A Powerful Tool to Stay Afloat When Pulled Under the Waves of Brain Injury Recovery

This journey would not be possible without the support of all of you reading this – my friends, family and strangers alike. I didn’t think my very big family could get any bigger, but it has! This is a community I cherish deeply. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this. This is for you – a reminder of just how grateful I am for you.

While I wasn’t able to post last week and my next blog post was a different plan, it could not be fulfilled due to physical restrictions. What transpired over the past week led me to write these words here. Experiencing a long stretch of bad days recently, it always helps to focus on what I am grateful for. Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools of brain injury recovery. I’ve written a lot during this recovery as it is cathartic and helps me release some of the keepings in the mosh pit that is my brain.

Not only is it cathartic to write, it has also helped me to maintain focus on my ultimate goal of healing and achieving some sort of normalcy. Starting this blog and sharing the most intimate thoughts and details of my recovery publicly was terrifying and still is at times, but this was one of the best decisions as I had felt like I was doing this alone. This was despite having an amazing support system already because I wasn’t being fully transparent and open about all that I was experiencing.

Since starting this blog, I have received such positive feedback from many people. I have also been able to connect with many others on similar journeys, thanking me for sharing my story as I have helped them feel less alone, helped them receive proper care, and even helped some understand their loved one’s brain injury better. Aside from my writing being my own personal commitment that I will continue fighting until I reach healing, I truly went into this thinking if I could help just one person, my mission will be accomplished. I have done just that and more. That inspires me to keep going.

Many years ago, I read about a study that showed that just by looking at images of nature (when unable to physically be in nature) was enough to lower stress levels. This led me to think that maybe by printing dozens of pictures that bring me back to a very happy and peaceful moment, that it could possibly have the same result.

Last year, I printed pictures of moments and times that transport me to a happy place when I look at them because I could feel myself being pulled into a dark direction in my recovery. I turned the pictures into an art piece which is hanging on a wall in my bedroom that I see every single day. The majority of the pictures are of and with people who I adore and am so grateful for. There are pictures of moments shared with others – a beautiful sunrise, a concert, or a day at the beach. It is helpful to see that every day and remind myself of brighter times. My connections with people, with you, are so important to me and are invaluable.

Unfortunately, in the depths of extremely painful bad days and setbacks, it was and is still so easy to fall back into a hopeless place. I felt like I needed a better strategy to use in those specific moments. I had tried many things and various types of meditation without much help. Despite it almost feeling impossible in those moments, practicing gratitude was the thing that helped in a powerful way.

Just prior to the most recent rough patch I experienced, I was working on strategies with my therapist on how to navigate the really bad days and not feel so consumed, down or lose hope as a result. She recommended making note cards or little reminders of days and moments where I felt good and happy and to describe it in all its glory so that I wouldn’t forget that those moments are possible and that the bad moments are temporary. Before I could complete this task, I spiraled into a migraine that lasted seven days. Each time I thought I was possibly in the clear, it came back with a vengeance.

The progress in this recovery has moved at a sloth’s pace. No offense to sloths because I love them. It’s like living in slow motion. Once I feel I’m picking up speed and on a good path, I am destroyed by a wave, and sometimes pulled under.

Sometimes I can discern what triggered the bad days or setbacks and other times I can’t. I have noticed trends and patterns but there are still many moments where I feel as though I’m completely blindsided by it. This time, I knew the cause but it seemed to linger past what I had anticipated the amount of time it would take to get through. My brain was in major rebellion. Having no concept of when I would be out of the rough spell brought a great deal of stress and despair.

I know the path of this recovery very well at this point. It is not a perfect upward linear trend. It’s filled with ups and downs and setbacks. Somehow, though I know the path is very jagged and rough, I’m never fully prepared for the bad days. It is so easy during a setback or bad day to feel trapped, inundated and the end result being fully succumbing to fear. I think I’m in the clear but then it’s like I’m being dragged back into the torture of the pain. In the moment, it seems like too much pain for one person.

It’s easy to get caught up in the bad days. It feels like I’ve lost ground during the setbacks. It can be very discouraging which is an understatement. It’s human and I don’t fault myself for that but I’m realizing that in those moments I’m not looking at the big picture. Where am I now compared to six months ago? One year ago? Or two years ago?

Reflecting on times of the past where I felt this way, I made it through. That perspective helps. It is so easy to lose track of the big picture in those dark moments but I remind myself that my care up until recently had been majorly hindered by the simple fact that most of my providers were not looking at the big picture. I also need to look at the big picture rather than getting sucked into the familiar tunnel vision.

The days recently took me back to a moment in college. One of my best friends and I spontaneously decided to cross the street from our cottage to a local surf shop, buy boards and go directly to the beach to surf. Neither of us knew what we were doing and didn’t have any tips or guidance. We ran head on into some scary waves with no fear. We were pretty bad. And by pretty bad, I mean awful. At one point, I was destroyed by a wave and it took my surfboard with it. I was dragged under the wave by the surfboard leash attached to my ankle – that is what this recovery feels like.

Despite being destroyed by waves and aspirating quite a bit of salt water, we continued to get back on our boards and try over and over again. It was painful and terrifying at times but man, once we successfully stood up on our boards and caught a wave, all of it was worth it. And while we chose to do that, it is still a reminder of overcoming odds, pushing limits and facing challenges persistently. And that doesn’t just apply to this recovery but life in general which can be so turbulent. The water can be so calm at times but just like that, the waves start to roar and can even pull you under. I’ve realized I am not defined by the days of incapacitation.

Currently, good days are still the exception. I know that I can’t rush my healing, though I’d like to. In due time, the bad days will become the exception. There are no guarantees, I know, but I am holding on to the hope of my happy ending – my success story. Or rather, my happy beginning – of a life filled with new perspectives, wellness and vitality. Hopefully one day in the near future, I will be able to look back on these treacherous days which seem to engulf me like the big ocean waves, and stand up tall realizing that truly living again made the fight worth it.

Transforming the lowest days of my life into something greater, something magnificent, will be the greatest triumph.

The power of connection, community, faith, gratitude and love can never be underestimated. Thanks for being present on this journey. Your support and kindness will never be forgotten.

I have so much love for you.

From the depths of my heart, thank you.

6 thoughts on “A Powerful Tool to Stay Afloat When Pulled Under the Waves of Brain Injury Recovery

  1. A great explanation of your journey! I know the Lord will bless you with healing eventually just be patient.
    Those who share your problems are benefiting from your thoughts and shared truths. I am proud of your persistence! Keep the faith.

  2. Love you Drew, keep on keeping on. God loves you and is using you to help others and that is AWESOME!❤️😘❤️😘❤️😘

  3. These entries are all so well written. Your voice really comes through giving us all something to better understand, grasp on to, and connect with. Riding the waves with you and you know I can’t even swim.

  4. Hey Drew, you keep pushing! Your determination is inspiring and it is motivating know you are out there driving on!

    Wishing you the best!

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