I’ve been encouraged by a few wonderful ladies to tell a story about my past. I’ve been softly referring to it through the years as a tough time, a bump on the road and above all a life-changing experience that I wouldn’t wish to live without. This post is meant as inspiration more than anything. I am not trying to make you pity me or feel sorry for me or even show any special consideration for me. Because this part of my life is the reason that I am where I am today and without it, I wouldn’t have known all the things I know now about nutrition, my body, my mind, mind-body relations, yoga, life philosophy, personal development, stress, the nervous system and I could go on.
My life was by the book
For many people aged 26, including me at the time, success is getting a degree, a career, having a huge group of friends and enough money and freedom to do whatever comes to mind whenever it does. I was on a constant lookout for career enhancing projects, I was out every weekend until late night, I had fun. I recently graduated from Copenhagen Business School, had been 8 months in Vietnam volunteering with great success doing what I wanted to do in my coming career. It was all laid out for me. I hoped for a job in a big NGO doing communication management and I was trying SO HARD.
I basically never had a day off, not even a few hours. I was constantly on the move, in the gym, at a party, a networking event or running my butt off to earn while applying to jobs daily. I had no real idea about why I wanted the jobs I was applying to. I just wanted a job, because I had my degree and that was the next obvious step.
However, something else happened…..
The event that changed it all in a second
I was at my friend’s graduation party, drunk as usual getting my groove on on the dance floor. It was getting a bit wild and suddenly my friend ran straight into me from the front. I didn’t have time to react as I was falling straight backwards towards the stone floor. Everything turned dark, I couldn’t move. The next few hours are quite a blur, but I was told that my scull hit the floor three times in a row (if you have to do something, do it well). My friend had fallen onto me and hit my forehead with his. He was fine, though. Just a tiny swelling.
I was completely battered. I couldn’t even balance sitting up and before long I started throwing up violently. I wasn’t usually the type to get drunk to that stage and I was strangely aware the whole time. When we reached the emergency room I peed in my pants (oh great) on a chair even though I felt sort of clear-minded. The doctor called it a small concussion and sent me home to rest. No scan, no over-night observation. Just home.
Trial and Error
At the hospital, they had given me a flyer with basic advice telling me to rest and stay away from TV, music, radio and computers. Not much more than that. I was left to figure it out myself.
I don’t see any need to bore you with details about my constant dizziness, pain, headaches, tinnitus, tensions, worries etc. It was all there for a long time. However, since I am this fighter type of person I wouldn’t let a stupid concussion keep me away from the life I lived. I was stubborn and tried to convince myself that my symptoms weren’t that bad. I went to work after only two or three weeks and I remember looking across the restaurant I was working in, all the chairs and tables were moving around (even though the restaurant was empty), all noises were equally loud. It was hell. I ended up completely exhausted with a heavy migraine and there was no way I could get back there soon. I kept wishing it would be tomorrow that I woke up fresh and rested. It took many tomorrows before that happened.
For a few months, my life was based on trial and error. I was constantly searching for my limits and in my search, I kept running straight into them. I didn’t consider myself sick enough if I was only a little dizzy or if my tinnitus was driving me crazy all day. I thought it was possible to get by feeling that way if it allowed me to have just some sort of ‘life’.
Somewhere along the way, I realized something. I realized that in order to feel good, I had to stay below my limits. I had to get so much rest that I didn’t feel tired when I woke up. I had to eat well. For some reason pizza made me awfully tired – not just the day I was eating it, but also the day after. Walks in nature made me feel better. Easy yoga postures made my body forget the pain for a while. Lying on a nail mat before going to sleep and first thing in the morning helped me sleep and released tension in my upper back. Routine became my friend. Worries and angry thoughts made my head pound, positive thoughts and gratitude made the headaches release.
With all those wonderful new discoveries, I became a little reckless. The good days were like a sunbeam shining through after months of gray, heavy clouds. I felt so happy and forgot how bad I had felt until then. I wanted to do everything at once. Clean the house, wash my clothes and on my way down the stairs I would run into a wall and wake up with a migraine heavier that ever before. This only happened a few times. I learned. Trial and error. Starting over from scratch..
Change in priorities
I think the big turn-around for me happened when I realised that I don’t live for something in the future. I live right now – in this moment – and this. My life is about doing things I love now and not waiting for it to happen later. Later may never come. But how do you live like this when your energy level is low, you’re in pain constantly, you have limited contact to the world around you and most of the time just sit at home and stare at the same old furniture?
Well, I made a decision. I changed my focus. I changed my priorities.
During my tough years I lost a lot of friends. It hurt at the time. I felt so lonely and some people couldn’t even give me 15 minutes of their day to sit with me. Some openly broke our friendships off. Some of these were long-term friends – or that’s what I thought. Truth is, none of them were ever really my friends. They were friends with my exterior, my personality, my mask. They were friends with what I had, but not with who I am. That’s when I started changing my priorities and my view of life in many ways.
