Don’t Panic!

Don’t push the red button.

Don’t think about the fact that you have to pee.

Don’t think about that one song you REALLY hate.

(What’s the one?)

Human nature dictates that you will inevitably think about the ONE thing you shouldn’t. You don’t have to be a psychologist to figure that out. 

That’s why super strict, extreme diets don’t typically work – at least, not in the long term. Deprivation over moderation is never the answer.

Similarly, too frequently we focus on the physical and simply ignore the other very key piece to recovery – our mental health. Despite the push for physical health (there always seems to be a new diet fad or cholesterol drug out), there is very little focus on what we can do to care for our mental health. So we quash it, ignore it.

I will be forever grateful to the excellent staff at UNC for putting my head back together and giving me the best possible chance for recovery. However, it occurred to me recently that while the doctors and staff did the best job caring for my physical health, no one ever stopped to really ask me how I was doing on the inside.

Sure, they assessed me. They tested me. They made note of my neurocognitive health and progress. But I didn’t really need to spend a half paycheck’s worth to know that my speech is slow, I suck at math, and that writing is my best strength.

Those things have always been true – the TBI just made it all a bit more defined.

It’s not that the doctors and staff didn’t care about me and how I was doing. Rather, it’s just that entire facet of my recovery was never broached. Highly skilled nurses monitored my vitals. Doctors and various specialists came and went. Different therapists–OT, PT, RT–inquired about my likes, dislikes, goals, etc.

But no one ever came and just sat down with me.

“Hey, Jenni. How are you feeling about getting a hole kicked in your skull? How do you feel knowing that the surgeon had to clean the bits of skull out of your brain? What about the fact that your husband spent hours not knowing whether you’d come through the same Jenni as before?” And such, and such.

Don’t get me wrong – I had a wonderful support network, including Paul, family and friends. But because no one ever really asked me to think about what happened–and I was so busy trying to recover–I never gave it much thought.

I did a whole lot of talking about my accident and not a whole lot of actually sitting down with myself and working through my feelings about it.

It was odd, then, that starting a few weeks ago, I started experiencing fleeting moments of real anxiety. There was no specific rhyme or reason. It just happened. Driving down the road, out at dinner, sitting in a CPR class.

No one else would ever know what was going on, but inside I felt panicked. I felt trapped, scared that something else would happen to me and that I’d have to wake up in the hospital completely helpless again. It wasn’t rational, but regardless, I felt it.

Now, it won’t surprise anyone to know that I’m type A and sometimes, being that way can tend to make a person a little OCD or anxious (I’m generalizing, but you get it). However, these were completely new feelings for me. And they let me know that I wasn’t taking care of myself. I had been focusing so hard on my speech and physical recovery. Now it was time to start working on healing my mind.

I saw a therapist who deftly pointed out what I already knew but needed to be told–what happened to me was scary, plain and simple. To be well enough to finally understand what happened and everything I went through was eye-opening. For the first time, I realized that I’m mortal and survived a situation that could have had a very different ending. Thinking about that alternative was difficult.

But I’ve learned that, in the end, being strong and surviving doesn’t mean ignoring your fears. Sometimes, facing your fears or emotions can be more difficult than the physical because they are intangible and sometimes nebulous. Yet, they often go hand in hand with your total recovery.

It’s time we as a whole started focusing more on the big picture. I suppose it’s really more akin to a puzzle – finding that one missing piece is difficult, but you’re not totally complete until you squeeze it into place.

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