Give Yourself a Scoop of Kindness

Waking up with a throbbing headache is an easy way for me to start the day with the mindset that I’ve already failed myself. For my initial thoughts to be that I made some dumb decisions the day before, resulting in me overdoing things and feeling the effects the next day.

To think about what I did the day before and minimize saying “But I just did groceries in the morning, took a long rest, and made dinner and did some dishes at night.” But then if I think some more I think about how there were actually quite a lot of dishes and because our dishwasher is broken it required multiple rotations of handwashing, rinsing, drying and putting away (I’ve learned that an overflowing dishrack is an easy way to overflow my brain, it’s too hard to know where to start without disrupting the carefully structured mound and having something fall to the floor).

And then I remind myself that the kids were helping and “helping” with the dishes which takes much brain energy and patience to navigate. And then of course there was the hustling them out the door in the morning, piano practice done, teeth brushed (no small feats)…and dealing with some emotional situations upon arrival at their strike day camp (because a friend J made the time before wasn’t there that day). And the afternoon pick up which again was met with criticism and some disdain.

And then with a value pack of ground beef ready to expire making 4 simple meals (but of just 2 dishes), while also fielding snack requests of heaps of boiled eggs (their food requests could be worse). Then during dinner seeing H in pain (which rarely shows) from his leaking elbow bursitis. Later, helping get the kids to bed.

And then add in some downtime of rewatching an old, familiar pick/me-up movie – the easiest kind for me to handle, but nonetheless takes brain power too.

All in all, it was a day that upon reflection was much fuller than it seemed at first. And that’s not necessarily my fault.

I think the same can be said for anyone, concussion or not. We often get to the end of the day and say “I wish it was more productive” or “ugh, I didn’t really get anything done” – but once you break it all down – the kids, the traffic, the meetings, the surprise fires to put out, the chores, the random life curveballs. It makes you step back and appreciate your abilities a bit more. And then if you think back to the preceding days and all that happened in those, it’s no wonder we have moments where our body physically and/or mentally tells us “Stooooooooop!…….I am tapped. out.”

 

As I write this, I have a generous friend over today engaged in a giggling game of Dora Jenga with the girls while I rest. It has been easy for me to lay on the guilt of not being with my kids even though I want to be with them and am in the same house as them…but instead I will frame it as a success. A success of planning and leaning on friends to allow my brain to heal. A success of them bonding with this amazing human being who they love spending time with and who models the women I would love for them to become. A success to pace my day so I have the capabilities to take J to her music class tonight and hopefully leave with just a minor headache and not a throbbing one.

So I’ll go ahead and say that despite the busy-ness of yesterday call it a success of dealing with life to the best of my abilities and that a successful day today includes a whole lot of rest and that *not* folding the heap of laundry will be a success in pacing and resting. Lying in bed with a heat pad to my head is a success in self care. Having amazing care for the kids is a success for them, my giving friend, and me. And having grace that while I wish I could fold laundry, be with the kids, buy a new dishwasher, organize our calendar, do some banking and take J to music class…I will choose to still find the success in my day regardless of if I accomplish one of those things or even none of those things.

We all really need to cut ourselves some slack. To say that life is hard and know that’s not whining – that’s a fact. But to also not stew in a state of suffering from our hardship, but allow ourselves to feel the pain of the situation (allowing ourselves to say “this sucks”), and be kind to ourselves as we try to navigate it.

We often talk about how we should be spreading a little more kindness out into the world, but we should probably take a scoop of that kindness and apply it to ourselves too. It can only help us be healthier, happier and better able to bring more love, hope and value into the world.

Choosing to claim today as a success

As I continue this concussion recovery and navigate periods of doubt and feeling lost/unsure it’s important to resecure a stake in the ground.

 

The lost feelings can stem from many things but a piece of it is certainly due to the lack of knowledge and direction from professionals and the seemingly endless ways I could/should reduce activity in my life which already feels a far cry from where it once was.

