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Blog: Survivor Stories

Sharon: Making Through the Holidays with a Brain Injury

“Remember that stress doesn’t come from what is going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what is going on in your life.”

~Andrew Bernstein

The holidays are simultaneously wonderful and awful for most people. Even the sappiest among us must admit that the holidays elevate our stress levels (and usually our glucose levels, too). Like almost everything else with brain injury, these truths are magnified ten-fold. For the brain injured community, the holiday season is often a stark reminder of what we are NOT able to do - yet. Things we used to be able to do with ease become a colossal battle. Shopping is nearly impossible because the broken brain gets overwhelmed with all the visual stimuli and loud department store music. Neuro-fatigue makes the task of decorating our homes simply exhausting, like running a marathon. Holiday baking taxes our brains in a way we never thought possible. How can following a recipe used for over 30 years be so cognitively draining?!

Perhaps you and your family can relate to my memory of the first Christmas after a TBI that is described in my book, Out of the Rabbit Hole: “On the first week in December (after experiencing a TBI on September 24th) Rick brought the Christmas decorations out of the basement storage room. I had always loved this time of year and usually enjoyed making my house festive for the holidays.  This year, however, decorating the house felt like an impossible mountain I had to climb. My husband would have done it for me in a heartbeat, but I insisted on doing it myself because I thought he wouldn’t be able to do it to my satisfaction. I remember standing on our second-floor landing and hanging garlands. I had four strands to hang, and after the first one I felt awful – completely drained, head pressure mounting, yet unable to stop.  I felt compelled to complete the task.  Rick had gone to the store and I wanted to finish before he returned.  Instead of walking into the house and admiring the finished garland, Rick found me kneeling on the floor crying, ‘Make me stop; just make me stop.’  I couldn’t do any more decorating, yet I couldn’t stop myself from trying.”

Peer support is the best gift we can give each other any time of the year.  As a person living with the effects of a TBI, I have talked to many people who can relate and empathize with the feelings of being lost, isolated, overwhelmed, and inadequate.  It is a gift when we help each other “Out of the Rabbit Hole” by sharing our experiences that can make a difference like -

Celebrating Our Successes

It took over three years, but I am now able to bake my traditional arsenal of holiday cookies with relative ease. I can even sing along with favorite Christmas songs as I stir the dough. I have never enjoyed singing and baking more! Until I reached this point, however, I had to adjust my plan. When I didn’t have the cognitive energy to decorate the house, I asked for help. When I couldn’t shop at the noisy stores, I shopped on-line. When I couldn’t bake and sing, I just baked a little and took long breaks to recharge. I didn’t like making these adjustments, but I did them. Mostly to prove to myself and the world that I was still in here somewhere and I was not giving up.

Reassurance of Seasons with Peace and Joy Again

It is now much easier for me to enjoy the holidays since I have danced (cha-cha), clawed, and cried my way out of the concussion rabbit hole. I still must be mindful of not getting over tired. But in all phases of brain injury recovery, peace can be found. It is found when we accept our circumstances, make temporary adjustments as needed, and remain hopeful that it won’t always be this hard. Don’t give up... it won’t always be this hard. It gets better. Look for the Light. It’s there if you remain open to it.

With the Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska, wishing you all a season of Peace and Healing,

Sharon Royers, Thriver after TBI, Educator, and Advocate

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