There is so much more I know now about why socialization became difficult for me after my mild traumatic brain injury. I learned that it took several months after my accident for the slow cascade of my brain injury to affect the visual and auditory sensory pathways in my brain. My short-term memory, inability to handle excess stimuli in my environment and difficulty communicating with others were just a few of the sensory deficits that had sent me into an unexpected tailspin of trauma that I never knew my concussion initially caused.
My physical injuries had overshadowed the slow stages of mounting problems from my TBI. My communication skills began to suffer. I became unable to stay on track in conversations with others or retain the information discussed. It was as if everything I heard dropped into a deep well within my brain and unless there was a visual or verbal reminder of the information, it was difficult for me to retrieve much. The shock of what was happening to me caused me to retreat, and I remained isolated for months while I searched intensely for a doctor who could help me. Due to the ongoing physical therapy in addition to trying to navigate through my life with the after effects from my concussion, I had to quit my job. My hands became full trying to recover.
Because socializing with others became a challenge, I learned early on that it was best for me to slow down and become a good listener. Before my injury, I was always a communicator. For many years I had a career that required strong social communication skills. Upon the onset of my injury, I found that If conversations became lengthy, I had to make time immediately after to write my notes so I could not only process the information at my “new pace” but remember what was discussed. I quickly realized that bringing my notes to many appointments would help me achieve the desired outcomes.
I was grateful after I attended brain injury rehabilitation. For me, I knew that type of therapy was an intricate part of my road map to recovery. The incredible practitioners taught me to use several compensation techniques such as extra sticky notes, digital calendar reminders, notepads, and physical placement of items to visually recall what I needed. After attending several rounds of rehabilitation, life became a bit more manageable, however I knew my journey had just begun.
During my recovery process, I read several books from brain injury survivors. Every book brought something valuable for my recovery. When I read the book called The Ghost In My Brain by Dr. Clark Elliot. His journey rang true to me in multiple ways, and I wondered if I too had sensory deficits that could be corrected through the unique Neuro Optometry skills of Dr. Deborah Zelinsky at the Mind Eye Institute in Chicago. Since working with Dr. Zelinsky in 2017, I slowly began to recover from my short-term memory problems and my communication skills improved significantly!
Concussion, Brain Injury, Autism and ADHD: Mind-Eye Institute Success Stories with Dr. Zelinsky - YouTube
I feel so grateful for Dr. Clark Elliott and his story of survival and recovery. I believe God put me in front of many integrative health professionals who had extraordinary gifts in helping others to heal. I am so thankful for their talents, care and ground-breaking insights towards improving the brain after traumatic brain injury. My recovery is amazing!
For me, hope after brain injury came from never giving up and reading the stories from other survivors and those medical professionals who helped to improve their lives.
The beautiful holiday of Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ is upon us. I must admit it took me time this year to adjust to the idea of decorating my home. It was that human element of “one more chore” added to the list. I rationalized with myself that since I wasn’t feeling well, and our home is quiet this time of year, if we didn’t put up our decorations it would go unnoticed. My excuses continued to mount. One afternoon while I was cooking, I turned on some classical Christmas music; the mere sound of a magnificent choir singing praises to our Lord filled my kitchen and most importantly my soul. That Christ-filled love and joy that is unlike any feeling on earth embraced me.
I often listen to Christian artist whose songs encourage me daily reminding me of the love Jesus Christ gave for me when He died. The joy that came to my spirit through song that day inspired me to re-focus on the real reason I decorate my home this time of year, my faith and love for Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Love from Jesus was the catalyst for healing my soul during my difficult journey through a mild traumatic brain injury and chronic illness. God had a plan for my life. Through the trials and unexpected life changes, my testimony of faith for the healing power of love and forgiveness I experienced from Jesus Christ is beyond measure.
This Christmas season I celebrate the birth of our Savior by singing songs of praise and enjoying the company of those I love who never left my side. As we sit and admire the sparkling lights and glittering ornaments that surround our living room, we are reminded John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
The first time I heard 2 conversations going on at once, and was able to tune in to one at a time, it was so long after injuring my brain that I no longer realized I was going through a world of chattering humans without a vital superpower. That’s the difference – that feeling of strength and freedom and empowerment, between a person with TBI or Post Concussive Syndrome and your average ordinary Pre-spider bite Peter Parker who probably feels nothing like a superhero, ever.
It was like suddenly having a pair of binoculars for eyes, but instead of magnifying the lens to SEE close up as I focused on the people talking, it magnified the SOUNDS attached to what I saw. Specifically, the words I was witnessing being exchanged.
