Truth be told, at first I was a little skeptical about mindfulness and concussion.
I wasn’t against the idea (I was familiar with it as my father has meditated since I was a kid); I just figured some kind of treatment would help me more.
I am so grateful for public health care and all the support that I received from the fine folks at the GF Strong Rehab Centre here in Vancouver, Canada. They pointed out to me very early on that research says that mindfulness is the best thing for brain injuries. Having spent the last couple decades in academia, it is hard for me to say that without adding a citation to prove it! I don’t want to bog the blog down with that all the time, but here is a helpful resource for those of you who like to see the evidence.
It didn’t take me long to realize that mindfulness truly is the very best balm to soothe an injured brain. Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without my mindfulness practice. It’s unlikely I’d be able to manage my half-time work-load (teaching Latin American and Canadian Studies at Langara College). I’d probably be medicated up the ying yang. I’d be a right mess.
I’m not going to sugar-coat this for you. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of practice to incorporate mindfulness so deeply into my life. Learning to practice mindfulness is not easy at the best of times, and it is especially hard with a brain injury. I too fall off the mindful concussion wagon; I don’t always follow my own good advice. It’s bloody hard work! But it is so worth the effort.
Why I Practice Mindfulness
Over the years since my accident in 2013, mindfulness has become a central focus of my life. I practice both formally and informally for four main reasons:
- It gives my tired brain a break when I am overstimulated by noise and light, or when I experience cognitive fatigue from thinking too much
- It helps me calm my overwhelmed nervous system when I have a strong stress reaction or when I experience overwhelming emotions
- It allows me to better enjoy pleasant events and more skillfully meet unpleasant events: in formal meditation I can sit with a tired brain with kindness and compassion rather than adding worry, and in informal practice I can more deeply appreciate the sun on my face
- All this formal and informal practice has direct benefits right in the moments I am practicing, but perhaps the biggest benefit of all is that I can call on the skills I have been practicing ‘on the meditation cushion’ when the shit hits the fan in real life. Since I have practiced sitting with difficulties as they arise during formal meditation, and practiced responding wisely to them, I have some ‘muscle memory’ around what to do when difficulties arise on the fly in my life.
I remember so clearly years ago when the power of this informal practice really sunk in. I woke up one morning feeling crappy and ‘concussy’ as I describe the feeling of my concussion symptoms. I was so upset because usually I feel good in the morning, but the day before I had done too much (you know it, right?) and I was paying the price for that. I was fighting it, and getting mad and all ‘why me-ish.’ Then suddenly I decided to just accept that I was feeling crappy. Just to sit with it rather than fight it. I felt a lifting then, and honestly a huge amount of my discomfort evaporated into thin air.
Over time I have further developed this practice of resisting the urge to either push away my feelings, or to pull them in so tightly I get lost in them. It is not easy, but usually it’s just such a relief to let go of trying not to feel what I’m actually feeling. That masking is exhausting and not very effective! It’s also a relief to know that I don’t have to follow my thoughts down the rabbit-hole; I can just relax and allow my feelings to be there without getting lost in thought.
It’s going to take you a while to incorporate mindfulness into your life too. Don’t rush it. I just want you to know that you can lead a very good life with a brain injury. You don’t need to push up against your symptoms all the time. You can cultivate calm clarity even in the middle of the concussion-related storms of your life.