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The Healing Journey. Part Two – Body

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. Please consult a doctor before starting any exercise programme.

Sorry this post has been a bit delayed but due to appointments and the glorious sunshine we’ve had recently, I was making the most of it by watching the birds in the garden and bothering the bulls in the field across the road.

The body, we all have one that functions with varying degrees of success, mine used to be lean and mean thanks to roller derby and running but when my accident happened I went from enjoying regular exercise to being what I called ‘The Slug’. I had no energy to sit upright on the sofa never mind moving with any sort of speed or agility. There was also the brain injury staple of apathy. Apathy is annoying, no other way around it. It gives you lots of ideas of things to do but then tells you that you don’t want to do any of them. I still have apathy to varying degrees and my activity levels are ‘now ‘my get up and gone’.

Body has been the simplest but hardest (in some ways) part of recovery. I’ve known exactly what I needed to do but it just wouldn’t happen. This is partly due to fear. My trauma makes me believe MOVEMENT IS BAD, I was exercising when it happened so any activity beyond a shuffle became a DANGER ZONE. That voice has been very powerful and hasn’t completely gone yet.

Here’s my list of helpful Body stuff I do/tolerate to keep on moving forwards. Again, like Mind I threw lots at myself and kept what stuck.

1) Running

I used to run up hills for fun, I actually enjoyed running and doing it off road meant I mingled in the beautiful scenery whilst getting fit. Now I wouldn’t even attempt a hill but I do occasionally drag myself out down the lane near the house and run past the sheep. When I first attempted running again post injury it was hilarious, I ran like I was made of wood, arms pinned to my sides, shoulders up to my ears and my head rigid. I was afraid that moving my head whilst running would cause another bleed. I did about half a mile stiff as a board and fretted the whole next day that the aching I was experiencing meant that I’d broken something. BUT, I DID it!

I don’t run half as often as I’d like, it still takes some build up to do it but the notion is pretty much always there in my head and when I do manage it, it feels great.

2) Movement
Well duh yeah! Movement, we all move every day but I’m talking more about purposeful movement. For a long time I didn’t move, I couldn’t move, I was terrified. I was permanently hunched and squished up. As I got better I began to get braver and actually went for a walk round the block, jogged up the stairs, moved my head. I read a lot of books on trauma that all mentioned how it gets trapped in the body (particularly the pelvic region), movement helps to push it through and out. So when the fancy takes me I have a little dance in the house or do some crazy hip rolls and thrusts, it’s not pretty, it looks funny but it does the job. I even purposely spread my arms out and stretch them as far as I can to give myself permission to take up more space. Trauma makes you physically and mentally curl up into a ball, taking up space shows my body it’s safe to be bigger and present in the world.

3) Mindful walking
I wrote a whole blog post on this subject here but this is just delightful. Walking in nature in silence and really being in the Now is comforting, joyful and reconnects you. You spend a lot of time in space after trauma, walking through woods and fields and meadows is an umbilical cord back to the earth. Try it, you’ll love it.

4) Massage
Self explanatory, a good massage loosens tension and trauma in the muscles and again it’s another great connector. It makes you aware of your body as a solid, physical object instead of the disconnect you have felt. This reminds me of an exercise I found in a book (Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine) that I still do on occasions when I’m starting to float away again. He said that when you have a shower touch each body part in turn and say for example “This is my head, hello head, I can feel you” etc. it sounds daft but after having no connection to yourself it’s a great way of feeling present and reminding your brain that you have a solid body.

5) Ear plugs and sunglasses
This is another thing that people don’t get told. After brain injury your senses can go crazy, the common ones seem to be eyes and ears. It’s like you get super powered hearing and vision. My hearing is so sensitive now, I can hear EVERYTHING, it’s not that great because it tires me out and can hurt when it becomes too much. Always carry sunglasses and earplugs. They are great for helping to prevent overwhelm when everything gets too loud or bright.

6) Napping
All hail the nap! Napping is a great weapon, don’t ever think because you’re an adult you shouldn’t nap. Nonsense. As long as your naps don’t interfere with your main sleep do them when you need to (as soon as you start finding it difficult to sleep at night, stop the naps for a while, unless you have chronic insomnia and need a bit of a catch up). Try not to nap after 3pm and try to restrict it to no more than half an hour. They are great for topping up your battery and can really help with fatigue, mood, energy and general coping skills. Sleep can be an elusive beast after brain injury (too much, too little and still being tired when you wake) so use the nap to help you. I napped LOADS post surgery and still have them now when I start to feel the drag in my energy. It takes a while to understand your energy use so trial and error with this and you’ll eventually get there.

7) Pilates
This is a recent thing for me, I go to a local PIlates class. It’s a small group in a small hall. Perfect for socially anxious me. When I first went I thought “an exercise class where I can lie down with my eyes shut listening to relaxing music, JACKPOT!” Do not be fooled, Pilates works you hard. It’s helping to unwind and wake up my muscles again after so long in hibernation. The two days after my first class felt like I’d been sat on by an elephant but I went back and there’s real value in my body and me getting to know each other again.

The next post is the last in the Trilogy and will cover Spirit.