In this series I am going to share my year long adventures with my new puppy, Phineas.
I've never had a puppy before. I have always had cats. In fact we still do have two cats which have been quite the emotional support animals for me these past two years as I've been on my healing journey. Now with the recommendation of my doctor and therapist, a mTBI and PTSD (and some help from a professional trainer), I am going to take my new puppy (a Cavalier King Charles) to service dog. Cavaliers are known to be great psychiatric service dogs and have been shown to be very effective in helping people who struggle with anxiety, depression and PTSD.
I'll be learning right along with him how to navigate this big, scary world. One of the aspects of my symptoms is social anxiety. I can put on a brave face and fake that I am OK at the grocery store or any store where I would shop. However, I am frozen where I am when it comes to almost any other social situation. In fact, if I'm out and see even just two or three people gathered together I feel afraid. I typically need to know where I am going is familiar and safe. Which is new to me because I've always been quite the adventurer before the accident. Phineas will prevent me from being a "shut-in" and get me out to see the world again. Grounding me and helping me feel safe. It's certainly a lot better than a grown woman carrying a teddy bear!
There are many new aspects of who I am now that I need to get to know and become friends with, just as I am becoming friends with Phineas. So as I move forwards in this new adventure, I am going to share with you all the good times, the struggles and everything in between as we journey down this new road together.
I will be practicing Mindful Self C.A.R.E each step of the way and including Mindful & Restorative Yoga as well. These have been two essential parts of what has helped me be so successful on this healing journey. Lucy & Katie (my cats), as well as my family have been the other. Phineas (puppy) is the latest addition.
So join us and subscribe as Phineas goes from puppy to service dog this year, and I learn how to navigate this new life with a TBI & PTSD.
Week One with Phineas
Boy do I have a lot to learn and Adjust to. I knew having a puppy was like having an infant but I didn't realize it would take quite this much out of me. Yes having a new puppy is exhausting for anyone, doing this on your own with no prior experience, only YouTube videos to help guide the way, and all the symptoms that go along with my life now feels impossible. I have been asking myself daily if we did the right thing having a new puppy. Should we have continued to wait for an older more experienced dog? Should we have waited until I was at the 3 year milestone?
But each time I ask myself those questions, I look into his beautiful face and know he was meant to be with me. So far we have been bonding. We are playing together, cuddling together, and he has gotten me outside into my noisy backyard. This is a house we just moved into and now need to leave because the traffic is so much closer to us than we thought would affect me. I have to wear earplugs 24/7, and live in a constant state of hypervigilance in my own home. Going into the backyard has triggered me further. For Phineas though I attempted it so he could go potty. With my earplugs in, my sunglasses on and my bucket hat to shield me from the Florida rays, we ventured out to the backyard to go potty. That was a learning experience. He did great. I however was triggered and it set off a PNES (psychogenic non-epileptic seizure) from the overwhelm of being in the backyard with big, loud 18-wheeler trucks barreling past on the road right near our house, and the sounds of construction going on right behind us. It was just too much for me. It didn't phase him in the slightest. So now we have a fake patch of grass he can go potty on inside the house. It is in his playpen and near the door to go out. I decided that instead of adding to my stress and taking him outside, this would take care of both our needs-him to relieve himself, and me to prevent another seizure. I take him to the park, or the new development where our new house is being built to go outside because it is much quieter there.
Thinking outside the box and trusting my gut (intuition) has been a huge help. My head is still telling me this is a bad idea because it is so unfamiliar to me or my family. The cats have sequestered themselves upstairs and only Lucy has dared to check out the new family member. My mind keeps guilting me into believing I am being neglectful of the cats ( I call them "the girls") because the baby (Phineas) needs me. But my gut feeling says that everything will be good. It just takes time and patience.
So far in this first week, we have visited his grandparents, been to the park(!), the pet store and have been learning sit, to come when his name is called, lay down and to walk on a leash. I have another 7 days before the trainer comes. Phineas is very smart, snugly and truly a Velcro dog! He hates to be away from me, which is a great relief when I am out of the house. He will need to learn to share my time with the girls and the rest of the family though. But he just got here, so it will happen. He has already brought me comfort and has snuggled closer to me when Ive had a breakdown sobbing due to exhaustion and overwhelm. As I was beginning to seize he sat in my lap and licked my face, which was distracting and helped bring me into the present moment. It's only been a week. I am looking forward to seeing what happens in the weeks to come. Will the girls and Phin become friends? Will we begin to master basic commands? How will I learn to incorporate my yoga practice into my life with him? I guess we will both find out....
