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A Mother and Health Coach’s Journey: Healing from a Traumatic Brain Injury with Radical Self-Care

A Mother and Health Coach’s Journey: Healing from a Traumatic Brain Injury with Radical Self-Care

It’s cathartic sharing my story now, at almost one year after my car accident. I’m still going to treatments, still recovering, but grateful for the forced presence and appreciation it helped me cultivate. I’m blessed to be healing but many people don’t have that luxury. I always remind myself of that truth.

I am sharing this vulnerable story with the sincere hope that it can help shed light onto areas in your own life that need more love and TLC.  I don’t want anyone to wait one more second to start prioritizing self-care. We put ourselves last so often. I know that life can change in a second. Mine did. Don’t wait for an illness or accident to force you to make changes. Your kids, loved ones, career and the world need you to care for yourself so you can operate at your best. As we tell clients over and again, self-care and self-love are just as important to overall wellness as what you put in and on your body.

My morning started with an energizing workout followed by a speaking engagement giving a nutrition talk. An hour later my life completely shifted. I was rear ended on the highway by a small truck going 50 MPH while I was completely stopped. I suffered a severe concussion (traumatic brain injury), and a neck injury resulting in migraines, dizziness, brain fog, memory loss, confusion, irritability, visual issues, numbness over my entire head and face, crippling neck and cervical spinal pain, a fluid filled syrinx  (cyst) within the spinal cord and major sleep disturbances, just to name few. These injuries resulted in my cerebral spinal fluid not flowing optimally to my brain, which exasperated many of the symptoms. These symptoms lasted for almost 5 months and I’m still healing to this day, one year later. Radical self-care wasn’t a nice thing to do, it was (and is) an imperative for me.

No doctor or specialist I was shuffled around to could tell me when, or if, I would return to my old self.  If the pain would ease, or my abilities would return. Going to multiple doctors/healers, 4-5 appointments a week, was a full-time exhausting experience. The anxiety of the unknown recovery consumed me. Worse, my symptoms made it difficult communicating with anyone: I couldn’t find the words and literally at times couldn’t remember them. I felt isolated and confused. Doctors ordered me to “rest my brain” and de-stress my nervous system in order to heal. Easier said than done with two small children at home.

As a health coach and co-owner of a wellness and lifestyle company, I work with clients daily on self-care strategies. But when it became personal, I struggled to fully surrender. I was literally hit on the head and told by the universe to slow down, go inward and LET GO. I worried: who was going to care for my kids while I cared for myself?

As a yogi for 20 years, I believe in signs.

Before my accident, I didn’t fully understand what a concussion/brain injury was or how long it may take to heal. I felt like nobody understood how isolating, frustrating and humbling it felt to not be able to think clearly and to be in a constant “fog” coupled with debilitating pain. Even everyday tasks took so much energy and were challenging. I remember trying to take care of my kids in the morning. I was attempting to make them breakfast and get them off to school, something I typically did on auto-pilot before, now was almost impossible despite so much effort. As they asked me for “toast” and “more water,” their voices were too loud and it seemed like they were talking too fast when in actuality they weren’t.  The mulit-tasking was too difficult for me. I looked at my 5 year old daughter as I saw her lips moving but couldn’t decipher her words. “Mommy needs you to talk slower, Gracie,” I said through tears. “I’m just asking you for some toast, Mommy.” Her words finally became coherent to me. I just stood in the kitchen sobbing. I couldn’t remember what she’d just asked for. It became clear that we needed to get a full-time nanny to care for the kids while I wasn’t able. Admitting that was crushing. We also were fortunate to have the support of family and a loving community.

It was emotionally difficult too as I missed out on my children’s day-to-day moments and even major events. I “missed” 5 months of my daughter’s first year of school. I couldn’t participate in many holidays (including Christmas with my family), social events, play-dates and beyond. I was home-bound, unable to drive for those 5 months. That is not easy when you live in the suburbs. But when I was with the kids, I gave it my all.  I used all my effort to smile and seem normal so I didn’t worry them.

I also needed to halt one of my dearest self-care practices, my yoga practice. I had practiced a daily vigorous vinyasa flow with inversions for the past 20 years. It was humbling to step back from the asana practice, but in retrospect, this experience helped deepen what yoga truly is to me–a way of being vs. a physical practice. This picture of me doing a backbend is from prior to my accident. I am using it as motivation now.

