Go anywhere in the self development industry and you'll find a lot of people talking about reaching goals, health & healing, building self-esteem, developing resiliency, and so much more. I've been in the industry for over twenty years, and agree that, as with everything in life, we can’t get what we want if we aren't able to clearly see it.
Which means that whatever we are most clearly focused on, and feel the strongest about-whether it's self-beneficial or self-destructive, is what we've set our destination for in our inner GPS. So whether we have it set on a focus for better health or healing with a mantra such as “I am safe”, or “I got this, one day at a time” or if you have it unconsciously set on "I'm a victim", "I'll never heal", "I can't do that", “I'll always feel like this", "why me" or whatever our inner mantra may be, we could be unintentionally getting in our own way of the healing you crave. I know, because I lived there and did just that.
When I began this TBI/PTSD healing journey almost three years ago all I could focus on at the time was what I didn’t want. I was so devastated about what was happening to me and confused by how I could be experiencing so many debilitating symptoms all at the same time, especially since the cause of my injury was something I had walked away from so many times before, that all I could focus on was how much it sucked. How I was a victim of circumstance. And believe me, I was VERY clear on that - it was all I ate, drank, and breathed every second of the day. Are you in that same place too?
Then one day, after an intensive Ayuervedic treatment, I was on my way home and something deep inside me asked, “What exactly does healing look like, sound like, and feel like to you? How will you know when you are truly healed? How do you imagine your life moving forwards after you have healed?” I had to pull over because it truly brought me to a stop. I sat in the parking lot for a long time and I couldn’t clearly answer those questions without only seeing who I was, how I was suffering now and never clearly seeing a future. Do you know what I mean?
Are You Moving Backwards or Forwards?
I couldn't imagine my life beyond the constant pain and suffering. All I could do was look back to the person I was and the full and vibrant life I had before the injury and compare that life with who I was after the accident and get depressed, angry or frustrated about it. I wanted to stop suffering. I wanted a better life. I wanted to heal, didn't I? (More on that later) And yet, all my energy and focus was wrapped up in my pain and suffering. Everything within me was committed to my sorrow and loss. Because as you probably know, when you're struggling and in constant pain, it's all consuming. Anything outside of that bubble of pain, sorrow, frustration and grief seems to be invisible or like a fantasy that is unattainable. But when I let those questions marinate within in me, something started to shift, and a few deeper truths were revealed.
Truths that startled me. Truths I denied. Truths I wasn't really ready to face, such as the identity I was bonding with as an injured person, which was actually sabotaging any progress in healing. Now know this is the part where the writer typically tells you how it all changed for them and how they turned their life around. But I’m not going to blow smoke up your bum and tell you that the power of positive thinking changed my life and healed me. That would be a lie. What I will share, is that I intentionally sat with these questions “What exactly does healing look like, sound like, feel like to you? How will you know when you are truly healed? How do you imagine your life moving forwards after you have healed?” for about a year before I could honestly answer them for myself. And I am still reflecting on these questions almost every day.
At first I let myself marinate in these questions, bathe in them and let them envelope me- let them really sink into my soul. I would auto-write in my journal, draw pictures, make a vision board, played with play-dough, chanted, practiced yoga, walked in nature and anything I could imagine that could lead me to the answer. Because I knew the answer I was seeking wasn't the answer the dictionary or my medical team was giving me. It was a more personal understanding of what healing was that I needed to be clear about.
During that year of reflection I learned that genuine healing is so much more than just the superficial or physical that others can see. Genuine healing is very personal and unique to each person on that journey. And the biggest part of it is having such a clear and resonating understanding of what it means to you that you can practically step right into that experience and know without a shadow of doubt that THIS is what healing looks like, sounds like, smells like, tastes like and feels like for me as a whole and complete individual. Free from comparisons, criticisms or by creating unrealistic or unattainable expectations that aren't true to your authentic Self. It's understanding on a visceral level that just being able to appear healed isn't the truth, because it's really only half the story. It’s like having a car that looks shiny and brand new on the outside, but under the hood is a clunker that hasn’t been serviced since it left the factory.
The moment I realized this, the relationship I was having with the person I am now, the one who lives with the effects of a TBI and PTSD daily, began to change for the better. And if I am being honest, it's still a work in progress. But each time I ask myself those questions, I reflect on my definition of genuine healing and check in with myself to see if I am honoring it in my thoughts, words and my actions.
Are You Taking Part In Genuine Healing?
The first thing I began to better understand and embrace about genuine healing is that it doesn’t mean I have to be perfect. There seems to be this generalized idea of healing that implies that if we are imperfect, we are unwelcome beings that need to be repaired and perfected in order to participate in society and considered whole. And I noticed that it shows up in how people around us interact with us, in how they avoid us or how they may unintentionally talk down to us as if we are stupid as well as challenged. But I’ve also noticed that this generalized belief of healing can also show up in how we relate to ourselves as well. Each time we go into denial, or start "faking being well for the sake of others", wallow in guilt, shame and self criticism, it tells our bodymind that we are resistant to living our life in a way that honors the beautiful, strong and amazing person we are now.
Genuine healing doesn't mean that I no longer need accommodations, or that I will stop struggling in any way. Genuine healing also doesn’t mean that I’ll no longer feel vulnerable, experience fear, weakness or fatigued. And it certainly doesn't mean that everything is “fixed” as if I were a mechanical piece of technology that could easily be repaired with the right tools or mechanical parts. It’s all part of the journey.
Genuine Healing Truth
Genuine healing takes courage. It’s a challenging, personal and unique journey each of us needs to take part in, in our own way, wholly and completely. And it goes beyond what can be easily navigated for the sake of what others can see. It dives into the depths of our being physically, mentally and emotionally. It journeys into those dark, shadowed places. Asking us to peek in with an open mind, an open heart, understanding, love and compassion. Because there is more than likely another side of the story we don't know yet. A side of the story that can change our perspective and help us heal. And in those places we don’t just “fix” it with a band-aid or a pill and then go on our merry way, we embrace it, and transform our relationship with it.
