7

You just kinda wasted my precious time

If you look at my home page under the ‘social’ heading there’s one lonely YouTube button. There used to be one for Twitter and up until yesterday one for Facebook. I’m leaving Facebook you see, we’re getting divorced. A decision that has been a long time coming but the time is finally right.

I went on holiday about two weeks ago, a short holiday of 3 nights away on the edge of the world in Donegal. Whilst we were there we had no internet access and it was WONDERFUL. I actually read books and went outside. I was measurably happier. For a long time after my TBI the internet and more specifically Facebook became an avoidance tactic for me. When I was too knackered and frightened to do anything I would endlessly swirl around in a circle on social media, logging in and out just to pass time. I knew that this habit was not healthy. Mentally healthy.  Don’t get me wrong, at times it served a purpose, I had my wonderful Uk and Ireland support group to keep me occupied and at times prop me up when I was descending into PTSD misery. That group is also continuing to do great things for people with brain injuries and will no doubt continue when I’m gone. It was hard to tell them I was leaving but all things must evolve, including me.

There became a point where Facebook was like sitting in a café, one I was familiar with but for some reason I visited it everyday even when I didn’t need to. Other people I knew were in the café, people I liked. For some reason though, they just sat there and randomly shouted things that were odd, things they wouldn’t usually say but in Facebook cafe things JUST HAD TO BE SAID. That’s my first issue with it, the need to speak, to say things, to write commentary on every little thing, anything, as long as it’s written down and responded to. I found myself thinking this is not how I converse with people I like. The weirdest thing though was the strangers, the strangers sat at other tables who interrupted my world with racist or sexist comments, jokes that weren’t funny, chicken littles who every day said the sky was falling in, advertisements of pages I had no interest in, angry (mostly) men who didn’t really know what they were saying but JUST HAD to rant. I spent a lot of time moving tables in the cafe, away from the ones I didn’t know, a lot of time putting in ear plugs and shutting my eyes but you know what? like a babies nappy full of poo, they just kept seeping through.

After those three days of Facebook peace  in Donegal, I asked myself just what on Earth I thought I was doing. There’s no way in real life I’d tolerate this amount of nonsense for so long. But Facebook is very clever, it convinces you that you NEED it. Other people drugged by it try to convince you that you NEED it. I convinced myself for a long time that I NEEDED it, ” it’s a useful networking tool blah blah blah” “how will I ever meet people otherwise blah blah blah” But here’s the funny thing, there was a world pre Facebook where I still managed to talk to people.

So this will be the last post of mine that you will see me pushing on Facebook. Some would argue I’m shooting myself in the foot by removing an audience and ready avenue of advertising for my blog. Here’s the crux of the issue, I simply don’t care. I don’t care about Facebook and I don’t care about being a mega successful blogger. As long as what I do helps people when it’s needed then it’s all good.

I’m free now and it feels FANTASTIC.

4

When things go right

Hello all,

It’s hard sometimes after a brain injury to remember there is good in the world. It’s hard to believe that things will ever come good and that you will achieve wonderful, joyful, amazing things.

I’m here to tell you that you will. At first, it’s small tiny innocuous stuff like vacuuming the living room or putting the kettle on that then progresses to stuff that you never thought you’d be able to do ever again.

One such incident occurred with me recently, as you may know I’ve been studying Horticulture. A two year course that I’m currently almost halfway through. There are eight exams to sit with this course, two of which I did in February. Pre brain injury I had a photographic memory, I could read something once or twice and it stuck. Now I have to go over and over and over something before it begins to make any sort of sense to me. When exam time loomed I panicked, there was absolutely NO WAY I was going to remember all this sciencey stuff, all these strange names and new concepts.

So I did what I have to do with everything – I adapted. I started revision weeks ahead of what I would have usually done, made extensive notes and read them again and again and again. I’m so effing chuffed to tell you I got my results back this week; two clear passes with one commendation!

I doubted myself and my brain because I’d become ‘victim’ to my brain injury, I was in a place where nothing goes right and my brain is an organ that just lets me down. Well TAKE THAT LITTLE VOICE, my brain did good, REALLY good. I’m proud of myself for forging forwards even when everything felt stagnant and lost.

