“SHE BELIEVED SHE COULD. BUT SHE WAS TIRED…so she rested and you know what? The world went on and it was okay. She knew she could try again tomorrow.”The Minds Journal
Recovery. This section has been one of the hardest parts of my story to write.
Partly because I’m still living and breathing mine; it’s not over, not even close to being over. Sometimes I wonder if there is such a thing as saying “I’ve recovered completely from my brain injury”; for some, it’s a lifelong process. I don’t have answers to those big questions people might have, I’m still very much learning myself and my journey and the emotions that come along with this process are still incredibly raw. There’s another part of me that has struggled writing this part of my story because it’s not black and white; there’s no uphill, climb the mountain, always moving forward sequence my recovery has followed. It’s been very much two steps forward, three steps back sometimes, or it feels like it’s been so over the place it’s hard to sequence events on paper.
Instead of trying to sequence my recovery into a story you can follow, I’m going to take this opportunity to share with you every single member of my rehabilitation team and how they have helped me with every aspect of my recovery.
I feel very lucky with the team of specialists I have worked with over this process. If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt over the past year, is that I am extremely lucky to have received the treatment I had so quickly and so early on. Many people going through the same things I am have been undiagnosed for years before someone notices or decides to do something about it. In that time, people are left feeling depressed, wondering why they feel the way they do, why they can’t get out of bed, why they can’t hold a job, why are they so bloody angry all the time!!!! Don’t get me wrong, I still experienced all these things, but I’m very fortunate to have experienced them with a medical team by my side, explaining why I’m feeling the emotions I’m feeling, and what is happening to my both my brain and my body. Some things still remain unclear, as I’ve been told before, I’m a special case.
Things can get dark, real quick. They did and still do get quite dark for me. Not every day is going to be a good day. There are times where you’re alone and everything comes flooding in, and you just blurt out to yourself “I don’t think I can do this anymore”. Saying this to yourself, without the support network I had around me, could have taken an extreme turn for me. But when you’re alone, not getting the help you need, where do you turn?
The people I have in my life, and my team of specialists continually saved me and pulled me out of my dark days, and my ongoing recovery and achievements to date are not only due to my hard work, but to the team I have around me.
General Practitioner (GP)
I am beyond lucky to have such a hardworking and compassionate doctor by my side. My rehab and recovery would not be where it is today and I would not be surrounded by my amazing team of specialists if it weren’t for him, for him recognising my symptoms and for being so proactive not just throughout the beginning stages of my diagnosis and recovery, but throughout this whole process. If you’re in the same position as I am, and you know something is not right, trust your gut, speak with your doctor, and hopefully you will be surrounded by the best support and care possible.
The very first specialist I was referred to was a Neuro Ophthalmologist for an eye assessment. He diagnosed me with an ocular mismatch in my brain early on in this process. What the actual hell does that mean?!? Don’t worry, I asked myself the exact same thing. Specialist are always explaining things to me, but then 10 minutes later when I go to tell someone else, I’ve forgotten. Google soon became my saviour! Well that, and a notebook and pen!
What my eyes were seeing and what my brain was processing were apparently not working together anymore, hence an ocular mismatch. He knew the road ahead I was about to face would be long and rocky, but he said with the right care and support from a Neuro Physiotherapist, I would be on the right track!!
Where on earth do I start with these ladies?!
Nikki was the first Neuro Physio at the clinic that I saw, she’s been there for me right from the start, and I wouldn’t be this far in my rehab if it weren’t for her. Nikki was there for me during the first real breakdown I had after my accident…
I was at my normal routine appointment with her, I’d been coming twice a week for a few weeks now. On this day, I was taking part in an assessment; I had to walk on a treadmill for a period of time whilst monitoring my heart rate and my post-concussion symptoms. Post-Concussion Syndrome, or how I explain it, is my brain hitting overload extremely quickly, my eyes having trouble processing what I am seeing at a speed that I am use to, which leaves me feeling extremely nauseous and dizzy, and being unable to perform my job properly.1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes on the treadmill, and I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing out of control, my breath became short, and I felt dizzy, almost at the point of collapsing. I stopped to catch my breath and to give my body the time for my symptoms to recover. As I was recovering, it all just hit me for the first time. I have gone from high intensity exercise every single day, ballet and Irish Dancing, to not being able to walk for 5 minutes on a treadmill. It was like a knife to my heart; it was the first time where my body and mind just went “shit, this is serious” and I just wasn’t ready for it, and I felt defeated. I cried and cried and cried.
Nikki and Kate, my two Neuro Physio’s I started to see on a very regular basis have helped me more than I could ever explain; Angels!!! They’ve set up home programs for me to practise exercises to help with my vision, my neck and jaw pain, my significant vestibular issues, loss of balance, they’ve supported me and taught me ways to take control of my cognitive fatigue and even to take back control of my life. This injury has honestly felt like it’s taken the control I had over my life away from me, but somehow Nikki and Kate started to help me take back that control. I am not defined by my injury, even though at times it feels like it’s so consuming. I can’t thank them enough, they have given me pieces of Lauren back, and for that I am forever grateful.
Brain Injury Rehabilitation Doctor
My rehabilitation doctor has been my doctor in charge of my whole recovery process!! She says yes, she says no, she gives me advice and is not afraid to tell me the sensitive information straight out, no matter how I handle it. She is so full of knowledge and experience, and if I’m ever confused about any part of my progress, she is there for me to guide me through. She has been so proactive in sending me off for neuro psych assessments, neuro psychiatry assessments and Endocrinology assessments. Nothing goes unnoticed with her, which has made me feel so secure. If I have one piece of advice for readers who may be in the same position as I am, make sure your medical team supports you and has your back!!!
