7

I’m sure it could be safer to stay at home

It was a catch-22: If you didn’t put the trauma behind you, you couldn’t move on. But if you did put the trauma behind you, you willingly gave up your claim to the person you were before it happened.”
― Jodi Picoult

Two days ago on January 24th I put on some roller skates and skated in circles for about an hour. ‘Big deal, so what’ I hear some of you say. Yes, on paper it’s not a huge thing, it’s not even really a slightly large thing. I realise how insignificant it sounds to my own ears but in the timeline of my trauma and brain injury it’s MASSIVE!

It’s as massive as 4 weeks ago when I pushed the vacuum cleaner around the living room and cried because it’s the first time I’d done it since injury, it’s as huge as when I put the kettle on and made a cup of tea without having a panic attack. This is the reality of trauma, this is my reality. This is how much brain injury set me back, I was on factory reset. I can write it over and over and still never adequately express how the minutiae of life became massive and scary and hills to be climbed. I’m aware of people ‘worse off’ than me, I know this, it doesn’t help being told there are people ‘worse off’ than me because trauma is personal, my pain is mine and my mountains are only mountains to me. It’s the same for each individual, our experiences and struggles are very unique but they are massive and scary and exhilarating.

Strapping on roller skates and moving in circles on wheels was my particular Everest, those skates were blamed for my injury, they were the cause of my pain, my standing still, my loss. Something I loved became the thing that hurt me deeply and permanently. So yes you tutters and eye rollers putting those things back on my feet was kind of a BIG DEAL.

I’d planned the outing before the festive period, there were only a few people in the know in case I backed out, a date was set and with the help of Mr Braingirl and a lovely friend D from Belfast Roller Derby it became my goal for January. In the run up to it I’d had a birthday and another lovely relapse with through the roof anxiety and sadness, it was looking like I wouldn’t make it out the door. On the morning of the skate I was shaking like a leaf, my reptilian part of the brain was doing its best to keep me ‘safe’ at home. It ran through my body from head to toe scanning for any aches and pains it could find and warning me that they all meant certain doom. This time though I observed the thoughts and thanked it and told it not to be so suffocating and that I was perfectly safe.

We arrived at the rink (that was freezing cold!), I took a deep breath, got ready and went for it.

Me on skates!

Me on skates!

I’m glad I did it, it felt great to banish that particular demon and add another penny in the ‘it didn’t kill me’ pot. I couldn’t do it for very long because I got too tired and I ached the next day but it’s crossed off the list and has given me a boost to see what I can tackle next.

8

I will write my words on the face of today

I’m 2 today, now to look at me you may think I’ve had a hard life if I look like this at 2! Well, I’m celebrating (if that’s even the right word?) the 2 year anniversary of my brain injury today and I want to dedicate this one to you, yes you.

This is the face of a survivor

This is the face of a fighter

This is the face of pain and sorrow

This is the face of joy

This is the face of loving and being loved unconditionally

This is a face that has felt hopeless and lost and alone

This is the face that has seen and camped in rock bottom canyon

This is the face of giving up and starting again

This is the face of a newborn

This is the face of a traveller

This is the face of a learner and a teacher

This is the face of feeling broken beyond repair

This is the face of strength and courage

This is the face of grief

This is the face of immeasurable fatigue

This is also YOUR face

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To all you survivors, adapters and travellers out there. People who have journeyed through brain injury or loss or mental illness or anything that required you got up and fought. I have cried with you, grieved with you, laughed with you, fallen with you, given up with you, stood, sat and lay down with you, picked myself up with you and got through each day with you.

I AM YOU. YOU ARE ME.

And most importantly I completely and utterly salute you my friends, you’ve totally got this I promise.

1

I’ll ride the wave where it takes me

 

“Deep connection is the antidote to madness” – Stefan Molyneux

I’m sat here in bed on a rainy August day and I have had a few ideas for this blog post running through my mind for a few weeks. I’ve written all the ideas down so they will eventually come into being at some point. I have to wait though, wait until it’s ready to be born before I write it. There are all the elements to consider – the subject matter, drawing or not? what music should I use? believe it or not these things take some thinking, I don’t write until all the elements are in place and they usually come one at a time at odd times of the day or night. I’ll suddenly get a song in my head from nowhere and think that’s perfect for a post, so I pluck it like a ripe cherry and turn on the laptop.