If I can do it, you can, I promise, it takes time and patience but I’m here cheering you on. Let’s celebrate small victories. What have you conquered recently?

2

Braingirl bonus. Video catch up. “I just want to grow plants and sing songs”

Hey there,

It’s me, I’m back. A load of old waffle (approx 15 mins) about what’s been occurring for braingirl. I talk about exams, fatigue and simplifying life amongst other things.

The usual surreal touch of going out of synch has not been rectified as per. But who worries about that sort of thing?

Enjoy!

0

Solstice and the festive season

Hello there,

I hope this post finds you all well and making little steps forward. Today I took a camera out on a Solstice walk with me so I could share it with you but I deleted the files by accident (yay brain!) so plan B was to film in the garden to at least get something done.

I wanted to write something short today about the festive season and the pressure it exerts on us all and how that is so overwhelming for someone with a brain injury. This time of year is hard for many people for a myriad of reasons, it can be a lonely time and also a reminder of things we have lost too. It can be hard financially as well as emotionally.

With a brain injury it becomes a time of extreme overwhelm physically, emotionally and sensory and all these things together add up to relapse and many days in bed. Whilst many of us would like to join in more with family gatherings its just not possible to maintain the level of energy needed. So if your loved one has a brain injury don’t feel they’re being awkward if they leave early or don’t make it at all, they’re simply unable to cope that day.

As for you my brain injured brethren, remove guilt from your vocabulary, DO NOT feel guilty if you’re unable to last more than a few hours or if all the people talking causes you to feel irritable and you need to escape. BE SELF-FUL. Do what you need to get through safely and calmly.

My number one tip is to do your own thing. This is what myself and Mr Braingirl do, Christmas is not a time we celebrate, we get ours in a few days early on the Winter Solstice and celebrate Yule with a nice walk, nice food and a fire. We’ve done this for a few years now and I’ve survived the festive season feeling peaceful and refreshed. There is absolutely no obligation to do anything that you don’t want to. NO regrets, NO apologies. People who love you will understand and not pressurise you into doing something you don’t want to do. If someone does try to pressurise you then be brave and give them a great big NO. Remember you live your life for you, nobody else.

If you do the big family thing, remember small chunks, lots of quiet rest breaks in another room, ear plugs for the noise, lots of hydration (I mean water not the Xmas booze!) and get yourself home and in your pyjamas when you’ve had enough.

Here’s a small part of my day today I want to share with you. I’m always available to contact if things get tough.

 

Have a Merry Solstice everyone, welcome back the Sun and let your light shine brightly.

 

4

Braingirl Bonus #2 Woman in a shed

Hello there, I hope this finds you well.

Today’s post is a short video (approx 3 mins) of my allotment. I’ve had it for a year now so there’s been one growing season so far and it was pretty successful despite the best efforts of the Northern Irish weather!

I got myself a shed and this is something that has excited me beyond measure (it’s the simple things these days). This was my third attempt to acquire one after being let down twice already (like gold dust I tell you!). I found a shed builder tucked away on a farm amongst the ribbons of country roads round here. It was also home to the waggliest dog I’ve ever met. He was a man of few words but he turned up when he said he would and built me my little hideaway on the allotment.

14717203_10155112924892119_392419136129088276_n

So bearing in mind it was a very windy and cold day I whipped a camera around the plot (no quality control mind you!) to show you a snapshot of where I spend my healing time. Getting into growing veg and flowers has been an absolute lifeline for me. It keeps me mindful, I get immense pleasure from it and its very satisfying to plant a tiny seed that then becomes a huge plant with tasty things to eat. It’s most definitely magic.

I recommend getting into the soil to get some therapy,   I enjoy it so much it sent me in a new direction and I’m now studying Horticulture at college (which is soooo hard) to use gardening as a therapeutic tool for others.

Do you find gardening helpful? Let me know below.

Anyway without further ado, here’s a short video for you.

 

2

Braingirl Bonus #1

A quick video talking about where I’m at right now. I got all my settings sorted but forgot about the volume so you may need to turn it up a bit, I’ll get it right one day!

Anyway, please comment if you like and let me know the direction you’d like me to take (if you tell me to stop and go away, I wont be offended!).

