Climbing Everest in a Storm: Living with Cognitive-Emotional Effects of Brain Injury

These ruminations begin with reading a recent Facebook post….

A little while ago I read this Facebook post by Elizabeth Gilbert.

As someone who lives with a brain injury, it was hard for me to take in. Gilbert describes a moment of cognitive-emotional chaos, where she cannot use her thoughts to control her thoughts OR emotions. She wrestles until she goes into her heart and rests for a minute, not looking for solutions. “Then I remembered,” she says, “I cannot use my mind to help my mind, when my mind is in distress.”

The heart is indeed a second brain with a network of 40,000 neurons that sends more signals to the brain than the brain does to the heart. We don’t listen to our hearts enough and they are an unparalleled seat of inner wisdom. She’s right, that attempting to wrangle thought-feelings with thoughts is a misguided errand. Heart-listening was a wise move on Elizabeth Gilbert’s part.

It was this line in her post that got to me, though: “This has happened to me before. But only once or twice.”

Only once or twice. That idea floored me. I couldn’t compute. Imagine if that pencil squiggle of a brain in her graphic were a daily reality and the heart were no remedy for it? That is exactly what many brain injury survivors live with.

Before and After

I lived with the daily trial of chronic anxiety and depression before my brain injury in 2015. Yet, for me, the cognitive-emotional chaos of brain injury was far worse, in a different category, on another planet. The injury carved a chasm in my emotional processing much deeper than anything I had experienced before. On top of that, I lost executive function, the ability to put on the brakes for my emotions.

Ride a roller coaster without brakes and tell me how fun that is.

Not to mention the fact that I lost short-term memory function, the ability to hold an idea or piece of information in my mind long enough to act on it; an active sense of past, present, and future, that is, a sense of being in time; language processing and communication capabilities, vision, balance, sleep, and higher intellectual functions (did I mention I couldn’t remember how metaphors worked? Few things could be more tragic for a poet.).

My usual emotional threshold was obliterated.

I had no control. Even when I tried coming out of my head and down into my heart as Elizabeth Gilbert did, it did not restore control—because I had a brain injury. I could not rely on my emotions to be stable because the brain that controls those emotions was broken. It was an experience of being boiled alive in an emotional soup for entire months and then entire days and then parts of days.

Cognitive-emotional chaos is the reality that many brain injury survivors deal with. I have lived with it in some form daily for three years.

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Photo by Louis Blythe on Unsplash

In the first few years of my recovery I would careen off an emotional cliff multiple times in the course of a normal day. I would be swimming along, skimming the surface of my life’s experience desperately seeking a foothold to execute daily tasks—like get up and walk around my house, fix myself lunch, go outside—and I would break down crying out of nowhere. My emotion-thoughts on any number of subjects would come up, and I would be unable to do anything but deal with them for the rest of the day. I couldn’t compartmentalize. The overflow was total and overpowering.

Everest Lately

I have had this experience three times this week—sobbing uncontrollably, lying in bed unable to figure out how to deal with my emotional turmoil. It affects every part of my life—my relationships, my ability to work, my independence, and my self-confidence. Being relentlessly beaten by your emotions to the point of not being able to function is brutalizing, as is how unpredictable this phenomenon can be. Sometimes I know it’s coming if I’ve taxed my intellect or sensory processing too much. And then there are the hormones or the barometric pressure or emotional stressors that scribble over my experience and send me writhing to the floor.

My brain has made so much progress in rewiring for control.

The thing is, I have been improving. This emotional shutdown has not been happening on a large scale nearly as much as it did in those early years. I can feel the tears coming while doing some daily task, and I don’t need to stop and sob for an hour to move to the next point. Such are the vagaries of recovery. The holes gashed into my brain by that fateful hit to the head are still there. The chemical-electrical pattern of shock, devastation, grief, confusion, horror, and lack of control that the injury created in my brain, is still there. It only takes the right trigger, the right activation of that trauma energy to send me spiraling into PTSD that shuts me down.