Have you ever thought about how, if you used a telescope and it zoomed in on a small area but ALSO kept everything in the periphery around it in your view – at “normal” size, how disorienting that would be? I mean, you close your other eye when you look through a telescope for a reason! How would you make sense of what you were seeing magnified, and its position relative to everything else around it? How would you focus without getting dizzy?
Until that very moment that I stood in line to check out a book at my local library, waiting for either of the two librarians at their posts to finish chatting with patrons, the blurry telescope was the BEST I could do at observing the world of other talking humans in my orbit. And it was as if I was a bird who had never looked down and seen her own wings, never felt them flap with promise as the wind blew threw her feathers. That I never was conscious of having them at all, until a wall in front of me was knocked out, and I stood instead on a great precipiece before an expanse of empty space and air and sky, into which I – like the bird, had been made to fly. And I felt every piece of me – alive.
I turned my head slowly to the left. The conversation to my right faded into oblivion. My ears zeroed in on the private small talk, that art that women have perfected together – and until now, the bain of my Post-Concussive existence. No pain cut in from the background to make me jaggedly aware that I was in fact, trying to straddle two streams of information. No static buildup of indecipherable sounds clouded my thinking to create the impenetrable fog between me and the details of what I was listening to. Marvelous!
I turned my head in equal measure to the right. My superpower was as steadily present as a heartbeat. The previous conversation receded from the shore of my awareness cleanly, immediately replaced by the gentle washing up of the next one.
For the life of me, I never did bother to register the substance of either of their conversations in my memory. It was honestly enough that they were not torturing me. I went back and forth, over and over between the two. I could never tire of it. And my brain did not either! This moment was permitted to stretch as long as the world around me was willing to wait.
“Ma’am? Ma’am!” Ah, the bain of the helpful intrusive! Another librarian signaled me over. “Just a moment” I said, with a dismissive wave, too carefree to explain. I was the only one in the queue, and I luxuriated in my miracle, basked in my power to both penetrate the world around me and keep it out as I willed, as I chose. In my ability to pluck from the fruit of human activity around me and savor it without being stung by its nettles. This world was Eden. I had returned. I had been readmitted and all the food from the trees of the garden were again permitted me. The second time so much sweeter than the first, because it could not be compared.
Prior to my car accident and mild TBI, when it came to bible study, I was never very good at following through. It required a discipline and commitment of time, reflection and understanding that I sadly seemed to think I didn’t have. The concussion and physical injuries I sustained forced me to slow down and learn the practice of self-care. What came of that transition was my renewed relationship with Jesus Christ. I have often wondered why did it take so much trauma to bring me closer to my Savior?
My injuries and the rehabilitation pathway I endured gave me the opportunity to take day by day with Jesus by my side. I stumbled through many months of pain, anger, depression and emotional despair that left me feeling isolated and hopeless at times. I felt as though I had become His blank canvas while He continued to shape a humbled Christian warrior within.
I had never understood the true meaning of “miracles” until a journey through complete transformation happened in my life as God worked through others bringing forth the pain, suffering, and a deep reflection of my injured spirit.
Jesus carried my pain and burdens to the cross and opened my eyes to what it truly meant to be an imperfect, messy follower of a Savior who wanted me to spend time with Him. I never thought I would be able to say that my injuries were a blessing, but it gave me the opportunity to reflect on God’s amazing glory, His beautiful creation, His profound word and what it means to be a daughter of a King.
I have changed for the better. I have learned to rest and become quiet, listening through each scripture I read. I have heard remarkable messages that were meant for healing my mind, body, heart, and soul. I cherish my morning walks with God, reading my prayer journals by Sarah Young, and the bible studies with my husband. I don’t always feel well enough to participate, but His grace and peace keeps my soul in a gentle space for myself and others as I continue to walk on the path of His glory and will for my life.
Her efforts to record every aspect of her journey has helped me tremendously. One of the critical components of my recovery has been proper nutrition. Of the many talented health professionals that Nathalie Kelly interviewed on YouTube, Nora Gedgaudas, a well-known international author, nutritionist and neurofeedback specialist significantly impacted my recovery. During one of the interviews, Nora opened my eyes to why my body was responding to things so differently than it used to prior to my injury. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xH5OX0DMm4
The information in the video was a game changer for me especially when it came to nutrition and stress management. I will share my personal example:
Prior to my head injury, I had a dairy and wheat allergy. I also had intermittent battles with hypoglycemia. After my head injury, I now have a severe reaction to gluten. Even though I have not had an official celiac disease diagnosis, my body now responds to gluten in a similar way. I am unable to eat any sugar or high carb foods without making me feel sick and causing my brain to function very poorly. It can take up to three days to recover if I make one wrong food choice. There are a few resistant starches that I can consume in small amounts such as sweet potatoes, green banana flour, and cassava flour. I avoid all lectins except for garbanzo beans on a rare occasion.