17

But now you’re here, brighten my Northern sky

I wanted to wait a few days to write this but got too excited so I’m just diving in and getting it done. A few days ago (29th July to be precise) myself and Mr braingirl went and did this.

image

We had kept this fairly quiet, planned it over the past few months and then on a glorious sunny day in the north of Ireland we had a beautiful handfasting ceremony. The numbers were kept small (close family only) with a few wonderful generous friends, whom I wish to thank through this post, who contributed to make the day special by playing music, taking photos and conducting the ceremony. The whole day was held in our beautiful garden courtesy of our landlady and we had a scrummy all vegan buffet by Sarah’s world fare .

But, I hear you cry, what does this have to do with brain injury? Well, everything and nothing. Those of you familiar with my story so far will know myself and Mr braingirl met a mere month before my injury you will also know how he has tirelessly cared for me for years. It is also known that my fatigue restricts many things in my life including big stressful events like …well….weddings. On the morning, I had a few moments of feeling like I couldn’t do it but I told my brain to get itself together because THIS IS ON. But this is also absolutely nothing to do with my injury, it’s a day separate from that thing that happened, it’s a day we used to reclaim ourselves back as a couple without the third wheel in the relationship having anything to do with it. Let me tell you it was a day full of joy, love, beauty, nature and friendship.

It was a time when both our families could get together for the first time that didn’t involve intensive care and hospitals. A time for me to reconnect with my niece and nephew who are wild wolves in the best way that children are supposed to be, full of fun and wonder. I sit here now full of happy tears because my family have gone home across the sea and I got a glimpse, a reminder of just how good life is. I sat for a few times at the wedding and looked around and thought to myself ‘THIS is what life is about’.

I want to share a few things about the day with you, firstly we did it without spending massive amounts of money. No wedding needs to cost thousands of pounds. It’s about the meaning of it and the heart present within it. It was handmade, rustic and simple, no fussy dress code, no formal speeches, no present list, no long drawn out hymns and the only rule was to relax and have fun. My mum in law stitched reams of bunting and made our cake, I made table decorations from bundles of twigs from the garden, confetti from dried rose petals and lavender, tree decorations for pence and a bouquet from garden trimmings put together on the morning.

I sneaked in a secret speech that I’d written that made my mum cry snort as it was a thanks to Mr braingirl for the nearly 4 years of care and safety and support. It was my time to try to give back to him a little something for diverting all the attention for all this time.

All in all it was a magical day (and I use that word as it’s literally intended, I had goddess blessings from a witchy friend, hidden and not so hidden about my person). A day I wish I could do all over again, there was something very special in the air two days ago and thanks to Shirley our pagan celebrant we spread it around to all our guests like magical beautiful confetti.

image

Just before it started, what a beautiful setting. (Photo by my sister).

 

 

0

Video: A prelude to Grief

I was going to do a video on grief but then something popped through the mail that was much more exciting!

The Grief Diaries project I’m involved in has come into fruition and I’m now published in a book. An actual book! This video explains all.

P.S. yes that is Bob Ross on my top.

Links:

The Grief Diaries: Facebook page

Grief Diaries: Loss of Health (UK link): Buy here

Grief Diaries: Loss of Health (US link): Buy here

 

4

Shakes me, makes me lighter

It’s just past Midsummer now. The longest day has been and gone and there was lots of reflection on what has gone and what to bring forth into the remainder of the year. I approached this Solstice with a bit of a spring in my step, I was moving more freely through the sludge and I attribute some of this to something I did for myself earlier in June.

Whilst researching trauma some time ago I came accross a PDF of a booklet called ‘Sky before the storm’ it was an easy to read piece of writing about the effects of trauma and how to navigate it. After I read it I noticed it was published by a charity that existed in Northern Ireland called The Wider Circle and that they specialised in helping to heal trauma. On further investigation I found out that they run a weekend retreat that you can attend and try to start assimilating your trauma story into your life. The retreat is free to attend and includes food and a room for the weekend.

I tentatively telephoned the number to request an application for a place on a retreat that was coming up in Ballycastle in June. I ended up crying at the  very nice lady on the other end of the line and kind of realised that yes maybe I REALLY need to try this.

