In June of 2007, I swallowed a colorful assortment of over 90 pills and tried to end my life. Needless to say, it wasn’t a successful attempt, but it did put me in the hospital for two weeks and left me with a serious brain injury — changing my life forever. It’s not clear whether the cause of my global brain injury, technically termed encephalopathy, was the result of all the drugs going through my body, my heart stopping multiple times, the 107-degree fever, or the hours of seizures. Right afterward by my own honest definition, I was seriously mentally handicapped.
It’s not clear whether the cause of my global brain injury, technically termed encephalopathy, was the result of all the drugs going through my body, my heart stopping multiple times, the 107-degree fever, or the hours of seizures. Right afterward by my own honest definition, I was seriously mentally handicapped.
I couldn’t remember anything short-term or long-term. On the way home from the hospital, my Dad turned to his wife in the passenger seat of the car and said, “We’ll run by her house, feed the animals, and then head to our place.” Surprised, from the back seat, I asked, “I have a house?”
My speech was slurred, without inflection, and hard to understand. My thinking processes were impaired and s-l-o-w. Even though I always felt sleepy, I couldn’t sleep for any length of time continuously. I even had trouble controlling my bladder and eating without biting my cheeks or tongue. My hands had a constant tremor and hung limp at my sides with no movement when I walked.
The best I can liken my impaired state to is being drunk. Although with this drunk, there was no sobering up. Every minute, I had to struggle to maintain coherent consciousness.
Over the year following the brain injury, I did eventually resume driving and living on my own, but I lost custody of my two sons, and they went to live out-of-state with their Dad. While at the time, this decision seemed cruel and unjust, it was for the best as it was all I could manage just to take care of me.
A good day for me was one in which I emptied the dishwasher — that took a ridiculously long time — and swept the floor. Just keeping up with the wash for myself was a daunting task. I would go to put up the laundry and get lost in my drawers or closet for hours. “Where did all these clothes come from?” I would wonder.
The world terrified me. Going to the grocery store required that I muster up all my bravery because every interaction with people sent my heart racing and left me mentally exhausted. My speech had improved somewhat, but I still got sideways glances. I imagined people whispering, “How much has she had to drink today?”
Western medicine didn’t have much to offer me, and after three months of occupational and speech therapy when my insurance quit paying, the therapies basically told me to go home and cross my fingers. As I became more aware, I did my own research and assembled my own therapy. I incorporated neurofeedback, acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, cranial sacral massage, hypercapnia or “bag breathing,” my own respiratory therapy with a device called a power lung, energetic healing, meditation, visualization, music therapy, cardiovascular exercise, hot yoga, cross-lateral movement, a brain-healthy diet and lifestyle, supplements, and more.
It was an incredibly long and painstakingly slow recovery process and journey taking years. In addition to the therapies above, I spent hours every day doing brain training computer programs and exercises on online websites to increase my processing speed, brain function, and memory. Everywhere I went, I carried a Nintendo DS to play brain games or workbooks with brain-challenging exercises. I breathed into a plastic bag every 15 minutes when awake and not in public to increase the oxygen to my brain and exercised EVERY DAY for at least 30 minutes for years to oxygenate my brain.
On my hands and knees like a baby, I crawled daily to reprogram the connections in my brain. Crawling is cross-lateral movement and helps forge pathways for signals to travel across the corpus callosum, a fiber bridge connecting the two hemispheres of the brain.
As I healed, I educated myself, drew from many different areas, and discovered a great deal I could do on my own to facilitate my recovery. Because my injury was unique as all brain injuries are, there was no standard, easy-to-follow rehabilitation for my recovery. As much as I would have liked for it to happen, no doctor or rehabilitation specialist told me what to do to get better.
I had to find the answers on my own and have the discipline to implement them daily to improve me and my life. Anyone can do this too. Whether you are dealing with a brain injury, a stroke, Alzheimer’s, autism, age-related decline, cerebral palsy, obsessive compulsivity, ADD/ADHD, depression or whatever — you CAN do something about it. Because of neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to change physical form and function based on our repeated behaviors, emotions, and thoughts, we each are the sculptors of our brains and lives.
If I did it, you can too!
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