Healing travels many paths and can take many turns, but at the end of the day the person doing the healing is in control of their experience, and can direct the course of their journey. Which means that along the way we need to honor our own unique needs, advocate for our Self and treat ourselves with compassion. Genuine healing is also about facing our fears. The fear of not fitting in, the fear of not being loved if we don’t live up to certain expectations, the fear of not being able to keep up with our old life, the fear of having a life less than what we had before and more.
Genuine healing makes us feel whole and complete no matter what life challenges may be there. Which is why knowing your own personal definition of healing and health is so important. Before my injury I had thought I had healed many areas of my life, only to find that after the mva, pandoras box was opened big and wide. Now my exploration has taken a deeper dive and into places I never knew existed.
If genuine healing is going to happen on this journey, we need to befriend the person we are now, and I mean all of ourselves. We need to be patient with ourself. And remember that we are the artist of our lives and need to speak to ourselves with Compassion instead of criticism; To Appreciate who we are now and all of the things we can do for ourselves. We need to Respect ourselves by advocating for our unique needs and asking for accommodations, no matter who we are around. We need to keep Encouraging ourselves by looking at where we have improved and how far we’ve come, instead of comparing our present self to our old self, or to what others around us accomplish.
This journey is not for everyone and certainly not for the faint of heart. But then again, if you've come this far, you're most likely already a warrior of self love. Because you couldn't have come this far on your own healing journey if somewhere inside of you, you didn't see the light already within you.
What Is Healing & Health To YOU?
I'm still traveling this healing path and discovering what genuine healing will look like, sound like, smell like, taste like and feel like for me personally. It seems to change a bit with every small step I take, but I am finding that there are a few characteristics that are consistent and constant. Which is huge when your whole life is inconsistent and unpredictable every single day.
And knowing we are not alone on this journey is a huge part of it. In our Mindful TBI Sisters Community we are hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder, and heart-to-heart with each other every step of the way. Maybe we are an addition to your already existing support system at home, or maybe we are the only place you can truly come and feel accepted and loved. Either way, knowing you have a tribe of like-minded women to be there with you on your journey defining what healing means to you, is a step in a healing direction.
It’s strange to live life in this place of limbo. A place where I am less disabled from this traumatic brain injury and severe PTSD than I was two years ago, and yet I am not able to fully function in the world the way the average people do. People who take it for granted that they can be in a room with more than one conversation going on at a time for example. I live somewhere in between. My therapist calls it differently-abled.
Knowing my triggers, knowing my boundaries and knowing that most of the world doesn’t acknowledge or make accommodations for my type of needs easily. Mostly because it's not something you can easily see or is obvious in any way. It is an invisible disability. Something that happens on the inside, whether it is mental/emotional, sensory, or part of a physical chronic ailment that makes every day life more of a challenge to get through. Another few examples are fibromyalgia, PTSD, chronic fatigue, depression, deafness, chronic pain, and many more.
Living with an invisible disability means that many treat you like you are making it all up for attention. And I'm not just talking about friends or family, I'm including medical professionals too. Many will label your ailments “psychosomatic”. Which is a fancy way of telling you it’s all in your head. They'll tell you are imagining these problems, and yet still send you on your way with a prescription for a pharmaceutical to"help you". Hmmm....
Yes, in my case, and maybe yours too, the injury is in my head. I live with the effects of a traumatic brain injury and severe PTSD. But that doesn’t make what I struggle with daily any less real. It doesn't make the strain on my relationships less intense. And if anything, living in this state of limbo makes the struggle more challenging. Because there is a finally a desire to do things I once was able to enjoy, to go to places that are filled with fun, with my family and my friends. But then, when I imagine myself in the world doing these things and I think about about the crowds around me, the constant music playing, the chaos of people coming and going, all the sensory stimulation... I panic and freeze right where I am in complete terror. Even though I'm sitting alone in my quiet room, just thinking about it turns on fight or flight. My brain just can’t process all that stimulation and emotionally it is triggering as well because it appears scary and unsafe to me. It’s terrifying. The only way I can escape the thought is to find three green things in the room and say them out loud. Then name three things I am physically touching out loud. Then bring my attention to my inhaling and letting it out all the way down to my toes with an audible sigh, my jaw hung open slack. safe and secure again.
I can peacefully exist within my boundaries of safety and protection, even though it’s a much different life now than most people. I can appear just like everyone else within these boundaries and no one would know what lies just under the surface. Live with me and you’ll see the rapid change from “normal” to triggered faster than an inhalation. But no one would know the truth beyond that. It feels like a parallel existence. Like I live on one plane if existence and everyone else lives on another. Of that we are each living on depressed planes of existence and we temporarily intersect. This life can feel isolating. Which is why for people like me, texting, virtual visits and phone calls are important. Sometimes that’s the only way we feel safe connecting to others. So while many people are getting tired of virtual connections and communications, others are finally feeling like they can have a safe social life.
It’s life in limbo, life in the “in-between”. Almost like I am a ghost. Existing but not fully living in the way I once knew.
What does it feel like to you?
Forcing yourself (or being forced) to do something before you are ready can trigger symptoms to manifest as well as add to overwhelm, fear and anxiety. At least that is my experience.
Most People Stay Where They Think They Are Safe
Years ago, as part of my training as a wholistic & transformational life coach, I was taught that most people live where they feel safe. They live within habits, routines and choices that are familiar and therefore appear the safest option. Although as many of us know, that’s not always the case- it’s not necessarily the safest option, just the most familiar.
If you doubt this, think for a moment about the woman who feels trapped in an abusive relationship but doesn’t leave because she’s been convinced it’s worse for her out there than with her abuser. Think of the woman who habitually washes her hands over and over until they are raw, because she’s afraid of germs. Think of the woman who is so afraid of losing control and of chaos, that she attempts to control everyone and everything around her, ultimately making people not want to be around her, so she feels alone and lonely.
There's a wide variety of examples and I’m sure I don’t need to get into all of them because you get the gist. Being within the “comfort zone” is really about being within a space of familiarity. Moving outside the space of what is known to the unknown can be scary. And if pushed out of that familiar place before we have the strength to fly, can unfortunately end up rooting us deeper into that “comfort zone” and sometimes into a more damaging or abusive situation.