Basically, I was an observer of my own life instead of the active participant. I reached a low point when I lost consciousness while home alone with my 3 year-old son. I couldn’t see or talk while I fell to the ground, but could still hear what was happening around me. Hearing my son shake me while sobbing for mommy to “please wake up” over and over again is something that I still can’t quite get out of my head. I wanted to say something to him, anything. I wanted to smile and tell him it was OK or get up off of the floor, but I couldn’t move. I can’t imagine what went through his little three year old mind. It terrified all of us. Enough was enough, it was time to surrender.  Anything not related to healing needed to pause.

I am now healing and resuming work and my life with new perspective, strength and hopefully more grace. I strongly believe I wouldn’t have recovered in this way without dedicated focus on self-care. I still have a road ahead of me, but self-care will always be a critical part of it.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Make time for whatever practice centers you:

Energetically make it a nonnegotiable priority. Even just 5 minutes a day in meditation, breathing, yoga, a walk, bath, reading, etc. Try doing your practice at the same time daily. Shift your mentality of “I have to do this” to “I deserve to do this.”

Ask for and receive help:

Many people asked me “what can I do?” Reply to them! Even if it is to say send positive energy or prayers.  If you want to make a change in your life seek out support you may need and accept it.

Shed the ego and let go:

I couldn’t let go of work, my clients, my daily to-do’s, etc. Look at the big picture. You will be better at your work, parenting, relationships when you take time to focus on you.

Feel and then release feelings:

Suppressing feelings is not loving toward yourself. Feel what you need to feel. First observe what you are feeling and then release your emotions daily without judgment. Cry, scream, go on a walk, do yoga, talk to a professional or whatever you need to do.

Cut out the extraneous:

What you take into your mind and body matter. If news or mindless TV isn’t doing it for you, take a break. Prioritize your social calendar. If you feel like staying in, DO IT! If you haven’t had a good conversation with a close friend in a long time, schedule a coffee!

Pamper you:

Pampering isn’t self-indulgent; it’s showing yourself you care. Many of us weren’t taught how to do this growing up. I was not. Teach yourself. Detox baths are my nightly nourishment with Epsom salts, coconut oil, lavender and baking soda to alkalize the body. They helped with my pain. Followed by soothing tea. I also adore infrared saunas for detoxing and pain management.

Cultivate your intuitive flow:

Do one thing daily that isn’t orchestrated and let your intuition guide you. Take a walk without a destination in mind, open your fridge and lovingly ask what inspires you and what do you need to feel alive or open your journal and draw or write whatever comes up.  My brain “exercises” the doctors wanted me to do daily was walk in nature. I just left my house and started walking. It was a life-saver on several levels.

Be Present:

Being alone all day quiet in my own thoughts and knowing that a migraine can strike at any point, helped me be present when I was with my family. I put aside devises and to-dos and mentally said this is what I’m going to focus on for now. It’s refreshing to practice this. You will feel lighter.

Surround yourself with those who uplift you:

Energy matters with healing and taking care of yourself. Your time is precious. Say goodbye to obligation you feel “heavy” about. If someone makes you feel inspired and light after spending time with them. Repeat.

Fill your tank with inspiration:

Words, people, books, music, nature, art, cooking, etc. Fill your mind and soul with whatever inspires you daily. Even for just a few minutes. Talking kindly to YOURSELF counts too.

Try a social media/cell phone pause:

Yes you heard this before but what if you just started by cutting your time daily on your devises? I had no choice due to the concussion and not being able to view screens but it’s a lesson I will take with me even when I’m healed. Life is precious, use the time to live your life not post about it. If pausing isn’t working for you, SET BOUNDARIES (e.g., no social media from 9-10 at night, etc.).

Seek out help from trusted gurus:

Healers, acupuncturists, yogis, chiropractors, doctors, holistic health coaches, therapists and beyond. Find your tribe. Ask people you trust to give you recommendations.

Use food as medicine:

Food heals. I’ve studied the benefits of a whole-foods, anti-inflammatory diet but more importantly, I’ve experienced first hand how food and mood correlate both with my clients and myself. I amped up my greens, omega’s, antioxidants, turmeric, ginger, medicinal mushrooms (e.g., lions mane, chaga, etc.), cilantro and other healing herbs, adaptogens and so much more.

Love and Gratitude,

Christine

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