Having an OT as part of your rehabilitation team is something I couldn’t recommend enough!!! My OT, Sarah, has provided me with fast pace, intense therapy sessions mimicking the levels of concentration and energy it would take me to be in my classroom at work. We dove through memory games, lengthy problem solving tasks as well as meditations. I loved our sessions, even though I wanted to puke for most of my drive home, then sleep for the rest of the day!! She was not only my OT, but became my friend, and it’s so important to build trusting relationships with your medical team!! She helped me rebuild some of the confidence I once had in myself and my abilities, and I slowly started to believe in myself again.
When I hit my head, I landed on the back left side of my brain; the occipital lobe. As soon as I hit my head, my vision completely changed. I have problems tracing moving objects both in real life and on the television, on my bad days you can forget about the TV all together!!! I love reading and I spend so much time on my computer writing school reports and programs, and I struggle to read a magazine or check my emails now!! Crowds and shopping centres are also massive issues for me. My brain can’t seem to keep up with the processing speeds it needs to be able to process the amount of people and movement my eyes see, and in shopping centres and walking down food aisles it feels like everything is about a centimetre away from my face! Some people I’ve been told, feel like everything in the aisle is crashing and falling on top of them, could you even imagine that feeling!?!
My Neuro Optometrist has given me many different eye exercises, all targeted at regaining the strength my eyes require to converge and read information. Unfortunately, all the other issues with my eyes will only get better if I keep encouraging myself to go to situations and environments where my eyes will be tested!! It’s a good thing; I get to go shopping and go to social outings as part of my rehab, but knowing it’s going to be hard, it can be difficult at times to encourage yourself to be vulnerable. But I push myself, I work hard every day, and I know there will come a time where I can once again go shopping without feeling like the chip packets are chasing after me.
I’d like to think of myself as a positive person; I see the good in people, in life and in myself. But for some reason, throughout my recovery and rehab, I just couldn’t, and I would get myself into massive funks that I’d always struggle to pull myself out of. For the first time in my life I began to struggle with massive amounts anxiety and depression. It was as if everyone was against me and thought I was being over dramatic and faking. Of course all of this was absolutely not true, but for me, it 100% was. I stopped talking and reaching out to my friends, but then would get upset at them for not caring when it was me who was ignoring them! (Good one Lauren). I didn’t want to see anyone. I barely left my bed. I’d push everyone I possibly could away from me. I would cry all the time and I started having panic attacks.
The only way I could describe how I was feeling throughout this whole process was by comparing it to a rollercoaster. One minute the roller coaster was just gliding through the air. I was feeling amazing and happy after an anniversary weekend away with my boyfriend. I was back in the gym with my PT doing weight sessions. Even if it’s only a tiny step back in the right direction, progress is progress, and that’s amazing. I’m feeling really proud of myself.
But then this happens….
The rollercoaster’s gone upside down about 50 times, my safety harness has come undone and I’m hanging on for dear life. Then we drop to the bottom, my heart sinks, and I’m right back to where I started.
This isn’t a choice by the way; for goodness sake why would anyone choose to feel like this?! This was completely out of my control, and I tried to stop it. Always. Do you want know what the worst part, or what the most exhausting part is….
This didn’t happen over a week or two, this could all happen in a day, in a few hours, and by that time, I hadn’t nothing else left to give.
When your behaviour and emotions are starting to make a negative impact on the people around you, your long term relationship, your families well-being just as much your own, tell yourself that it is okay to feel this way, and it is okay to ask for help. And that is exactly what I did.
Meeting Con, my psychologist, has saved me in ways unimaginable. He has helped me explore emotions that I would struggle to comprehend and explain to myself and others around me. He is like a breath of fresh air, and whenever I see him, I leave feeling like a huge weight has been lifted off. It’s not because I have no one else in my life I want to talk to, because I do. I am so lucky to be surrounded by so many people willing to listen and help. But it’s just something about going to see someone with the intention of letting all your emotions out, knowing they will have the right things to say back to you, that really comforts you. Mental health in general is one of the most important things about a person, we must always remember to look after our emotions, our thoughts, our heart and soul. Add a brain injury into the mix, and mental health just becomes important on a whole other level. It’s one of the most important aspects of my life now, and my appointments with Con as well as daily meditations, have become my absolute saviour!
Personal Trainer -“The West Movement”
David and Brandon are two of my most favourite people in the whole world!! There have been times throughout my recovery where I have fallen hard; I stop believing in myself, in my recovery, I lose my focus and aim, sometimes I even feel like I don’t have a purpose anymore. I could be having the most awful day, feeling the lowest of the lows.
And then I walk into The West Movement…
And my life changes for the better. There has not been a time where Dave and Brandon haven’t supported me, encouraged me, gave me a hug, listened to me babble, and pushed me further than I ever thought possible. I went from one 10 minute personal training session with Brandon a week, to three 30 minute higher intensity training sessions.
They saved me, they’ve honestly saved my life.
Pilates is something that has just been introduced to my rehab lately. Rebecca has helped me so much with my neck and head pain, and it is so important that if you are experiencing lots of headaches and neck pain, talk with your specialists so that you know you’re receiving the right treatment for you! Along with my Neuro Physio’s Nikki and Kate, it was decided that it would be beneficial for me to begin some Pilates training to support and retrain the muscles in my body to improve my balance. Coming from my dance training background, my level of balance pre-injury was quite high. Since my accident, I can barely stand on one foot for 20 seconds!! Pilates has given me the opportunities to target the specific muscles that I have lost or need re-training in order for my balance to improve. My core and glute muscles are targeted throughout my sessions, and I feel so much stronger and happier because of it!!