When the Abstract Becomes Concrete

These “Abstract Animations” are the best illustrations of living with brain injury I have ever seen. They were not created as such, but they hit the mark exactly: At 13 seconds, a normal pink cranium crumples in on itself in a confused frown. At 23 seconds, a black gelatinous brain shrinks into the figure of a person physically writhing in the wrapper of his own brain, desperately trying to escape. A blow dryer melts the pink head, while a fluffy swirl of magenta dust spirals upward as a person’s eyes loll in her head.

The illustrations of a person encased and bound by a substance out of their control are the most poignant. That is exactly, exactly what it feels like to live with a brain injury.

The old person who used to be able to use her brain to do certain things is trapped, desperately seeking ways around and out of that maddening tangle. The brain rewires to compensate for loss, but if you catch it at a bad time (say the barometric pressure is off or your hormones are off or you have a virus or you didn’t sleep well or you ate the wrong thing or maybe something sad/disturbing/physically challenging happened or maybe a combination of all these things), the brain can’t deal and goes into fatigue, or reverts to that pattern of pain, or tries to go through old pathways that just aren’t there any more.

Blessed Illusions of Control

Although we are not really in control of our reality, an idea that can easily freak anyone out, a well-functioning brain (or a brain that’s functioning well enough) gives a lovely illusion of control most of the time. It’s a strong buffer against the chaos of the universe. If the chaos lives inside the physical structures and chemical workings of your own brain, life is a living nightmare.

Not being able to exert a normal level of control over multiple functions of your brain, is a living hell.

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Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash.

Reading Elizabeth’s post is frustrating because she was able to gain a measure of control over a temporary experience. She was able to come out of it, just as she was eventually able to come out of her experience with situational Depression. She could regain control. To live with brain injury is to climb, climb, climb, constantly fighting for a foothold on the mountain, a measure of control that is fleeting, or, that once made seemingly permanent can temporarily, mysteriously, and viciously vanish into the storm. Out of a clear sky.

To build neural connections and try to grow new neurons just to get back on your feet in adulthood is a mammoth ascent, one that numerous brain injury survivors endure for years.

This vast challenge is largely unseen and is misunderstood by most. I am desperately seeking to work through the constantly fluctuating internal weather of my brain (compounded, complicated, and damaged by injury) to regain previously normal function, to have more sunny days than cloudy, and those without migraine. To organize a day without breaking down. To remember and execute, to read without losing comprehension, to walk without stumbling, to run without pain in my head or my body, to be out in the sun or to drive at night without pain in my eyes or head, to write or think without pain in my head or losing stamina, to go through a day without my steam running out and ending in a puddle of tears, confusion, and inaction. This is climbing Everest in a storm.

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Photo by Caspar Rubin on Unsplash.

The horrible reality is, if anyone were to be injured in just the wrong way, or hit their head one too many times, this could be their reality, too. It could happen to anyone, and no matter how strong that person is (even the strongest men and women on earth are athletes who experience brain injury), they would climb the recovery mountain. My experience is not beyond the norm of what a brain injury can do to a person. It’s well within it.

The loss of life, work, relational satisfaction, fulfillment, and contributions to the world that millions of people with long-term effects of brain injury suffer is incalculable. In my life alone, those losses have been incalculable and so chronically devastating that I am still trying to describe it three years later.

Brain injury is a hell that is encountered and relived over, and over, and over again. The injury, until healed enough to not be noticeable, exists in the electrical and neurochemical ecosystem of the brain, causing confusion and creating pain. Getting back up to climb the mountain is a monumental feat every time.

If you have a brain injury or know someone who does, like The Art of Striving on Facebook. I post articles about the brain and brain injury there. The more you know, the more effectively you can act to heal yourself.

Cover photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash.

God has truly technicolor dreams for me

And I’m waiting to see what they will be!

Having a brain injury feels a bit like Joseph being sold into captivity in Egypt.

