Finding your “mojo” when all you want to do is let the darkness overwhelm you and holding fast at times when all you want to do is let go of the rope. But instead you tie a knot in the end and find the resilience you didn’t know was there and look up. Find yet again a way to quell the sensation of your nerve ending being eaten alive.
The light might be too far off to be a goal. Instead the goal is find calm and equilibrium. Ever though the information pathways (I don’t think of them as pain pathways as they often lie to you) are exploding. One more slow breathe, one more try, one more challenge to reshape your thoughts, and find some form of peace, on a night where time has stood still.
From the darkest night can come the brightest day. When I was growing up I’d read stories from WW1. How soldiers suffering in those horridness conditions used to see the smallest things of beauty around them and take enormous heart from those moments. How the mind, body and soul could be plunged through those times and find reasons to live and maintain any sense of sanity just defied my logic. During times of intense rehab it’s those dark times when the brain and body are screaming at you to stop it’s simply not worth it….. Protect protect protect!! The little voice deep within has to step up and tell you persist, go one more time, get up one more time, be engaged one more time. No matter how many times the voice has to say this. One more time, there is no choice there is only one more time.
One of the strongest memories of my recovery is a day when in my mind I was off to defeat the world and show how far I’d come in comparatively short time from such serious life treating injuries. It was the second day without using walking sticks to get around, but the first day I was out from the protection of home. I decided to go down to the shops to quickly pick up a few things. I judged the trip to be a good little expedition and was meant to be a simple short stroll around collecting a few items. I set out thinking how amazing am I, to have made it this far. The great plan unraveled straight away when parking was much further then I’d hoped and the shop was packed. Feeling very vulnerable and dodging people took much more energy then I’d anticipated. By the time I was standing waiting at the checkout I was starting to shake and was sweating. I was only just able to control my body movements. I had taken on more then I’d hoped but I was there and standing and I felt elated. As I was giving myself a mental High Five I noticed the checkout person and the woman in front continually glancing in my direction. The look on both their faces was of a little disdain mixed with keeping their distance because in their eyes I was either possibly drunk or on drugs. Either way in their mind I was in a bit a disgrace. I wanted to explain what an amazing day this was for me. What had happened and how much work in rehab, literally all the blood sweat and some tears. But in that moment their faces made me feel ashamed. By that stage I’d mostly come off some very serious amounts of heavy drugs far earlier then even my doctor had expected who was always worried about addiction. My strength and endurance suddenly started to slide away. I knew it wasn’t their fault, they didn’t know my story or had walked in my shoes. I took a moment to mentally slap myself in the face and use all the strength left from pretty much pure muscle memory. I smiled as best I could and made it to the car where I collapsed before finally being able to drive home.
To a non health care professional understanding the journey through pain is a confronting one. For me I had a fight with gravity and slammed into the ground at high velocity doing something I love paragliding. Initially once my glider was under control and I was no longer being dragged across the ground. I checked that I could wiggle all my fingers and toes and too my huge relief and surprise I could. I knew things were fairly bad but at that moment I was alive and could talk with my fellow pilots who came to my aid and organised an airlift to hospital.
The next month was a series of operations and blood transfusions. For the first three weeks I was only able to push a button every 15 minutes to help quell the waves of pain that crashed into me. Every hour I had my ops checked and/or was rolled as well to have the large scar on my back checked for any excess bleeding through the bandage. This caused no end of pain as the pelvis had external fixes to help it stay in place. These usually hit the side of the bed as I was turned and I had several ribs broken plus my sternum. It was a blur of pain and wishing I didn’t sleep over the 15 minute marker. As missing those meant hours before the pain levels got back under control. Controlling emotions and allowing the body to unwind and properly rest is an enormous burden to take on. The bed is your protection but you mustn’t let it become your isolation or dungeon. You need it to be your kingdom but unfortunately you may be a King, but you’re not its absolute ruler. It’s more a ceremonial role and it’s important you come to terms with that. Shut out everything and everyone and the brain and soul will whither and slowly die. The contradiction of course is you equally can’t let everybody over run your kingdom. You must find a way to be aware of your spark and how strong it is and what protects it and what nourishes it.
