I am thankful to my dear friend, Cynthia, for bravely sharing her story of her traumatic brain injury below. Cynthia is a passionate art teacher, talented artist, and long time vegetarian. Below you will see how she has learned from her long journey and risen above it.
In October of 2016, I suffered a traumatic brain injury after slipping in a stairwell in my apartment building. After the initial shock of realizing that I had just fallen down a flight of stairs, I thought to myself, “I’m going to be ok. This fall will probably amount to nothing and I’ll take a day off from work tomorrow and return on Monday”. A nice thought, but unfortunately, as I have learned over the past 19 months, that was not the case.
During the first days and weeks after the fall, I experienced many neurological challenges. Each symptom was unique and presented itself in quite unsettling ways. My days consisted of lying in my bed in complete darkness. Any inch of light would cause extreme eye and head pain and the feeling was so overwhelming that I felt as though I would pass out if my eyes were exposed to light for too long of a period of time. Because of the eye sensitivity, I also had intense head pain if I looked at my computer or my phone screen for anything longer than a couple of seconds.
All of my senses were heightened and I could not handle basic visual, or auditory input, including talking on the phone or listening to music, which would cause strong head pressure and migraine-like symptoms. Cognitively, I had challenges during conversations and I found myself taking longer to search for words to express what I was trying to say and I had to focus intently when someone was speaking to me, as I processed the input of the conversation. I also experienced reoccurring vertigo and dizziness sensations.
I was so eager to return to “myself” and to regain my independence and after a couple of months, I was able to return to work with the assistance of an aid in the classroom. Around the 4-month mark and as the neurological symptoms were disappearing, new physical symptoms, including severe neck pain and stiffness began to take fruition. Every morning I would wake up with the feeling that my upper neck was being tightly squeezed. The pain would radiate from the back of my head and travel to my temples. At work, I would put a heat pad on my neck in between classes to calm the pain. When I would motion my head a certain way, it would cause me to feel off balanced or dizzy.
After months of consultations and treatments from a variety of doctors and therapists, the dizziness became worse and occurred more frequently. It got to the point where I could not work anymore because the dizziness and light sensitivity was now a chronic, every day issue. ENT’S, orthopedic doctors, physical therapists, general MD’s and the like all had their suggestions as to what was going on, but no one could offer me a solid solution to my debilitating symptoms. I heard everything from, “drink more water”, to “are you breathing correctly?” and the ever popular, “it must be your time of the month”. I was completely frustrated with the medial community for not be able to give me any concrete answers.
During the summer, I hit my lowest point and realized that in order to get better, I was going to have to educate myself and figure out exactly what was going on. The last and final straw occurred when a neurologist told me that I was going to have to learn how to live with these symptoms and offered me seizure medication. I knew that my issue was most likely stemming from my neck area (as that was where the source of pain was coming from) and so I began researching online and ordered books from Amazon about the cervical spine and learned how it is interconnected to all of the nerves in the body.
I also spoke with a woman, who had suffered similar symptoms as myself and had found relief from treating her neck through a specialized chiropractor, among other holistic methods. From that point on, I knew that I was going to have to be my own advocate and be open to trying a variety of methods, that stretched beyond the typical methods prescribed by the general medical community.
I am now at a point where I understand my symptoms and know my boundaries as to what I physically can and cannot do. In addition to my neck treatments, my healing journey led me to a TMJ specialist, as it was discovered that my jaw was also impacted from the fall, and which was the cause of many of my vestibular (dizziness) issues. I am completely grateful to have connected with practitioners who are truly interested in my well-being. I had to abandon all previous notions of how I thought my body should heal and learned that there is no easy quick fix for the magnitude of the injuries that I had sustained.
My healing journey has been one of the most challenging and emotionally draining experiences I have ever endured. It is important to consider that aside from receiving direct care for your physical injury, to also be open to receiving additional “supportive care”, which addresses your mental well-being. I love it when friends or family members tell me that I seem perfectly “fine” or that “I look good”. When I hear this, I often think that I honestly would not have gotten to this point with out the right supportive care during this excursion. Supportive care, which I have found helpful, includes cognitive behavioral and mindfulness therapy from a licensed practitioner, and nightly yoga and meditation practice through the Love Your Brain Foundation and Headspace App. Finding an online or in-person support group of people who are going through similar issues can be a great resource of information about practices that have helped them during their journey. In addition, being mindful of my diet and making sure to provide my body with the right nutrients and supplements to heal has helped immensely. I switched to a plant based (non-dairy) diet for several months through the Veganuary Challenge and take B12 and Vitamin D Standard Process brand vitamins. I also include more anti-inflammatory fruits and veggies, including blueberries, pineapple, spinach and ground flaxseed into my diet, which I throw together in my blender to create almond milk smoothies. Lastly, find time in your life just to laugh. Try not to dwell on your issues, you deserve to be happy. Put on a funny movie or read a lighthearted book and take your mind out of your pain.
If I’ve learned anything from this experience it’s that if you do not have a strong emotional and spiritual foundation to pick yourself up during your darkest moments, it will be almost impossible to have the strength to keep moving forward. At the end of the day, YOU know your body. You were born with it, wake up with it, live and breathe in it. No one can really truly understand what you are going through unless they have been through it themselves. Your physical body may have been impacted, but your inner-self, your spirit, soul, what makes you, YOU, is still the same. Have the willpower to educate yourself, patience through the pain and faith that your body will heal and you will find peace during and after the physical trauma.
At the end of my yoga class, through the Love Your Brain Foundation, the instructor ends the session with the following quote. I love it and believe it rings true to anyone who I have met in my life who has suffered any type of physical or emotional trauma and has risen and found the strength to continue moving forward:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
To get in touch with Cynthia, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org