who know me as I am now. For me, acceptance actually happened the day that I attended the LoveYourBrain Yoga Teacher Training in February of 2016. The feeling of acceptance was immediate. I felt surrounded by love, acceptance and understanding for the first time in many years. Kevin's brother Adam stated that recovery really is about resilience. That word struck me so profoundly. I now look daily for the things that I can celebrate, and I can care less about the things that are still challenges. Resilience really is about the acceptance of oneself, one's ability to accept daily challenges, and one's ability to celebrate overcoming those challenges.

As a primary teacher, in the beginning of the year, my students and I spoke about the brain. I talked with them about the brain, what it looks like, what it does and how it helps us to learn. We talked daily about how everything that we learn puts wrinkles into our brain. The more wrinkles that we made, the more we were challenging ourselves, and the better we going to become at problem solving. We began each morning by taking a minute to close our eyes and choose a personal goal for the day. This was the beginning of mindfulness.

Leading the kids through some afternoon yoga. Photo: BluMars Media

Leading the kids through some afternoon yoga. Photo: BluMars Media

However, in February, after the LYB training, my mind was blown by everything I’d learned. This was the missing link that I needed to bring to my classroom. It is important to note that none of my students were or are currently suffering from traumatic brain injuries or in any way need the support of the LoveYourBrain Foundation. I attended the training to gain insight on behalf of my brother’s struggles. However, what the LoveYourBrain training taught me about mindfulness, yoga and its significant impact on brain plasticity were all tools that I felt could be useful in the classroom.

After the training, I went back to practice of morning goals with the kids, but now at the end of the day I would ask, “Think about your goal for today. Think about if you met your goal. I will know that you met it, if you stayed in the green zone for positive first grade choices.” I can honestly say that behavior issues in my classroom have declined dramatically in comparison to years past. I knew that our conversations about feelings of anger, frustration, and disappointment had helped the students to understand more about themselves and about how to handle their feelings. We have practiced and utilized ways to release tension, stress, and anger, and we also learned some safe yoga poses.

The kids doing yoga in the classroom.

The kids doing yoga in the classroom.

After a few weeks of practicing the poses, we began to do the yoga series when we needed to calm ourselves. Sometimes the students even asked, “Can we do our exercises?”. We have even done some calming breaths in the middle of a test or just when we needed to calm ourselves as we transitioned from a physical activity such as gym class or recess, into a learning activity such as a math lesson. However, the most rewarding and significant confirmation came from a student who requested that we take our deep breaths and try a relaxing pose during a test. After the deep breaths and a favorite pose, the student responded, “Ms. Linn, I feel so relaxed now.”

In that moment, I went back to my earlier question and thought, “Are mindfulness and yoga helping my students to be happy?” Maybe I had found my answer. Perhaps it was helping them to find relaxation during a stressful situation. Science has shown us that prolonged periods of stress on the brain manifest devastating long term effects. With this in mind, maybe I had taught my students something more than academics; maybe I had helped them learn to relax their brains.

Due to the unfortunate accident of my brother, the unwavering support of the LoveYourBrain Foundation, and my own dedication to teaching, I was able to share with my students different ways to find inner calm and personal resilience. In my role as an educator, it was never simply my job to teach academics, but to also teach children about the awareness and empathy we should have for others. This year, I taught my students many things; however, what they taught me about trying new things has been immeasurable. First Grade Family, I thank you.

Me post accident meeting Kevin for the first time.

Me post accident meeting Kevin for the first time.

I love that the LoveYourBrain Foundation has redefined the word of what survivors struggle with from recovery to resilience. I love that they are helping to build a community for survivors, caregivers, yoga teachers, meditation leaders, veterans, speech therapists, physical therapists, etc. The struggle of self-identity after brain injury is real. Surround yourself with supportive people. Ask your doctors questions. Get second opinions. Try alternative treatments such as yoga and meditation. Learn to accept yourself for who you are today. "The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away." Thank you to the LoveYourBrain foundation for giving me back my self-worth, my confidence and for helping me to recognize my gifts.

Top photo: BluMars Media