Being Forced Out Of The Comfort Zone
I’ve been forced out of that space of familiarity and comfort by many well intended health practitioners over my lifetime, and it has sucked royally. But never more than while on my TBI/PTSD healing journey, especially during the first year. I’d been told it’s for my own good and to make the brain adapt more quickly. I was told, "the quicker we get the brain to form new neuropathways the faster you will heal and get back to your old self". I totally bought into it because I was so afraid of the unknown and so ready to do whatever I was told. But for me, it turned out to only make my situation more stress filled, more overwhelming and my nervous system as my brain couldn't keep up, resulting in seizures, and a complete breakdown.
To me forcing someone out of their comfort zone too soon is like throwing someone into a freezing pool of water in the middle of winter and telling them they will adapt and won’t get hypothermia.
At one point, years ago, when studying to be a neurolinguistic programming practitioner (NLP is an understanding of how language and the unconscious mind work together to create our choices and behaviors), I learned that people don’t change the way they view things, change their choices or their behaviors until they have come to the point where enough is enough, and they just don’t want it anymore. They get to a point where they think to themselves, "that's it. I am done with this" and they are fully in belief that they are done with it, not just in their mind, but in their body too.
Now, before you jump all over me about that statement, I too have said to myself "Enough is enough with this PTSD and TBI crap" and thought I was ready for a change back to who I knew myself to be. But nothing changed. So I sat with this statement for a while. I sat and wondered why is it that I can think I am ready to move on from this pain and suffering, but it’s not leaving?
The Way Out Is Simpler Than You Think
As I sat with this, a thought floated into my mind.” If you want your life to change, you gotta see and relate to your life differently.” Hmmmm. I sat with that too. For weeks actually. Then another thought came to mind, a memory from my NLP training, "To make a change, we need to switch from the first person point of view, to seeing ourselves as if we are watching ourselves in a movie". So we are literally stepping out of the experience and switching to observing the experience. Giving us more control of our reactions and responses.
I wrestled with this over and over for weeks, because no matter how much part of me was saying "It’s time to move on", another part of me keeps telling me it’s too scary out there. It’s safer here in the “comfort zone” where all my pain and suffering is familiar. Where I know the boundaries, where I know that every day unpredictable and inconsistent. Where I also know how to manage the space within my home so that I’m not left with neurofatigue, anxiety & overwhelm resulting in a seizure or a migraine that takes me out of the day.
Am I really and truly ready to step out of this comfort zone and move into unfamiliar space? A whole private conversation goes on in the bodymind of someone who is forced to leave their comfort zone. That fear is felt within the body, despite how much the mind may think it’s in control. If the body isn’t on board, there is no moving on. That's why it's so important to be absolutely sure we are ready to move forwards both mentally and physically. And this is why changing perspective from first person to observer is so helpful. The body can experience the shift.
Steps For Self Directed Change
I believe it’s a disservice to force someone to do something they aren’t ready to do. Especially when they are in a vulnerable and fragile state. I believe a more effective way to help someone make a change is to ask questions that help them feel and see how staying is less safe than taking a single step outside the comfort zone, and having an alternative that feels more nurturing ready for us in its place.
When dieting if we just eliminate a food such as sweets without a healthier alternative in its place, we create stronger craving for it later - destroying our best of intentions and adding on additional weight. But, if we replace the old processed sweets with sweets found in nature, that craving has less of an impact because it’s being satisfied in a better way.
Change needs to be a choice instead of a forced decision for long term benefits. After weeks of deliberation about whether I was really ready to shift my thinking from victim to empowered, I did some journal writing.
Here is what I reflected on to help me shift and grow...
This has been helping me make small step forwards. Despite the numerous concussions, whiplashes and various traumas over the years this has helped me find control in at least one area of my life- whichever area I choose. For the past 2.5 years as I’m writing this it has helped me find a fitful healing path for my unique needs with this traumatic brain injury. I am clearer in what works for me in order to thrive which has less to do with a comfort zone and more to do with a physical ( yet invisible) disability. I am just beginning to take the same steps on my healing path with severe PTSD. I’ll keep you updated on my progress, and I’d love to hear about yours.
Food is more than something to feed our belly’s and make us feel full. Since my brain injury, I have been cooking a lot more than I have in the past. It has been a form of therapy for me, and a way for me to create a bond with my father that I never had as a child. It has been a way for me to convey my love, my appreciation and my soul to the people I cook for as I serve them their meal.
In The Beginning
My father and I had a really rough relationship the moment I hit puberty. As with many fathers, once their daughter gets to the age where they are interested in boys and have the possibility of getting pregnant they unintentionally begin to make some distance. Not because they don’t love their daughter(s), but because they don’t know how to handle that their little girl is now becoming a woman. This may not be true for all men, but I know many who do this. My father was one of them. Although both my parents worked full time, my father also went to school at night, to advance his career. He played gigs on the weekends (that’s what a job as a musician is called) and he still taught full-time in a high school as a music teacher as well as put on shows with the kids and traveled everywhere with them to promote the power of music in schools. He was a very busy man and very passionate about music. However, this passion did not make for a very involved or engaged father in his daughters life. I need to acknowledge though, that he did try some days in his own way, “Come on Dee let’s wash the car together.”, it wasn’t exactly something a preteen girl wants to do on her weekend. Distance between us got further and further apart and eventually I began to feel like he just didn’t love me. Which manifested itself in various ways during those impressionable years.
Fast forward decades later, after having my own daughter, and my dad becoming a grandfather for the first time, I saw a side of him that was never shared with me growing up. He would actually play with her. He was engaged in her activities and would listen to her talk. Even now, the two of them have an amazing relationship where they (before Covid) would go out to lunch together and have long conversations together, thoroughly enjoying each others company. This makes my heart happy, but also a bit sad that the child in me never really got that kind of attention because it would have made an enormous difference in the choices and decisions I made as an adolescent and young woman. But for my child to have that kind of visible devotion is precious.
After The TBI
After my traumatic brain injury I slowly got into the kitchen. I couldn’t be left alone at first because I wasn’t stable, I couldn’t follow a recipe too easily and had trouble holding the measuring cups and spatula. But the first thing I made after my injury was a scrambled egg. We were living in Virginia at the time and my mother would come to help take care of me while my husband worked because he didn’t feel comfortable leaving me alone in the house to take care of myself and our daughter. I would cook for my mom and she would happily eat what I made telling me it was delicious. But we all know that most moms will say these things to their kids even if it tastes like crap because we love them and want to encourage their creativity and effort. So I didn’t believe her very much.
