SPEAK OUT! Guest Blogger *Lauren*
It’s been 18 months since I acquired my TBI and I want to give you an overview of those 18 months in this post. It’s of course impossible to include everything (that would take up a book!), but I hope that there’s something in what I write that resonates with you or comforts you or helps you understand what you or your loved one may be going through.
My journey started in October 2012 when I woke up in hospital. I had no idea why I was there or even where I was. It turns out I’d been in a medical coma for 4 days, which would explain my confusion about what day it was! I’d had a subdural bleed whilst I was playing roller derby. It happened very suddenly and I was rushed off to hospital. I’d had a craniotomy and I spent 9 days in hospital in total, which I believe is pretty quick for TBI admission. I just wanted to get home. I was bored in hospital and was utterly convinced everything was fine.
I got home and carried on as usual. I went for nights out. I travelled to see my family in England. (I had just moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland, at this point.) I figured all I’d need would be a few good nights sleep and I’d be OK again. This stage, which I now recognise as denial, lasted for about 8 months. I was in reality quite sick. I looked dreadful, but there was no way anyone could tell me that. I just didn’t believe it.
It was about 8 months post-op that things started to feel “not right.” I started feeling incredibly tired all the time. I was starting to get scared and anxious and avoiding people. I stopped leaving the house. Luckily, I have an excellent GP who I went to see, and he referred me to the Community Brain Injury Team, something that I didn’t even know existed. I was never told about this on discharge from hospital. Through the Brain Injury team, I got access to a neuropsychologist and an occupational therapist, as well as a physiotherapist, who would be a great help later in my journey. This set the scene for what was to become the hardest 10 months of my life so far. I became very low and depressed, very anxious and spent many days crying and wanting to not exist anymore. I had a stage where I didn’t get out of bed for a month. I couldn’t; I was scared of “out there.” Everything felt so overwhelming and hopeless I thought I would never get better. I got very bad health anxiety where I was convinced every sniffle and ache was cancer or some incurable disease. I was incredibly lost and alone. This didn’t just affect me; it affected my partner too, who lost his independent and busy girlfriend.
The thing with TBI is that it’s a traumatic event. You lose who you are; you completely disappear overnight. What I was experiencing was a grieving process. I was grieving the loss of my hopes, my health, and my beliefs about the world. That is a huge blow and takes a long time to process. I cannot adequately describe the rollercoaster that I have been through, but if you have experienced a TBI, you will know exactly what I’m talking about.
Where am I now 18 months later? Well, my energy is still not 100%, but it’s better than it was. I can stay up past 4 pm now! I am able to leave the house without my heart pounding and without my bursting into tears. I’m starting to think about reinventing my life again. I still get a little anxious at times. I still cry (not every day anymore), but the difference is now I can see that it’s OK to feel sad. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to get angry, to be mad at the world sometimes because this is all part of the process and to truly heal you need to GO THROUGH these feelings. They hurt like heck and they can make your day a bit less fun, but if you don’t go to those dark places, when you feel them they will be suppressed and pop up another time. What else did I do to help myself? I read. A lot – books about trauma, grief, mindfulness, gratitude and neuroscience. I wanted to understand my enemy. I started to meditate daily; it gave me a place to calm the mind and just let those thoughts and feelings drift on by. I leant on my partner and family. I forced myself to face those fears about the scary outside. I now hope to study again. I want to learn to be a Counsellor or Psychologist and help others through trauma and grief.
TBI recovery is not a straight road. It goes backwards and forwards and up and down. You need heaps of patience and to learn to be kind to yourself. You have to know there will be slip-ups and stumbles, but remember the most important thing I tell myself nearly every day:
THIS IS NORMAL AND IT WILL PASS.
Lauren is 37 and lives in Northern Ireland. She is currently finding her way back to the big wide world and writes about her TBI journey at Braingirl and Next Doors Cat.
Thank you, Lauren.
Any views and opinions of the Guest Blogger are purely his/her own.