Today I thought I'd share from my truly personal journal. I have been struggling a lot lately and this is what came to me as I journaled. I believe in auto-writing and it's ability to help us uncover answers we never realized we had. For me this comes through in auto-writing and in intuitive nudges. Every single one of us is given intuitive nudges through gut feelings, a simple "knowing" without any logical reasoning, and even internal whispers we may hear in our head, even all of them sometimes. In either case this is what came to me as I was writing the other day. Maybe it can offer you some help as well.
September 20, 2020
It's almost the two year mark and it doesn’t serve me to keep resisting the fact that I now live with the effects of traumatic brain injury and severe PTSD. No, I’ve never been in the military. I have lived in the suburbs a majority of my life and for the most part, at least in my eyes, I have live a fairly normal suburban life. So how do I have this diagnosis? It’s simple, events in my life have accumulated to this point. Let's start with the car accidents: I’ve been involved in 9 car accidents, only two were actually my fault. One involved me bouncing off the windshield of the car as a pedestrian, another with me inside my car when it went upside down. Others involved severe whiplash from fender benders. I’ve had other events occur in my life as well that I disassociated from and pushed down for years. Events that involve people I trusted and people out in the world that I didn't know harming me. Let's leave it at that. I pushed these things down for so long not wanting to address them that eventually they became locked away in Pandora’s box. Now, since this latest car accident two years ago, It opened and everything came flooding out like a tidal wave. But I didn't notice it quite as much while my brain was healing from being so swollen. No this became much more apparent once the swelling started coming down.
I keep looking back at who I was before this accident and before Pandora's stupid box was opened. It changed my life forever. I keep comparing the person I was to the person I am now. When you look from the outside there is not much to see as a comparison. I’ve gotten very good at masking or covering up what is actually going on with me under the surface for about an hour or so, so you can’t tell that I live with dizziness, vertigo, headaches or migraines, sensory overwhelm and hypervigilence daily. From the outside I appear just like everyone else. But what does that mean exactly? There are millions of people that struggle with some sort of invisible disability. Millions of people that have been so affected that they have trouble holding down a job, keeping relationships and knowing who to trust because so many feel they have been taken advantage or harmed in some way by people. Some of them include people who intended to help them heal, but only ended up doing more harm than good. I for one have lost faith in the western medical community. Not because I don’t think they are proficient at their job in an Emergency Room. When I am in an emergency situation, I trust the doctors and nurses to know what they are doing to save my life, they are highly skilled when it comes to emergency medicine. When my father was diagnosed with cancer, they were very helpful. When my mother had kidney stones, they were very helpful. When my father-in-law had a stroke, they were helpful. However, when it comes to maintaining health and wholistic wellness, or an ailment that goes beyond emergency needs, that’s where I personally have had way to many negative experiences that have added to my personal trauma. Those stories and experiences are mine, and there is way too much to dive into that is troubling for me, but I can share that it was because of those events that I chose to look towards wholistic and eastern medicine instead of western medicine for my long term care.
Wholistic and Eastern Medicine sees the body, mind and spirit as an entirely whole and integrated system that is connected with nature. Everything interrelates to one another. Our physical body, mental body, emotional body and energy body are all in sync with the elements in nature. And once we align and balance those elements we can introduce genuine healing and balance. Which has been extremely helpful for me in reducing anxiety and overwhelm as well as calming my physical symptoms.
Twenty years ago I studied Jin Shin Jyutsu and after three years of study became a practitioner. I learned all about the energy body so that I could help myself heal from the pain, suffering and trauma associated with the car accident that had me bouncing off a car windshield as a pedestrian. It was a life saver! And come to think of it, there are no traumatic effects left from that car accident, and I couldn't cross the street for three years after that one, even with therapy!
I remember how I would just lay on the massage table with my clothes on and a blanket over me, I would have three practitioners-in-training gently placing their hands on specific spots of my back, my leg or my head and I would suddenly begin to feel a deep sense of relaxation, inner peace and calm. I think I need to start getting back into that again. Find my textbooks to apply healing to myself and find a practitioner near me to help take my healing to a deeper level, without having to talk about the trauma.
Our energy body is so sensitive that it can pick up disharmony or dis-ease before the physical body even shows any signs or symptoms. It can be felt/read in the pulses, seen on our face, on our tongue, in our mannerisms and in our energy field. It will then travel to the mental/emotional body, and finally the physical body. By working with the energy body we in turn help all aspects of ourselves heal and harmonize. Maybe this is how I heal and close Pandora's box of trauma.
It does me no good to keep looking backwards. To resist the movement forwards that life takes. All of life, all of creation evolves, changes, and transforms in one way or another. The weather, the seasons, even the ability to go from a thought to conception, from an infant to an adult all require forwards movement and evolution. We all learn new things that eventually influence how we see the world, interact with others and relate with ourselves. We live through life events that affect our perspective of the world around us. But no matter who we are when we resist change, when we resist the flow of life, when we resist embracing who we are in every gifted moment, we harm ourselves simply because we resist natural evolution. Maybe even who we truly are and the life we were meant to live. Maybe it’s not the life we intended, but it is the life we were given with a higher purpose.
