Part 7- Silly Season with a Silly Brain.

“I’m trying to be awesome today, but I’m exhausted from being so freakin awesome yesterday.”

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Six months before Christmas my life completely changed, I was trying to live through the pain, navigate my way through specialists and doctors’ appointments and understand my new way of life. My ‘new normal’. 

Come Christmas time last year, I was completely and utterly emotionally exhausted, I hated that I wasn’t celebrating Christmas with some of the people I usually share this day with, I was still navigating my way through all sorts of confusion, trying to catch up and still participate where I could in festivities with my friends, and I had to somehow try and get through a massive day of conversing and interacting at dinner tables. The symptoms and overstimulation were a real struggle!!! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Christmas time. I love watching Christmas movies with my family and going to search for Christmas lights around our neighbourhood. One of my favourite Christmas memories was when my sister and I went to visit our brother in Oregon. We were so lucky to have a beautiful white Christmas together!!!

I love helping decorate the tree and the rest of the house. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to do those things last year. I had nothing left in the tank. 12 months have passed now, and although I’m still facing the same struggles I was facing this time last year, I am now in a position where I have found clarity, where I have found understanding and I have educated myself enough to be in tune with my body, my brain, my symptoms and my limitations. I’m hoping what I have learnt over the last year, can help prepare me to get through this crazy and exciting time of the year. Its already started!!!!!

Below, I have come up with my TOP 10 TIPS for surviving this silly season, whether you have a silly brain like mine or not! I hope they come in handy for anyone reading who may be in a similar position to me. If you are not, I hope they still help you throughout the Christmas and New Years period in some way 🙂

Online shop for gifts

Shopping centres just on a normal day can be extremely overwhelming and fatiguing for individuals with a brain injury. Add Christmas hours, sales and lots of stressed Christmas shoppers running around in a panic, and I may as well dig my own grave and climb on in. Even without a brain injury, navigating your way through the crowds of shoppers while holding your list and thinking of all the things you need to do can be completely stressful. Don’t even get me started on finding a bloody parking space too!

Online shopping has been my saviour! I lay on my bed and write a list of my friends and family who I need to buy for, come up with some ideas and do some research, and then place my order. I made sure I was super organised this year too; the more things I can tick off my list, the more relaxed and happier I feel. Right now, I think I only have one more present to buy and then I’m finished!! They’re all wrapped and ready to go, and I didn’t have to worry about overloading my brain and myself. The best!

Plan and schedule in all activities

If I don’t add my appointments and catch ups with friends into my calendar, there’s a 99% chance that I’ll forget and wont rock up!! I can’t live without my diary and schedule; every activity and outing has to be scheduled in so I know how and when I’m using up my energy. I know exactly what I’m doing, when my free time is and how I am best able to use this free time depending on what I’m doing on that particular week. I’d recommend this to anyone, but especially if you are living with a brain injury. It makes me feel more in control of my life. 

This unfortunately means, that spontaneity kind of gets thrown out the window. Living in the moment not just during the silly season, but throughout the whole year, is just not an option for someone with a brain injury. During the busy periods of the year, we may not be able to participate in every single event we’re invited to like we once would, and that does get me really upset. If I have a crazy week with specialists and I know those appointments fatigue me drastically, I know I won’t be able to handle a big party or outing that week, so I won’t book anything in. I don’t like leaving events early, I don’t like cancelling or having to choose what I can and can’t do. But what I have learnt over the last year, is that it’s okay to say no; its actually really important to be able to say no at times. For my brain, my recovery and my health.   

Prepare in advance for the event

Preparation is critical in the lead up to any sort of outing throughout the year, but becomes a super important task during the silly season. Preparing days prior for an event allows me to be able to stay longer, to feel happier and participate better whilst I’m there. When I prepare myself for an upcoming event like a dinner or a party, I make sure that the 3 days prior to the event I’m not doing anything strenuous or that could fatigue me physically and cognitively. I meditate more frequently throughout those days and make sure I am resting as much as possible with little visual and auditory stimuli, especially the night before and the day of. It also helps me to speak with the host of the event beforehand, and explain that I may not be able to stay as long as I would like etc. This way, I feel like I’m still being respectful to the host, but also doing what is best for my symptoms and my recovery post event.

Go in with a positive mindset

I know how hard it can be on your mental health after a traumatic experience to be able to think positively again. You’re no longer able to do the things you use to be able to do quite successfully; work, gym, hobbies, socialising etc. Failing over and over again, it becomes extremely difficult to go in feeling like it’s going to be a successful outing or event. You start second guessing yourself and your decisions. Should I really go? Am I staying too long? How is this going to affect me later? You start worrying about feeling unwell, because you’d do anything not to feel that way again!

This is still something that I struggle with, but overtime and I think with more education and understanding of myself and my symptoms, I have developed this gut intuition. If I make a point to relax and calm myself down in the lead up to the event, I am able to connect again to my body, and listen to what it’s telling me to do. There have been occasions where I’ve felt really good in the lead up to an event because my mind and body have told me it’ll be okay, and there have also been occasions where I’ve been really unsettled and confused about whether I should go or not. Those are the times where my body is trying to tell me the outing might not be as successful as I’d like it to be. I’ve learnt to trust myself and my choices again, which has helped me to attend events and social gatherings with a more positive attitude. I know myself, my limits and I know what to do to support my symptoms now. Take lots of deep breaths the day of, and try to think about all the positives of the event you get to be a part of 🙂

Schedule in breaks

It is so important while you’re socialising at an event to make sure you’re taking some time away from the crowds and noise to help you remain in control of your symptoms. It’s the only way I’m able to prolong the time I spend at an event talking and participating like everyone else. I try and schedule in a break every hour I am there. My body and mind also tells me when it might be time to take a break. I start to get really foggy, and start to notice troubles with concentration. Before I hit that overload point, I’ll try and prolong its occurrence by going for one of my breaks. I may go to the bathroom and close my eyes and do some deep breathing for 10 minutes, I might go outside for a walk away from the noise and people, or I sit down for 10/15 minutes by myself and do a meditation before I return. These breaks help me avoid overstimulation as much as possible.