The wait is long, the challenges tall. I came from a different place and through some stroke of accident or fate or divine intervention, I was set down in brain injury land! Where sometimes down is up and the terrain is desert-like, and I become fatigued with thirst for my old life and pain that rises and falls like great waves.

Life was good before, not without its challenges, to be sure. But I was placed. I knew who I was and had hopes for where I was going. I didn’t *know* know where I was going, and I certainly had my share of doubts, but I had hopes.

The truth is, I needed to be in a better place, set on my own best heavenly path, and my injury was one way that God helped get me there. Through God’s inspiration I’ve found  resources to heal from my injury and also some very old wounds that would have plagued me the rest of my life.

I’m in one of those recovery times, though, that feels regressive. I’ve hit another wall and I’m struggling to overcome it. It feels like I’m going backwards, like the wait will never be over, like I’ll never be freed.

But then my dad and I stopped by the Cents of Style color wall today on one of our road trips around the state, and I realized that even in the gloom there’s still a bright pink wall ready to pop out and brighten our day. And I trust that whatever my dreams for my life may have been, God has even brighter, bolder, more redemptive ones than I could have ever imagined, just like he did for Joseph.

I’m still waiting.

EP and the amazing technicolor wall! 💓 God gave Joseph a beautiful gift—a glorious coat, tangible proof of how much his father, Jacob, loved him—and the spiritual gift of dreams. That love was true, the dream gift caused contention. 💓With one horrendous collective sibling decision, Joseph was sold into slavery while his brothers lorded over his pretended death at the teeth of a wild beast. What a traumatic transition into adulthood, to be raised among strangers as someone else’s property. 💓But we know God favored Joseph and had a plan that would turn the story on its head. In one delicious stroke of the Ironist’s divine pen Joseph redeemed an entire nation, saved nations beside, and was reunited with his family of origin. 💓Still, while God worked His plan, Joseph worked, waited, had faith, and endured further trials. Assault, betrayal, imprisonment, waiting. All the while, God was waiting, too, for just the right time. 💓 Whatever your story, wherever you are in the unfolding of God’s plan, I believe in the deus ex machina, the theological device of grace, the miraculous turn of events that turns all waiting, all captivity, all illness, into redemption. 💓And so, I wait. And I wait with you in your waiting, and have faith that this is true. #centsofstylewall #blog #blogger #christian #cute #concussion #god #heal #instagram #instagood #instadaily #iphone7plus #lds #mormon #photo #photooftheday #photography #photographer #pink #thinkpink #write #writer #writersofinstagram

A post shared by The Art of Striving| Elizabeth (@artofstriving) on

EP and the amazing technicolor wall! 💓 God gave Joseph a beautiful gift—a glorious coat, tangible proof of how much his father, Jacob, loved him—and the spiritual gift of dreams. That love was true, the dream gift caused contention. 💓With one horrendous collective sibling decision, Joseph was sold into slavery while his brothers lorded over his pretended death at the teeth of a wild beast. What a traumatic transition into adulthood, to be raised among strangers as someone else’s property. 💓But we know God favored Joseph and had a plan that would turn the story on its head. In one delicious stroke of the Ironist’s divine pen Joseph redeemed an entire nation, saved nations beside, and was reunited with his family of origin. 💓Still, while God worked His plan, Joseph worked, waited, had faith, and endured further trials. Assault, betrayal, imprisonment, waiting. All the while, God was waiting, too, for just the right time. 💓 Whatever your story, wherever you are in the unfolding of God’s plan, I believe in the deus ex machina, the theological device of grace, the miraculous turn of events that turns all waiting, all captivity, all illness, into redemption. 💓And so, I wait. And I wait with you in your waiting, and have faith that this is true.

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Who am I?: Coping with Identity Loss after a Brain Injury

With one blow to the head, I lost a part of myself

It was 2 years before I started to feel more like myself. Immediately after I accidentally struck my head into a wall at my office, I knew something was terribly wrong. In my next meeting of the day I could not focus. I couldn’t seem to get information to stick.

