So, how are you doing? All too often we are hard-wired to fire off a quick reply. “I’m fine, thanks for asking.” Do we really think the person asking really cares? Perhaps they are simply using an all-too-familiar greeting.
These are difficult times. Life is challenging enough for the fully-abled, but add a traumatic brain injury to the mix, and things can get downright overwhelming.
I can only speak for myself when I share that most days I’m in the “kind of okay” place. The terror that life can become is held back by staying busy. I move through every day at about the same pace, doing the same things, biding my time until life as we knew it begins to make a reappearance. Every day feels a bit like Blursday, one day fading into another, one week gone, another month past, and like treading water in a pool, my head stays above the high water mark.
But occasionally dark days come. Thankfully they only come now and again, and (so far) never more than one day at a time. I’m not sure what I would do with consecutive dark days. Thankfully, I don’t need to.
Dark days are those days where I allow my mind to run. The outcome is never good. My mind ceases to be my friend and my thoughts get the best of me.
“Next month will be a year since Sarah and I have been living in isolation. I can’t take one more day of this.”
“I am so freaking tired of worrying all the time. It’s exhausting. What’s the sense anyway? It’s only a matter of time until I catch the virus.”
“The noose is getting tighter. People that I know and love now have COVID-19. Maybe this really is the end of humanity as we know it.”
This rabbit hole is never fun. My brain injury left some of my filters still in tatters. While my verbal filter is back to something resembling normal, my emotional filter is still hit-or-miss. I watch the news and I just want to cry. Sometimes I do. So many gone, such irrecoverable tragedy and loss. I often wish I didn’t feel so deeply. It is one of the bittersweet aspects of life after brain injury.
When I feel the wave sweep over me, more often than not, I realize that it is time for action. Living in a state of hopelessness is not for this survivor. I’ve come too far, seen too much, and worked too hard to do any less than my best.
Self-care is not an option in today’s world. It is essential for survival. There are practices that I have adopted, and things that I do that keep me grounded and reasonably well. My list may be different than yours, but I encourage you to find things that can help keep you afloat.
So, how do I stay topside these days?
One of the biggest helpers is to stick to a routine. In my case, my pandemic routine is very similar to life before everything changed. During the workweek, I am at my desk from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM like clockwork. In fact, you can literally set a clock to my weekday comings and goings.
Midafternoon most every day I hunker down to my daily commitment to exercise. Being winter in New Hampshire means that I am relegated to my indoor stationary bike. But like my warm-weather routine, I bike for twenty miles a day, almost every day.
Not only is exercise a stress reliever, but it’s proven to be vital in my ongoing TBI recovery. The science shows that cardio causes my body to release what is called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. This naturally occurring chemical has been proven to boost neurogenesis – the formation of new neurons.
Exercise is good for my body and good for my brain!
My next task is not as easy as it might sound. Every day I try to reach out to someone I know. Whether it be by phone, email, or text, I try to touch base with a fellow member of humanity outside of our household. As members of the human race, we are hard-wired to be social beings. The pandemic has pulled so many away people from other human contact. I fight to retain that connection to others.
Not only do I have the opportunity to brighten someone’s day, but by reaching out to someone else, I am less apt to let unhealthy and fear-based thoughts ruminate.
Lastly, I try to find time to go out and continue to explore the world. While the pandemic has essentially eliminated most human contact, there is a great wild world out there ready to be explored. Every weekend, Sarah and I hop into the Jeep and pick a direction to drive. Sometimes we revisit familiar places, other times it’s a ride to someplace new.
We know the best coastal spots to see seals, occasionally stumble upon snowy owls, and have spied out deer on countless occasions. Not only does this stave off the uneasiness that comes from being inside for too long, but it also exposes me to new experiences, something that has also proven to help me along the brain injury recovery road.
None of this is easy. It’s not supposed to be. But when the dark cloud starts to make an appearance, I remind myself that 2021 is a year of great promise. Unlike its predecessor, I fully expect this year to get better as we go, and, fingers crossed, we might see some semblance of normalcy later this year. Seen in this light, it’s hard not to be excited.