Yes, I am totally pissed that life as I knew it was disrupted. Yes, I am depressed that I am not able to be the same fun and adventurous mother and wife I was before the accident. I am now timid and afraid to be in public, let alone be around even small groups of people. Can I get things done like food shopping? I force myself too because delivery is too expensive and I only can afford half the food I need If I have it delivered. I even force myself to go shopping with my daughter so I can feel like I'm the same ol' mom for her. But the truth is we can only go at certain times and certain places due to my hypervigilance and brain injury symptoms. Is this causing new neuropathways to form engaging post-traumatic-growth or am I re-traumatizing myself? I guess it depends on the day, how I am feeling when I go and other stuff too.
What I do know, is that resisting forward momentum or evolution doesn’t help with healing. It doesn’t help me live my higher purpose and it doesn’t allow for growth. When I resist, it comes from fear. Unconditional Love and FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) can not share the same space. So the question becomes - do I want to live in fear the rest of my life or am I ready to embrace Unconditional Love? What am I going to focus on? Because what I focus on is going to water the seeds I plant. What do I want to grow? Who do I imagine myself to be even with these impairments to my life?
Severe PTSD means that I am constantly living in fear. I live in a state of hypervigilance. I also live with the effects of a traumatic brain injury that has left me living life with hyper-sensory sensitivity. However there are certain things I can do, accommodations I can make to block out the scary world around me so I can give my nervous system a break. One thing I do is put silicone earplugs in my ears to help filter out triggering sounds and certain vibrations that not only turn on my fight or flight response, but physically hurt my head and cause pain and imbalance. Another is that I wear a bucket hat to help me shield the light and to help me feel more secluded from the outside world which I find scary. I wear sunglasses to help shield my eyes from painful light, and I stay within the boundaries that I have discovered help me feel safe. I also tend to be a homebody now, more than I ever was before. It's almost on the verge of being a shut in but I am getting a puppy to train as a service dog to help with that. Some people may not see those actions as an act of Self-love. But what better act of love is there than the act of caring for yourself? Of nurturing yourself and making choices that nurture you support or empower you? Yes, I tend to resist moving forwards, but I am realizing now that making the choice to live within my boundaries, to be in balance with nature, to harmonize my energy body and live in the way that helps me feel stronger, more resilient and safe are exactly what I need to embrace this new life. Maybe even accept it enough to embrace the possibility that I can move forwards and fulfill a higher purpose I was not aware of before.
As I sit here in the wee hours of the morning, all I am thinking about how I am suffering. Then this feeling of warmth and love wash over me and I remember something I once said to my students, "Mindful Self-C.A.R.E is a choice every single moment of the day. We can either choose to nurture, nourish and empower ourselves through mindful Self Compassion, Appreciation, Respect and Encouragement, or we can be victims of circumstance and suffer."
There are days, many days, where it seems easier to simply choose to ignore the choice of practicing Mindful Self C.A.R.E. To follow the path of least resistance because it seems to take less energy and because it’s familiar. But just because something seems easier doesn't mean it is, and just because it is familiar, doesn't mean it's beneficial to me. Toxic relationships are familiar, but they aren't necessarily beneficial. Speaking to myself with compassion, appreciation and understanding are very soothing and nurturing. They are encouraging and give me strength. Much better than the now familiar self-criticizing, self-judging and constant competition with my old self and with more able-bodied people. Words of Compassion are something that I often desperately need in moments of despair. A simple word or phrase to myself such as,”I’m safe”, “I can do this” or “ I’m allowed to slow down and honor my needs” can make all the difference between struggling and suffering or adapting and acknowledging my accomplishment. It honors and respects my unique needs, my unique body and my unique life. Words of compassion can even be a gentle reminder of the story of the turtle and the hare, with an encouraging reminder to myself that "I got this-my way". Which may feel like I'm are lying to myself at times, but is actually a mindful choice that when acted upon, builds my confidence, sparks new neural connections and pathways in the brain, allows for positive growth, and, I'm discovering, offers the body permission to let go of the pain it may be holding onto and has trouble letting go of.
I have been needing to re-learn how to implement Mindful Self-C.A.R.E into my life again. What was once second nature, is now something that is a bit alien to this new version of me. Sure I know the steps, I know the paradigms to a more fulfilling life, I created them twenty years ago. But applying them right now, in this brain fogged, pain-filled and anxious state that has been inconsistent and unpredictable can seem challenging. So I've started with a few small steps, in a few small areas, to make it easier to make it a habit again.