Forms were sent out, filled in and returned and after some time I found that I had secured a place on the retreat. Now this is where the doubts and fears started to rush in. ‘Do I really want to do this?’ What if I can’t handle it?’ ‘Am I too ill for this right now?’ This was something I had to do alone (no safety person allowed!), something that was going to stretch me. But hey, maybe I needed a little stretching!

As time drew closer I was sent a pack with directions, housekeeping type stuff and the itinerary for the weekend, THE ITINERARY FOR THE WEEKEND! This is where my brain, to put it bluntly, crapped itself. The days were long and went beyond my normal bedtime, the time I jealously guarded because it kept me safe from, heaven forbid, feeling tired and being scared about feeling tired. I was starting to doubt the whole endeavour and told myself off for having grandiose ideas about healing.

image

 

As I know by now though, healing is tough work. It’s messy, it’s hard, it’s scary and for it to work I have to push myself. So the day arrived and I set off up to the North coast in my trusty car and decided to just go with it.

I won’t go into too much detail about the nuts and bolts of the weekend as it is not my place to discuss the method used by The Wider Circle, I don’t want to send anyone off half cocked into trying it themselves and getting all tangled up. I also will make no mention of any other participants, this is highly private and confidential stuff. Suffice to say though, it seemed to…. well it kind of…. it worked.

There was a brief meltdown on the Saturday due to only getting two hours sleep the previous night and it making the day seem like an extremely long road to go down. This my friends though was where the biggest learning  occurred. I attended every last minute of the sessions, even the ones that went past my bedtime, even the ones where I was bog-eyed with fatigue and guess what? I DIDN’T DROP DEAD! There was a time I wanted to run away, the Lauren from eight months ago may have done just that. But I stayed, I tested my very limits and realised that my limits went far above and beyond where I had set them nice and low, in my safe place.

It helped that the setting was beyond glorious. We were right on the coast overlooking Rathlin Island.

image

 

Everytime I got nervous, I looked out at that view, took a deep breath and realised that I’m a speck in amongst the vastness and beauty of all that is out there. This made my heart fill with joy to think that my trauma isn’t even remotely the biggest thing in existence. Perspective that I am only just coming to realise and accept.

I came away from this retreat lighter. Something had lifted. It was a simple process but highly effective. I had some integrating of healing to do when I got home but even now three weeks later I’m somehow less consumed by my trauma, I don’t think about it as much, I have a renewed enthusiasm for life and the drops, when they come, which they do, are easier to scale out of. I’m not saying this is an instant cure, do this and you’ll be healed forever. We all know by now recovery doesn’t work that way. I am however uplifted, hopeful, excited and most importantly more at peace. Also ‘tired’ is much less of a threat than it used to be, I think tired has been the place where I needed to stretch and learn.

The Wider Circle are a registered Charity and rely on donations to provide the wonderful work they do. Please take a look at their website here and donate or buy publications if you so require. Also if you are in need of some trauma healing in Northern Ireland please be brave and get in touch with them.

1

The Healing Journey. Part three – Spirit

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. If you are going to spend your hard saved money on a treatment please ensure it is something long lasting that you can integrate, anything that claims to be an instant cure may not be all it seems.

“Religion is for those who don’t want to go to hell, and spirituality is for those who have already been there.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

I was searching on the net to find an appropriate segue into this post and I happened upon the above quote, it made me laugh so I thought I’d use it. It’s kind of correct, it’s only after going through rough times that you seem to start to grow. (Re)Birth is hard and painful but like the caterpillar working hard to push out of the cocoon, the butterfly that emerges with its colour and freedom is worth it.

This is perhaps the most challenging of the trilogy of posts I’ve had to write, the reason being is that this is the VERY personal private things I have tried. I struggled a little with the idea of sharing it initially for reasons I will explain. Firstly, this is the really profound inner exploring I have done and still do on myself to make changes, it has challenged me on many levels. Secondly, it’s not scientific and if you present anything ‘non scientific’ a lot of people balk at the idea and write you off as having no idea about anything and that you’re probably a bit daft. This is the part of healing me and my friend Diana refer to as the “woo woo” stuff. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it I say!