 

While talking with H about my feelings last night he supportively offered l “well as long as you keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing it’s all good” to which I unleashed a “what AM I supposed to be doing?” And gave him a peek into the constant battle in my brain. It is a hard and difficult line to balance setting goals with pacing yourself with having grace (and thus effectively pacing) when the life uncertainties of sickness, numerous strike days, Lice, kids who have had bad days, etc. come down the pipeline. How much to push and how much to let things slide?

I realized how heavy and how constant the battle is to determine what I’m doing, how to do it and whether it’s “right” or if I should pivot. How seeing multiple professionals and hearing responses like “I’m not sure what to tell you”, “just keep doing what you’re doing”, and, the hardest one to hear, “there’s nothing else I can do for you” is tough.

 

I know that the medical community is still just scratching the surface of better understanding traumatic brain injuries and sometimes say to myself “well, you’re in that exciting time of research where not as much is known now and maybe somewhere down the line your experience will help foster a better understanding for the future.” And I believe it about half the time.

 

But I also realized that each day, since no one really knows what to do or what i’m experiencing, there’s an equal opportunity for me to make the call that I’ve conquered the day as a success, no matter what, or for me to make the call that it was unsuccessful. I might as well just keep saying it’s all a success and trust that I’ll continue to learn along the way vs. trying to beat myself into learning/finding what I did wrong and should improve…when I could be looking for something that isn’t there.

 

I suppose this is my latest pivot. To question less, encourage more, and try to get comfortable unabashedly loving and lifting myself up day in and day out.

So at 9:24am on Mon Feb 10 I will already boldly declare that today has been a success. Getting children to practice piano, brush their teeth (mercy!), get to school before the doors close, adjusting the day (with help from friends) to make it less stimulating, and allowing for space in the morning for this reflection. It’s already a successful day. And as the day continues I’ll either add more successes along the way or just be living it. I’m taking away the option to label my actions or myself as “less than”, “not good enough” or “could’ve/should’ves”.

 

There’s just “I rocked’s” and “I did’s”.

A piece of the puzzle

I’m starting to see a piece of the puzzle of how this concussion experience has ripple effects and has created opportunities, but first I’ll share a quick recovery update.

Over the last 5 months there have been significant ups and downs with recovery, a myriad of health factors relating to my husband and dad, and just a whole lotta “life” (the kids bringing home lice from school, car troubles, school strikes, etc.). In a nutshell, the doozy of life got even doozier.

On the plus side I’ve come to think of my mental energy/capacity in more finite terms – checking in and determining what dollar value I have. At a high-level – if I overdo things I go into a deficit one day, and spend the next day building back up. Things that result in more stimulation cost more dollars. I need to think carefully about how I spend my energy/money to avoid going into deficit and paying additional interest/fees for my overspending. (the accountant in me can’t be stopped). 😛

I’ve also learned that recovery is like trying to set up a complicated dominoes pattern. It’s worthwhile to get guidance and help to learn, get organized and plan things out, but to execute it’s sometimes better to reduce the number of hands setting up dominoes because it can get confusing and sometimes knock the dominoes down, even though we’re all doing our best to build the pattern.

I continue to tweak my approach and learn how to cope, how to improve, and what I may need to accept and live with.

So that’s that. Moving onto the puzzle piece.

On Friday evening, I received a message that a person (A), who I had met once eight months ago, was in hospice and had asked if I could come visit her. I was at once surprised, honoured and humbled – she was one of the kindest souls I had met but we had only spent about 1 hour together as we were both visiting her sick, and unfortunately quickly deteriorating, brother (H) and our visits happened to overlap.

During that visit we chatted and sang some hymns to her brother together. She told me stories about him and I was blessed to get to know both A and tidbits about H a bit better during this time. This was my last visit with H as the next day he passed away.

I saw A at H’s funeral, for which she wrote a eulogy that was equal parts genuine, endearing, funny, and honest. Afterwards we briefly shared a hug and a few words, but didn’t chat long as I was cutting it close for picking the kids up from school. The next time I saw her was eight months later, this past Friday, in the hospice.

As I walked in she smiled and we hugged. We visited for about an hour – sharing our thoughts on each other, she requested a few hymns for me to sing to her (many that I had sang to her brother) and she introduced me to some of her favourite contemporary Christian songs.