Every day is a new beginning. Light would come into the room differently, songs and podcasts were discovered and the staff had by now gotten to know me and a little joke or a short conversation here or there made so much difference. Even arguing with the night shift nurse about setting my timer off at 15 minutes so I didn’t miss a pain Button schedule. Those little interactions while small made huge connections for the long stay. I’d made a conscious decision to take each day as it came and not to get stressed about the what if’s. That won’t change the present and only I could shape the future. I wanted to get better no matter what shape that would take and had goals to achieve. Giving my body every chance to heal and getting back in the air were some of the major ones. I had way more life to live no matter what form it took and people to live for as well as myself. Life doesn’t give you heads up for changes or light every path you need to walk but all you can do is make the very most life is giving you. Lessons learned and moments cherished as tomorrow anything is possible. Regret and what if’s don’t improve today and life is all about now, helping to shape tomorrow. Keep peering through the darkness to find the light and you never know that aurora lights could suddenly arrive but you have to be looking to see them.
The switch in mindset. 5 to 7 months after the accident the next big hurdle has to be taken on board. Changing from putting all your mental and physical energies into getting out of pain and/or coming to terms with mindfulness to help the brain relax the crazy amount of noise flooding into your brain at different times. To now putting yourself very consciously back in the path of pain and knowing to improve and get back a full life I not only had to be in pain but actually seek it out. It is quite simply the oddest mix of bed fellows. The pain it’s self, mobility pushing boundaries the moment something is reached another goal looms up needing to be achieved. Tiredness and mental fuzziness which at times meant not being able to spell your name on the endless forms that were being filled out around this time. The sleeplessness returned and the strength to find a way back into mindfulness.
The pain, the loss of mobility where picking up socks and putting them on can lead to great moments of courage persistence and struggle beyond anything that you’ve previously achieved in life. It is however the loss of cognitive brain function which can take you towards a huge confronting realities of the totalitarian of your injuries. I didn’t suffer any direct brain injuries from the accident. I did have to spend some time back at basic skills getting to switch back on my intellectual side that had been dealing with the blast of information from nerve strained to boiling point. Calming that information is one part but then actually getting the brain to function again as a virtual organ to having an open mind and back to expanding your knowledge beyond the walls that have closed in all around you without you being consciously aware of the vast loss of brain function just in reasoning let alone back to expanding again. Like the physical recover this must be done in small stages and embracing it will be hard and possibly be at times humiliating. Even humiliation while tough on the soul leads you to discoveries or regrouping and facing gaps that you may have been blissfully unaware of until that moment.
The cycle of pain and recovery. Eventually the day arrives and you don’t feel like your moving with completely flat tyres just off being a living dead zombie. When it happens without doubt you over do it and in the excitement you blow, all the feel good juice usually in under half a day. Exhilaration flows into every cell like warm fire to inspire you back to greatness. If only that lasted forever! The most dangerous times the mind has is the choices you have once the joy subsides and the punch of feeling defeated and tired. Remember you can make it and not the flood of pain and helplessness that is waiting at the door of your mind to smother you in the haze of doubt. If you can get there once it’ll happen again, only this time you’ll reach it quicker. Not the year or months or days it took last time but 5 minutes quicker an hour quicker, a day, a month. Pain makes time stand still one of your greatest achievements is to keep time moving, and being able to live in the moment.
The day and night cycle which is hard to control but is really important for recovery to be able to sleep at night time. A few sleepless nights aren’t the end of the world, but letting the noise volume drown you at night is the death by a thousand cuts for the brain. Helplessness follows close behind and weight of fear, anxiety and pain sensations floods into your thoughts. Learning mindfulness to help quell and quieten the pathways to the brain and allowing the brain to hear the true messages from your body. While this can take a little practice and persistence to get benefits from it is extremely worthwhile. Take that the extra slow breath, release and repeat.
All you can be is true to yourself and honest with yourself regarding rehab and how that adds into days, weeks and months. You will of course have bad moments and it’s definitely OK to get down and want to wallow in the mud but please please don’t stay there. Yell, scream and cry against the world and universe, drain your body mind and soul until it’s empty then crawl back up and start again because in the end only you can make that difference.
Resilience and inner strength are both things you’ll learn to have far deeper reserves then you ever thought possible. However it’s the growth you get from finding a way forward, tying a knot in the end of the rope, holding on like crazy so you don’t fall into the black void below. If you do fall in you can find a way back and slowly simply start taking one more step just one more step towards recovery and further then you ever thought was possible.
Getting knocked down is rough, getting back up is tough, but sometimes the greatest battle is staying up, and this is what I tell myself everyday because everyday is worth staying up for. Life mightn’t give you credit to put in the bank to use later but it does give you lessons to learn and experiences that either make or break you. Train your mind to understand the information it’s receiving and not let the nerve ending control your mood, outlook and eventually your life. What you choose is entirely up to you.