🧠 One tricky, subtle, and pervasive aspect of brain injury recovery is dealing with a change of identity. It’s brutal to go from being a functioning adult to being unable to fix your own meals and walk at the pace of a shuffle, to lose the ability to drive or socialize or do any number of other necessary activities whenever you please. 🧠 It’s also awful to lose a job and more importantly required aptitudes + skills that you’ve trained to perform with precision for your entire life. It’s the most horrifying thing I’ve experienced to live as a qualitatively different self, one that couldn’t think the same, who wasn’t the same on the inside—and no one could tell. I looked fine on the outside, so what’s the big deal? 🧠 We’re not our thoughts, but our ways of thinking and processing the world ARE intrinsic to us and define us in ways we’re not fully aware until they’re damaged. 🧠 Even though my self-recognition is improving, I still remember with sorrow how hard it’s been. I still feel confused about what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the changes and come to peace with the fact that they happened and defined my life for so long AND keep working for a full recovery. And I’m trying to allow myself to grieve with each new phase. 🧠🧠🧠🧠🧠I made a video with 5 tips I think you’d find helpful if you’re going through this, too, and I wrote a blog post talking more about identity loss. Both links are in my profile. #blog #blogger #brain #braininjury #braininjuryawareness #concussion #fashion #glasses #heal #healing #instagram #instagood #iphone #iphone7plus #light #photo #photooftheday #photography #photographer #pretty #style #writersofinstagram

A post shared by The Art of Striving| Elizabeth (@artofstriving) on

With one fateful blow, I lost a career and a lifetime of training. My vocabulary was compromised. My memory was shot. My vision was malfunctioning. My head was filled with unrelenting splitting pain. I bumped into things, and drifted over to the right side of the lane whenever I drove. I slept for 3 hours a night, and could not remember my neighbors’ names, much less an entire sentence I had just read.

Needless to say, I couldn’t work as a writer and editor as I had been. I quit my job after a painful two weeks of trying to make it work, which was a disaster for my recovery. I went back to work too soon and did not know the ins and outs of proper rehabilitation like I do now.

Underneath this work crisis was a horrifying devastation of not being myself that the injury caused. Not only had I lost my identity as a crafter of words and reader of books, but I didn’t recognize myself internally. My brain didn’t operate the same. There was a huge block in my mental processes that was just. not. me. My brain couldn’t hold several topics at once and mentally play with them. Whenever I tried to do that my emotional brain would go into overdrive and I would end in a puddle of tears.

I basically had to stop thinking and reading and doing what I normally did. All the mental energy I had went to figuring out what was going on inside my brain and hunting down appropriate treatments.

What do you do when you’re not yourself?

Since that two-year mark, I’ve started to feel more like myself by degrees. But I still struggle with not being the same internally. Getting information through that damaged spot in my brain feels like forcing a stream through a narrow funnel. My brain gets tired after reading for 10 minutes sometimes—especially if it’s something like poetry (my specialty). That’s a huge frustration for someone who got a master’s degree in religion and literature from Yale. Language and reading comprehension was my thing.

I have needed to grieve over this again and again. Recently I went through another wave of sorrow at having lost such a huge part of my identity that I wasn’t sure I would ever get back. It was a death of myself that was not visible and that no one could fully appreciate because I looked fine. Outwardly I sounded like myself. Inwardly, I was a chaotic, confused mess who could not use her intellectual gifts the way she had been trained to use them.

Yet, how could I grieve something that no one around me acknowledged as real or as devastating as it really was?

How to Cope

I’m still learning how to allow myself to feel all the feelings of loss that such a massive change entails. I have seen great improvements, and I have a strong hope that in time I will be able to regain full function of the faculties that were injured. I know that’s a privilege that not everyone with a brain injury has.

I still don’t know the complete answer for how to cope. No doubt it’s different in ever individual circumstance. But I do know there are things to be done. I’ve compiled a few of those ways in this video.

 

I’m here to tell you that your pain is real, and also that it does get better. Just because your brain injury was the end of the world as you know it does not mean it’s the end of the world.  I believe that even if you never fully return to your old self, you can see huge gains and offer many valuable and beautiful contributions to the world.