So let me say I’m presenting this as it is to me. I can’t verify things with percentages and numbers but I can say hand on heart that everything here WORKED for me and to be perfectly honest, that’s more than good enough for me. I am a level headed person with a lot of curiosity about the world, I don’t take things at face value and I’m certainly aware of the arguments for and against alternative therapies/healing/woolly thinking/whatever. The healing that has happened, well it could be placebo, which a lot of people will think, but on a fundamental, soul deep level I have changed because of what has happened and because these following treatments and self healing have enabled me to expand around my trauma. Again, none of these are quick fixes, they take practice and time and in that way they are just as valid as anything else I’ve done. There’s no miracle cure on offer here.

I see spirituality not as religious dogma but a practice, a way of being with yourself and the world. I’ve been opened up to the authenticity and power of self and for that you don’t need no deity!

A single trauma doesn’t exist in isolation, my brain injury unsettled the dust that had lain dormant over all the other traumas in my life so there is a lot to work through. Bear this is mind when reading as it’s very multi layered and deep the way all this works.

My inner voice is telling me that ‘who cares what anyone else thinks, just get on with it!’ Ha! So I’m going to do just that.

1) Candle time

This one doesn’t require a massive leap into the twilight zone. It’s a very simple practice that was suggested to me by my Counsellor many moons ago. It came into usage when my grief was overwhelming, when I was crying constantly and didn’t want to go on. The idea was to set aside some time each day to sit by myself with the curtains closed and light a candle. What I did then was focus on the candle and tell it all my worries. I poured out my sadness, my frustration, my loneliness and my fear and I cried and cried and cried. Once I’d purged, I thanked myself and the flame and then blew it out. I did this everyday, sometimes it lasted 10 minutes sometimes an hour. Every day I worked through the sludge, it was tiring but it helped.

Once I’d become less raw, candle time then morphed into ‘worry time’, the same thing but it was my window in the day where I allowed myself to fret and worry at a specific time each day. Once it was over no more worry was allowed that day. It compartmentalised my anxious thinking into a time slot and allowed me to see that really that’s all it was, just thinking, nothing serious.

Candle time still gets used by me but not as often as it used to but it is incredibly soothing and cathartic. Never feel ashamed or apologise for the emotions experienced during candle time they are all there for a reason and to feel them instead of suppressing is very healthy.

2) Soul retrieval

This was to be honest, one of the most beautiful things I have experienced since my injury and it came about totally by chance. I was surfing the net, filling the void like I always did and I came across articles on Shamanism. I find anything like this interesting so I carried on reading and found out about something called soul retrieval.

In a nutshell, the Shamans believe that every time we experience trauma a part of our soul ‘breaks’ off and gets lost. Shamanic retrieval is there to help you find it again. It really appealed to the side of me that loves all that kind of stuff so I thought ‘heck, why not? Even if it doesn’t do anything I’ll be no worse off, I’m already lying in bed all the time’. So purely by gut I found a Yorkshire lady who did this kind of thing long distance (a lot of all these spiritual adventures were done by ‘gut’ instinct, don’t ever write it off let me tell you!). We spoke on the phone, she went and did her thing then called me back and told me what she found. I don’t want to go into too much detail here as its private but she was totally spot on about my inner self, the bit I don’t show people and returned a bit of myself to me. Soul retrieval is full of beautiful symbolism and story and quite frankly, blew my tiny mind. I felt immeasurably better after the treatment and it maintained, it’s not something that peaked then disappeared. It was a catalyst for the improvements that followed.

3) Divine consciousness Activation

I don’t even know where to begin explaining this so I’ll just say it’s about pushing aside ego and connecting to higher self. It’s like Mindfulness and The Power of Now but with a WiFi connection!

It’s about looking at your self talk and the language you use. We label emotions as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ and this can add to the shame and guilt and suffering we attach to them. Sadness isn’t bad, it’s just sadness, happiness isn’t good, it’s just happiness.
When you begin to get this concept it’s easier to allow them all. It’s about feeling feelings, it’s about letting go, it’s about getting on with regardless of ‘feeling’, it’s about being happy with ‘now’ and not some future event. It’s just about being.

Argh! I’m not explaining this very well but speak to Rebecca on her website she’ll set you right. She always says to me “you don’t need fixing, you are not broken” and I’m starting to believe her!