There are bloggers who would argue that constant output is what makes a successful blog, I would argue that it’s doing what feels right and you enjoy makes a successful blog. I don’t write a post every other day because it just isn’t me and my experiences writing this blog are so very personal that writing a post churns up all sorts of feelings for me and its quite tiring if I did that all the time. Also there’s an honesty that comes from writing intuitively, when the mood is right. It means I get what I need to say at the time I need to say it.

So that preamble about intuition brings me to my reason for writing today – spirituality (with a small s). Over my many hours reading about trauma there was something that would often pop up a lot and that is that a significant trauma often causes a deeper spiritual connection, now this could be to anything, some people start praying, some find comfort in a brand new religion, some may get naked and dance round fires – whatever. There are also a few that go the other way and turn off from a deep connection to anything having felt so let down by life. On the whole though there is a definite trend for something ‘out there’.

Now I’ve always been a bit of a hippy child and loved being in nature and around animals but when my trauma happened I switched off for a while, I zoned out of the world, I got a bit out of step with everything including myself. This is still relevant in my life right now, I find I like to be alone a lot, I don’t want to be around big groups of people, my world has contracted significantly and whilst that was a source of great distress initially  I cope with it rather well now. It means I have time and space – those wonderful things no amount of money can buy. I sometimes use this time in a destructive way by isolating myself and distracting from my pain by using Netflix and endlessly circling the internet but there are times when I can happily just sit and be… for hours.

In the past, pre injury me would have been horrified by this, sitting and letting the mind wander is a ‘bad thing’ in our society, it means you’re lazy or unmotivated or other such nonsense words used to keep you sweating on the treadmill of life. Well I’ll let you into a secret; sitting and being still is WONDERFUL, I recommend you all do it as often as you like. It’s this time spent just doing absolutely nothing that I have heard my soul sing, heard the answers to questions I sorely needed, been able to find what makes me resonate, sat with my pain and held it’s hand and started to find who I am again. It’s not plain sailing it’s difficult at first because of the conditioning we have to be active and successful and burning ourselves out. I’ve learnt from this how to say no and not feel guilty. I honour myself and stand in my own power in a way I never have before, not in a shouty, bossy ‘here I am’ kind of way but a gentle, take me or leave me space.

Coupled with this is a much deeper connection with the world and it’s beauty, I thrive amongst the trees and the grass in a very free way. I’m also much more in tune with the cycles of nature – the moon, the seasons, my own hormones! I’m not big into organised religion as to me it’s full of rules and restrictions so I guess my spirituality has become the earth, peace, myself and most importantly love. It’s a cliche but once you start to love and respect yourself the world opens up to you. Don’t get me wrong I still have days where I feel downhearted, sad, scared, lost and unsure of everything but that’s because I’m HUMAN.

So another gift there, a gift from the bowels of the hell that is trauma and brain injury. Whod’ve thought it?

http://fabquote.co/

Source: fabquote.com

1

Just another diamond day

In this ever changing journey with brain injury I have read many books, blogs and websites, I have attended lots of appointments and given myself lots of ‘good talkings to’. Some things have worked, some haven’t, the ones that have been useful can be found in the links section but today I want to write about something I have started doing that resonates with me completely in the hope that it will inspire you in some way to give something a go.

As part of my reintegration into the big wide world and exercise and other people I had been searching for groups to join, ones that would be small and stress free but that would enable me to start burrowing out of my cocoon. Using my friend Dr Google I searched my local area and found some groups that would meet some of my needs but were either too late at night, too challenging physically or just too scary looking!

Then like the brain injury recovery fairies were listening to me, I stumbled by chance upon a twitter account (@Belfastwalks) who seemed to offer exactly what I needed. It’s an initiative by Belfast Council and Groundworks NI to get people out and moving but the added bonus is that it is incorporating Mindfulness into the walks. It’s going to be a year long programme and so far the walks have been at a good time of day for me.

It’s strange at first because you turn up and there’s lots of lovely new exciting people to meet but the walks are conducted in silence (there’s an opportunity before and after to chat). The point of Mindfulness is to be in the moment, to caress the earth with your feet and to try to let go of all that nonsense that clutters up your head normally.

We must look weird to others who spot us walking in a raggle taggle group, in silence and wandering off into the grass and flowers but believe me it is the most refreshing and beautiful part of my week.

