Monday, 28 August 2017

Thoughts: On Recovery & Return to Work

I'm an English teacher, so it goes without saying that I probably enjoy reading. One of the reasons I, and many others from what I glean, love to get lost in the pages of a book is because they allow us into the lives of characters who remind us that we're not alone. They show us that our feelings are real and our experiences have been lived out by others. Even if these others are only fictional characters, they came from some living breathing human. Since my concussion, I haven't been able to read as voraciously as I used to. This being said, when I can I try to read novels, articles, and blogs. I've found comfort in reading medical articles and personal blogs about concussion and recovery. So, since I have appreciated others' written word and since the world keeps dropping hints to write...

Over the last 5 months I've felt my injury and eventual diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome change and evolve. With each new level, seems to come new challenges physically and emotionally. It would seem at times that I would solve one problem (a pain, a pressure, a tightness) only to discover or develop another as my body balanced itself out again. It's like I would open my curtains to a sunny day full of potential then by the time I applied my sunscreen and grabbed a hat it would have started to rain. One day, I would start to feel like myself (with a few bonus headaches), the next might have less headaches but the third will find some new version of all the things I thought I had just gotten rid of. My list of triggers is long (light, screens, fast movement, loud anything, ... essentially anything fun) and their ability to effect my brain varies greatly each day.

This last shift in recovery has resulted in a lot of stress and anxiety. Trust me, I was also in disbelief when my body gave me all my "you're stressed" signs despite having been off work and being unable to identify any "valid" stressor in my life. Recovery is stressful. The thought of (not) getting better gives me anxiety. I want nothing more than to feel like myself again. At the very least, I crave to be some close version of that person.

As the summer comes to an end, teachers begin to prepare to go back to work. Typically, this time is stressful and anxiety ridden for any educator. Unfortunately, this year, I'm more apprehensive than usual. Some of my fondest classroom memories are those rare times when you can stop and observe the organized chaos that is high school students who are fully engaged with a task and each other. It's loud, it's messy and it's beautiful. The classroom I know and love is fast-paced, requires the use of a variety of skills at once, is full of conversations and questions, it's full, bright, loud, and... terrifying. Now, I sometimes can't handle the radio while I drive.

My Dr. and I have deciding that I'll go back on a gradual basis, starting with one class a day and my 40 minute drive there and back. In a few weeks, if all is well and I'm still standing, I'll take on the rest of my classes.

The last two weeks have been my best so far. Shout out to my mom for being my backup driver on a few test drives to Windsor and for reminding me that all teachers want to cry when they see their classroom for the first time after summer break. I feel good about where I'm at in my recovery and I'm anxious yet excited to get back to work. I've started doing yoga and meditating daily and am working on being mindful and kind to myself. One of the most important things I've learned through this process is the value of self-care and mindfulness. I think about the Harry Potter quote above often; it's comforting. Of course, all of this is happening inside my head... and it is my reality.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Photo Session: Dillon, Devin & the dogs.

This winter I got a message from on old friend asking if I would like to join a volleyball team. I immediately said yes and began to spend my Monday nights on the court with some great ladies. The person I have to thank for that message is Dillon! I'm so happy she asked me to play volleyball and to capture herself and her two and four legged loves. 

After weeks of scheduling and rescheduling thanks to the long process that is post concussion, we finally found a date that we and my head agreed with. We took a drive out to Wheatley and down Pier Rd to Holiday Harbour Campground. If you've never been there, you need to change that! I'm sure once you're done with these photos you'll want to visit the beach where they were taken.

As the sun set, we rolled around in the sand (okay, that one was mostly me.), got cozy and took in what nature and the campground had to offer in the way of beach wood and greenery. If I didn't have a camera in my hand and people sitting quite perfectly in front of me I could have drifted away on that beach. 

Koda was the most excited for the shoot, he told me all about it on the car ride there. Thunder the Retriever wasn't far behind in spirits but, was happiest when lounging on the beach. I yelled about cookies, squirrels, and treats all the while reassuring them of what they already knew that they we're indeed good boys. Humans and dogs alike couldn't have looked better against  nature's most beautiful backdrop: a beach at sunset. 

Thanks so much to Dillon, Devin, Koda, Thunder and their amazing friend and dog wrangler Rhiannon who held the dogs while they were out of the frames. I also need to send a huge thanks out to Holiday Harbour for letting us use their beach to make these sweet photos happen. 

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Photo Session: Linkin Cake Smash

Sometimes as a photographer you just get lucky. One of these instances is when you meet a baby like my little cousin Linkin. Linkin was a natural in front of the camera! To make this shoot happen, Jenn made a cake, found an outfit and created the best balloonscape. I waltzed in, added my banner and some lights and we were ready to go. Linkin was so content to eat his cake, look into my lens and listen to the click of the shutter. A special bonus was the sweetest reaction to yelling, "cheese!" as seen below. Thanks again to Jenn and Mike for making such an attentive, sweet and beautiful baby and for asking me to capture this milestone.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Thoughts: On Self-Reflection & Recovery.

