How recovering from concussion helped Janet Ouchterlony navigate a pandemic

Janet Ouchterlony shared this on her Facebook feed recently and gave permission for us to repost here.

Over the years I have attempted to convey what it is like living with and healing from a long-term concussion. While I would never wish the experience upon anyone, I am finding that the concussion journey was in a way, preparing me for life as we currently now know it. Apart from the brutal physical symptoms that come with concussions, I feel that part of the experience is likely much more relatable to others now, as I am experiencing many emotional similarities. A shit ton of trial and error on this wild ride eventually taught me some lessons, and led me to strategies that have helped me to heal. These insights continue to serve me now. Some of what I learned:

Grieving. It was critical for me to acknowledge the loss of the version of life as I knew it. To be sad, angry, disappointed, scared and move through all the stages of grief that come with loss. “Mourning the loss” is a process. It doesn’t require loss of life and will take a nonlinear ~ as long as it takes path to move through. When I least expected it, another wave would hit me and send me flying. Eventually the pain lessened and I could step into the new normal.

Not knowing is exhausting, anxiety inducing and scary. Being in the in between in so many aspects of my life totally sucked. Actually, it beyond sucked, but eventually I got used to it. As I was healing, the weeks, months, and years would go by and I would wonder if I was ever going to feel “normal” again. I was living in survival mode and it was next level shattering both physically and emotionally. Future tripping was in no way serving me. Neither was catastrophizing. With time, I began to focus more on accepting what is, how far I had come, and embracing the unknown. It was much healthier for me to remain present as much as possible. I gained strength by appreciating the moments I was in, as opposed to focusing on the aspects of life that were passing me by. Every once in a while, I found myself backsliding and on occasion, I still do. I try my best not to beat myself up about it. I simply choose to move my thoughts in another, more valuable direction. I can’t say I love it, but I am much comfortable with the uncomfortable than I used to be.

Feeling all the feels is key. I am almost certain that for the first few years, I felt most of the rainbow of emotions on any given day. Sometimes there was a reason. Other times, not. During this phase, grocery outings for me, were significantly more stressful than today’s strange shopping experience. The sheer number of decisions, the rearranging of the aisles since my last visit, and the amount of people to navigate, triggered absolute overwhelm. On more than one occasion, the experience would result in tears. One day I recall sobbing at the checkout counter after my third or fourth attempt at punching in the pin code to pay. Not having the focus to stay on task for all of four numbers in a row, or forgetting them completely was not uncommon. While I dreaded the grocery shopping experience, at the same time it helped teach me a lesson. To be okay with not trying to control when the tears to showed up, and that there was no need to apologize to others when they did. Crying in public made some people uncomfortable, but most would offer a kind word or to help me.

Shit happens. How we choose to show up will define us. Life is filled with ups and downs. As much as we don’t want it to, inevitably bad stuff happens. How we respond to what happens tells us a lot about ourselves. Through this journey I failed, I succeeded, I fell, I got back up, I flailed around, I found my way. I kept moving forward as best as I knew how. It was far from easy, and to be quite honest I kind of wonder how I managed at times to keep moving, but am so grateful that I persevered. I was showing both myself and my children what’s possible.

Even though I looked “normal” I was struggling. Struggle doesn’t have a certain “look” to it.
I continue to remind myself and my boys to ask for help when we need it, “not judge a book by its cover”, that believing people are doing their best, and looking out for others, is cool.

Isolation. As much as I love being around healthy, vibrant people, isolation was a huge part of my healing. It was, and at times still is, extremely difficult and draining for me being around more than a couple of people. Choosing alternative ways to connect with people was crucial in my healing. It allowed for me to feel heard, build deeper relationships, and feel more normal. For me, nothing can beat in person time together, but when it’s not a possibility, I am thankful for the other options we have.

Not everyone will show up for you. Cherish those that do. Not everyone will believe you, understand your struggles, or ever have the skillset to put themselves in your shoes. Those are not your people. True friends show up for you. They listen. Hold them close. For me, it doesn’t matter how long I’ve known someone, or if they happen to be related. Actions speak louder than words. Grateful for those that showed up for and continue to show up for me.

Trust. I had to trust that I would get through this. I had to trust my intuition. I had to trust my decisions. I had to trust and honour my body and its requirements to heal. I had to trust that my efforts would make a difference in my life.

Time in nature, and moving my body was essential. Walking was my movement of choice for enjoyment and relaxation, but for safety reasons too (even walking I would wipe out on a regular basis). With nature being at my doorstep, access was easy. The slow pace of my walking gave me the ability to take in more of the beauty in the forest than I would have otherwise been able to do on a bike, my other go to forest transportation. It also allowed me the opportunity to capture moments with my camera which also helped to fill a creative void.

Gratitude and being in the moment. The more that I could choose to “be here now”, and focus on all that was awesome in my life, the better off I was. Recognizing even the smallest things that are positive in my life always seems to shift my perspective. I allowed myself a lot of time to just be. With no agenda. This was much needed rest time for my brain and helped to reset my mood.

When in doubt. Breathe.

Love wins! At some point along my journey I began to see hearts on my walks. I decided to take photos of some of them and share them on social media. People seemed to enjoy seeing them. Eventually people started to share with me how they too, now see hearts in their travels. You never know the ripple you will create when you share a little love. I also found that the less judgmental and gentler I was with myself, the more I thrived. We may never truly know what another is going through. Kindness and compassion go a long way in bettering this life we share. Love your people. Love others. Love yourself.

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