One time when my dad came with her to visit and by this time I had progressed to making quick bread. I was making a new loaf almost every week and getting creative by adding dill or raisins and cinnamon to the loaves. One morning I made scrambled eggs and shared my bread with my dad (who LOVES food by the way). I was so nervous about what he would say, but he absolutely gushed over the taste! It was the best feeling ever.
I cooked shrimp scampi later that week (a meal that I used to often throw together when I couldn’t think of what to make). My father gushed again! And I have to tell you, it was such a huge moment for me. The little girl in me felt validated and loved. And it came at a time when I was really and truly needing it. My dad even said that maybe it would be better if we were closer to home. Closer to them so they could be there for us more often. He told me that he missed having us so close to them. Tears came to my eyes and love surged in my heart. Love that the little kid in me that thought wasn't loved could feel completely.
Moving Back To Florida
We moved from Virginia back to Florida a few months after their visit so they could help us as I continued my healing journey. We had bought a new house and while we waited for the house to be built we lived with them for 7 months. In that time I cooked two times a week for the family, and sometimes it would be lunch or breakfast just for me and my dad. I would even cook yummy treats like cookies or cakes. Every time I cooked it was therapeutic for me. Not only did it help my brain, it helped with building muscle strength, coordination, organization, timing and so much more. But what really moved me was how it created a loving bond with my dad.
Food: The Language Of Love
Food is our language of love. This is the way it was with him and his grandmother I discovered. His favorite grandmother would cook for him when he was little and give him such TLC while he ate that food became how he received love. Being Italian I understand that. But then again, I believe many cultures also utilize food as a way to convey love and appreciation. Just look at how many people associate chocolate chip cookies. or secret family recipes, as love food. In my last blog post I wrote about the emotion of eating in terms of doing it mindlessly or mindfully. When I cook for my dad he tends to eat quickly and mindlessly. Which concerns me because I'm never sure what he is tasting and I'm concerned about him choking. So one day I gave him a small seafood fork. He began to slow down and really tasted the food I made for him. What was gushing before became a foodgasm with every meal now! And with every bite our bond and communication began to grow and forge a deeper and deeper channel of love and appreciation.
My relationship with my father now is much different than it was when I was younger.
We now have a bond that is similar to the bond I was slightly jealous of with my daughter. Many thing s in our lives have changed and events have altered who we both once were. But if the result is having this bond and relationship with him now is the price that had to be paid, then I regret nothing. I’m just glad that we both made it this far in life and had the opportunity to connect. Even if it was later rather than sooner. Too many people I know have fathers that passed long before they could resolve their relationship with them. So I am eternally grateful I have this opportunity now. I hope you get the same opportunity to bond and connect with a person important to you in your life as well.
There is a reason we talk about receiving comfort from food.
The very first place we received comfort, love or any sense of security came from our mother’s breast when we were first born. It is also one of the reasons we tend to run to dairy for comfort in the form of ice cream, cheeses and milk when we feel anxious, worried or insecure or fragile.
Food is where we run when we feel empty, lacking, vulnerable or simply heart broken. When in that sensitive place we seek out nurturing, compassion and support. We're searching for a sense of nourishment on a soul level. Nourishment that goes far beyond what is on our plate or on our spoon. We crave nurturing and nourishment that comes from a sense of belonging. That feeling of having a tribe of people who "get" us. People we know have our backs. People we can laugh with and cry with when life gets rough. People who we share common points of view, interests and lifestyles.
We also crave nourishment from a sense of purpose. A reason to get out of bed. Passion about doing something close to our heart that we receive genuine pleasure from, as well as the satisfaction of achievement. We crave nourishment from balance, tranquility and inner peace. We crave nourishment from a wide variety of places that extends far beyond our plate or our spoon, and yet food is where we often go to find comfort.
Why Do We Seek Comfort From Our Food?
In my experience, we seek out food for nurturing and nourishment because it's the fastest form of satisfaction. We have memories associated with certain foods and smells that go back to a time when we were a young child and we were nurtured by those smells. Food can relay love by the person who created it. It can be a place of fun and social engagement. Food can seem to be all the things we are seeking in one easy to grab bite. But is it the fond memory or is the actual food that is nurturing and nourishing us? I talk quiet a bit about this in the book Stop Eating Your Stress: Start Nourishing Your Soul. Available for free on Kindle Unlimited.
So What Do We Do About It?
If we check in with ourselves and ask the question, "What would nourish me right now?" we may be surprised by the answer the intuitive intelligence of our bodymind gives us. Because it may not actually be physical food. So then how do we know what we need most? It may appear on the surface to be a tricky question but you actually already know the answer. You just need to ask your authentic inner Self (that part of you that can never be wet, harmed or damaged in any way) and ask the question again, “What would truly nourish me right now?”. Then trust what arises like the subtle flutter of a butterfly wing. It may come to you like a whisper, it could be a general feeling, a “knowing” without any logic or rationale, or it could be this solid feeling in your body that says, “YES!” this is what I need. Then follow through and take action. For me, I feel it in my heart as a warm and loving embrace that then radiates throughout my whole body. That's when I know what is right for me. Otherwise, my belly and body feels tense, tight and I am riddled with anxiety. When I feel that, I know the choices isn't for my highest good or the highest god of all concerned. So I do my best to avoid imposing my will on it and go with the flow. But... that doesn't always work. Not even for me. And that's OK, because I listen and trust my inner wisdom 90% of the time. So that 10% when I go off the rails is attributed to human nature.
My Experience Lately
Lately I am finding myself seeking out sweets or bread in the hopes that they will fill the gaping hole in my heart and soul. Pasta, bread and refined carbs of this kind were always available in my home growing up and was often the food family functions we centered around. So naturally it is where I find comfort as well. And Lately I'm needing it.