As part of recovery, I've been working a lot on self-reflection; really listening and being attentive to what my body is feeling and what stimulus or sources cause those sensations. Like myself, you might have assumed that concussion is a strictly physical injury. Well, I'm here to tell you that if you should ever be diagnosed with a concussion there is a high likelihood of emotional symptoms as well. In my case, and typical of many others, I experienced mood swings, anxiety, irritability and dealt with depression.

At the beginning of my injury I couldn't do much more than lay in bed without getting intense headaches, light-headedness, dizziness, and nausea. I had light and sound sensitivity, couldn't read or focus on detail and had a hard time generally moving and focusing on any one thing. Multi-tasking has always been an integral part of my functioning and suddenly I could only draw my attention to one single thought or idea at a time. Driving created a terrible cocktail of symptoms and was to be avoided. Most of the time these feelings would lead to panic (will I ever be able to function typically again?), usually accompanied by anger (this is such a simple task that I've done a thousand times, why is it so hard?!), and finally the general apathy, sadness and defeat as I'd retire to the couch with an eye-mask for a few more hours sans stimulus.

The best way I've found to describe the experience of recovery is kind of like restarting and recreating your daily routine. This meant, "reprogramming" my brain in a way so that it was no longer in a protective state and therefore creating symptoms. I've been working with medical doctors, a chiropractor, a physiotherapist, a massage therapist, and an optometrist over the last 3 months in order to get my variety of symptoms in check.

I'm happy to say that each day is getting better. This is all I can ask for, and something I'll gladly accept and show gratitude for. There was one point about a month in where I had made a lot of progress and then suddenly lost it. I was back two weeks in recovery, and was unable to do tasks that I had once reintegrated and done with ease. This was the hardest part. This part of the journey brought along a new companion: fear. The only thing my doctors and I could find as a cause was that I had just tried to move too fast literally and figuratively. Although I was following my prescribed activity levels and exercises, I had over exerted myself and my brain had something to say about that.

There are thousands of studies that exist about support systems and how they can effect someone's resiliency, recovery, and overall well-being. To imagine doing this without my family, husband, friends, and colleagues is unfathomable. I'm sure it wasn't easy for you either, and if I haven't already I'd like to take a second to apologize if you've had the joy of seeing some of my less than appealing emotions, but also thank you for being there despite them. Throughout this whole process I've had friends and family recommend doctors and therapies to me that have really helped get me to where I am.

I continue to see a physio and RMT weekly and have lists of vision, balance, and strengthening exercises that I go through daily. I've rekindled and grown my love for yoga, which has admittedly become a huge part of my days and my recovery. I've also been told  to go for walks and finally jogs (head permitting) as much as I want so if I'm not home, you'll probably find me and koda up on the creek banks. I'm beginning to reintroduce activities through my creative work, and it feels good. Every day is a new adventure and some days I make it further down the path than others, but at least I'm moving forward. I tell myself to "do good things" in the broadest sense because deadlines and timeframes are still a struggle if I truly listen to my body and stop when it tells me to.

On that note, I can feel my shoulders coming up to my ears, my neck getting stiff and my eyelids involuntarily wanting to shut; this means it's time to quit, take a break, breathe, exercise and try again later. I'm not out of the woods yet, but I'll be sure to do it in my own time. Although, I do pray that my timing coincides with the academic calendar so I can be back in the classroom this September.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Recipes & Ramblings: Vegan ravioli and taking care of me.

One thing that I've learned recently is that if I want to feel good I need to take care of myself. Over the course of recovery I've started to notice how certain foods effect my body, my anxiety levels and my overall functioning. I tried not to listen, but worst of all my body has rejected two of my favourite beverages: alcohol and coffee. But, it's worth it to feel like my head is screwed on straight. One day I'll be back on the margaritas and Starbucks.

As part of my intention to honour my body by filling it with good things I've decided to accept my lactose intolerance. This is really an easy choice seeing as both Jeff and myself don't digest dairy so well. Tonight's lactose-less dish was Thug Kitchen's creamy ravioli with house marinara. Although, admittedly, it wasn't exactly like it's real cream counterpart, this ravioli was a great substitute! Next time, I'd like to get some interesting local mushrooms to add to the filling. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the full recipe to share online but if you're looking for vegan recipes I highly recommend Thug Kitchen!

Another small victory today came in the way of completing my first 5k walk/run. I've been walking almost everyday and each time the itch to move a little faster got worse. Today, I scratched the itch and I feel good.

Every day I seem to feel a little more awake, a little more like myself and a little more able to function. I'm so grateful for progress, beautiful weather and for good food.