Follow The Art of Striving on Facebook for more articles and videos about brain injury.

Follow The Art of Striving on Instagram for posts about my personal journey with brain injury.

The Art of Making Mistakes

Before my injury, I loved to create.

You could always find me scribbling away in a notebook, dreaming up a book idea, or doodling on a piece of paper.

After my injury, I barely had enough physical energy to do the everyday tasks of living.

I couldn’t tap into my creativity in the same ways. In fact, when I would sit down to try to color something, I couldn’t even stay in the lines at first! How discouraging.

To conserve my energy and to focus as much as I could on healing, I put aside creative endeavors for quite a while. Photography, blogging occasionally, knitting, and writing about my journey on Instagram were my biggest creative outlets.

Slowly, I’ve continued to heal, and I recently rediscovered drawing. It’s been SO GOOD. What a joy to rediscover a part of me that I thought would be lost forever! I was terrified I would never be able to return to my dearest loves and do them with the same degree of skill as I had once before.

I think part of why it’s taken me so long to bring this old love back into my life has been the perfectionism that surrounds it. Cue the nattering negative thoughts! Oh, I’m not the same as I used to be. I don’t want to mess up. It’s not going to be good enough. Even if those thoughts aren’t conscious, they’re a powerful undercurrent that influences my perceived ability to create.

It was really disturbing to go through such a profound loss of parts of myself that defined me, defined how I show up in the world. Plus I’m a creator, I need to create! For my own mental and emotional well being, I have to be making something, or I’m not really happy.

Managing my energy is tough at every level. Most days I want to do so much more than my body will let me do! But, I’m giving myself more and more permission to be okay with that. To create anyway, even if I don’t think it will turn out great. To create anyway, even if I am too tired. To create anyway, even if it gives me a headache.

I don’t need to be all better to make something. I don’t need to be great or even good at it. I am giving myself permission to make mistakes for possibly the first time in my life. To fail often and fail fast. If I don’t move through the failed attempts, I’ll never get to the successes.

The funny thing is, though, before my brain injury, I was terrified of failure.

I was terrified of not being good enough. I was terrified of my WORK not being good enough. I wanted to be a peak performer in any endeavor I tried. That anxious energy prevented me from creating, which is one of the great sorrows I have looking back. If I had not been wrapped up in so much uncertainty and distress, I could have been creating as much and even more than I wanted to.

This post is hope for the future, that I can continue learning and growing and making with joy! That I can overcome my anxiety around creating. I still panic sometimes when I post something on Instagram or publish a blog post, but I DO IT ANYWAY. When you’re afraid of making something, just make it. You have nothing to lose.

The Art of Striving is about the tricky business of trying to be the best we can be. But it’s also about art, and the joys of making, and I hope that we’ll all be able to continue to make, make, make to our heart’s content. Because, really, there’s nothing to fear!

Be sure to like The Art of Striving on Instagram for more posts about encouraging your creativity and overcoming your fears.

Come Run with Me for Brain Injury, May 19!

3 years ago, I wasn’t sure whether I’d ever return to normal life. Shortly after my brain injury, while I was still wallowing around trying to find proper medical care, one doctor told me not to run for 3 months.

Well, that turned out to be a bit of an understatement. It was 2 years before I could even attempt to run again because my head would hurt too much when I did.

Helllloooooo, migraine that hadn’t ever left in the first place!

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February 23, 2015, two days after my injury. Completely thrashed.

That was back before I understood the importance of blood flow and exercise for healing mild traumatic brain injury.

