Healing My Brain: Kelly Shrimptons story on healing a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
This article is a must read. Kelly’s story does exactly what we at Beginner Yogi strive to encourage in all of our teachings: Inspire. Motivate. Empower.
Most of us have fallen off our bikes at some stage in our life, or banged our head really hard and felt a bit dazed and confused. Now imagine if you feel off your bike, knocked yourself out and suddenly found yourself mentally fatigued, eventually diagnosed with a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) with no recollection of what happened and no clear path as to how to get better…this is Kellys story. I think you will agree that she is one brave wahine who is on a mission to heal, not only her brain but her ‘self’ too. Over to you Kelly…
My name is Kelly Shrimpton, I am 36 years old and I live in Rotorua. On 2nd December 2014 I fell off my mountain bike, knocked myself out and sprained my ribs. I was unconscious for about five minutes then apparently spent four hours at the after-hours medical centre asking repeatedly whether I had fallen off my bike. I was sent home, initially to my mum’s, with the advice that I should come right in a week to ten days. I have no memory of any of this, or of anything from earlier that day.
In the nine months since, I have suffered from post-concussion syndrome or mild traumatic brain injury. I have been off work (and my job as Administration Manager in a small business is no longer being held open for me), struggled with memory, focus, concentration, mental fatigue and a whole host of other symptoms; I have been unable to do things I’ve always taken for granted; and I’ve learned a whole lot about the brain, concussion, my body’s ability to heal and myself. I am on the most amazing healing journey.
A week after the accident I attempted to return to work starting with just two hours a day. It quickly became apparent that I could no longer multitask (the phone would ring and by the end of the conversation I would no longer remember what I’d been working on previously), my concentration was absolutely shot, and I kept making silly mistakes I would never normally make. Often I went to do something and would be shocked to find I’d messed it up time before, and it got to the point where I was really worried that I was going to make a mistake that couldn’t easily be fixed. And I’d go home absolutely shattered and unable to function for the rest of the day – meaning I couldn’t prepare meals for myself, do the laundry, and other things we all do every day without even thinking.
Eventually I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome and advised to stop working and rest. Ordinarily I would read for relaxation but I was unable to read much at all. It was as though the letters were dancing on the page. I am still struggling with reading for any length of time – which can be a huge source of frustration as I would usually read an average of two books a month, it’s how I learn about new things that interest me. I have an ever-growing stack of books to read as soon as I can!
I have been very lucky that physical exercise hasn’t been a cause of fatigue for me as it often is for others in this situation. (For me the fatigue is mental fatigue, caused by attempting to focus and concentrate or anything else that requires too much of my brain’s executive functioning – decision making, planning, etc.) I’m also incredibly grateful to live just two blocks from the Redwoods in Whakarewarewa Forest. Daily walks in the forest have played a big part in my healing journey (and have helped keep me sane).
Due to the nature of brain injury and the little we seem to know about brains and brain injuries (and the fact no two brain injuries are the same) this recovery process has really been a matter of trial and error on my part with some advice from occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, friends and fellow mild traumatic brain injury survivors thrown in.
Very early on I decided to try some yoga. A numbers of years ago I had attended yoga classes regularly and over the years I had practiced at home on and off. To begin with I was a little nervous about what I should do, not wanting to overdo it and cause more harm than good, so I searched online and found the book “Move, Feel, Think: Yoga for brain injury, PTSD and other forms of trauma” by Janna Leyde. I bought the book and waited eagerly for it to arrive. Once it arrived I started practicing and found, as expected, that yoga was really helpful. I got braver as I came to know my limits and attended a few yoga classes too but found they were a little hard for me to manage with lots of people in the room and being held in the evenings when my energy was low and I really needed to be resting. When I began to struggle with my daily home practice (I found I’d be going great for a week or so and then I’d just stop without really knowing why) I decided to commit to a 40-day yoga challenge. In my ever-present desire to read books I bought Kara-Leah Grant’s “Forty Days of Yoga: Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice” and what I’ve read of it has been really useful but I have to confess that I haven’t read more than half of it yet and what I have read has been in five minute chunks! (Get the feeling there might be a lesson for me somewhere in all this about looking inside for answers or something…?) Regardless, I completed my forty days of yoga and was pleasantly surprised how easy I found it to keep to the commitment. I found the key for me, particularly with this injury, was just committing to getting on the mat each day and listening to my body. I gave myself permission to do a little or a lot. Listening to my body is key. There are some days where all I can do is savasana but I let that be okay. It still brings me onto the mat and into connection with my body. And in listening to my body I am able to hear what it needs for healing.