I'm realizing that finding the right service dog is stressful and adds to some of my anxiety. Because for me to actually go outside and do things is terrifying for me and having the right dog right now is essential. Sure I will go out, but only if I have to. I'll go 30 minutes for a quick trip to the grocery store close to home that I am familiar with, I'll visit my parents at their house, and go to a couple of other places that I am very familiar with and know there will be no surprises. But what is really crushing is that I have been told by a couple of different organizations that I am not allowed to adopt from them because I "gave up" on my puppy and they won't do that to their dogs. All without ever knowing the truth to my story or caring to hear it out. They simply told me that I am an unfit dog parent. A truly devastating thing to hear when I know, and my family knows that that is the farthest thing from the truth. If you don't know the story behind this you can read it here.
I have been so depressed that I have been craving the comfort from an entire loaf of bread. I've been craving tons of pasta and cookies. And I have eaten some of it I won't lie to you. But instead of giving in to my low quality carb cravings and letting them mindlessly take over my mind and my life, I make sure that at least 75% of the time I am choosing higher quality carbs instead of the processed bread and refined sugars. So instead of semolina pasta I choose the bright color of zucchini pasta noodles I make with my spiralizer. I'll eat spaghetti squash with tomato sauce or garlic butter. I'll choose homemade muffins or bread instead of store bought that is often filled with preservatives.
Then I take it to the next level. I hug myself and really mean it. making sure to raise those serotonin (the feel good chemical in our body) levels so I can begin to feel a bit better. I talk with myself in a compassionate, appreciative and respectful way, that is also encouraging. I keep moving forwards and contact an endless stream of rescue groups, breeders and anyone I can think of that can help me find the right service dog for me, so I don’t feel hopeless or helpless. I know for the dogs benefit and for mine a greyhound would be best for me. But right now I am open to any dog that fits the criteria to not only make a good service dog for me, but will also fit my lifestyle and be a member of our family that is a great fit. I also reach out to close friends and certain family members that I know I can be safe with to share my heartache. These are people who I know love me for me, no matter what. They acknowledge that I'm not exactly the same person I was before the injury, but to them it doesn't matter. They love me no matter what. And that is a blessing that can never be overlooked. Because it is another way to satisfy my need for comfort, nurturing and nourishment in a way physical food just can't offer.
We all can experience times in our lives when we are feeling vulnerable, fragile, empty and broken. Especially after a traumatic brain injury or any other traumatic life altering event. Even the smaller ones such as heartbreak.
What Is Your Unique Solution?
Do you have a unique solution for comforting, nurturing and nourishing yourself when it has nothing to do with physical food? Feel free to share in our Facebook support group, or write in your journal and just let the pen flow over the page free from thought or planning. See what reveals itself to you.
Does what we eat really make a difference in how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally?
Is it possible that the most natural remedy to soothing some of the pain and suffering we all experience, whether we live with a brain injury or some other diagnosis, can really be found in our kitchens?
It's been a while since my last blog post. I've been recovering from the grief of having to rehome our precious puppy Phineas. I will keep searching for the right dog for me, but in the meantime I've been exploring the truth in how food can heal.
Long before my injury I received training in wholistic nutrition from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition after getting my doctorate in natural health. I had made the discovery that what I ate made a big difference in my level of generalized anxiety mentally and helped prevent the physical effects of anxiety I once experienced.
Losing Control After Brain Injury
I had it all under control for over twenty years, and the food I ate definitely played a big part (I discuss this more in my book Stop Eating Your Stress which you can find on Amazon and go into details on how it can help you too). But after my brain injury, how I ate changed radically. I went right back to eating to soothe my chaotic emotions, my discomfort, my anger and my frustration. I couldn't focus on anything except my pain and suffering. Food was no longer a positive aspect of my life, it became a crutch, a therapist and a Band-aid.
Did I have the training and the experience to change my situation? Sure, but as you know if you are living with a brain injury, or any other major condition that takes over your life, when you are in the thick of it, all you can focus on is talking to your doctors to find out what the heck is wrong with you and to be a good patient. You do what they say, because they have the white coats and the medical degree. So they must have the answer and a solution to all your pain and suffering. For me that turned out to be a half truth. I got a diagnosis after only 3 months of living like this, which for many is a miracle in and of itself, probably because many of my symptoms were not only from a motor vehicle accident that had just happened at the time, but they were visible from slurring speech, seizure activity, enlarged pupils, vertigo/ dizziness, my gait was off, weak/poor muscle control and more. Once I had the diagnosis, I became infuriated though, because I just couldn't grasp how a "concussion" could cause this much pain and suffering! I've had zillions of concussions in the past, from pretty major stuff (which I won't disclose because I don't intend to trigger anyone here) and never had this kind of result. So I did some research and started finding ways to advocate for myself with everyone on my medical team, which they were not always happy about.
Although I did have a doctor that would prescribe supplements, it wasn't to the degree that I was used to. I had taken a class in Orthomolecular medicine, and even though it was a very beginner class, taking supplements in higher doses for shorter periods of times to help as part of a treatment protocol made sense to me. Food itself as medicine made sense to me. But my doctor didn't really believe that. She just wanted to prescribe small doses of supplements and put me on meds., even though my husband kept telling them that I am highly sensitive to synthetic, pharmaceutical medications. So from the quiet of my home and my computer, I began to research solutions on how food can help heal some of the symptoms of a brain injury. And what I uncovered opened my eyes in a whole new way.
One of the things I found incredibly fascinating is how Inflammatory foods make up almost 90% of the Standard American Diet and how that diet directly affects our health. Now this wasn't anything new to me, but as I was reading it I was living with head pain that was so bad, I actually considered ending my life to get rid of the pain. But I kept forcing myself to learn more so I could get help from a natural source and I could feel better. Supplements were definitely a big part of that solution. Omega 3's, GABA, L-Theanine, and many more became a big part of my daily treatment. But how food played a role made me really happy. Because that is where I knew I could get some control of my life back.
