Today is the 7th anniversary of my brain injury.

Each year on January 15th, I look back on my progress.  I have much to be thankful for.  I am not living my life from the couch as doctors told me I would be.  I am living a full life filled with activities.  When I look back through the years my progress is very clear. 

Soon after my brain injury, I slept most of the day.  I get through my days without a nap now.  I do take time to rest several times a day.  I no longer suffer the pain of a constant migraine that hovers between an 8 and 9 on a scale of 1-10.  My migraine is now a 1 or 2.  I don’t have to cruise the furniture like a toddler or have family members hold me up to walk.  My balance is good and I can walk on my own. 

I don’t stutter at all anymore.    My word finding skills are much better too.  I can speak fluidly without having to stop to find words to express myself.  My special relationships are better too.  I can read a map without getting turned around.  The pain in my neck and shoulders is no longer debilitating.  I don’t have to get in the spa 5 or 6 times a day to loosen them up.  I can read and comprehend without reading the same sentence over and over.  I can write legibly and rarely transpose letters.  I have fully regained my sense of taste.  I no longer have to load food up with garlic in order to be able to taste a slight hint of it.   

I have more energy and am able to plan things out so I get the rest I need.  I still over-do it, but plan a recovery day to replenish myself.  I still have some memory problems, but I am able to cope with them well.  I am able to remember well enough to carry on a conversation without asking for people to repeat themselves constantly.  I do still hear “I already told you that,” but not multiple times a day.  It happens once every week or so now.  When I’m in the city where there are big parking lots, I still need to park close to the entrance so I can find my car. 

I still have light sensitivity, but it is not as bad as it was.  I don’t need to wear sunglasses in the house with all the curtains closed.  I can go without sunglasses when I can control the environment.  I am most affected by fluorescent lighting.  The sunglasses I wear now are a lighter tint and they make it so I can spend a longer amount of time in other environments. 

I don’t have to stay home to avoid overstimulation.  There are still events that I avoid, but the list is much shorter.  I avoid events with loud music.  I can now handle crowds and busy environments.  I still need to be aware of my limits and leave before I become too over-stimulated.   I still use earplugs when I go to the movies and prefer to watch at home where the volume can be controlled.  I still have to close my eyes when there are fast moving scenes or really bright scenes.  That’s not really a big deal.   

All in all, after 8 years I have had many improvements.  My brain injury has been quite the learning experience.  I have experienced first-hand what it is like to have a learning disability.  I now know what a really bad headache is.  I thought I knew before my brain injury, but I had no idea!  Pain that makes you unable to function and causes vomiting is way different than any headache I had ever experienced before.  I have experienced the fear of not ever being able to think clearly again. 

We have all had the experience of not being able to come up with a word or someone’s name, but having that sort of trouble day in and day out is an entirely different story.  I wanted to go back to the way my life was before my brain injury.  As I moved through different phases of anger and grieving, I realized that I didn’t want to go back to who I was.  Going backwards is never a good goal.  I needed to move forward and become the person that I would naturally become through my experiences. 

How did I make so much progress?  There were many factors in my journey forward.  One of the biggest factors was my refusal to accept less than I wanted.  After lots of physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, massage, vision therapy , chiropractic and cranio-sacral therapy combined with every drug you can imagine, the results were not acceptable.  I was still told I needed to accept that most of my life would be spent on the couch. 

My neuropsychologist recognized that I was not willing to settle for that.  He referred me to his college roommate who had gone into neurofeedback. 

Neurofeedback was the missing piece in my recovery program.  After only a few sessions, I could feel things starting to change.  By the end of my first 20 session block, I could see that I was going to be able to have the life I wanted.  I told my therapist that I had to learn how to do this and help other people experience the wonderful changes that I was experiencing.  She said, “Rachelle, let’s get you better first.”  I started doing daily neurofeedback sessions for myself with her guidance and things continued to improve.  After 2 years of treating myself, I learned how to treat others.  Being a neurofeedback therapist is extremely rewarding for me.  I love helping people’s lives change!

Now I have mostly a hidden disability that I can manage with strategies and accommodations that people don’t usually notice.  For instance, I keep my client load down so that I have enough energy to meet their needs.  My office is a controlled environment with full spectrum daylight dimmable lighting.  I continue with neurofeedback sessions for myself that keep me working at my peak performance potential. 

Recovery takes time.  Recovery has been difficult. And the further I get in the process, the harder it is for me to see the incremental changes.  Looking back years helps me to see how far I have really come.  Seeing the distance I have traveled gives me confidence, strength and hope.   I look at life very differently now.   Life is good.

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