I notice how fast my mind races with rubbish, how things that pop in there don’t actually matter that much, but more importantly I don’t just dash through nature without seeing the different shades of green, the sound of the river babbling by, the dogs running joyfully through meadows and I get to watch a bee jump from flower to flower. There is no pressure to move on, to get things done and it’s wonderful.

Ive done a couple of these walks so far and the people are lovely, the nature is amazing and I confess I have shed tears on both of them (thank goodness for sunglasses!). Not because I’m sad but because there’s a real sense of coming back to yourself and because you see that the world around you is actually rather bloomin’ gorgeous.

I like to sometimes mention these things that help me reorientate because they are so valuable to my peace of mind. So if you’re Belfast based please consider trying this out and if you aren’t lucky enough to have a Mindfulness walking group near you, start one! Or just get your shoes on and wander around yourself, in silence, embracing the earth and letting your thoughts just pass on through.

You can find more info here

http://mindfulwalksbelfast.wordpress.com/

 

3

A cloud full of tears: a brief interlude for Next Doors Cat

I’m side stepping away from injury and mental health today to talk about Next Doors Cat (NDC). She’s gone unmentioned in this blog for a while and I need to rectify that.

NDC is missing, presumed dead. She’s been gone for a while, we noticed that she no longer sits on our wall or comes to say hello at the window. This may not seem like a big deal, after all she wasn’t even our cat but I need to explain why this has upset me so much.

NDC appeared at a time in my life when I was the lowest I’ve ever felt. She would appear at the bedroom window and ‘talk’ to me, then I would let her in and she would not leave my side. She did this every day. She sat and looked into my eyes when I couldn’t stop crying, she lay next to my face when I was lonely and sad and wanted to die. She always knew when I needed that tenderness. Yes she was a cat but Mr Braingirl aside, she was the only living being who was patient enough to be in my space when everything was hopeless.

I like to think I gave her something too, a warm place to sleep, some food and lots of love, all of which she didn’t get from next door. I hope this gave her some comfort in what are now I believe her last months alive. I’m a bit daft about animals, I love them (sometimes more than humans) but I also believe they can be very intuitive, NDC knew I needed someone and so there she was. She had an inbuilt alarm, the minute those dark thoughts appeared of wanting to give up she would appear like magic and give me purrs and cuddles. She was also the catalyst for this blog and all that has followed.

I am so grateful for NDC, without her things would have been even harder. I’m so sad she has gone and I miss her very much.

Goodbye Tigger (for that was her real name) I will never forget your help.

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0

Here I’ll remain while my heart can hide.

It’s been a few weeks since the dizzy heights of my 12 month anniversary of TBI. I was very hopeful and going through some ‘good days’. With TBI you measure time in days. Not weeks or months. You don’t look ahead too far, you have to stay in the here and now. This is both good and bad. It’s good because living in the now is exactly where you want to be, it’s mindful and what I strive for with meditation. It’s bad because it’s hard to do and it’s only sometimes used as a form of protection. ‘Good days’ can turn into ‘bad days’ a mere 24 hours apart. I’ve mentioned in previous posts about the frustrating nature of TBI recovery and it’s back and forth nature so I won’t labour the point here but let’s just say there’s been a few ‘bad days’ since my last post.

I want to talk to you today about the particular breed of anxiety that manifests itself for me. I sometimes have the generic ‘everything is out to get me’ anxiety, though to be fair this is becoming much much less of an issue these days. The other type I have is quite funny really, I have to laugh at myself because I know how ridiculous it is when I get it.

The TBI has gifted me with health anxiety, now don’t get me wrong, it’s not constant and only flares up when I’m low generally or haven’t slept properly for a while. The thing with health anxiety is any tingle, zap or flutter anywhere in my body sets me off on an Internet quest to find just ‘what exactly is wrong with me’. Now you can see where this is leading, I end up convinced that I have TB, Beri Beri, my legs are going to drop off or some such nonsense. The Internet you see is a wonderful tool for knowledge and connection and understanding the world BUT it is also a place for quackery, misinformation and convincing a very bored Braingirl that I have EVERYTHING EVER.

To combat such silliness and general malaise and crappery I am trying to gain control of my thoughts and feelings. Instead of letting them run away with themselves and tell me all sorts of dark horrible nonsense I want to lighten my load and make life a little easier for myself.

