THE JOURNEY BACK
COMMUNITY STORIES | 11.1.2017 | By Beth Shaver
On the day after my 28th birthday, I was hit by a high speed car running a stop sign, totaling my car into a ditch where a passerby later found me. By a miracle I didn't die, but the impact caused a major concussion, among other injuries, including a herniated disc. I was told had it just been milliseconds difference, I probably wouldn't be here today. After going through seven months of physical, vestibular, speech, and cognitive therapy, I would later come to realize that finding the road back to “normal” after a head injury is not a milestone you reach, but a journey you take – and one I’m still walking today.
In the last ten months since my accident, I’ve learned that healing is very much an ongoing process and not something that happens through effort alone. Coming from an athletic background, this has been hard to accept, because in sports greater effort usually yields faster/better results. But as I have learned, this is not how the brain works. The brain has a pace of its own and no amount of effort can speed up that process. Patience, rest, acceptance, and awareness are things that have helped me in my recovery journey and it is my hope that by sharing this, it may help someone too.
Patience: Have patience with your recovery. Be kind to yourself. This is a hard lesson to learn, but being hard on yourself or frustrated at your rate of recovery will not speed up the process. I've come a long way since my accident, but it has taken a lot of patience.
Rest: Cognitive fatigue is a real thing. Understand that even as you progress in your recovery, it’s okay to feel like you need to take breaks. You may still encounter situations where you find yourself retreating to the stillness. Listen to what you’re feeling. This is your brain’s way of signaling you to slow down.
Acceptance: Moving forward begins with accepting where you are right now. Learn to let go of what you can’t control and focus on what you can. With acceptance comes greater understanding of yourself, and through this you can build the resilience you need to keep moving forward. Choose to love yourself (& your brain) where you are today and never forget how far you've come.
Awareness: There will be ups and downs in this journey – it is not a steady climb. Know that this is okay. Recovery is very much a process of learning when to push and when to slow down. In time, you’ll find this to be true.
Before my accident, I wasn't much of a yoga or meditation person, but I can say both of these activities have positively impacted my recovery. At the beginning, when the vertigo was still too much, I had meditation to ground me and bring me back to a place of peace and stillness. Yoga gave me a gentle way to exercise and build strength when all other fitness activities were off the table. In many ways, meditation and mindfulness continue to be something I turn to because it gives me something I can control - my breath and my thoughts. A lot of times, having a head injury can feel like you’ve lost control. Meditation can help to bring this back.
Above all, listen to your body. When your brain gets tired, listen to it. Don't fight it. Step away from a situation if you need to. It took a little while before I felt like I could watch TV, look at screens, spend time with friends and family -- everything felt exhausting and still occasionally does sometimes, understand that this is okay. This is your brain's way of telling you it needs rest. Be willing to listen.
Lastly, don't be afraid to ask for help. Going through a head injury can be scary, but know you are not alone - even if it feels this way. Reach out for help if you need it. Tap into your faith. Injuring your head can be very isolating and at times you may wonder how you're going to make it, but you have to believe you can get through it - in some way or another, you will get through this. We don't get to decide what happens to us in life, but we do have the power to choose our attitudes in response. Love your brain. Love yourself and know that you never walk this journey alone. I'm walking it beside you.