What I Discovered
A couple of things have been essential to my healing over the past two years, and when I divert from this formula my pain and suffering comes back with a vengeance. For starters, no alcohol. I can have a tiny sip occasionally, but really that is it. And sometimes even that is too much because I always end up with head pain and dizziness even after just a shot glass full of wine or beer. So it's really just better to avoid it. Another is eating anti-inflammatory foods. This goes beyond the Keto Diet or the Mediterranean Diet that so may people seem to like. And to be honest, I don't even consider the Mediterranean Diet a diet if you are following it correctly, because it is really a lifestyle. Which is why I really like eating anti-inflammatory foods. It's a lifestyle choice. There are no calories to count, nothing to weigh and it's all pretty simple. The premise is not to completely stop eating the Standard American Diet, such as take-out or processed foods, but to modify it so that you are choosing higher quality foods most of the time and allowing for lower quality foods less of the time. So we aren't getting rid of them entirely, just making choices that really benefit us in the short run and the long run overall. The other thing that has helped me enormously has been following Ayurvedic principles when it comes to which foods I choose. Ayurveda means "the science of life" and is more than 5,000 years old originating in India. It is often recognized and called "the Mother of all Healing".
Ayurveda focuses on the prevention and maintenance of our health by aligning the elements of nature with our thoughts, foods, and lifestyle by creating balance in the bodymind. It recognizes that each one of us is as unique as our fingerprint an that there isn't a one size fits all approach the health of any individual. Each one of us has a specific constitution that comprises of our physical, mental, and emotional characteristics called Doshas. When we eat, live and do activities according to the balance or imbalance within our Dosha we cultivate harmony within the bodymind.
So I have been Mindfully & Intuitively Eating anti-inflammatory foods (click the link to the left and you can join my new self paced course!) according to my Dosha and it has been life changing. I no longer feel so much pain in my head that I want to end my life to end the pain. I have clearer thinking, and I get less fatigued after I shower or talk on the phone. My stomach no longer feels like I am bloated and nauseous anymore and I can actually eat food and enjoy it again. I still have many other effects from the brain injury that I am coming to terms with, but knowing that I have control of THIS aspect of my healing is very empowering.
If you've been following along the past few months you know the day we welcomed our furry baby into our lives it was an anxious, yet joy filled day. We (especially me) were so excited to bring this bundle of unconditional Love into our lives. He was seen as our new family member, but he was coming to do a job and we had to remember that. Phineas was going to be trained to be my psychiatric service dog right from the beginning, since NOT ONE organization near me would offer a psychiatric service dog to a civilian, and every trainer I talked to said a the dog would have to have certain traits to actually be an effective service dog to pass certain tests, and often shelter dogs came with too much baggage to pass those tests. So I had taken a year to do my research to find exactly what services I needed from my dog and to find the best breed for my needs.
I knew a psychiatric service dog was exactly what I needed (and a cavalier king charles in particular) to help me with the effects of the traumatic brain injury and severe PTSD that I live with each and every day. Which is a long list of symptoms that includes neurofatigue, hypervigilance and sensory overstimulation. So although I may look like everyone else on the outside, I live with an Invisible Disability and this bundle of fur was going to be my savior.
I Had Everything Set Up For Success...and Then...
Before he was ever brought home, I thought I secured a trainer who specialized in my dogs breed and would come 5 days a week for an hour a day to train the dog and prepare him for his job. This way I wouldn’t have to over extend myself and get so overwhelmed with a puppy. We had talked on the phone for a long time and everything he laid out was exactly what I needed for success with our fur baby. The day after we brought my baby home the trainer was set to arrive and train all of us for life with a dog. But the trainer never came. In fact two hours before he was to arrive he texted me and said he couldn’t make it. In fact he wouldn’t be able to make it for many weeks. I "should find another trainer". I was crushed. Now we have a puppy and we have no idea what to do.
We’ve never lived with a puppy before and we already have two cats who had gotten used to having the run of the house. My days were already filled with head pain, vertigo and sensory overload. Now we have a bundle of love and chaos that we no longer have any help with or any experience in creating a happy family. So what did I do? Of course, I went to YouTube to find puppy training videos. I looked for books, it read blogs, I called trainers and behaviorists in the area all in the name of finding help now. I spoke to friends. I pushed myself far beyond my limits every day to find a solution while I was going way beyond my sense of safety boundaries to give him what he needed every day. For someone who lives with migraines, neurofatigue, seizures, hypervigilence and insomnia, as well as a list of other symptoms as well, this was overwhelming beyond imagination.
Not All That Glitters is Gold
After two months I finally found a trainer. But after our first session with his military style of training, I ended up on the floor having a seizure. Simply because my nervous system and brain were more over stimulated and overloaded than I could handle. He told me this is what it takes to train a service dog and I needed to be up for the task if I was going to do it myself. I couldn’t take any more input, we all had some serious thinking to do. I spoke to my doctor and my therapist, who told me what they thought would be best. I then contacted friends and family to see if someone could foster our fur baby and train him until he would be the right age, where he would no longer overload or overwhelm me. I even interviewed a few people to come to the house and train him or do a board and train program. That option was extremely costly, and it wasn’t an option since on top of all of this, we had to sell our new home and buy another in a better location, because where we bought our home made my symptoms worse. And I am home schooling my daughter due to COVID. I have a lot on my plate and it was quickly spilling over and leaving me short circuiting.
Searching for a Solution
I want what is best for my boy as well as what is best for me. And I don't think I am what he needs. He needs a family with kids and dogs and lots of outside time and lots of play. I can not provide what he needs, and right now he is not at an age where he can give me what I need either. So I searched for a solution. While scrolling through the internet I came across Cavalier Rescue of Florida. This organization is amazing. They are filled with so much love, compassion and knowledge of the breed. The people who volunteer are amazing and the staff is so on the ball and kind it’s hard not to love them. I contacted them and shared my story. Went over all the details as if I was talking to my therapist. We had a long conversation, filled with lots of tears on my end.
The woman I spoke with said she absolutely understood, and I could feel her compassion through the phone. She explained that yes, this breed would be excellent for my needs, but after they reach 5 years old. Before that there is so much puppy exuberance and play that, of course, I would get overloaded. One of the things I appreciate about this group, is that when they match dogs and people the process is much kike adopting a child. You apply for dog adoption, but they don't just do first come first serve. They interview you, look at your home to be sure it's the best environment for the dog and check your references and with the doctor you have lined up for the dogs care before they fully consider you. So they are sure the person is the right fit for the dog, instead of the other way around.
