COMMUNITY STORIES | 3.10.18 | By Kathy Ravinski
Some days life has a way of hurtling along at seemingly breakneck speed where it’s hard to catch your breath and you’re just not sure you’ll manage to get through the day. Other times, we find ourselves in stretches of ease and rhythm for which we are so very grateful. Such is the way with life’s ebb and flow, and it brings to mind the complexity and interrelatedness of the paired truths of Yin and Yang.
Like our imperfect and oftentimes indisputably messy lives, Yin and Yang represent being in a state of continual motion and change. Made up of two unique elements joined in an inseparable coupling of dependence, each side contains a “seed” of its opposite. In life, much like Yin and Yang, we seek to balance these elements in the right proportions so that we feel more expressions of ease than effort.
One could easily make the case that we all experience this ever-present dance as we strive to achieve balance, tap into our resilience, and create a greater sense of calm, awareness and connection. My husband Bob and I would assert that this is most surely true for those of us living with the daily and lifelong impacts of Traumatic Brain Injury.
Nearly ten years ago, on an early morning July 4th trek to a favorite Vermont fishing spot, Bob sustained a TBI in a chilling, inconceivable hit-and-run accident. Instead of gathering with family and friends for barbeque and evening fireworks, we were in a hospital. Bob was seriously injured, and though we couldn’t know it at the time, forever changed.
All these years later, we remain engaged in a humbling Yin and Yang balancing act. Make no mistake, we are tremendously grateful Bob survived that day so many summers ago. We have come far individually and as a couple. And yet, I cannot tell this story honestly if I don’t acknowledge the darkness and shadows (Yin) brought on by TBI, and the ways in which we continue to seek, capture and appreciate the light (Yang).
Along our arduous journey through a bewildering medical system, our acceptance of how life has changed has continued to ebb and flow. We have remained vigilant and ever-hopeful in an effort to optimize the best chances for healing and acceptance. That said, like the counterbalance of the Yin and Yang, acceptance is gradual, and to be honest quite dispiriting some days. As Kevin Pearce said in a recent LoveYourBrain video, “It’s one thing to accept it. It’s another thing to have it be something you have to deal with all day.” - we would add, every single day for the rest of your life.
We have felt broken and vulnerable countless times, our marriage tested, yet it has been with fierce (ok, sometimes shaky) determination that we keep pulling up our bootstraps and continue walking forward, trusting that not all is lost and many, many blessings remain.
For Bob who lost his career at age 46, and who struggles with daily cognitive challenges as well as unrelenting physical pain and energy depletion, TBI can be a disheartening and often isolating experience. We came to learn early on (admittedly it’s been done kicking and screaming some days) that Bob’s quality of life is far better when he attends to conserving vulnerable stores of cognitive and physical energy. It is what allows him, and us, to engage in the things we enjoy and to be with the people we love. Some days we achieve the balance needed, and other days, well, it’s far less seamless.
In our daily pursuit of balance, Bob and I know we both need to cultivate what feeds us energetically, physically and spiritually. In the barn he built many years ago, Bob can often be found tinkering with old clocks, renovating or making furniture, creating gorgeous handcrafted wood boards and bowls, and restoring his old 1927 Dodge Brothers car. A lover of the outdoors, Bob still enjoys gardening, fishing and beekeeping (a unique labor of love for over 30 years). Our honey surely makes life sweet!
While Bob is not necessarily an “on the mat” kind of practitioner, he has found swimming to be an extremely therapeutic form of “yoga” for him. His time in the water, followed by gentle stretching and breathwork, provides powerful sustenance and healing to a body and brain forever changed. TBI has not stripped him of his ability to engage in the things he loves, but attending to recalibration, energy-conservation and working more individually has become the mode in which his brain allows him to work best.
Writing, reading, walking with our dogs, meandering around a local farmer’s market, cooking nutritional meals and getting out with friends or family are often my pursuits of choice. As a yoga teacher, and a student of yoga myself, I have found my practice to be a critical component of self-care, especially when TBI pokes at our individual and collective balance.
To that point, a new test came in the form of an unexpectedly surreal turn of events last summer when I sustained a significant concussion. Yes, THAT. Ever the TBI caregiver, this new experience has proven to be a uniquely challenging time for us. Yoga has always provided me with a sense of groundedness and energy so desperately needed as a caregiver, and it has been a faithful friend as I heal from my own injury.
TBI is akin to being in a perpetual state of ebb and flow - Yin and Yang. It can be a maddening balancing act of blessings and burdens, gratitude and bitterness, joys and sorrows, love and fear, optimism and wistfulness. Each day we awaken is a new opportunity - and choice - to begin again, trusting in the unrelenting power of the Yin Yang dance.
It is unlikely we will find a perfect balance; none of us will. But, we remain committed to circling back again and again to what brings us energy, joy and grace. And on our most challenging days we know that tomorrow will always bring a fresh start for us to take pause, choose gratitude, and be in the moment with open hearts as we look ahead with hopeful anticipation.