This is so intrinsic to my life now that I can’t imagine a time when it wasn’t around. It doesn’t claim to stop challenging things happening to you, what it does do is change the way you attach to it so you no longer suffer. Again, I have to challenge myself with this as I can slip back into my ‘humanness’, my desire to ‘fix’ with logic and rumination. I am not joking when I say this changed my life because it changed the way I think.

4) Paganism/Nature

My friend Diana and I who I talk to a lot about Brain injury and its subsequent joy have both admitted to a feeling since our injuries of being ‘switched on’. It’s a strange, vague feeling that is, on researching, fairly common amongst brain injury survivors. It’s like your router gets a knock and the download speed is superior (to continue the WiFi metaphor). I’ve always been a nature lover but something unwound in me and I began to feel more rooted into the earth. I was picking up feelings, emotions from others and from rooms in buildings and plants and animals. Haha I KNOW this sounds bonkers, I really do, but it’s what happened.

I began to read more into paganism (again it’s not really a religion for me but a practice). As a result I’m more in tune with the wheel of the year, the moon phases and the passing of seasons and it’s a wonderful thing. It’s an activity that gives me focus and makes me feel complete. I’m not really sure I self define as Pagan but it’s the closest thing to tree hugger/yogurt weaver/hippy/witch/wise woman/folk magician I can find. Seriously though getting out into nature is one of my greatest pleasures, it’s soothing and healing and really brings you into the moment.

5) Music

I wrote about music here. Music is a healing source. It can enable the release of an emotion that may be a bit stuck. It can carry you away somewhere lovely and it apparently works on parts of the brain that need a boost (highly scientific lingo for you there).

6) Reading soul books

There’s a lot of books out there that are labelled ‘self help’ and some of them are dreadful, if you sift through the dirt though you find some diamonds. I tend to focus on ones that are about the power of the self and how you are capable and in charge of your own healing. I’ve realised, albeit painfully, that if I want to heal then it’s up to me. I can get help and support but ultimately I have to follow through with it. This is not a lesson everyone can hear and if it doesn’t work for you right now, fair enough. I didn’t want to hear it for a long time. Soulshaping by Jeff Brown, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Dark nights of the soul by Thomas Moore should get you started.

 

7) Groovy Bruce/ animals

As with nature, I find animals very healing. They are very present and spending time with them makes you very present too. I haven’t mentioned him on the blog yet but our lovely Groovy Bruce the bunny taught me a lot about myself. The way he interacts with us humans especially when we first got him was very parallel to my own experience with anxiety and the world. He was very shy at first and we had to be patient and slowly build trust. He was a metaphor in furry form about how I was experiencing things at that point. He was initially got as a therapy pet, something I HAD to get out of bed for, to look after this wee delicate creature. He now continues to be a source of joy and connection to the present moment

image

 

8) Sound therapy

Finally and this is a relatively new one for me. Sound therapy. Just as music helps you connect as mentioned above, then Sound Therapy I suppose works on that same basic principle. Issues and trauma vibrate at a frequency that can be rooted out by sound. I went into this treatment with no expectations and what happened was very powerful.

After one treatment with Penny, which involved lying down and relaxing whilst she played sounds from different instruments around me. I released a huge build up of trauma (there is a theory I’ve mentioned in a previous post that trauma gets trapped in the body). It was quite overwhelming and I will admit, a little scary. There was a little healing crisis I worked through afterwards (this is a good thing, it’s a clearing out of stuff) but the next day I was on top of the world. Energised, joyful and content. I need to book another session with Penny but because it’s tiring I have to time it with an upswing in my fatigue levels or to make sure I do it at a time when I can afford the time and space off afterwards to integrate the healing.

You can find out more and book with Penny here shanokee.music@gmail.com she’s based in Belfast and wonderful.

That’s it! I’m done! Business as usual again from now on, I’m hoping to start getting the old Paint out and doing more illustrations. I sincerely hope this trilogy of posts has helped you in some way even if it’s just to set you off investigating something. I feel I must reiterate, I am not telling you what to do with any of this, I’m letting you know what worked for me, that there’s a myriad of things out there you may not have considered. If you think it’s baloney I really don’t mind!