A was still sharp as a tack but due to her illness her vocal chords were impaired making her words harder to understand and she was only able to sing a few notes (but those few notes were so special). A mentioned that she didn’t know why but I had been heavy on her thoughts the last few days so asked her friend, who attends the same church, to reach out.

A mentioned that she wasn’t afraid of dying (and true to her word, she didn’t give off an ounce of fear or worry), but in true-A form that her biggest worry was not having an opportunity to let the people she loves know how much they meant to her. She is one of her kindest, sweetest and most pure souls I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Near the end of our visit she reflected that she had appreciated the care I had given her brother before he passed and that maybe she called on me because she had wanted the same – and we lightheartedly joked that of course she needed to get the same treatment and that her big brother couldn’t get all the good stuff! We both agreed it was God’s plan for us to meet and she encouraged me to continue to offer pastoral care.

As her husband and daughter returned and other friends arrived to visit we wrapped our visit up with some emotional hugs, kisses and words.

It was an honour to spend that precious time with her and it will remain one of the biggest blessings I’ll ever receive.

So what is the piece to the puzzle?

If we rewind 8-9 months, in May 2019 a request from our church went out for help to assist feeding H, as he was entering his last days and unable to feed himself. Being one of the deacons and one of the few people who had daytime availability (since I was off work recovering)…and because H was a straight-up lovely man I volunteered with at our church’s Friendship club and just plain liked…I covered a few shifts – one which happened to overlap with A’s visit. If I had not been off work with my concussion, I likely wouldn’t have been able to feed H his lunch at that time on that day. If I hadn’t been feeding H his lunch I wouldn’t have met A, and wouldn’t have seen her this past Friday.

While I wouldn’t say any of this is why I was injured and got a concussion, as time has passed, I can retrospectively see more and more how the concussion and its impacts weave through my life story and has ripple effects that lead to other pieces of my overall/big picture life puzzle coming together.

My life puzzle remains incomplete, but as each piece appears it never fails to blow me away with how I couldn’t have seen it coming or understood what was to come of it…but how once it appears I see the connections and how it makes absolute sense.

There are so many puzzle pieces in the making at any given moment and when the day comes where it nears completion I have no doubt I’ll be gobsmacked to see how it all came together…while still knowing my puzzle is but a tiny section of an even bigger and complex universal puzzle.

Snapshot – 08/31/2019

I’ve decided to give a Snapshot another go, win some slight changes in wording – from “hopeful” to “want and believe”.

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I’m happy…I made friends with a wonderful, genuine, hilarious and intelligent person L, who months ago shared her Netflix subscription with me and that I watched a documentary tonight that has shifted and restored a more positive and productive mindframe, that isn’t afraid to continue to dream big.

I’m thankful… I was able to spend many hours with my girls today. I did feel unwell this afternoon, but am so grateful to have been able to take them rock climbing, grab bagels, engage in imaginative play with them while I laid in my bed, and work on a puzzle together. I’m also thankful for a skilled and knowledgeable massage therapist who finds and releases muscle tension and genuinely cares about my health and educates me on how to live healthier.

I want and believe that…despite this current concussion situation, in the future  I will lead a joyful and fulfilling life, with daughters who know I love and respect them, and with a husband who feelsp encouraged and supported by me. I will walk my girls to school feeling healthy and able. I will have the energy to support  friends, family, and those who need love and encouragement. I will help others realize their dreams and fullest potential.

The Grey

The last few weeks have been difficult. I detailed things more in an email update to friends and family, but overall being surprised by processing difficulties that come up and my inability to care for my kids and the resulting feelings we all have from that (and responsibilities put on others) have been the hardest.

I have an excellent counsellor who is helping me to walk this journey and make sense of things. Today we had a great break through where she helped me discover the hundreds of ways I tend to criticize or blame myself for things. If I do something good then I criticize myself for not being able to do more, if I can’t do something I criticize myself for not having tried hard enough.

