Things changed for me drastically when I got hurt, causing a traumatic brain injury (TBI). It was weeks of being so weak that if I had physical therapy or a doctors appointment that day, I would go home and crash.
I literally had these “crash” days after I did anything at all besides laying around the house. Meaning, I couldn’t plan on doing anything afterward because my body was just physically done. I would have to sleep for hours to feel better.
My Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS) symptoms that I suffer from as a result of by TBI are headaches, vertigo and not being able to keep my balance as well as loss of my peripheral vision. It is a wide array of issues that require different recovery plans.
Luckily, I’m in the TBI program at one of our local hospitals. I have the best of the best to work with on every aspect of my recovery. I feel like I have never been to so many doctors appointments in my life.
The Long Road to Recovery
The accident was March 13. It took me until June to get strong enough to get out of the house, walking with my walker of course. At this point, I still didn’t go out for anything besides doctors appointments. I had to be pushed in a wheelchair to appointments because I didn’t have the strength to walk that far with my walker.
I continued going to doctors appointments, as well as physical therapy twice a week. Luckily, I found a great physical therapist who specializes in concussion rehab. It was a blessing finding him because he was very good at explaining everything to me and to not lose hope. Whenever I get discouraged, he reminds me of how I barely made it in his office for my first lesson. Look at all I can do now! That is a big deal!
When I first started PT, I had a crash day after every lesson. I would do an exercise and get so nauseous that I had to stop. I still struggle
Life with a TBI
Living with TBI is learning to accept the fact that every day is a new day, and my “normal” is always changing. I still have really bad days, amongst my good days. My good days though, look a lot better than the good days that I had two or three months ago. It is all relative. I learned pretty quickly that post-concussive syndrome isn’t something that just will go away one day on its own. I have had multiple head injuries over the years, it is going to take time and hard work to get my brain and body to work properly together again. Not to mention time for me to heal my spirit and gain my self-confidence back.
I learned right away that no doctor was ever going to be able to give me a firm answer about how long it would be for my recovery. They couldn’t even tell me if all the symptoms would ever totally go away. The doctors can’t say because they don’t know. They do know that I’m doing everything possible to encourage my recovery. Physically and mentally.
Not Just a Physical Struggle
The mental aspect of TBI is just as bad if not worse as the physical part. It is hard feeling like you are a totally different person. I felt like a total stranger to myself when I went out to the barn for the first time and realized I was afraid. I have never been afraid of horses, but with my lack of mobility, I felt I wasn’t safe around them since I can’t move quickly if I need be to get out of the way.
I’m still in the process of reacclimating to being near the horses and gaining confidence that I can be safe around the horses with my walker. It is going to be a long time before I feel at ease around horses or in the barn again. I have made a ton of progress though because I used to have panic attacks just thinking about it. Now I go out to the barn and teach lessons a few times a week.
Making it out to the barn, teaching and then making back inside basically does me in for the day. It is starting to feel good though because I have had some moments recently that I felt like my old self. Even though I was stuck sitting in a chair and not being hands-on, it was like the words were coming to me with ease. I had control of my thoughts a lot better most of the time, unlike in the beginning. In the beginning, I was afraid and couldn’t focus on my students because my head was so stuck on worst case scenarios.
I have to write notes after I teach all my lessons because I can’t remember from week to week what we worked on. I have found it really helpful and I wish I would have been taking notes on my lessons for years. It is certainly a habit I will keep up with.
I have always been a writer, but now I have journals and planners for everything. Ever since my accident, I have to put all my thoughts on paper in order to be able to sort them out and get them done. I need to be able to scratch things off my lists, so I have a sense of accomplishment.
I still don’t feel at home in the barn yet since I was gone from it for so long and have so many limitations to what I can do. I have uncomfortable moments out there when I feel like I don’t belong. The farm did go on without me, my place is still there just as much as ever. I just don’t feel confident in my new self yet that’s all.
My New Normal
It made a big difference to me when I realized that I need to not compare to my old self. I need to look forward and not backward. I’m not going to be the same as before my accident. That is okay. Each day is different living with TBI and PCS, you just have to take whatever comes to you and make the best of it.
I never realized how negative of a person I was until I got hurt. I realized that now that I do have a reason to be unhappy. Realized that I was the only person that could change my attitude and I have to take responsibility for that.
My days are spent doing PT, working out at home, writing, and keeping up with all my obsessive journals. I teach lessons a few days a week, but it isn’t like going to work. Teaching feels like part of my rehabilitation program because it takes so much out of me both mentally and physically.
The Same but Different
Life after TBI, for me, is still a life with horses, it just looks a little different than it did before. I have never had this much free time and I have used it to try and improve all aspects of myself. Whether it is doing the workouts that I’m able to do, writing letters to people or practicing mindfulness meditation. I’m focusing on recovering both physically and mentally.
I have learned to appreciate the little things in life and to focus on the small victories, not the struggles. Working hard to raise TBI awareness, as it is misunderstood by many, and hard to comprehend if you haven’t lived it.
I have discovered how to deal with the things that make my symptoms flare up. Wearing earplugs in hectic and loud environments, using essential oils. Sometimes I even have to wear sunglasses inside! I learned to use ice on my head and heat on my neck when I feel really terrible. I have learned so many things! It is a long and rough road, but I can tell now that I’m going to be a better person in the end after going through all of this.
I’m learning my limitations, being able to recognize when I need to stop and take a break and when I need to push myself a little farther. This TBI is just another part of my journey. In a few years hopefully, I will look back on this article and be able to say I totally beat my TBI and be proud of how far I have come.
In the words of Louisa May Alcott “….I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship”.