Push to 50% of your energy capacity

It is the best feeling in the world when you wake up one day feeling really good, no head or neck pain and you’re just feeling really positive about your day. I know on those days, I want to go and do as much as I possibly can. I’m feeling great, why can’t I?! Then later that afternoon I’ve completely crashed; there were no warning signs, it just came tumbling in like a massive ocean wave. I had done too much, even when I was feeling like I was having a good day. Then, my neuro physiotherapist gave me the best piece of advice I’ve been given across this whole recovery journey…

”Even on your good days when you’re feeling well and ‘normal’, you must find where your energy levels hit 50%, and don’t push beyond that”. 

At first that was so confusing; how do I know what 50% looks like?! It was a lot of trial and error, getting to know my fatigue levels and what I can and can’t handle. When I finally got my head around my fatigue, I was able to find that 50%, and I know to rest and recover when I feel I’ve reached my energy limit for the day. Not pushing beyond this 50% threshold limit, I have been able to avoid a lot of overload days in bed! Of course, some days I get it wrong and they happen, and that’s okay. The most important thing to remember is I’m learning, I’m trying, and I can wake up when I’m feeling better and try again.

Support your symptoms

There are a lot of ways we can support ourselves and our symptoms during the Christmas period this year. Even if you’re not living with a brain injury, crowds, noises and constant conversations and voices can surely become too much at some point! I have a few ways that I support my symptoms that may help you avoid or prolong overstimulation and overload:

  • I wear my noise cancelling headphones at big parties and events I go to. I’m able to still participate in conversations, it just helps to quieten and dull the background noise I can no longer filter out.
  • I sometimes wear sunglasses to reduce the stress and strain on my eyes to process crowds, movements and lighting. 
  • I take lots of breaks for meditation and deep breathing 
  • I always pick my seat at a restaurant dinner table or home dining table very carefully. I make sure I’m sitting at or towards the end of the table. This way, I’m not sitting in the middle with voices and conversations coming from all sorts of directions. This will support my auditory processing

Avoid alcohol

Alcohol was completely off limits throughout the first year of my rehabilitation. Now that I’ve reached my 1 year mark in recovery, I have been told to choose wisely and be sensible with alcohol if I choose to have a drink. Personally, I’ve spent the last year and a half feeling like the control I once had over my life had been taken away from me. Drugs and alcohol, choosing to take away the control I have over my mind just doesn’t make any sense to me. A couple of months ago I had less than a half a glass of wine at a lunch I went to. It was honestly one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made over this journey. I spent all night and the majority of the next day with horrific head and overload pains. To me, it’s just not worth it, and I will most definitely continue to avoid alcohol and the unnecessary and self-conflicted head pain drinking now comes with for me. If you choose to drink during the silly season, whether you have an injury or not, drink responsibly and try to always remain in control of your body and mind. 

Lean on the support from those around you

Over the last year and a half, I have really understood the true meaning of friendship and support. Just because I may not have as many people in my life anymore, doesn’t mean that I don’t have friends and family who care and love me. Ignore the ignorant, and love the people who love you! They’re the only ones that matter 🙂

I know it can be hard, when you’re in a difficult situation and you start noticing your symptoms becoming more frequent, to lean on those around you who want to help. I tend to push people away in those situations because I’m not thinking clearly. If you have people in your life who wish to help you during these big events or throughout the silly season, remember how lucky you are, and lean on those people for as much support and care as you need!

Recovery is important!!

Perhaps the most important point of all!!

I do not drink, however the day after an event always feels as if I have a massive hangover. My head feels like it’s spinning, I have trouble conversing, I feel nauseous and just have no energy left whatsoever! That’s why its super important to give myself time to recover and rest the day after, even for multiple days after depending on the event and how I’m feeling. Recovery time has sometimes been a whole week, you just never know sometimes exactly how long it will take. Even though I hate laying in bed all day sleeping, not being able to talk or interact with people, I know sometimes its necessary, and I know the consequences if I don’t rest, and its not worth it at all. Trust me! So please, during the craziness of Christmas and New Years, be with your family, celebrate with your friends, but don’t underestimate the power of recovery and resting post events!! Give yourself that time to recover.

Thank you so much for reading my tips for surviving the silly season!! 

For many, like myself, this time of the year is filled with a loving family, presents that you’ve excitedly wrapped ready to give your friends, presents that you receive and make you so happy, delicious food and drinks, the list goes on!!! However, we must remember, the Christmas and silly season period is not as positive and loving for everyone. The silly season can be quite complex and demanding for some, and its super important, more than ever, during this time of year to make sure you are checking in with yourself and your mental health. Do something that makes you happy, and if you do need to talk to somebody, that takes more strength and courage than anything else, and that’s an amazing thing to do!!

I wish all my family, friends and readers a safe and happy Christmas. I’m going to go watch Elf in my new Christmas pjs now 🙂

Lauren xxx

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