When she asked why that might be I gave an answer that made sense at the time, but as I reflect more I think the reason I’ve found blame was because to see where I really am and the struggles that I have is hard. And subconsciously I’ve found it so hard to accept that this pervasive issue and timing of the recovery is truly out of my control, that I’ve found it easier to subconsciously and unintentionally rationalize (irrationally) why things are the way they are.

It’s bizarrely easier for me to explain that I can’t understand a straightforward letter because I’m trying to pretend and take an easy road (???), than to face the facts that right now there are too many things in that simple letter for me to process and make sense of and that I actually do need someone to explain it to me.

I’ve been stressed consistently throughout this ordeal that “experts” will assess that I’m well enough to return to work before I’m ready. And this fears me for several reasons.

1. If I say I’m not ready and they say I am, then that must mean (a) I’m a freeloading liar (b) they don’t believe the struggle is real.

2. If I go back to work and things are too overwhelming I can see myself criticizing myself further which can lead to another downward spiral.

What I’ve come to realize is that there’s an option 3. To continue to live and speak my experience and truth. If a call is made that I don’t believe is correct, to challenge it. If it still goes ahead maybe things could be ok. If things aren’t ok then I apply to go back on disability. If that is denied then I quit my job and find a new job when I’m recovered and ready. My job and coworkers are important to me, but they don’t define me. Whether I’m able to or when I’m able to return to work is not going to be the most important fact about my life. It will be a fact that is relevant for a period of time, and after that, my story continues.

It reminds me that there is a possibility that this incident/situation could be a career changer. And even though that can feel very scary, it does not mean I am any less of a person than I was before.

I can’t change how this recovery progresses, but I can step back and reflect on my opinions of what my truths are (e.g. I must go back to work in this job) and what other options or creative solutions there are.

Don’t get me wrong – I wish nothing more than to be better and have my normal life back (including going back to work) – but I’ve realized that recently my options/views have been very polarized and black and white. It’s time to focus on the grey and settling, getting comfy, and accepting living in the grey.

I got comfy once before in the grey and somehow slipped out of it without realizing… but it’s time to get back in.

 

Snapshots- 7/21/2019

I am grateful for… alternate routes. In the past I’ve been very grateful that work is a short 5 minute commute away. These days it is heartbreaking every time I pass campus – wishing I was there, wondering what’s going on, guilty for inconveniencing others. I’ve driven by numerous times in the past few months, but last week when I discovered I would be driving by it twice a day to drop off/pick up Jo from a day camp down the road, I decided that for now it would be better to take an alternate route on a parallel road, and i’m thankful to have options.

I’m grateful for one of my mentors Jamie, who I met over a decade ago, and that we randomly reconnected earlier this year and how his role as a coach/parent of sporty kids has allowed him to impart some wisdom/understanding of this situation.

I am grateful Clara’s made some strides this weekend with the toilet training. It has been a focus over the past year and more so in early 2019 until things got a bit hairy – now I’m feeling less anxious about her upcoming start to school.

I am grateful Clara is excited to go to school and often will fuss “but I want to go to school!!!”, not understanding the concept of summer break. (Though is rather her not fuss about it for 20 minutes…but I’ll take her eagerness!)

I am grateful for a delicious bbq dinner in our backyard tonight – just the four of us. The weather was perfect – warm with a breeze and surprisingly not too many uninvited flies. Josephine, in particular, relished in her meal with many “Mmmm’s” and moments sitting back in her chair with her eyes closed and a smile on her face. I hope that never changes for her. I wore my sunglasses and hat and thought about how I look forward to when the photosensitivity lessens and I’m less of a “vampire”. 🙂

I am grateful for a day of rest. I have been fighting a cold and stomach bug this week, and when I woke up this morning with a strong headache it seemed wisest to stay at home and rest. I’m glad that was an option.

I am grateful Herb did groceries and ran errands today.

I enjoyed … doing some dollar store water painting with Clara yesterday. She has the cutest pout when she’s focused and concentrating.

I enjoyed spending some quality time with Herb this evening, and laughed when I half-jokingly asked about having a third (for the hundredth time) and, without missing a beat, he shook his head “no” with both an innocence and definitiveness to it.

