Yesterday was a big moment for me. Yesterday, I got back on a board for the first time since my accident. It’s been three and a half months since my whole world changed, it’s been that long since I’ve paddled a board down a river. For many that may not seem very long and for a brain injury it’s not. I know people that are 6 months to a year in their recovery and are still unable to be back to their normal activity. I’m definitely not anywhere near my normal activity but I am still extremely lucky.
When I heard other survivors stories I was both fearful and determined. Scared that would be me. Determined not to let it be. As soon as I could I was doing research to learn what I needed to do to aid in my recovery. My diet changed significantly; I cut out all inflammatory foods (sugar ((except fruit)), dairy, gluten, and grains) and the hardest one caffeine. I ate a lot of fats, veggies, and proteins. I purchased blue light blocking glasses. Spent a lot of money on supplements (lions mane, krill oil, spirulina, turmeric, to name a few). And tried to stick to my meditation routine; despite all the time I had on my hands, meditation is harder than its ever been. ADD is a common symptom of TBI and it’s something I’m still really struggling with; making meditation very very difficult.
I believe the diet change has had the most significant effect on my recovery. Also, not having to rush back into, what was, my regular life. I took time off work. Gentle walks and stretching were my only forms of exercise for the first couple months. This is probably one of the biggest problems for people coping with a TBI. Many don’t have the luxury of putting their life on hold nor do they have the support to do so. I had a huge support system and my Badfish family made my recovery the number one priority, work could wait. Again, I am very lucky.
Dealing with a TBI is extremely scary. It’s not like a bone fracture where you know exactly what’s going on and roughly how long it will take to heal. Uncertainty is the only word I can think of to describe it. I watched TED talks from other TBI survivors, reached out to some, and listened to podcasts trying to learn what was in store for me. But every story was different. Sure, we shared symptoms but everyones recovery time and approach were unlike the other. One commonality I found was when their recovery was rushed it only worsened their symptoms and significantly lengthened their recovery time.
Knowing this, I’ve been taking my time. Being careful not to get my heart rate up, giving my brain the rest it needed. Slowly, I would introduce new activities. Some strength training here, some yoga there. As someone who has used exercise and exploring the outdoors as an outlet and remedy for most things this was very challenging for me. But there was no part of me that was willing to risk it. Even though it was challenging I was never tempted to push it. I attribute this to meditation and the work I’ve put in to detaching myself from the need and desire of instant gratification. I was playing the long game…I still am.
Along with my brain injury I fractured my second metacarpal which kept a paddle out of my hands. My strength was non-existent in my left hand and they attributed that to a missing connection between my brain and my hand; not the fracture. It wasn’t until I started to learn to juggle that it came back. A week after I started juggling we saw a 50% increase in my strength. I had no idea that you could have the muscle in your arms, wrists, and hands but if your brain wasn’t making the connection all that muscle didn’t contribute to your strength.
Once that connection was reestablished I felt ready to get on a board. This experience wasn’t free of fear. I was extremely nervous, so much so I cried as we were pumping up our boards. As the electric pump hummed and I stood over it to check the gauge everything came rushing back. I relived the whole accident. I was so afraid of that pump and didn’t want to be anywhere near it. Nadia, being the intuitive and caring person she is, took over the task of getting my board ready. There was a big part of me that wanted to back out and if I didn’t have Nadia there to talk me through it I probably would have.
When the moment came for me to plant my two feet and dip my blade into the water I was overcome with emotion. I had no idea what to expect and was so afraid that my paddling skills wouldn’t be there. But lucky for me my balance wasn’t compromised from the injury and I felt strong and stable. Within five minutes of being on the water I was crying again. This time, they were tears of joy. I was finally home. Watching the walls of Glenwood canyon move past me as the river gently moved me downstream was euphoric. My entire body felt embraced by my natural surroundings.
At first, I experienced symptoms but eventually those melted away. This was more stimulation than my brain had experienced in months. But it was like my brain could feel how good this was for my spirit and so it surrendered. By the end I was utterly exhausted…my body was sore, but I was the happiest person on the fucking planet. I came home, collapsed on my bed and drifted to sleep with a smile on my face.
It felt so good and I believe paddling is something that I’m going to be able to slip back into my weekly routine. I am so grateful for all the love, support, and help I have received along the way. This has been such a crazy ride.