“the human brain works slowly; first the blow, hours afterwards the bruise.”
― Walter de la Mare, The Return
A common question amongst brain injury folk, aside from ‘what happened?’ is ‘what helps with x,y or z?’ so with this in mind I sat down a few days ago and started to write a list of things I’ve used to help me along and boy, what a list it was! I have tried EVERYTHING.
When you are chronically ill believe me you will try anything to feel better. Trying too many things can mean you spread yourself too thinly and nothing seems to work, so everything on this list has been systematically implemented after much research and time. Once you find what works, it’s good to stick at it even through the tougher times.
The list was so huge (and I probably missed some things!) that to write it all in one post would be overwhelming and long (I’m sure in anther 6 months there’ll be more to add). I am instead going to present it as a series of posts, a trilogy if you will.
As I got further along the path there was a reoccurring theme and that was ‘balance’. Everything must come into balance. I found that if I tried to heal one area without the others I was chasing my tail. So I’ve divided into three topics ‘mind’, ‘body’ and ‘spirit’.
When I was released from hospital their main aim was ‘body’. They made sure I was physically fixed and then sent me on my way. This also became my initial focus for a while, sorting out ‘body’ was essential to function. After some time though the need to focus on body wasn’t enough. What was missing? That’s when ‘mind’ came into play. It’s a shame that I wasn’t treated more holistically initially but when you have limited resources and an emergency, it was priority to fix my physical self.
I want to take you on my journey with me over this last two and a half years and hopefully you will find something helpful in it. Thinking about these three posts feels to me like my most honest and raw stuff yet, it’s very personal and takes you down some of my darkest corridors.
Disclaimer: This is MY personal journey, I’m in no way suggesting that what works for me will work for you. My hope is that it will get you thinking about things you may not have considered. Also, this is NOT to replace any medical treatment you are or will be receiving, please continue with any medications and therapies you are currently undertaking. Everything I did was AS WELL AS my neurology, GP and Psychology appointments.
Without further ado let us look at ‘mind’. I hope some of this spurs you on to research potential things for your tool kit. Everything I write here is easily searched on the internet if you need more info.
I started receiving psychology about 9 months post surgery when the dirt really hit the fan. I was lucky enough to access it through the Community Brain Injury Team. I was doubly lucky that my psychologist was an absolute star. It’s obvious to state but being able to go and talk about my darkness and pain helped immeasureably. Whilst it does no good to constantly talk about my darkness and pain, in the early stages I really needed to. My psychologist was able to help me sort through the chaos in my mind and normalise the process I was going through. He knew his onions and he was incredibly smiley and lovely. He helped me implement strategies to manage the pain and never once did I ever feel daft telling him anything. So yes, If you get the opportunity to see a good psychologist please try it, I could read all the books in the world but nothing replaced that one to one attention.
I love reading, I used to devour books like sweets. Post injury I couldnt read for a while, nothing made sense or would stick in my mind. Then there came a point where all I could read was factual books. Books about neurology, psychology, trauma, grief and healing. One of my ways of making sense of this new world was to understand it. I wanted to understand what was happening to me, it made it less inaccessible and scary. I could probably complete a PhD in brain injury if there was such a thing! I was hungry to make sense of what I was experiencing. If you are struggling with reading it may help if a willing friend or family member did a bit of research on your behalf and gave you a bit of info. A time came for the reading to stop, I still dip into the factual stuff now and again but too much of it can also spin you in circles. I HIGHLY recommend Brainlash by Gail Denton, a must for the survivor and their family to grasp what is happening.
Writing this blog has given me a release beyond imagining. I also have piles of notebooks from my recovery where I would just spill everything onto paper. This is highly theraputic for me. IT JUST WORKS.
Lifeline are the Northern Irish version of The Samaritans. You can telephone when you need to talk. I used them a few times especially in the early stages of recovery. They were great and talked me off the ledge as it were a few times. When the chaos in my mind became too much just spilling it in a snotty mess to a stranger was very stress relieving. I have the number for Lifeline in my ‘Links’ section on the site.
Emotional Freedom Technique or ‘tapping’ as it’s known. This is where you tap through certain points on your body firstly with the troubling belief, then you change it into a more positive statement and tap again. I can’t really describe the science behind it but apparently there is some and it seems to work. There is a great YouTube channel by a guy called Brad Yates who uploads lots of EFT videos.
Initially I began meditating to purely soothe the mind, it later became something deeper but at first I wanted to calm my chattering mind and find a haven of peace. Meditation can take various forms, it’s not just sitting cross legged on a cushion. I meditate sometimes lying in bed in the morning but I also colour in. I purchased a Mindfulness colouring book that has Mandalas in it for you to colour, the idea is to get absorbed in task and not in what my little voice is yakking about. I also build 3D jigsaws or sit outdoors and listen to the birds. Meditation is not about silencing the mind but just letting things float on through, non attachment to thought is a great skill and one I still practice everyday.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. This is basically a relaxation tool for me. A good way to describe it is ‘sounds that feel good’. Apparently some people experience ASMR and some people just don’t. This is probably verging on pseudoscience but whatever, I find it incredibly relaxing. There is a plethora of ASMR channels on youtube, some are truly dreadful but others are great. It’s basically sounds like tapping, scratching, brushing, whispering or watching soothing repetitive actions like folding or stroking that intiaites a response in your brain that can make you ‘tingle’. I don’t tingle I just sit and my mind goes and sits on a comfy duvet for a while. There are ASMR artists (for that is what they like to be called) that do role plays that incorporate these sounds and movements, I don’t like the roleplays they’re too fussy and long winded. I prefer to get straight in no kissing. So MassageAsmr with his tapping and scratching videos are great for me. ASMR looks a bit mad to people who don’t get it, it is I suppose but it’s saved my sanity many a time.
My next post will be ‘body’. In the meantime please let me know if you find anything here that’s been useful or if there’s something you use that I’ve not mentioned.