I enjoyed our house more, seeing less clutter on the floors (after friend help and cleaner help).

I enjoyed catching up with Antonia and her family, and watching our kids play with each other – especially Elise and Josephine, who had many pictures taken together as babies (and many pictures taken again, 5-6 years later).

 

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I was feeling quite frustrated earlier at some struggles I was having with somewhat straightforward things. I decided to journal in hopes of  rechanneling that energy, leading to a more positive mind frame and restful sleep.

Snapshots – 7/15/2019

Today was a harder today. I followed up with two neurologists and was told I wasn’t accepted as a patient by one in Toronto, and haven’t heard back from the other in London. I spoke briefly with a potential local recovery psychologist that ended up not being a good fit (which also left me feeling a bit down), and the kids were extremely tired and fussy…and we went to see one of daddy’s very rare 6pm hockey games, which was a recipe for disaster with Clara. Oops! Tomorrow will be a very low key and down day.

I am grateful for… determining a psychologist was not a good fit prior to booking them and spending close to $300 (!) and hearing some news about the neurologist referrals so I can start looking into other options.

I am grateful for the privilege of being a mom (despite the tough times).

I am grateful for friends who reached out today – for Stephanie’s regular quickie calls, uplifting emails and pictures today from Dor, Evelyn, Lindsay, Patty, Ingrid and Uncle Rex; countless prayers, an offer to drive Jo to camp (but unfortunately by Don, a man, i.e. a Josephine-repellant, but still very thoughtful), a delicious fajita meal and quick & teary visit with Cara; and take out money from Stephanie – a way to show her love and support when she wants to make a meal but life busyness gets in the way. God truly has blessed and surrounded me with amazing, amazing people.

I am grateful that I am becoming more ok with being vulnerable about my requests for help, even if it includes picture requests.

I am grateful Josephine’s Day 1 at her camp this week went well and that when I asked her what was her favourite part she said “all of it”. I am grateful to have childcare for Clara, when things were looking dicey a few months ago.

I am grateful for discussions with Herb where we both talked about how hard this situation is and both understand that we want to be there more for each other. At this point I can’t be the supportive wife I want to be and he can’t be the supportive husband he wants to be because we are both maxed out – but we still want to be there for each other and still love each other … and when this is the reality of the situation, knowing we each wish we could do more is almost just as good as actually doing more.

I enjoyed … my first float therapy visit – I learned about it in passing from Cait’s blog several years ago – who knew it would be a therapy that would aid my concussion recovery? (apparently it’s medically recognized and recommended in the Netherlands for concussion recovery) It was an interesting first experience that I think would be even more healing with subsequent visits.

I enjoyed using the facilities at the float clinic – from their natural showering potions, their “vanity room” where I took my time to use the curling iron as a treat (which happens once every 4 or 5 years?), to my favourite chai tea in their lobby – it was nice to feel good.

While Clara was a real pain at the rink, it made me laugh when I tried to coax her from the “driving video game” into the rink and she said (in her 3 year old, professional salesperson voice) “Sorry Mom, I can’t! I’m practicing my driving … and practice makes perfect. I really have to go focus now.” Ughhh – so terrible yet so terribly cute, that one.

I enjoyed watching Jo cheer “Go green #16!!” for her dad. Too bad he didn’t see us there until he was almost in the change room! *Wuh wuh*

I appreciated that Jo knew today was a tough day and was thoughtful to think of going downstairs before getting ready for bed to handwash her lunch bag dishes and let me know she did it to try to help and make me happy, before grinning and skipping away. She is empathetic and takes such pride in being thoughtful and caring towards others and I’m happy to be on the receiving end of those gifts.

I enjoyed seeing Herb mid day and bringing him a coffee. Admittedly I had to see him because one of our car seats was left in Sarnia, so I needed to borrow one from his car…but it was nice to see him for a couple of minutes and saved me from visiting a 3rd store to find a replacement.

Our home tidiness slipped a bit today, but it was a busy day and it’s okay to give yourself a bit of grace.