I came across several books and read them a few lines at the time with a folded peace of paper to help my eyes focus on the line I was reading. It took a long time to get through just one page – but I had all the time in the world. Slowly I could read more and more as my brain and eyes got better. I read ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne (easy one, cos the sentences are short and most of it is quotes), ‘4-hour Work Week’ by Timothy Ferris (very relevant when that was what I was facing), ‘Awakening The Giant Within’ by Anthony Robbins, ‘100 Dollar Startup’ by Chris Guillebeau and many other books..
I did all the exercises in the books. Challenged myself. One particular exercise is very clear in my mind still. The Secret is basically about the Law Of Attraction. We know this law from physics, for instance. The reason why some material seem hard and some things can’t really seem to shape up is the law of attraction. If there is not enough of the same matter in two different substances, they will not attract each other. Simple as that. Well this happens on a level most people are unaware of too.
The feelings and thoughts I am thinking are attracting similar feelings and thoughts. Have you ever had one of those days where everyone is in a bad mood? Or hopefully some of those days when everything is just wonderful – you are on a roll! Start with your own mind first. If you realise that you are attracting negative energy, change your mind. See what happens. I rarely have bad days anymore. It only happens to me when I am really tired and forget to be aware.
So, the exercise was very simple. This man explains how before he leaves one setting to enter another one, he imagines what he would like it to be like and how his mood will be. Or every time he leaves the house, he imagines that there is an empty parking space waiting for him the moment he arrives at his destination. It works. So what I did was this. One day I decided to look for happy people. I wanted to experience happiness everywhere – and it was so amazing! I couldn’t believe it! So great noticing only smiles. Only loving parents holding their child’s hand, happy old people shaking hands. Just awesome! I made this a habit. I started prioritising happiness above all (I know this pissed off some people in my inner circle, because I was going by ‘fake it ‘till you make it’, but in the end it worked).
Lessons to be learned
You know, one of the things that have become slightly harder after my concussion is to get an overview of thoughts and items – lessons learned.. So this part is actually a bit hard for me. I hope that I will be able to remember and prioritise the most significant ones.
- Don’t push it (an older post on the topic here)
- My body is damn clever
- Medicine is good business, not health care (an older post on the topic here)
- Patience is mindfulness
- There is always something positive to take away – always
- How I feel inside is what matters
- The brain runs on positive energy
- Sofas are devils in disguise
- Stay below your limit
I will elaborate on each lesson individually when I feel the urge coming. Please be patient and sign up for the feed to read it all. 🙂
How I got back on my feet
There was not one thing or person or treatment that made the difference in my case. There were many!
Change of Mindset
One thing was my mindset change. Without that change I would have kept pushing myself and forcing myself to get better and thereby kept myself from it. Sounds familiar?
This is probably one of the most difficult parts about the concussion. But once you’ve got it, once you’ve changed your mindset and feel alright about slowing down and prioritising your recovery, it will start to get better. It might not be fast, but it will be better. Wise people talk about it as going downstream. So imagine that you’re on a boat on a river. You know what is behind you, cos you have seen it and you feel comfortable with it. You want to go back to that and get more of it. But the current is strong. You start paddling harder and harder upstream, you feel exhausted. Once you let go of your battle and let the boat float downstream, you immediately feel relieved. You might be scared not knowing what might be out there, because the river is twisting and turning. You will know eventually and in my experience, the river will take you to a place so beautiful that you would have never imagined it.
My life did that and I now look back at my time further up the river and see why I needed to be there, but I have no urge to go back there again. My life now is so much more full of life and enjoyment and passion.
Another thing was moving my body. When you get a concussion you are told to go home and rest. Many people think that means lie in your sofa or bed and do nothing at all. Wrong. That will only make you feel worse. Getting rest might mean making sure that you sleep when you’re tired (even in the middle of the day and two hours after you get up in the morning). It means making sure that you are not exhausted. But when you’re not doing just that, move your body. Walk, stretch, change position, stand up for a while, water your plants. That’s how I did it. I used yoga a lot, walks, stretches and relaxations to limit exhaustion.
Then there was treatments. I think it is very different which treatments help different people. In my case it was a combination of acupuncture and musculo-scheletal medicine that made the most impact on me.
My Chinese doctor, Hui Li Yiang, is nothing less that amazing. She worked on getting me into balance for about 2-3 years and dramatically improved my energy levels, my digestion, she almost got rid of my tinnitus and improved my mindset too. Her treatment is not just about placing the needles in the right spot. She works with elements, she releases tension while moving the needles in the body, the massages and she might use some herbs or other traditional Chinese methods to get the result. I have never met anyone like her. She taught me how I need to eat to keep my body in balance. She taught me about how much influence worry has on the body and how damaging it can be. She taught me that if I have a headache, I should massage my stomach, because it comes from there. Brilliant, nothing less!
My back-doctor, Stig Thomsen, who performs musculo-scheletal medicine is equally amazing. He made sure that my neck and back got into place by using my own muscular activity to release tension and guide the vertebrae into place. Without him, I don’t think I would have gotten rid of my migraine headaches.
