Recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury: What Worked For Me

Getting ready for yet another round of medical tests.

If I could sum up in one word how it feels having a brain injury it would be frustrating. Incredibly frustrating. I remember crying during one of my doctor visits. The doctor asked why I was crying & I said ‘because I remember how it felt to be smart.’ Life had become much harder since the accident.

I graduated high school with honors. I was in Honor Society & the Accademically Gifted program. I graduated from a University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in (ironically) Psychology. I made A’s in college calculus classes without ever studying. I was enrolled in graduate school at the time of the accident. I was only one semester away from graduating with my Master of Business Administration (MBA). Now I couldn’t even remember if I should wear a jacket when it was cold or hot outside.

You have no idea how many MILLIONS of pieces of information are stored in your brain until they’re gone. I would stand in front of a rack of clothes at a store & just stare at them. Purple shirts. Did I like purple? I had no idea. When do I wear short sleeves? When do I wear long sleeves? No clue. Is $10 a good price for a shirt or is that a lot? I’m still not much fun to go shopping with because I have trouble making decisions.

I would have to concentrate on everything. Mundane things that I had done thousands of times before would now feel like I was taking a college exam. I would get in the shower then think ‘ok now what?’ Sometimes I forgot to take off my socks before getting in the shower. Other times I would wash my face then get out, not remembering what else to do. Or I would get out then not remember how to dry off. Having to concentrate that hard on everything, all day is incredibly exhausting. And very frustrating.

My home away from home. One of many doctor exam rooms I visited weekly.

I went to several doctors after the accident including:

Neurosurgeon– He originally diagnosed my TBI & did lots of tests & scans. Thankfully I didn’t require surgery.

Neurologist – She also did lots of tests & mainly helped manage my headaches & migraines.

Neuropsychologist– She did many, many tests to find out exactly what parts of my brain were damaged & gave me homework to try to help recover my memory & problem solving skills. She also gave me lots of tips on ways to cope with my disability, which included things like keeping a journal (which is where this blog came from) & putting my medication with my toothbrush so I wouldn’t forget to take it every day. I still do those things.

Orthopedic surgeon – He managed my many aches & pains, especially in my back & neck. He was also the doctor that I saw first after my accident, who recognized my brain issues & referred me to the neurosurgeon.

Psychiatrist– He helped with mood/emotional issues which are extremely common after a TBI.

All of these doctors worked together to treat me (I still see most of them & probably always will). I have put together a list of what they recommended for me & my specific injury (all of these notes are from my personal journal, otherwise I would never remember them). Please keep in mind that this is what worked for me & may not work for everyone. I am not a doctor & you should get your own medical team to diagnose & figure out what would work best in your particular situation. Also remember that we tried many different treatments, some helped & some didn’t. You will likely have to go through your own trial & error to see what works best for you. This is just a list of the things that helped me in particular.

Antidepressants

Depression was very real following the accident. I began taking antidepressants (specifically Prozac) & that helped me more than anything. The doctor said that antidepressants actually speed up the mind & help you think clearer, both things that I was struggling with. I still take them & probably always will. We tried weaning me off of them but my mind & speech slowed significantly so I stayed on them. Prozac has dramatically improved the quality of my life. There are many different antidepressants & it can be tricky finding the right medication & the right dose for you. I’m not saying everyone who has had a TBI should be on them, I’m only saying what worked for me in hopes that it will help someone else who is struggling. Don’t be scared of taking a medication that can change, even save your life. Big pharma didn’t throw me on the ground so they can make $4 a month off of me.

Brain Games

I started doing puzzles & other brain games as recommended by my neurologist. You can go to the App Store & find tons of games that challenge your brain & keep your mind in better shape. My doctors said to think of your brain as another muscle: use it or lose it. Some of the games that I play daily are puzzles, word searches, seek & find, & crossword puzzles. I like to switch them up so I don’t get burned out on one kind of game. Lumosity has a lot of great games but it costs money every month so I cancelled & found some random free games instead.

Rest

Rest is super important for recovering from any injury & your brain is no exception. Try to get a good nights sleep & nap during the day if at all possible.

Water, lots of water

I really upped my water intake after the accident & it helped lessen the severity of my headaches. Unfortunately I’m not a big fan of plain water so I started adding Mio or other flavored drops to my water so I would drink more. I wish I liked plain water but no matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t drink enough plain water every day to keep well hydrated.

Protein

I was also told to eat more protein since it helps repair your body including your brain. I don’t eat red meat or pork so I started drinking protein powder shakes to help get extra protein in my diet.