“One possible contributor to sustained symptoms may be compromised cerebrovascular regulation. In addition to injury-related cerebrovascular dysfunction, it is possible that prolonged rest after mild traumatic brain injury leads to deconditioning that may induce physiologic changes in cerebral blood flow control that contributes to persistent symptoms in some people. There is some evidence that exercise training may reduce symptoms perhaps because it engages an array of cerebrovascular regulatory mechanisms.” Cerebrovascular regulation, exercise, and mild traumatic brain injury

For a long time I struggled mightily to even get out of bed and simply walk around my house. Eventually I graduated to walking around my yard, my neighborhood, and then the gym. I don’t know if I could have gone faster than I did, and I’m certainly glad I wasn’t out trying to pound the pavement to work out. I was literally working with all the energy I had at my disposal and didn’t yet know how to manage it or create more of it. But if I had known how important it was to get up and moving and getting the blood flowing, I think my recovery might have been even faster.

Even today I still don’t run on a track and mostly stick to stationary bikes or walking. One day, I hope to have a much higher level of fitness.

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Knitting while biking at the gym, for extra brain challenge.

Thanks to Dr. Johnson at Amen Clinics, I learned the power of progressive exercise and also how different types of exercise target different parts of the brain. My work at the gym and in yoga class has helped me get even more of my brain back over the past year. Still, I go through periods where I am extremely sedentary, which I know is to my detriment.

That’s why I’ve decided to participate in the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah 5k Run, Walk, Roll. It gives me a fitness goal to work toward, even though I don’t plan to run the whole thing, and a way to support those who are fighting the good fight.

Brain Injury Alliance of Utah is a great local organization that offers services to brain injury survivors for FREE. If you’ve had a brain injury, you know how darn expensive it is to recover properly. If you’ve had a brain injury, you also know how important it is to have a community that knows what you’ve gone through. BIAU knows the power of both.

BIAU runs a free yoga class that they also livestream through Facebook (really important if you can’t leave your house!). Even though I’ve only been to one of their classes, I was impressed. They offer brain-based education before each session, so you can learn more about the brain, and it was great to be among other people going through the same recovery process. Having an understanding of how your brain works has been vital for my recovery. You become your own advocate and your own health-problem solver, looking for new treatments and making sure you’ve looked down every avenue for help.
I wish I’d been able to take advantage of their statewide resource facilitation appointment, where they help survivors and their families get to the proper resources for their recovery. This would have been hugely helpful all along but especially in my early days of recovery since I had no idea where to go to get proper help.

Come celebrate my brain injury recovery and help me pay it forward!

I’m running this race with my family and friends as a celebration of how far I’ve come. I’m hoping to raise awareness of brain injury and support those who are going through the recovery process. I hope I’ll see you there!

Join my team by registering for the event. Add TAOS (which stands for The Art of Striving) as your team and you save 10% on your registration fee of $35.

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More articles on exercise following TBI.

Aerobic Exercise Following TBI (Brainline.org, Internet article)

Research: Aerobic exercise shows promise for treatment of wounded warriors with mild traumatic brain injury (Internet article)

Exercise after Traumatic Brain Injury, from the American Physical Therapy Association, Section on Neurology (PDF)

My brain injury isn’t a joke

Societally, we’ve seen so many “mild” head injuries portrayed as humorous plot points that we’re numb to taking it seriously.

Off the top of your head, I bet you can think of at least one movie or TV show that portrays a head injury. Probably even more.

How about that scene in Parks and Recreation where Andy Dwyer sneezes while hanging his gold record and smacks his head on the wall? Because it’s Chris Pratt, his visit to the doctor is pretty hilarious.

Screenshot from YouTube.

Dr. Harris: So, Andy, tell me what happened.

Andy: I was reading an encyclopedia and I tripped, or “fell over,” and hit my head, or “brain helmet.”

April: Yeah, he sneezed and smacked his head against the wall.

Dr. Harris: That sounds about right. Well, if it’s a concussion, it’s extremely mild, so I wouldn’t worry about it. Anything else?

Because he clearly perceives Andy to be less intelligent than he is (and Andy is meant to be a dumb but lovable character), Dr. Harris doesn’t take what would normally be weird behavior into account. Andy looks right when asked to look left and vice versa, showing a gap in cognitive function.