When I realised that some of the food I was eating made me more tired, it was like an oracle opening for me. I might get a little too personal here, but I realised that farting is not something you are supposed to do. Seriously! Farting happens when you’ve eaten something that is being digested too slowly and hence creates gas. You are not supposed to fart. What an epiphani! After that came all the knowledge about brainfood. Different natural ingredients that make your brain work better and heal faster, like walnuts, blueberries, wheatgrass, different types of oil, fish oil, supplements, vitamin B12, etc. I am still learning on this field, but if you are not already a member of the facebook group: Whiplash, hjernerystelse og naturlige løsninger, do consult Charlotte Lillegaard Petersen who knows heeps!!!
The first pretty long while, I couldn’t accept that this has happened to me. I denied that it was serious and I kept thinking that tomorrow when I woke up, I would be totally fine and back to normal. But the day I accepted that what I needed was time and rest and self-love everything changed. I had good day again. Great days even. I felt cheerful in the morning, I enjoyed my life. I had realised that this was my life. That life is not only the times when everything is going according to the plan, but also times of hurt, sorrow, pain and illness. My yoga teacher recited one of my favorite quotes one day: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. Life is about learning to dance in the rain”. From that day on, this was what I did. I was learning to dance in the rain. And you know what? It has changed my life. It has changed all the situation that would have driven me insane before. It has made me so patient, and so grateful and understanding of myself and others.
I remember one day I was lying on the floor with a massif headache. It was pounding and I remember than I had millions of worries and thoughts running through my mind. Recently, my Chinese doctor had told me about how worries impact the body and I tried my best to stop the worried thoughts. I started by thinking about a white wall. And then I tried to think about a place or situation that I would really enjoy. I thought about a tropical island, palm trees, I felt the sun on my skin, the wind in my hair, the cool water on my feet as I walked down the beach. Suddenly I realised that I was smiling and that my headache had gone.
That day I got interested in positive thinking and I started finding out more and more. I practised it like a religion. It made my brain recover faster and my headache didn’t come as often after that. Later on, I have learned why this is. Positive thoughts release seratonin which is a happy chemical that makes our body feel good. It also makes our brain function better and connects the brain cells. Makes sense if you want to restore something, right? When we think negative thoughts it releases another chemical, cortizone. In itself and for shorter periods of time, cortizone is not a problem, but if it stays in our bodies for more than a few minutes, it will turn into cortizol (stress hormon) and our body and brain will stop focusing on the vital processes like restoring our brain, digesting our food etc. This is no joke! It is science and it is damn clever.
Receiving help from others
I was stubborn and independent and I didn’t want to let anybody do my laundry or clean my floors, but at one point I gave up. I found out that it didn’t matter that my kitchen was a mess when I had guests, because they were glad to help me clean it. In particular when I told them how long it would take me to finish 2 plates, a pot and 3 glasses. It made me feel dizzy because I turned around myself to put the plates into the cabinet.
I let my mum clean my house, I let my sister do groceries for me, I let people cook, I invited people for self-service dinners, I let them help me carry my things and it helped me so much! I couldn’t have done it without help. So take off your independence hat.. It doesn’t serve you in this situation..
The little helpers
I had little helpers. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my little helpers. Some smaller than others, but each a significant part of my recovery.
My earplugs for instance. Oh how I loved them! I bought the silicone ones from Matas (Danish shop) and divided them into two (even though the package says you can’t) because then I looked as if I wasn’t wearing them and I could be around people without getting tired as fast.
My sunglasses. The love of my life! Couldn’t have made it without them either. They dim the stimuli bombardment in the super market and just from walking down the street. I still put them on when I go for a movie (people have a lot of fun with that) and if I go outside on a bright day (most days).
My nailmat. If you haven’t tried one, do it! Sooner than later! I used the Swedish Nailmat which is by far the best one on the market. The nails are strong and find their way into all the little tensions. After 3 minutes of pain your body starts relaxing deeply into the nails – no pain – and you get to experience the deepest form of relaxation you can get. On top of that, the pointy nails release endorphins when touching the skin which relieves pain naturally. I used it to get relaxed before sleep and to release my back in the morning. 20 minutes each. Perfect too, if I had taken myself a little too far and felt my brain pumping. I would lie down and slowly find my balance again.
My notebook. Oh lord. My memory was like that of a goldfish for a long while. When I remembered where my notebook was and when I remembered to write things down, it was so useful. Anything, I would right it down in order to remember it. I have noticed now that most of what I have written down I am starting to remember anyway. But then I forget to use the notebook and if I look at it a few weeks later I realise that I forgot something important. Keep a list. It is worth it!
Thank you for reading through this and DO comment! I would love to hear your stories and know if you have other advice that I have left out.
If you want more insight and stories from everyday life, visit my co-concussion almost neighbour awesome blogger Charlotte’s blog: Shaken Not Disturbed. She’s pretty amazing.. 🙂