One of the simple ways I have been learning to welcome in some Mindful Self-C.A.R.E again, is waking up in the morning and choosing to grab a glass of water before the coffee. It hydrates the mind, wakes it up after being dehydrated all night long and helps it function more efficiently. By mindfully drinking my water or my coffee. and maybe enjoying the smell even before taking a sip, noticing the color, the temperature as it enters my mouth, and the taste on my tongue as well as the sensation it gives me in my body, offers me an opportunity to welcome in enjoyment and pleasure. Something many of us in the TBI community (and in the invisible disability community) don't often get. And actually, choosing herbal tea instead of coffee is also a choice of mindful Self-C.A.R.E since it's both hydrating and warming to the soul, as well as calming to my nervous system.
I am reminded that Mindful Self-C.A.R.E doesn’t have to be grand choices or momentous moments. Simply something that is integrated in my life already, with a more positive twist. So instead of cursing the cars that go by my house and vibrate the bones in my head causing me pain, I can exhale loudly, plug my ears and say to myself, "letting them go by. Letting them go by", and then just let them go, instead of holding onto the pain and suffering as much. When I am at a doctors appointment, instead of giving over all my power to the doctor, I advocate for myself by listening to my gut. Trusting my body to let me know if the doctor's recommendations would be a good fit for my body and my healing, or if another alternative would be better by simply asking what other options are there, or what experience do you personally have with this diagnosis. They may not like being challenged, but it is empowering to have the ability to know what is true and right for you in any given moment. And learning to listen to and trust the innate wisdom we are all gifted with at birth is powerful.
Instead of lying in bed awake and due to anxiety, I can lay there and practice alternate nostril breathing, or do a few mindful and restorative yoga poses in bed or on the floor. Maybe I have a soothing bath with some aromatherapy and Epsom salt or I place my hand on my belly and ask myself “What would nourish and nurture me down to my soul right now?”. Then the first answer that arises, through a feeling an image or a quick thought-just do it- without debate or question. Our body's never lies to us. The mind is the manipulator. And the more I check in with my body and follow through with what it says it needs, whether it is a certain food, therapy, life choice, relationship or whatever- I am practicing Mindful Self-C.A.R.E. Because I am honoring my unique needs.
Mindful Self-C.A.R.E has already proven to me that it is essential to my healing. It proved it twenty years ago when I was first created the program for myself when I couldn't find the kind of help I was looking for to help me heal the toxic relationship I had with myself, then was eventually able to help others do the same. Now it has evolved to adapt to help me heal my experience with this TBI/PTSD and I am learning exactly how essential it is to THIS journey of healing. Not just physically, but emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well. It turns on my ability to advocate for myself, to be more self-sufficient in my own way, to be resilient; to reset, rest and digest all of my life experiences and my food, to cultivate a relationship with the person I am now, and let go of some of the anger. My life may never be the same as it was, but then again a caterpillar, once changed into a butterfly can never go back either.
Within days after the accident that left with with the lifelong symptoms of TBI/C-PTSD, my husband contacted a lawyer. He wanted me to keep a journal of everything that was going on with me. A few months after, I began talking with a psychologist and she wanted me to do the same. Each for different reasons. One with the intent on helping my case, the other with the intent of helping me heal. As I am coming up on my 2 year milestone, I began reading through my entries. What I find amazing, is that by doing so, I can see so many ways in which I have actually healed, even if I am having a difficult time seeing it. I have also noticed areas that I still need to spend more time focusing on, acknowledging and embracing. If you keep a journal maybe you notice similar things when you review it at the end of a year. Below is one of the entries that most deeply resonates with me still. Maybe you can relate.
AN ENTRY FROM MY PERSONAL JOURNAL 06/12/2019
I have been trying to convince myself that if I just follow the advice I have been teaching for years ("If you change your mindset, then your mind will change and so will your life"), the actual symptoms of this TBI will simply turn into a minor, temporary inconvenience. I've been trying to convince myself that the injured person I am now, a person who needs to lower her daily expectations due to slower abilities in mental processing, limited physical ability and hyper sensory-sensitivity, a person who becomes easily overwhelmed as well as emotionally unstable, is all just a bad dream. Trying to convince myself that the stress and exhaustion from just doing my best to do regular daily tasks (like brush my teeth and take a shower) and get through every day (be a good mom, wife, friend), is no different than the every day stress I had before the accident. But that's a big lie. And I am struggling to embrace the truth. I don’t know how to put into words how there is a totally different person inside this body now. Someone I don't recognize. Someone I don't know. I feel like there are two versions of me inside this body and only one has the strength to take charge. And it's not the one I'm familiar with. She is weak and on deaths door.