Exercise

Luckily I didn’t have to run marathons or anything but I did make sure to walk every day. I aim for 30 minutes of some form of cardio daily: stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical, walk around the neighborhood, any of those will do. Just depends on what you’re comfortable with & what you have access too. Exercise really helps with my mood as well. I’m much happier & positive when I exercise.

Your support system

This is a big one. Try to surround yourself with good people that care about you & support you. A good support system is good for life in general but it is golden when it comes to TBI. Recovering from a TBI or any other serious illness or injury is no time to deal with added stress or negativity, you have enough on your plate.

I am still not the same as I was before my injury but I’ve learned to accept my new normal. I still have headaches everyday, my mind doesn’t work as fast as it did before the injury, I forget what I’m saying while in mid-sentence, my words often come out jumbled, & I still get very frustrated. Some days are better than others but I try to be thankful for every day that I have a second chance at life.

 

 

50 First Dates: Life after a Brain Injury

Me & my boy Harvey, just a few weeks before my injury.

If you read my previous post entitled The Accident, you will remember that I was a crazy horse lady but a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) put a damper on things. My brain surgeon warned me that I should never ride horses again or I could end up with severe brain damage, rendering me unable to care for myself. Ouch.

You see, you never fully ‘heal’ from a brain injury. My doctors kept reminding me that with head injuries ‘1+1 does not equal 2’ because the damage is not linear. The effect of each brain injury is cumulative so you never really get to start over with a clean slate.

My neurosurgeon asked if I had ever had a TBI or concussion before & I said no. Then he asked if I had fallen off of a horse before or been knocked out & I said of course, I’m an equestrian! He then informed me that I have had TBI’s before. I was stunned. He said that every time you’re knocked out, that is a TBI. He also said that any fall where your head falls from 4 or more feet is considered a TBI. My horse’s back is over 5 feet high & my head sits about 3 feet above his back so that’s 8 feet total; a pretty long ways from the ground & more than twice the 4 foot ‘safety’ range.

Me & my horse, Bert, on a trail ride.

I had never heard any of those things before. How could that be? You would think the entire horse community would be experts on TBI’s. If you know equestrians, then you know they’re experts on everything! Nutrition? Check. Proper saddle fit? Check. Blanketing? Check.

On a serious note, there is a great organization trying to get TBI information out to the horse world. They are called Riders 4 Helmets. I highly recommend checking out their website & reading about others who have dealt with horse-related TBI’s. There are some incredible, inspiring stories & lots of good info about concussions.

I need a bubble wrap sponsor.

Turns out that most people that have had a TBI never even knew they had one. How many times have stamped your frequent flyer card by coming off of a horse? Then what did you do afterwards? You probably didn’t rush to the doctor. Most horse people just jump right back up & school their horse, untack & groom their horse, muck a few stalls, fill some water buckets, mix feed for the next day, sweep the barn – ya know, they take care of their horse & completely neglect themselves. Ibuprofen & a beer or maybe even an epsom salt bath if you’re feeling fancy. Certainly not heading to the doctor for a concussion screening.

Me & my other horse, Moonpie, competing in an obstacle course challenge.

I was instructed by my doctors to rest & give my brain & body a chance to heal. I’m not too good at taking it easy (or listening, for that matter) & I struggled with my new stagnant lifestyle. Luckily I have a very supportive family who took care of my animals during my recovery period. I wasn’t allowed to drive, exercise, go for walks by myself or even read. My friends joked that I was prescribed a typical American lifestyle! I asked the doctor what I could do & she said after a few weeks I would be able to watch tv. No documentaries or anything that would strain my brain, only mindless tv. I’m 100% serious that my neurologist told me to start watching the Kardashian’s show because it would not challenge my brain in any way. I laughed, she didn’t. She was serious. I watched it. I felt my IQ decline so I turned it off.

My memory, along with my ability to solve problems & make decisions, was left in the dirt of an arena floor in another town.

The TBI caused me to be exhausted & I had to take at least a 2 hour nap every single day. My nap schedule went on for months. For some reason I craved sugar after my injury. I’ve never been a big fan of sweets but I craved candy (specifically Mike & Ikes) for months afterwards. Light & noise were my enemies. My eyes didn’t feel like they lined up right which distorted my vision. I went to physical therapy a few times a week to get help with my balance issues. I was put on antidepressants to help speed up my thoughts & wake up my brain. I had no idea that they were used for anything besides depression, but it helped since I was struggling with that too. I lost my job of 8 years due to my injury.

So I was trapped in a never ending blonde moment. Unemployed. A recluse. Now what? I decided to view my injury as a blessing instead of a curse.