Andy’s dialogue is meant to be a joke, but it’s clearly a delusional response under normal circumstances. If this were real, and Andy weren’t prone to saying silly, ignorant things while trying to sound smart, April would be concerned, like, “Um, why are you making up some crazy alternative story to what really happened to you? Do you have memory loss?”

Read the rest on Medium (in case you didn’t already know, I’m pretty passionate about this.) 🙂

Do you believe in miracles?

I do.

I keep thinking about them.

I have had so many and hope to have many more.

They’re not as rare as popular culture teaches us to believe.

Miracles are the law in an ordered universe that gently, bravely, strongly makes way for the impossible to happen amid apparent rigidity or chaos.

Keep believing.

Even if the miracle doesn’t come, or the long-awaited miracle ends in disaster, miracles still move in, through, and around all things, animating them and making way for life, hope, resilience, to continue beyond our sight and understanding.

Miracles are the everlasting law.

Miracles are like Annie Dillard’s fire, sparking everywhere.

Miracles are mighty and plentiful, God’s inexhaustible currency.

Miracles are real. They surround us, enfold us, lift us.

Miracles are yours and mine.

They’re everywhere. Are you looking?

 

 

 

 

 

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My third brainiversary + broken prayers

A few days ago it was three years since I injured my brain in a freak accident.

It’s hard to know what to say on this anniversary. Each day since then I’ve lived in the shadow-grief of that two seconds and the massive destruction it caused in my life, to my very self as constructed by a lifetime of brain growth, education, connection-building.

I was feeling a bit more eloquent on Instagram on the actual day that marked three years.

It’s my 3rd brainiversary! This day will always be poignant for me because it’s the day my map to life and myself were unceremoniously shredded. It’s been a steep climb. Until this year, I didn’t recognize my experience of self as *my* whole self. There were many parts that were the same, but my internal way of processing the world was buried in neural chaos. It’s an experience in pain, confusion and despair I still can’t comprehend, and I continue to write to try to understand, even though it affects me every day to a much lesser degree than at first. A couple of weeks ago when I was a puddle of emotional paralysis and ineffectiveness, I cried to my dad, “I’m so tired of breaking down. What’s the problem? There must be something more going on.” My dad said, “What we know is that you had a concussion.” He said that it made him think of the movie Apollo 13 where there’s an explosion and their flight plan is blown to smithereens. Mission control sends up the pragmatic query: What do we have? What’s working? My dad then said we’d keep working with what we have and work toward healing. It was one of those beautiful moments that has crystallized all the struggle into one reality: all is not lost. If you have strong relationships and a wise owl on your shoulder, whoever that may be (even if it’s you! Especially if it’s you), you can do anything. This time next year, I’ll be stronger than I am today. My healing time horizon is infinite, and that’s more than enough time. #anniversary #brainiversay #concussion #heal #healing #inspire #inspiration #instagood #instagram #photo #photography #tbi #youcandoit

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One of the most painful fallouts of the accident was the damage to my short-term memory.

For months it made it difficult to pray. For the first few months, I couldn’t even hold the thought I wanted to pray long enough to get it out. It was a real struggle, and the damage to my perception of my own spirituality was quite devastating. I didn’t feel like I could really rely on God in the time I needed Him most, needed any assurance that all would be well, that God still had a plan for me.

But day after day, I talked myself into it. I exercised every bit of faith I could muster. I kept returning to God and Christ. I prayed in the shower. I clung to whatever shred of hope I could while my life slowly reassembled itself.

I trust that in that time of deepest trial, and even to this day, that God listened to my broken prayers. I had some miraculous answers, and usually on a day after I managed to humble myself to dust and beg for assistance.

I still need that kind of strong prayer. But even though I don’t often get there, God is still listening to me, and maybe one day this will all make sense.

How to Love Your Brain Better with 1 Test

It’s never too late to love your brain!

While you’re snacking on a bit of chocolate from your Valentine, watch this music video by NPR’s science show Skunk Bear. It has me completely cracking up, and I guarantee it will crack you up, too. I’m going to have “Oxytocin is the potion of devotion” stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

On Valentine’s Day we lavish loved ones with presents and thoughtful messages to show them how much we care. We know that those relationships are priceless. The people we love really are irreplaceable.