This wee article sums it up for me http://tinybuddha.com/blog/3-steps-to-practice-acceptance-have-a-peaceful-life/

i’m trying very hard to let go and find beauty in things again. It’s difficult and I don’t always get it right but it’s a start.

Here’s some beauty in music form to start you all off.

9

Behind from where we came (how I began moving forward)

WARNING: The first set of photos on here will be post surgery, whilst not particularly gruesome they may not be your cup of tea or be a potential trigger. So please do just scroll past if you need to. The rest of the pictures will be safe.

The 1st of October didn’t exist last year, I was unconscious, I could have been floating about in space for all I knew. The next 3 or 4 days also didn’t exist. So whilst everyone else was rushing around, not sleeping and worrying, I was blissfully unaware of everything. Maybe that’s the best way. It does mean however that I have a bit of a memory gap. But anyhow, for an idea of how mad this all was here’s a few piccies of the first week (look away now if you need to).

head head2This was after various tubes had been removed. What a scar eh?

So as you can imagine when I woke up from my extended sleep I was pretty surprised to find myself in hospital. I had no idea why I was there or for how long I had been there.

About 9 days later I was released (after much grumbling by me about the food and getting needles stuck in me all the time) and it was at this point I began thinking I was nearly better and that all I needed was a few nights sleep, even though I was clearly very poorly.

home

Anyway, this thinking continued for about 7 months, I attempted to go back to work, I attempted nights out and generally thought that all was right with my world.

Then came the stage you have all read about, denial slipped away and I was bereft. I began to face what has been the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in my life. EVER. You all know this story by now but it was something I was not prepared for. If there’s one thing I would advise out of all of this it’s about being prepared for the psychological impact of trauma. It is a killer. I have had days where I just wanted to curl up and die because it was too painful to bear but hopefully this is something I don’t have to deal with so much anymore. I do worry about the impact of another trauma arriving on the back of this, I’m not sure if I’m strong enough yet to process anything else so I’m crossing fingers for a smooth ride for a while.

Anyhow, back to the point of this post. Moving on, acceptance, closure whatever you want to call it. My aim for the anniversary of my injury yesterday was to stick a pin in it, to use it as a marker for something new. People who have suffered TBI often talk about being ‘reborn’, I understand this a little now.

Mr Braingirl took the day off work and after a potentially triggering hospital visit in the morning (which is a WHOLE other story) we set about merging the past year with a new reality.

After reading lots about grief and recovery I decided to do a few symbolic acts that whilst on the surface may seem a bit trivial and silly, they represented the old me, the wonky brain and a commitment to reclaiming my life. The past year was hijacked by this injury, it stole my life, it stole my joy, it stole me.

One thing I did was to get things that represented the accident and my life before it and burn them.

fire2These were things to do with Roller Derby, things to do with being sick like get well cards. Don’t get me wrong I don’t dislike roller derby now, I burnt these things with love but I needed to create a healthier relationship with what once was my saviour and had now become something I was very afraid of and at one point hated.

fire

Then we got a chocolate cake and stuck some candles in to celebrate a new ‘birthday’.

me and IanThese small acts, so simple and easy, lifted what had become the third wheel in our life, the passenger we carried whether we wanted to or not. I’m not suggesting life is ever going to be the same or that I’m completely better but I’m getting there and that’s enough for now. The TBI will always be there, I’ll always bear the battle scar but it’s no longer the engulfing shadow it was, instead of blocking my way down the road it will silently tip toe beside me.

Groovy Bruce the rabbit is a welcome and much cherished addition to our little family. He has been great therapy, It gave me something that I HAD to get up for every day. Here he is getting a cuddle.

me and GBI would recommend doing a ritual (and a fluffy rabbit) for anyone who is ready to start letting go. It helps to put a bit of a full stop on things.

My next mission is to start getting my energy back and do something for a Brain Injury charity. I’ll let you know when I think of it. I also want to retrain as a Grief and Trauma Counsellor.

Finally (at last!) I just want to say a massive

thank youto everyone who has been there with real and virtual support. Special mention to Diana who has been there through the very dark times and advised, supported and reassured me whenever I needed it (even though she is in San Francisco). Also my family who despite being over the Irish Sea and the Atlantic (Coppard family!) have given me the space and time I’ve needed to find my feet, space to be sad and gently encourage me to look for Lauren again.

And obviously Mr Braingirl, Ian, without whom I simply would not have survived.