So, after further discussion and with a heavy heart, we agreed it would be better for both Phin and me if I let this fur baby find a more fitting and wonderful family. One that would fit his needs better. And once we are settled in our new home, I will welcome the right senior cavalier into our home and into my heart.
Devastation and Tears
This was a devastating decision and not at all one taken lightly. We are still grieving our loss, and crying daily, even though I have faith the outcome for him will be a loving family with kids to play with and space to bounce around that we couldn’t provide. It feels like I lost my furry son and my heart is heavy. My level of overload has decreased and since giving him to his foster family, I have slept more than 3 hours and have had no seizures.
This level of Self-C.A.R.E feels selfish, cruel and opens the door wide for my inner judge and jury. My mind is constantly telling me I am a quitter. Telling me I gave up and never really gave it a chance. That I’m a horrible person. That I’m a hypocrite. But my body says differently. Yes my heart weighs heavy with grief. My body as a whole tells me I made the right choice for him and for me. It feels lighter, and I can breathe, where as when he was here, my nervous system was on overdrive and I couldn’t breathe because I was excessively anxious.
We also made the decision to send one of our cats to live with my parents (it was my moms cat anyway), because for years she would wake me up at night just as I would finally fall asleep. Which proved to be a very beneficial decision for both the cat and my mom. So I will have faith in the right home for my furry boy. We have only one pet now. We are soon moving to a smaller home away from the busy roads and constant activity of where we live. There are a lot of changes happening right now and there is a lot of guilt in my head, and heavy grief in my heart.
This injury- this invisible disability- has turned my world, and my families world, upside down in ways I never would have imagined three years ago. But if anything, I am fiercely determined to move forwards and figure out what makes my life a quality life, instead of a life I am just surviving through. Friends of mine with brain injuries have gone to doctors and spent thousands of dollars they don’t have on trials to see if new theories, therapy’s and medications can help ease symptoms. And for most, they only help for a limited time, if they help at all. I did my absolute best to put all the pieces in place to be set up for success. I did my best to figure out how to raise a puppy and to train him to be a service dog for myself, by myself all while being triggered every day, all day and living with the effects of a brain injury and severe PTSD. I need to be compassionate with myself here. I need to understand that there is a reason people who truly need a psychiatric service dog don’t train their own puppy, is that it really needs to be done by someone else. Someone who is experienced and can train the puppy to be the adult service dog that that person needs, then train them both how to live together successfully. I just wish the organizations around me would have been more open to allowing a civilian to have a psychiatric service dog. All the organizations I contacted turned me away because I wasn't military.
Determination and Love
I had a plan for success lined up. I had a trainer, the best food and the most loving and secure environment for him in place. But none of that mattered in the end. Maybe my fierce determination to finally have my service dog was all too soon. Maybe I forced something to happen before (the Universe knew) it was the right time, simply because I wanted to be in control of some outcome in my life. Especially since I feel so helpless to it now. Maybe I should have endured longer and just dealt with the suffering. I don’t have the answer. Right now I am grieving and figuring out how to heal. I still need the right service dog and still know it would be great for me. So does my doctor, my therapist and my family. But now I am going to just let it happen when it’s meant to happen. I’m going to volunteer at Cavalier Rescue of Florida and continue my healing journey. I am going to keep moving forwards one moment at a time. No matter how much of weight I carry in my heart every day.
I have to be honest. It’s been two months since we’ve welcomed Phineas into our home and in that time my symptoms and mental health have rapidly declined. I knew having a puppy wouldn't be easy, but since our trainer bailed two hours before he was set to come, we've been adrift in a vast ocean. There have been higher levels of anxiety and hypervigilence, migraine head pain that doesn't release or let up, an increase in a lack of sleep, overwhelm, vertigo and seizures just to start.
We finally found a trainer, but after the first session I was incredibly overwhelmed and I had nothing left. Neurofatigue set in quickly and I could no longer function for the rest of the day. I was like limp spaghetti, and I was having trouble with my bouncing bundle of energy and curiosity.
There are members of my family that believe this was a wrong decision. Although they were fully on board with me having a dog, they didn't believe a puppy was the right decision. I tell them he just needs training. And they agree. However my plate is beyond heaping- it’s overflowing and adding one more responsibility to my endless list of responsibilities isn’t actually taking care of myself. Despite how much I stubbornly persevere. I am also homeschooling my daughter, we are preparing to sell our house and buy another, I deal with constant triggers all day long from construction behind our house, trucks and cars barreling down the road outside our home and physical pain. If you live with a TBI/C-PTSD you understand how overstimulating and exhausting this alone can be.
My family can see that doing the required homework the dog trainer gives us, as often as he says it needs to be done for Phin to truly qualify as a service dog is killing me. Nonetheless I feel I need to see this through. I made a commitment to this animal. We have bonded and he feels like my furry child.
Am I making the right choice for me? I don’t know. There is certainly a lot of guilt around the idea of rehoming him. Which leads me to ask,”Would it be of greater service and benefit to me (and him) to keep him and see this through or to give him to a family that could give him the socialization and activity he needs?”.
As I reflect on this, I think about how Phineas naturally distracts me and brings me into the present when I am experiencing an anxiety attack. He helps me be mindful and in the moment. Which could prevent overwhelm and a seizure in the future, once trained properly and once he has the maturity to be calm about it instead of a spunky, chaotic puppy licking my face like a maniac. He naturally senses a chemical change in me and comes to comfort me when I get depressed. The Cavalier breed is like this naturally. They make excellent therapy dogs and psychiatric service dogs, so I know I chose the right breed. The rest, like following commands, having acceptable behavior in public and such, will come with proper training and maturity. As long as I can last the next few years with his puppy personality we will be good! My friends who have cavaliers and who foster them say that I would better off with a more senior dog, but I am hopeful.
As someone who has typically had cats all her life, life with a dog is a whole new experience. For one, I have been learning that you need to establish for yourself what your personal boundaries are with the dog and what your expectations are of your relationship. I spoke about this in one of my other blog posts, but I find it especially important to say again. This is because when integrating your long term love affair with your favorite cat, with your new relationship with your puppy, it can go down hill every quickly if you are not setting the ground rules right from the start.