I am in mourning. My depression and mourning come from the death of the person I was once easily able to identify myself with. A person who for 48 years I got to understand intimately. Through years of meditation, insight and self study I knew all her strengths, boundaries and quirks inside an out. She is only a whisper of a memory now. Someone new resides within this body now. She physically looks like Dina, has the same nurturing, compassionate, loving heart as Dina, and yet she’s someone else. Someone slower, but much more anxious. Someone more intensely sensitive- not just sensory sensitive, but emotionally sensitive, more empathic and hyper-sensitive to energy in any environment struggling to make sense of everything coming at her and bombarding her which is very overwhelming. This new version is now dependent, fearful, anxious, timid and socially impaired. Terrified to step outside the house. There is struggle to regulate emotions and this new person can go from happy & content to depressed & timid or to raging with anger with the flip of a switch. To the outside world I look like they do. No one can see the torture I live with day in and day out. They only see that old person, the one who has twenty years of knowledge to share with others about stress management, mindfulness and self-care from research, personal practice and teaching. Yet now putting it into practice for myself in the midst of this TBI is like trying to grab an oil drenched balloon worm. Just when I think I have a hold on it, it slips & slides away from me and I just can't get a grip.
Before the accident, training my mind was like a being skilled dog trainer who is patiently training a puppy. Practice, repetition and patience were essential tools that came easily, and over time, the consistency created amazing results. Now this TBI/PTSD brain, an alien form of anxiety, unpredictability and inconsistency are boss. I am mourning the loss of my old identity.
Who I am is different. I wish I could put my finger on it and give an exact explanation to where all the subtle shifts and differences are beyond what I already said- but the bottom line is I am mourning the loss of Dina. There is someone different here now- someone with similar core traits, but very different just the same.
I’m not quite ready to get to know her yet, I'm still in mourning from my loss. I’m not ready for a shiny new relationship and all the energy, work and time that goes into cultivating it. I’m grieving. Putting on a show for my daughter, my husband, my family and others outside my inner circle because nobody understands, and never will unless they’ve walked a mile in my shoes. I believe I need to be a good role model for my daughter who also sustained a mild TBI in the accident. I want her to know how to honor, respect herself. To take actions that nurture her unique needs so she can make her own healing journey easier. So I need to walking my talk- I need to take steps to mindfully C.A.R.E for myself. So, I am honoring my grief. I am offering myself Compassion and acknowledging there is someone different here now. I am going to find a way to appreciate her for who she is and what she has to teach me. I will learn how to respect my boundaries, instead of forcing myself to quickly get on with life. I will learn how to offer words of encouragement for myself and be an advocate for not only my unique needs but the needs of all others with a TBI that aren't being heard. But right now, I am in mourning. I am keeping this new version of me just on the edge of my vision and at arms length. I’m not ready to embrace her yet. Right now it’s just me and the memory of my old self huddled together grieving, crying and mourning. That is the first step.
When I'm done I will do my best to put a smile on my face and get through another overwhelming day.
Before my brain injury I was someone that was outgoing, passionate, and marched to the beat of my own drummer. Someone who was self-sufficient and ready to take on the word.
A nurturing person that felt a sense purpose to empower women that were troubled with generalized anxiety and overwhelm. Women who felt like a doormat for others and lost in the world because they didn't know themselves.
Because I had both the personal experience and the education to benefit others with what I’d learned about transforming their relationship with themselves and their stress, I set out to help them. And I did. With a program that took me a decade to mindfully and lovingly develop. Soon I was effectively helping women across the country learn how to mindfully bring more Compassion, Appreciation, Respect and Encouragement into their lives- to be their own best friend. And women loved it! It totally changed their lives for the better. My life felt successful!
And in a matter of seconds, after my brain injury, it all changed. Nothing prepared me for how vulnerable, fragile, timid or fearful I would be. Nothing prepared me for the high level of anxiety or hyper-vigilance I would experience. I had gone from someone who was a confident, passionate, driven, motivated woman who was ready to change the world to a tender, fragile baby bird who felt all alone and unprotected in the big scary world.
At first I was in denial. Since my daughter was in the accident too, my only focus was on making sure SHE was healthy, strong and stable. So I did my best to shove down my symptoms. shrugged them off, push them aside, pulled up my Big Girl Pants and soldiered on. In the first couple of weeks this was easier because I think I was still working on adrenaline. My only focus was my daughter's well being. Although my symptoms were bad, ignored them. I cooked, cleaned, and entertained for the holiday while I shoved down the truth. I was in agony. I mean real agony. And I think you know what I mean. I was dealing with massive head pain, vertigo, dizziness, nausea, instability, confusion, muscle weakness and more. But I pushed onward determined to be seen as strong and capable.
After about three weeks my daughter was back at school. She was still healing, but in better shape than me. Once she left, I lay down on the couch. suddenly the headache, nausea, vertigo, tinnitus, tingling in my face, arms and fingers, the muscle weakness and more, took me over like a tidal wave. A perfect storm of surging waves destroying everything in its wake. I was suddenly disabled and I didn't know what to do.
