Updated: Jan 26
First they said to rest and stay away from screens or bright lights for a while.
So I did that for a month. And then another and another.
Then they said to be patient. But patience with no progress is onerous.
They said to eat well and avoid alcohol. Sometimes I adhered, sometimes I didn’t.
They said to try hyperbaric chamber treatments, meditation, various supplements, psychedelics, psychotherapy. I dabbled in some of those things, but felt like I was throwing darts at a target while blindfolded.
The crash had been hard enough to smash my helmet, but I didn’t lose consciousness. I was able to self rescue and get myself to civilization. By definition, it was a mild concussion but the resulting year of recovery has been anything but mild.
As the symptoms lingered on, they said to take anti-depressants.
I so desperately needed relief. My symptoms; sleep disturbances, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, low appetite, poor self esteem, lack of desire to exercise or be outside, persistent feeling of sadness…they all matched the clinical definition of depression.
But I didn’t want to take the pills. Something deep inside told me this was not the right path for my recovery. As a lifelong athlete, for the first time in my life, I didn’t find joy in movement. I didn’t want to move, sweat, get my heart rate up or feel blood surging through my veins. I was scared. I did not crave the feeling of movement and I was unsure of what might happen. I simply didn’t want to do the thing that had been my passion for decades. The longer the lethargy went on, the further I regressed from who I was. I had become someone I didn’t recognize. Someone I didn’t want to be. But I couldn’t decipher how to navigate this unfamiliar journey and I couldn’t find a guide to show me the way.
So I walked my dogs. I walked with them not because I wanted to, but because I had to. They needed me to do that for them. As their caregiver, this is my responsibility. Those soft noses nudged me daily to simply open the door. Those soulful eyes pleaded for me to come with them.
So I went. Trudging and shuffling slowly most days. But I went for them. Crying as I walked. Smiling a little as they jumped, sniffed and ran. Their joy was the kind of joy I used to feel exploring a new trail or charging up a hill. Sometimes we’d just walk a few hundred yards and I would simply sit in the grass as they played. Some days this was as far as I could go. I was envious of their elation with the simple act of moving outside. I yearned to feel that joy again.
I hid my symptoms as much as I could. I hid out of shame, embarrassment and fear. I am an athlete, a motivator, the Queen of Pain with world titles and plenty of stories of pushing through the most extreme physical hardships. But I couldn’t find the trail this time and was afraid to admit that to myself or anyone else.
There was no hiding from those closest to me. They watched helplessly because they didn’t know where to point my compass or what the right medicine was either.
11 months after the crash. I went back to the doctors. This time I went to see a brain injury specialist who works with the US Ski Team and other elite level athletes, in hopes that he might understand who I was before and who I had become from this injury. A clean MRI gave me the confidence that the physical structure of my brain was healthy. Explanations about the electrical activity of the brain gave me the understanding of the powerful affects our personal and lifestyle interventions have on the brain. I also went to see an integrative healthcare genius who specializes in neuro-kinesthetic programming, which is simply connecting the brain with the body through movement. For the first time in this arduous journey, I had a glimmer of hope that I could return to the person I was before, and that I might be able to recognize myself again. The medicine that was prescribed was not an oral drug or magic pill. The medicine prescribed was movement.
My dogs knew intuitively that movement not only strengthens the body but also the brain. They had been my steadfast advocates and guides for months. Now I also understand the path I need to navigate patiently back not to who I was before, but to who I might become.
Movement is medicine.