Six years after sustaining a concussion, Janet Ouchterlony reflects on her healing journey

Six.

January 31st marked six years since I took an unfortunate hit at hockey.

A seemingly harmless play added another concussion to the tally and unleashed what has been a mental, physical, and emotional rollercoaster, and a journey that I would wish upon no one.

“You should be feeling better in a couple of weeks” was what I recall being told by health care professionals.

Weeks passed and I did not even remotely feel better. Then months passed. Still nothing. The first year passed and still I felt impossibly far from better. I struggled to wrap my head around the fact that I was now counting this concussion healing journey in years.

On the inside I was a shell of the person I was before, and yet I probably looked much like the same person on the outside. Concussions are challenging like that.

While my world was a hazy one, I knew enough to trust my instincts. I knew that I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust that I would eventually find my way back to “normal”.

It turns out, “eventually” turned out to take a really long time and was also really fucking hard. While I recognize that my old “normal” may or may not ever be 100% attainable again, thankfully I am much closer to that old “normal” place than I have been in years.

And the cool thing is that each day I wake up I get the gift of time to continue creating my new “normal” and have the potential to become an even better version of the person I was before.

When I first got hurt, walking across the yard was extremely challenging. My balance was severely off and my vision crazy blurry. For years, looking through my eyes felt like I was looking through milk. Every once in a while I still get like that when I don’t stay on top of taking proper care of myself. As much as it still sucks during those times, I can’t help but be overwhelmingly grateful that feeling like that is no longer my every day reality.

I am so fortunate that I now know how to manage myself in the self care department in order to rein things back in. Self care, along with the help of some phenomenal professional support, have played a huge role in my healing. It took years to find my people, but now that they are in place, I can’t even begin to explain how critical they have been in helping me to navigate this journey. They listen, they take my choices into consideration, and they work together as a team on my behalf.

Looking back I sometimes wonder how I ever even managed to navigate through those times before these people were in place to support me. I would wake up every day feeling super foggy, slow, and alone. It was so unbelievably frustrating.

I isolated myself much of the time by choice because being around people was for the most part overwhelming and I wanted to save the best of what I had to offer to my kids.

As someone who thrives on connecting with people, this added yet another layer of difficulty to this journey for me. The whole thing had me feeling like I had no identity, no purpose.

I did a shit ton of grieving for the “old me.”

Sometimes I still do, but thankfully way less often as I have gotten significantly better at the art of self love and compassion.

Being in nature always been a positive aspect in my life and a source of self care, so as soon as I could safely walk in the forest off I went. It wasn’t always easy. I tripped all the time and completely wiped out on too many occasions to count. Every day I would go though, and most days I would push myself to go further than before. Sometimes that was a good thing, others, not so much. But on some level, being outside and moving my body has always helped me to feel better.

At some point I started to create little challenges for myself to help me to feel more creative and focused. One was to walk up to the lake and jump in for 100 days in a row. That year I jumped in well over my goal and I if I recall correctly that was the same year that I jumped in the lake every month of the year except one because at one point it was frozen and carving a hole in the ice to jump in would have been next level.

Another challenge I created for myself was to take a photo every day. Given that I walked that same route most of the time it was really cool to see how many different photos I could take.

This is around the same time where I began to see hearts everywhere. I began to share the photos on social media. People seemed to appreciate seeing the daily photos and I enjoy it, so continue to do so. Sharing a photo not only gave me an opportunity to create, it also reminded me to appreciate and keep my eyes open to the simple and amazing every day moments daily life has to offer.

Having a purpose when I walked also helped to keep ruminating, anxiety and depression at bay which can run rampant in the healing process.

While I still attach what I consider to be too much of my mental power on the symptoms I struggle with, like the constant low grade fear of backsliding (especially now that I have come so far) I am at the very least aware of it and continuing to attempt to grow and overcome. Sometimes I fare better than others. Such is life.

As with any journey, I could not have gotten as far as I have without the love and support of my people. I am constantly amazed at how fortunate I am to be surrounded by the most incredible people. The kind of people who know what you need before you do, who encourage you to figure things out on your own, who will call you out, who will make you think, who will make you laugh until you have tears rolling down your face, who remind you not to take life too seriously, and who want you to become the best version of yourself.

Hold on to these people. They are magic.

As for the future, who knows what that will hold for me. What I do know though, is that I will continue to show up and try to figure out the “double blacks” life throws my way as best I can.

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