It is a curious thing how in times of crisis we return to conversations of comfort, or where a lesson was learned, or perhaps both. Around week four of the COVID-19 crisis, I fell asleep thinking of a huge-hearted nurse named Brian. I was wondering why Brian was on my mind when I realized it was seven years earlier that Brian and I sat down and had a heart-to-heart. April of 2013 was a big month for our family. We would bring Taylor home after his being in rehab for months.
I now know the body and mind remember big moments. Trauma doesn’t slip silently into the background once it is over. Even seven years later the mind can say, “I remember what you endured.”
My relationship with nurse Brian prior to this heart-to-heart conversation was one of my calling his name and his responding from the nurse’s station. Brief pleasantries were often exchanged. Brian visibly carried compassion and joy. He was not Taylor's assigned nurse, but he was a huge part of Taylor's routine and wellbeing. He, like many at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, called Taylor “Bing” (referencing our last name). Brian said “Bing” with a BOOMING flair. His tone suggested happiness at seeing Taylor, and it brought awareness to Taylor’s exhausted brain.
Underneath Brian’s teddy bear exterior was also wisdom, empathy, and knowledge. Days before taking Taylor home, Brian and I sat in the cafeteria. Brian’s voice held a serious tone, and he spoke with me as a brother would his sister. I sensed genuine protection and concern. Brian intuitively knew I felt frightened.
In the cafeteria of the rehab, Brian spoke about change, the one thing we could depend on in life. Change was and would be constant. He reminded me that one of my roles as a primary care provider and mom was to lean into change and not resist it. It was a charge of sorts, to do my best and be my best.
Brian knew what I didn’t. He’d seen numerous families go through this. Not only had Taylor’s internal landscape changed, but our family’s external landscape was shifting, too. To accept this truth was to survive. Resisting changes could use up energy that was best placed elsewhere. I cannot remember his exact words, but his heart was saying to mine, “Your son has changed. Your life has changed. No amount of wishing will erase this injury. But you can choose your response.”
Brian, a wise nurse and gentle human, reminded me that I held good tools within. In the coming days and years, I would need to use them. I would also need to be willing to change my tools and explore new coping mechanisms.
During this pandemic, I wish I had the magic words to make all of our situations easier and less painful. Watching Taylor suffer more, grow more frustrated, and experience further isolation is harder than hard. I have a responsibility to help him navigate this. I also have a responsibility towards myself. How I balance those two things requires work.
Over the years I’ve gathered some coping mechanisms that have truly helped. In sharing these ideas I hope you can use them on your journey, or be reminded to tap into something that works for you.
- Mindfulness. This is a big word these days. It is a big word for a reason. I encourage you to look within. Journaling your thoughts, talking things over with a trusted friend, exploring how you feel about what happened can help you heal.
A book that helped me understand both Taylor’s trauma and my own is The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel A van der Kolk. The author shares, “Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.” And on mindfulness, “Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care.”
- Movement. Endless studies have proven movement is critical to our overall health. I work full-time; so each day on my lunch and afternoon break, I get outside and walk. I also practice and teach yoga online with teachers I know. Movement can foster connection as well, something we all need.
It can be hard for caregivers to squeeze in exercise. Please consider what might work for you, and give it a try.
- Meditation. The LoveYourBrain Foundation has wonderful, free resources for people with TBI and for caregivers. Meditation is getting quiet, settling in, and accessing a few moments of calm. It can be challenging, but with the challenge comes the reward.
- And finally, More. Offer yourself more of whatever feels good to you. Give yourself some moments of ease and peace. You deserve it.
Nicole, Bing’s mom