After a moment or two, I clawed my way to my husbands bedside I said “I need to go back to the ER. I’m not OK.” Taking one look at me, he jumped out of a heavy sleep, threw on clothes and we rushed out the door.
After an ambulance ride from one hospital to another, an MRI scan and a seizure later, I was finally home with the diagnosis of traumatic brain injury, whiplash and a few other things. Now that I was no longer on adrenaline my body had sent up the flairs that it needed attention NOW. Within a matter of days my speech began to slur more and more, and it slowed down a lot. Muscle control and coordination was weak. I couldn't even hold a toddler cup to take a drink. I was unstable on my legs and my gate was completely off. Like I was walking on jello legs. Every motion, every sound, every light, every smell and experience was overstimulating, unnerving and overwhelming. I felt tender and vulnerable like a baby bird that fell out of its nest.
My feeling of vulnerability didn’t end there though. Every turn I made within the medical community only left me feeling more and more powerless, vulnerable and confused. No one acknowledged my condition, no one took me seriously, including the neurologist who's office I had a full blown seizure in before I even got to fill out my paperwork. My symptoms were gaining in strength and in variety. I felt I had no one I could count on to help me heal and get me back to who I was before. Not one medical person acknowledged my suffering as real. Not one medical person treated me like a human-being who was in genuine pain...because they couldn't see it in their limited tests. I felt all alone and drift at sea.
To me the world was now a big, scary place. And I needed to fully depend on another person for my welfare and safety, just like an infant. This level of vulnerability was paralyzing for me. Especially as someone who had the strong constitution to be independent and to make it through life on her own terms. For someone who tended to be self-sufficient and independently minded, it was emotionally crushing.
I was in brain fog thicker than pea soup, but I had to learn to quiet the voice inside my head that was criticizing, judging and nagging me about not "being a quitter". I had to quiet the part of my mind that told me I was lazy, that I needed to push harder, to fight more and stop being a wimp. The part of my mind that was making my symptoms worse. Making me feel more vulnerable and less empowered.
But I had an ally that helped me. You see no person is an island. We need the support and compassion of others, whether it comes from an individual or a community, to help us release the lies our mind tells us. The lies that tell you it's not OK to take time to heal. That it's not OK to be vulnerable and to hide away until you're feeling strong enough to face the world one moment at a time. My husband was that compassionate, supportive, genuinely kind person for me. He told me we would find the right psychologist or me that understood traumatic brain injury and PTSD. And we did. Without them, I don’t know how I would have gotten through that first year. And if you have someone who is a patient, caring, compassionate and supportive listener, count them as your own personal blessing. They are truly a gift that needs to be acknowledged and thanked.
One of the things that is so debilitating about vulnerability is that you feel so isolated. You feel like you are the only one experiencing this since so many other people seem to do just fine int the world. They don't have any idea what you are going through every day. But reaching out to others whether it is on social media, an online support group, in person through a support group, or reaching out to a friend who has been through this can be more empowering. No, it may not get rid of the feeling of vulnerability, but it can soften the feeling of isolation that goes along with it. That feeling that tends to make every symptom worse.
Personally to help soften the feeling of vulnerability even further, I've been finding that talking with myself with compassion instead of criticism or comparison to be helpful. It helps me to gain emotional strength in my own home amidst the overwhelming sound of lawnmowers, cars passing by, construction and other machinery every day. Those sounds tend to overwhelm me and make me feel unsafe. As does neighbors being outside and doing things I can hear. But talking to myself with a nurturing tone, and with kindness and compassion make a difference. I tell myself all the ways I am safe in my home. I bring my attention to what I can touch right now, such as the cold of the tile floor under my feet. Then I inhale and bring my breath down to my feet. Exhaling out a long breath from my feet until the entire breath is blown out completely. I do this a couple of times until I feel stable again. This helps to ground me. It eases the illusion of being unsafe in my home, even though it feels and seems very real in the moment. I have also found that L-Theanine and GABA to be highly effective in reducing my feelings of overwhelm and high anxiety (hypervigilance). To further aid in cultivating a feeling of safety in our home, we installed a tall privacy fence. I wear earplugs every day so that sounds of machinery and people aren't so overwhelming. And recently, we put down a deposit on a dog that will be trained as a psychiatric service dog to help me function more independently in the world too.
I share me personal experience with a TBI/PTSD because although we may all be diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD (the perfect storm), we each experience it differently due to our unique personality, our personal perspective, the cause or causes of our injury...and more. And yet some of our experiences are very much the same. This feeling of intense vulnerability can suck...and until we can be in a place where we are comfortable seeing it from another perspective it will constantly suck. It can also be seen as a wake up call that we need to be more gentle with ourselves. That we need to stop pushing, striving and working so damn hard to prove our worth. T view it as a reminder that just the fact that you survived is a testament to your strength, your fortitude and your immense value. Once I surrendered to the knowledge that I was loved unconditionally by the source of all creation, that I was part of a community of people struggling with symptoms just like me, that I could heal and hide away until I felt strong enough to take a step forwards again, resiliency began taking hold.