I recently discovered that I, as the human being who is housing them, feeding them, giving them love and essentially, one hundred percent in charge of their entire lives, needs to remember that I am to be taken care of first. Again, otherwise things go downhill very quickly. Not only in my relationship with them, but in my health and personal well being. This is true of my other relationships as well. Because I am also a mother and a wife who, although doesn’t have a formal “job” that brings in an income (I do have a passion for empowering others through education and mentoring), I am running the entire household as well as every relationship within that home. I am constantly wearing a multitude of hats and juggling at all times-despite the brain injury's effects on me. But I am a teacher at heart and that is something that I have come to learn about myself. So the first lesson I teach (and apply for myself) is understanding boundaries and establishing respect. Without these in any relationship it's easy for chaos, finger pointing, anger and miscommunication to take a rapid turn south, dragging the relationship along with it.
Like I've said before, it all starts with me. I need to understand what boundaries I am establishing with the dog, and the cat, as well as my family, friends and from others in general. Being clear on what I am looking for in my relationships. And yes, this includes my healthcare team as well. As I’ve said before, in anther blog post, my healthcare team works for me. I hired them. I am paying them for a service and if I don't like the service I am getting, there are plenty of them out there to choose from. So why settle for someone who disrespects me or treats me like I’m just another dollar sign closer to paying off their car? I wouldn’t accept that from my dog, my husband, my child or anyone else in my family. Because I have learned to respect myself and establish boundaries. This is where self-advocacy begins. This is where being your own best friend comes in handy.
So now I ask you, what is your relationship like with yourself?
I am still learning who I am after the injury. There are glimmers of a person I once knew, but essentially that person is no longer here. There is someone here that I am befriending and getting to know better. Someone that will take some time to learn more about. Which is why I am starting with understanding what is important to her, what is it that is most valuable and essential to her heart? This is where the boundaries begin. This is where I better understand how she wants to be treated and start to respect that with each and every thought, spoke word and action I take. Just like my relationship with Phineas is a whole new world, so too is this relationship with this person I am now. It will take some time to let the rots take place, but I can feel them start to grow each and every day. Becoming firmer and more solid with each choice of Mindful Self-C.A.R.E along the way.
I won’t lie to you. Training a puppy while living with the effects of a mild traumatic brain injury and severe PTSD is no picnic. True training a puppy in “normal“ circumstances is not easy either. However, when you are already living with limitations and need constant accommodations to get through your days, it adds a whole new level of additional stress and overwhelm to your plate. In addition to this, we are searching for the right trainer (since ours bailed on us two hours before he was supposed to come) who can certify him as a legitimate psychiatric service dog.
There are far too may dogs out there with the red vest on that says “service” dog that are actually certified.
I have also talked with far too many people who have been bitten, chased or had to deal with some other inappropriate behavior. Now there are no regulations in place as of the writing of this blog post. Only that the dog met perform a service for its owner and hiring a professional trainer to help is not required. So with all the lawsuits that have come about due to this unregulated service, I am sure at some point all “service” dogs will have to meet certain lawful requirements to be in public with their owner. But until then, I will take the actions that bring me the greatest comfort and information so that my dog, Phineas, will be the best behaved dog while out in public and can actually provide the psychiatric service that go beyond an emotional support animal.
But I digress. The point of this blog post is to share with you that Phineas is living up to his name, which means oracle or a being with great wisdom believed to have communication with a higher power, and I am learning a lot more than I thought I would. Especially after only having him live with us now for three weeks.
One of the things I am learning in all my reading, researching and consultations with many, many trainers, “dog whisperer” and behaviorists, is that dogs, just like people, animals respond more to your body language and your energy than they do to your English spoken commands or words.
To me, this is the same as when we are parents. Our children from a very young age, mimic our actions, our behavior and our energy (angry, tired, short tempered or loving and patient) depending on what they are seeing most on a consistent basis. Anyone with a preteen or teen (or a two-three year old for that matter!) can attest to the fact that all too often their kids are blocking out their words or “ignoring them”. Only responding to their parents energy or their actions. If we are yelling and screaming all the time, this becomes the “norm” for our kids and they don’t respond because to them it becomes background noise. If however we are typically calm and patient and consistently in control, then we fly off the handle and get angry, our kids are moved into action.
Training a puppy has taught me that I need to truly walk my talk when it comes to Mindful Self-C.A.R.E. Because if I am not, then the dog will see me as weak and will suddenly decide that they need to take the lead.
When I embrace mindful Self Compassion, Appreciation, Respect and Encouragement I become clear about what I am needing from myself, from my healthcare, from my family and from my dog. And that clarity and confidence can be clearly felt. I am then seen as a confident, strong leader. This was not always popular with my healthcare team in the first year of my brain injury, but I could feel if what I was being told to do was or wasn’t actually helping. And I trusted my gut. Glad I did because my healing journey could have been a lot longer and a lot more frustrating otherwise. Again, I digress. The point is that Phineas follows my lead and there is a lot less struggle going on now.
This principle holds true in our relationships with our kids, our friends, family and people we know inside and outside our intimate circle.
When we practice Mindful Self-C.A.R.E for ourselves daily, we are better able to let go of the chaos cluttering up our minds. We trust our body wisdom to lead the way. We are clear about what we need to nurture, nourish and empower ourselves. And we become more consistently confident, calmer and more in control of our lives and the quality of them. We are clear about our boundaries through our body language. Not because we gave a long speech about it or because we had a sudden temper tantrum. Our body language and energy simply reveal that we are clear about what and who is most important to us. We are clear about what is acceptable and what is not. Yes, we are very capable of being flexible, adaptable and open-minded so that we can grow and evolve. And yet because we are our own best friend, we are true to our authentic Selves (instead of the ego self) and stay true to our personal boundaries, embracing our unique needs so that others can too.
This makes training a puppy much easier and less chaotic. I am teaching him how to treat me and what I expect from him in our relationship.
We have created a routine and a lifestyle that accommodate my needs. It may not be in alignment with what most trainers may say, or how most people would train their dog. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s working for us, and that is all that matters.
Information contained within this site does not take the place of professional medical care. It is for educational purposes only and created with the intention of offering support and empowerment to women struggling to find wholistic and natural answers to their challenges. Every individual is responsible for their own actions, choices and behavior.