Prior to my injury, I had a very busy life, I was fit, and my diet was generally healthy. I was not always the best at managing stress. After my brain injury, my stress tolerance became extremely low, my body didn’t endure exercise, and multiple foods were making me sick. I developed a leaky gut and a weakened immune system that reacts easily to any stressor. Stress affects our gut, and as I have learned, our gut is our second brain. I now live a simpler life focused on balance and self-care, and consuming a diet based on proper brain health nutrition. The benefits have healed my leaky gut, eliminated brain fog, stabilized my moods, and continues to strengthen my immune system. Proper nutrition and practicing simple relaxation techniques are a major contributor to healing my brain and body.
More of my favorite resources for brain nutrition are Dr. David Perlmutter M.D, Dr. Josh Axe and Dr. Dale Bredesen of the Bredesen Protocol. Another fantastic read is “How to Feed a Brain” from brain injury survivor Cavin Balaster, http://adventuresinbraininjury.com/
Making the necessary changes I needed were all self-taught through these fabulous resources. I thank the Lord for their knowledge and hard work towards much needed health education for not only the general population, but for those of us who have suffered a TBI and battle with continuous health complications.
We all know that vitamins are great for our physical health. However, many people forget to take vitamins for their emotional/spiritual health. So, I thought I would share with you some of the vitamins that I’ve taken over the years that has helped me recover from depression and live in victory.
Vitamin J: It all begins with Jesus. If you haven’t accepted Jesus into your heart as Lord and Savior, do so. Then you can access over 7000 promises He has for you in His word. Think about that … 7000+ promises that are yours for the taking! For example, Jesus is your strength and shield (Psalm 28:7). He is your ever present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).
Vitamin W: My parents took me to church and in Sunday School I learned about a King named Solomon. He prayed for wisdom. Well, I thought, if he did it, I could too!
Vitamin C: Recently I added this vitamin to my mental/spiritual health regimen…that is Courage. It is not enough to pray for wisdom if you don’t have the courage to follow through. Wisdom and Courage are 2 sides of the same coin.
Vitamin P: Pam Rosewell Moore was the last traveling companion of Corrie ten Boom. Tante Corrie used to tell Pam, pray for God to let you see the small things small and the big things big. She would also say, ask God to show you things from His perspective. Vitamin P is perspective. When depression hits, our perspective is damaged. It is hard to see clearly…vision is muddled.
Vitamin T: Truth. Standing on truth gives you the best standing in the storms of life. Ask God to show you what is true about a situation. He says that “I am the ways, the truth, and the life…”
Vitamin I: Another valuable tool that Pam taught me through her own life and the lives of Tante Corrie and Brother Andrew is the power of intercession. Prayer and intercession are the most effective tools we have for victory. They are the most important tools in healing. Brother Andrew says that many people pray for things, but praying against things is also important. Smuggler’s Prayer. Have people pray for you. You pray for others.
Vitamin B2: God will use your brokenness for His glory and other’s blessing. He never wastes a tear. He never wastes a hardship. He will bless your faithfulness to Him. He give you the strength to never give up.
Vitamin S: Never be ashamed of your Scars. Jesus showed His scars to Thomas and he believed. We are to share our stories with one another.
Vitamin L: No matter what, you have to choose life. At some point, you will have to lay down suicide as an option. You will have to intentionally choose life. Sometimes it is a second by minute by hour decision. Eventually, it becomes a periodic recommitment. Mostly, it will be a daily surrender.
Vitamin H: Lastly, let me share the vitamin that I can sometimes on an hourly basis. Hope. You know this well. Without it, we lose sight of all things beautiful.
May we grab hold of the Chronic/Unceasing/Unending Hope that GOD, our GOD who never fails us or leaves us will always provide. Therein lies our Victory. So Friends, take your vitamins!
Here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way that may help you in managing YOUR TBI fatigue:
You are hardly going to be able to stand being around certain friends, for 5 minutes. Others, you will gravitate to like a balm. That’s OK, they’re just too overwhelming in their communication style. You are not using them or abandoning them. Your reaction is physiological. It’s self preservation. Keep doing it. You are not being a selfish person or bad Christian/Jew/other religion….