I live with the effects of several traumatic brain injuries and complex PTSD every day. But I refuse to let it define me or limit the quality of my life. And my lifestyle has definitely changed. Now I make choices with my family that take in account my sensitivity to people, places and experiences that don't allow me to feel safe, and choose experiences that we all can enjoy. I have learned to make choices in my lifestyle to slow down, to be more compassionate and kind with myself and to free toxic people from my life. To only let in healing methods, people and experiences that empower me. This is all part of the healing journey. And as long as I remember that everything in life is unpredictable and temporary, I can slowly let go of my fear and overwhelm one small, safe step at a time, at the pace that is just right for me.
8/31/2020 0 Comments
Imagine spending several decades of your life learning how to harness the power of your mind, where you stop letting it control you and you start controlling your own thoughts. Where you mindfully cultivate a life that puts you in the drivers seat. A life where you are in control of your outcomes and your responses to them. Where you can transform your health physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually through mindfulness, meditation and wholistic life choices. Where every area of your life, from food to career to relationships of all kinds is balanced, fulfilling and filled with love.
Now imagine that you are so skilled at this, that it becomes your livelihood. You mentor and teach other women across the nation how to transform generalized anxiety, overwhelm, depression, and feelings of worthlessness. You work in collaboration with psychologists, social workers, nurses and other health professionals. Your whole career is centered around empowering women through a program that took you a decade to develop and give birth to (The Art of Mindful Self-C.A.R.E). A program where women cultivate the ability to Mindfully nurture and nourish themselves with Compassion, Appreciation, Respect and Encouragement. They learn to create a higher quality of life and foster more healthy relationships. So they can be there for those they love, and have a responsibility to, without neglecting their own needs in the process. A program that is building in momentum and success. A program that is a joy to be a part of because it is making such a positive shift in other women's lives, just as it has made a shift in your own. And as an entrepreneur, to finally reach that point where things start flowing on their own, and the constant pushing and struggle is almost a thing of the past, is a wonderful relief!
Then, one day in just a few seconds, it all comes to a stop. That is my story. Despite my efforts to continue teaching, mentoring and doing my job, the injury I sustained to my brain and my body needed to heal. Suddenly I was on auto pilot and I was mindlessly living my life. But I needed me to stop everything I was doing. Because I was making things much worse by attempting to mindlessly push through.
This accident wasn't my first rodeo.
I had sustained at least 9 other concussions and traumatic injuries to my head and body before. I've been upside down in a flipped car, I've bounced off the windshield of a moving car in a parking garage, I've been in a car that bounced off the side of a mountain wall several times, as well as various other traumatic events that have inevitably left their mark on my body physically, mentally and emotionally. Yet each time one of those events happened, I pushed through it. Ignoring the pain and the other side effects. If I'm honest with myself, I think I was more embarrassed than anything. So I would "pull up my big girl pants" and push through. Not the wisest choice, I must say.
But that is our culture, isn't it?
Our culture doesn't exactly have much understanding or compassion for people who are struggling with invisible injuries of any kind. There isn't much compassion for someone who is suffering with emotional turmoil beyond the every day struggles. There isn't much understanding for mental challenges that can impact how a person functions in the world. Or the nerve pain that no one can see, the chronic fatigue, or a long list of symptoms that many people live with every day, but appear to be "normal" on the outside.
Our culture tends to be just fine with recognizing any injury that can be physically seen or touched. Anything that looks like it is "just a mechanical problem that needs to be fixed". And if I'm honest, the first two years of my healing journey I was no different. Despite all my years of training and personal development, and we are talking decades here, when it came to my own healing, there came a point where I was only paying attention to the physical healing aspect. Most likely because it was the biggest thing going on in my life and it was the only thing I experienced-physical pain.
If you've sustained a brain injury (traumatic or acquired), you know what I'm talking about. There is a laundry list of symptoms that completely take over your very existence. Conscious thought is impossible. You are in a dense mental fog thicker than pea soup, often for months. Every day life skills are close to impossible, such as holding a cup, walking, speaking, remembering names of things (for example, I couldn't give you the name for a lime or many of the foods in our refrigerator or things in our house for many months after the accident), and you are super sensitive to motion, light, sounds and smells, you may even have seizures. Just to name a few of the things you may experience (like I did).
When the physical body has been injured it requires time to heal.