The same is true of our brains. We only get one, so keeping it healthy is among the most important aspects of our health for our entire life. Many people today, though, still don’t know to take care of their brains until they break down and they start having health problems.

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I am one week from my third Brainiversary.

I experienced this breakdown in vivid and horrific detail when I had a brain injury in 2015. But years of weakness both genetically, environmentally, from lifestyle and previous injury and chronic health conditions had stressed my brain to the max. It could not recover quickly with the additional brain damage from the injury.

The past three years I have dedicated all my energy to rehabilitating my brain health. Health is a continuing concern for all of us, but without a healthy brain, life completely breaks down. It becomes impossible to do even the most simple basic tasks.

Although I have experienced incredible progress, I am nevertheless looking for answers and solutions to getting my brain back in tip-top working order. This week I found a resource that I wanted to share with you. It’s a great guide for anyone who wants to improve her brain health, and it could be especially critical for someone in recovery.

The Cleveland Clinic Brain Health Index will help you score your brain health and identify areas of improvement.

The Cleveland Clinic website called Healthy Brains collects research and shares information about brain health. I participated in the free assessment they offer on the site to grade your brain health in the six areas, or pillars, they are concerned with.

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The assessment took less than 10 minutes. I opted in to offer my information for their research because we still know so little about the brain. If my experience can help someone down the road, I want to share it (and that includes sharing with you on this blog!). By the end of the assessment, I had personalized scores in the 6 areas mentioned above with individual recommendations for how to improve.

My scores. My sleep score was the worst of all!

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Maybe in a future post I’ll go more in-depth into my results and share their recommendations. But I highly recommend doing this assessment. Wherever you are with your brain health, you can always improve and it could save you a lot of brain-ache in the long run. Believe me, I know how overwhelming it is to fix multiple areas at once. But I am committed to trying to do a little better each day. I know you can, too.

Keep striving! Follow my Facebook page for more brain healthy articles and tips!

Football + brain = A good reason not to play

Rise and Shout the Cougars Are Out!

I grew up watching football games with my family. BYU and Utah were the big teams in my house. Cougar Stadium in Provo, Utah, has one of the most beautiful views of any stadium I’ve been to.

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Photo by Kenny Crookston/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2008 All Rights Reserved.

I went to one of the famed Harvard/Yale football games while I was in grad school, but for the most part I slowly stopped watching football after I graduated from college. If a game was playing on TV, I would leave the room.

For me, the most worrisome part of the sport was how violent it was. I really couldn’t stand to watch men crumple on the field after a smashing hit. It felt gladiatorial.

Repeated Hits to the Head Damage the Brain

Well, it turns out my gut reaction wasn’t wrong. Repeated hits to the head are being found to be the cause of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease that’s being discovered in NFL players. You don’t even need to get a full concussion to experience change to your brain structure, and cumulatively subconcussive hits can devastate brain function.

Learning firsthand how miserable a concussion is, turned me into a brain advocate. I want people to protect their brains so they don’t have to experience the misery of losing their short-term memory, balance, word-finding skills, ability to read without resting, pain, or incomprehension, and so much more.

Should I Allow My Kid to Play Football?

With a lot in the news about the brain and football lately, parents are no doubt asking themselves whether their kids should play football or not. That’s going to be an individual decision, of course. However, it’s important to know what football does to the brain to be able to make the best choice for your child. It’s especially important to consider brain development in making sports-related decisions.

Everyone needs to protect his or her brain, and it’s even more crucial to protect kids’ brains because they are still growing and forming the connections that will define the rest of their lives. The Concussion Legacy Foundation recommends delaying, limiting, and modifying contact to delay the inevitable brain damage.

If you need any more convincing, this video gives you more facts about the brain and more from my brain injury story. You only have one brain. Take good care of it and stay safe out there!

 

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