Some people are animated in the way they talk, their facial expressions. They don’t STOP talking and are one big run on sentence. Others need an emotional connection with you all the time you are hanging out with them. And they want to hang out for hours! I used to be that over animated friend. I used to find introverted people boring. Now all I want to do is hang out with introverts, and I get panicked around emotionally needy people -even if they are needy with good reason! After all, IM needy! If you MUST hang out with an animated person or emotionally open person who you can’t handle, add an “Introvert Chaperone” so you can excuse yourself frequently, for a break and “Check out” mentally. Then they can entertain themselves together.
Weird “Sleepiness” in the middle of the day can be “The beginning of the end”. Take a nap when you first feel it creeping in, and you may forstall a full-on fatigue or “overload” crash later. Which as you know, will take longer to dig yourself out of.
Cravings you feel for sugar and entertainment are about trying to get endorphins, serotonin or dopamine raised. You’ll get a fast fix, feel immediate relief, but your brain still needs to rest. It hasn’t changed the fact that your brain is tired. If you are stuck at work, for example, and you’re downing chocolate all day, you haven’t helped yourself. Because you never turned your brain “Off” and let it rest. Stop beating yourself up about screwing up. That’s not the point.
The truly beneficial things that raise your endorphins and help your brain rebound from fatigue, don’t work unless you do them regularly. These things are: Deep breathing, Meditation (You can settle for “Not thinking” while in a still room), Exercise and Sleeping. You will see a change from day to day, week to week, or month to month – not moment to moment.
I know this brings you no comfort, but remember it anyway: TBI fatigue is a protection mechanism of your brain.
If you don’t care about anything but surviving moment to moment, your judgment sucks. Give someone who loves you and cares about you the authority to tell you what to do, when it comes to “What To Do?”
Take someone who loves you in to the doctor’s office. Have them take notes during the appointment, and discuss what the doctor has said, on a less tiring day. The doctor should be grateful you are even in the room, you are so fatigued.
Be honest with your loved ones, even though it’s hard to be honest with yourself. They are going to react normally to do something about this situation, long before you have the strength to do so. My parents never stopped searching for a treatment, and never let up on me. It took months to drag me into a consultation with a doctor who really helped me make strides in recovery.
Don’t believe your depressed thoughts or feelings automatically. You may not be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, because your brain is too tired right now to see that far. Change your feelings from the OUTSIDE in, since you are too weak to do it from the inside out. Go to the pet store and pet a puppy. Hug someone whose hugs you prefer. If you still feel pleasure when you hear music, listen to your favorite song on repeat. Sit alone on a park bench while everyone else isn’t there. Drink your favorite beverage in an empty room. Take a nap immediately. Afterwards, see if your outlook is different.
Eat regular meals. Don’t make more problems for yourself than you need. If you’re like me, you focus, don’t eat, overexert your brain on top of it, and are mean to people who interrupt you as the pain set’s in. Eat a snack. It will make you nicer.
Within 5 days of hitting my head on that black ice on Valentine’s Day 2014, I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t even feel “Nothing”. And that’s the first thing I learned. “The Nothing” (To borrow from The Neverending Story) is an emptiness. A chasm. A lack. I didn’t even detect that I was hollow. Apathy is the ringing echo of the empty room inside you, that usually stores what you FEEL. I on the other hand, was completely disinterested about the world outside my head, almost immediately. The doctor told me this is a common occurrence in car accidents. The traumatized (MTBI/TBI) brain shuts down because it can’t process emotions. So you don’t have any.
Extreme disinterest is not depression. I always mentioned in an offhand way (And still do sometimes), the pain and the obstacles to everyday activities. After all, it characterizes all the tasks I have to deal with, but the true nature of these experiences exist only in my own head. Other people don’t see them.
They see someone ordering from the barista in the coffee shop with ear plugs in. Someone reading a book and snapping at the train conductor when he breaks their concentration.Someone who looks like they want to kill the kid “Jamming” to the beat on his makeshift iPhone boom box. Someone “Watching” a movie while staring at the floor. Someone in a pose of meditation who looks like they’re sweating bullets. Someone who jumps in and out of group conversations like they’re diving underwater. Someone who flinches slightly at the sound of soft Jazz. And when you state what’s actually going on for you in a matter of fact way, it’s usually because you need to include the other person in your world. At least if they actually want to “catch up” like they say. Even for 5 minutes.
On Saturday, September 30, Patti Foster (www.PattiFoster.com) and I will be presenting at the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference in Nashville. (www.worldconference.net) It is a God-cool opportunity to share with other mental health professionals about how they can best support and help those in the brain injury community. So, I thought I would share a few tips that may be helpful to all of us.
Listen with patience.
Include the family in therapy.
Educate yourself about brain injury.