This is true of the brain as well. And when the brain is injured to the point of swelling, everything it controls is affected as well. This is much different than breaking your leg or any other body part. When you break your leg you have another one to rely on and a brain to help you figure out how to navigate the world until it heals. When you brain is injured, or "broken" the very part of your anatomy that everything else relies on can't really do it's job. So life as you know it has to change. Just like the care that is required for the broken leg, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, your brain needs TLC too. And time to heal. Which is incredibly difficult since everything we do relies on the brains ability to function. So if you think taking a shower with a broken leg is challenging, imagine going to take a shower, but you don't remember how the water goes on, or if you've washed you hair yet, so you end up washing it three times, forgetting to clean your body in the process. Then you are so exhausted from the noise of the shower, the lights in the bathroom and the energy spent from the experience, that you can barely get out to dry yourself. Then you need a nap from the whole experience. Our brain deserves as much attention to healing as our body does. And it takes longer to heal since it keeps working even when we think we are doing nothing.
Mental and emotional trauma needs time to heal too.
Now that I am a couple of years into this healing journey, I'm learning that although I have years of experience in the mental emotional category, I have been mindlessly avoiding it. Focusing instead on the physical and not facing the mental and emotional trauma that needs to be addressed. Once I take steps to soften traumas hold on me and my quality of life, I can continue to heal and cultivate a higher quality of life than I am presently living.
I'm learning that Complex PTSD is not the same as the generalized anxiety/depression that I once helped other women heal. It's a bigger animal. Think of it this way: Generalized anxiety/depression (90% of people who are diagnosed with GAD are also diagnosed with depression), is like a household cat. Found in many homes, tameable and a friend who gives you space and doesn't require a lot of time or energy after a while. Complex PTSD is the equivalent of a full grown tiger suddenly being let loose in your home. You are constantly on alert, hyper-vigilant, for your own safety and the safety of those you love. You are in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze. And this tiger drains you of all your energy because it forces you to give it your constant attention. Your ability to do anything other than be aware of the tiger in your home is practically non-existent. It is all you can focus on. But I am discovering a secret to tiger taming. One that is whole person focused.
I am learning how to make peace with that tiger.
I am aware that it will be an adventure. Probably the most challenging part of this healing journey. And this is how I view it. A Mindful Healing Journey through a Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD. On this journey though, I have not packed a map. I know generally where I want to be, but I have found that the rules that once were very helpful for me before the injury, are now stress triggers. Goals, and other motivational methods or tools only create added anxiety for me. Mostly because I no longer can do things the way I once was able. Even my thinking isn't the same. Who I am now is different. Sure the authentic parts of me are still here. My soul and essential Self are in tact. But I am tired of suffering. I am tired of the inconsistency, the unreliability and pain. So for things to change, I need to change the way I do things. I need to take things slower, be more patient with myself, offer myself Mindful Self-C.A.R.E, and give myself the gift of unconditional love.
This is where I am these days. From this place I find that trusting my innate wisdom is the best navigational tool around. It is my personal GPS or North Star. And every time I have listened to it, then followed through with what it subtly says to me (because I trust it), I have never been disappointed. I did this to help me on my healing journey in the first two years, and the results have been amazing when we look at where I was to where I am now. So I will continue to listen and trust it for the healing journey for my mental and emotional bodies as well.
Each of us are born with an innate wisdom. A part of ourselves that unbreakable, unburnable, indestructible. A part of ourselves that is infinite. Connected to the source of all creation, no matter what you call it. The wisdom from this innate source within has guided me to wholistic paths of healing has proven to be effective, sustainable and simple. And I've often discovered that even though I don't understand at first why I was being led to take certain actions, such as eating certain foods or choosing certain therapies, or changing doctors...I eventually find out that I made the right decision for me and my own unique needs, by following through with that advice. And you can do this too. It's very empowering and very natural. We are all able to do this the moment we are born. We were just taught how to stop listening to and trusting ourselves, and only listen to people outside of ourselves "who know better" or rely on the mind (which often steers us in the wrong direction if given total power). Simple daily mindfulness practices, such as mindful eco-therapy, mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful artistry , mindful and restorative yoga, mindful living and more have been essential to this process of trusting my innate wisdom and has led the way to my healing so far.
So here is what I've learned in the past few years:
There are other lessons I'm still learning, and every day is still inconsistent and unpredictable. But I know that if I trust my inner GPS along this healing journey, I will uncover who this person is that I am now and develop and loving relationship with her. I know that I will find paths of healing that I may never have come upon if I only followed the road that was paved with good intentions (of my family, the medical community and allopathic medicine). And I know that I will create a life that may not look like the one I originally designed for myself, but it will be one that is filled with nurturing, nourishment, joy and love. A life that is in alignment with my authentic Self and can serve a higher, more fulfilling purpose. What ever that may look like.
"The most beautiful flowers bloom from the densest of animal droppings.
Just like those flowers, we can grow and bloom beautifully too"
- Dina Joy
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.