As well as yoga and my daily walks, I’ve been playing with a whole lot of things – as you do, I guess, when you can’t do a lot and no one can really offer a “solution”. As I said, it’s been a matter of trial and error! I have found Craniosacral Therapy and Network Spinal Analysis (a gentle form of chiropractic) to be really helpful. I have been getting back in touch with my creativity: I’ve been playing with a bit of photography, I’m drawing and painting again for the first time in years, I started colouring in as something to do for relaxation seeing as anything requiring concentration is out (listening to podcasts, reading, watching TED talks….). Journaling has been invaluable. This past weekend I attended a Healing with Intuitive Painting Workshop at Waihi Beach which was absolutely amazing and a powerful healing experience. I have also been working with a counsellor to help me accept some of the challenges and changes caused by the accident and also to make the most of this opportunity to stop and evaluate life.
Back in 2006 my partner died of lymphoma when he was 31 and I was 27 years old. You would think that would have caused me to stop and evaluate life then but I think at the time I was just too deep in grief and had to just keep on keeping on to get through. Whilst I had already grieved for Nick and healed a lot of that hurt, this experience has really reminded me that life is short and forced me to stop and spend the time pondering what I want from life.
So when I say I’m on a healing journey, I really feel that while I’m healing from mild traumatic brain injury, I’m also doing a lot of healing on a deeper level as well. I have had months and months of not really feeling I was making any real progress but just recently I have begun to feel as though I may be making some small progress finally. I recently drove myself to the beach (45 minutes each way), which was a major breakthrough. It wasn’t so much about getting to the beach as about regaining a little of the independence I had lost. It is such a luxury to be able to just get in the car and drive yourself anywhere you like. A luxury I had taken for granted for so long but now value very highly. Until recently I couldn’t even travel as a passenger for long without becoming very fatigued.
It is still very up and down. Progress with head injuries doesn’t seem to go in a nice straight upward line, but overall the trend now seems to be upwards, there are just an awful lot of bumps along the way. I’ve had to learn that that is just how it is and that when I have a bad day, where I’m really fatigued and can’t do anything other than rest, it’s not necessarily because I’ve done anything wrong, it’s just my brain saying “I need rest now!” because it knows that’s what it needs for healing. On the one hand this has been the most frustrating experience, having to ask for and accept help with things I would usually find so basic such as housework and preparing meals, feeling absolutely useless and lazy for achieving “nothing” for months on end, and having to remind myself that I am actually doing something – I’m healing my brain, and right now that’s the most important thing I can do. And on the other hand, this whole experience has been such a blessing! It’s really put me on an amazing healing journey. I’m getting back in touch with who I really am. I’ve remembered what’s important in life. And I’m convinced I’m going to come out of this a whole lot better off!
If you’re interested in following my journey you can join me at www.facebook.com/HealingMyBrain. I set up the Facebook page in the hope that by sharing my journey I might in some way help others experiencing a similar injury.
Pretty amazing stuff huh? I personally think Kelly is one of the bravest ladies I know.
Kelly, you are an inspiration, and your enthusiasm to heal is motivating. You are a shining example of how to empower oneself to find healing and a positive outlook on the challenges in our life. Wishing you well and healed.