Be mindful of sensory issues…make adjustments in your office.
Celebrate small victories.
Hold on to hope as a life preserver.
Know community and medical resources.
Don’t step on silence. Allow for cognitive processing.
I would like to share ten things I have learned after a traumatic brain injury (TBI). But before I tell you what they are, I should first tell you something else. I don’t deserve credit for any of it!
You see, for all of my life, I used my mind to learn new things. My mind served me quite well during my many years of education which ultimately resulted in a successful career as a family physician. Then without warning, TBI roared into my life and took away away much of my “brain power,” the power I had counted on for so long.
But my learning was far from over. And for this, I am grateful because there was still so much I needed to be taught. This was only possible because God changed my heart, giving me the ability to learn what I am about to share with you.
If I allow Him to, God can make me strong in my weakness. – I spent the majority of my life trying to do things by my own power. My brain injury took away much of the power I had depended on for so long. But it was replaced by something much greater, a changed heart powered by the Holy Spirit, which has given me more strength than I could ever muster on my own
Life is short. – My life changed in an instant, but it could just have easily ended the morning of May 3, 2012. I am learning to treat everyday like it’s my last.
Actions speak louder than words. – This one is pretty self explanatory, but I need make sure what I am doing matches what I am saying. If it doesn’t, then I lose my credibility and my chance of having a positive influence is greatly diminished.
I have learned the power Jesus can have in my life and have come to realize I must share it with others. – I truly believe that Jesus is my source of strength and purpose in this life, and not just my free ticket out of hell. Out of love, not out of an effort to earn God’s favor, I should want to live for Him and share with everyone what I believe and why I believe it.
Treat others like people, not as projects, and engage with people that are different. – As a follower of Jesus, I am called to treat all people with love, kindness, and respect. I am called to display the love of Jesus to everyone in all that I say and do, and leave the heart change up to God. And I am learning it is important to engage and befriend those who look, act, and think differently than me.
I learned to stop asking the question “why me” and instead started asking “why not me.” – God used my wife, Jacqui, to teach me this valuable lesson. She developed this mindset early on in my recovery, while I was still laying in the hospital in a near comatose state. People would tell her they didn’t understand why something this bad happened to us. They said it just didn’t make any sense. She would just respond with, “Why not us?” She understood God was in control and knew that He could somehow use what we were going through for good. “Why me” is a question I still wrestle with at times, but I am learning to be confident in the God I serve and that the plans He has for me far exceed any I may have.
God gave me a story and I need to use it to help others. – I used to complain that I didn’t have a story to tell, or at least not the kind that would have an impact on others. Looking back, this was faulty thinking, because we all have a story to tell. But after May 3, 2102, I could no longer use that as an excuse. God gave me a story and and I feel I need to tell it, not with the intentions of bringing attention to myself, but to point to the author of my story and to help others.
I am not supposed to do life on my own. – My brain injury was humbling. I could no longer do certain things on my own power. I started using a lot of new tools and tricks (i.e. AppleWatch, schedules, reminders) to help me function in my daily life. I also learned to accept the help of others. But most importantly, I learned to accept God’s help, the loving God who had been there all along just waiting for me to give up on doing it myself and simply ask Him.
Don’t judge where someone is at because you don’t know where they started. – I have learned to pass less judgement on how someone is choosing to live their life. This is something that I am still learning and don’t always do. But it is something that is important to remember if I want to understand, relate to, and help others.
It is important to regularly check my list of priorities and make changes when needed. – After my brain injury, this was something that I had to do almost immediately, because I could no longer do all the things that I used to do. I had to figure out what I could still do, decide what was important, and focus on these. This involved saying “no” to a lot of good things so I could say “yes” to the more important.
Without a TBI, I may have never stopped relying on my own “brain power,” never understood the power of a changed heart, and never learned these invaluable lessons. I am sure you have heard it said that “God works in mysterious ways.” Growing up, I know I had heard it a countless number of times. It wasn’t until my brain injury that I learned the truth behind this statement and the true wonder of how God works.
Jeff Huxford M.D. lives with his wife (Jacqui) and his children (Jayse, Jenna) in Franklin, TN. He had previously lived with his family in northwest Indiana where he had been a doctor for ten years. In January of 2016, Dr. Huxford had to stop practicing medicine due to complications from a traumatic brain injury. Jeff has moved on to become a blogger (jeffhuxford.com), writer (currently working on his first book, Finding Normal), and speaker who is passionate about sharing how he was able to find and keep the kind of perspective that is needed in overcoming adversity or any life-changing event. He wants to share his story so other people will know about the God who saved his life and changed his heart.