TBI One Love Survivor: Jessie Rain Anne Smith
Hi everyone, my name is Jessie from Canada.. In 2013 I was in a very bad car accident. The local rehab center wisely encouraged me to take up mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment rather than getting lost in (negative!) thoughts about the past or the future. Mindfulness was the soothing balm my brain so needed!
However, I found some aspects of traditional mindfulness to be way too overwhelming. In time I learned to modify mindfulness, became a mindfulness teacher, and founded Mindful Concussion to share these powerful practices with other survivors. Here is my story….
At first I was way too out of it to properly learn mindfulness through a class or books. I started out by just being present with the flowers in my yard. I had the time to stop and really look at them. Touch them. Smell them. It felt so good just to slow down and allow my injured brain to stop buzzing about, and allow my attention to land on these things of beauty. Taking long, slow, deep breaths also gave me a taste of the sweet goodness of the gathered mind. Again, it was such a relief to settle into the present moment and breathe, rather than being so caught up in fear and worry and exhaustion from too much thinking. The long slow holds of yin and restorative yoga also soothed my soul.
I found that through mindfulness I could not only find peace in these pleasant, calm moments, but I was also more able to manage when things got rough. In time I learned to stop fighting my symptoms. One day I was feeling ‘concussy’ (my word for the total grossness of concussion - you get it, right?). I felt my whole body trying not to feel it, to push the concussy feelings away (unsuccessfully, of course - you get it, right?). So I decided to just let go of my resistance to my symptoms. My symptoms were bad enough on their own, but trying not to feel them and the fear I felt in the face of them were worse than the actual feelings! Once I let go and just let myself feel concussy, I didn’t feel quite so horrible, and much of my suffering melted away.
Then, when I was finally able to take a mindfulness class, I found it very difficult. When I was asked to pay intimate attention to my body for forty-five minutes in a body scan, my reaction was, ‘are you kidding me? I’m not doing that, that’s way too overwhelming!’ Sometimes the invitation to ‘be with’ whatever sensations and emotions came up in meditation (the intense concussy feelings!), I could feel stress hormones coursing through my body. Sometimes I ended up practically having a panic attack! These intense practices seemed to work for other people who were not TBI or trauma survivors, but for me, it was just too much. Because I had experienced much benefit from mindfulness and meditation already, I persevered and I modified practices so I could benefit from it without going into overwhelm.
I started with shorter meditations that were pleasant and not so overwhelming. My body was the beaker in a Grand Experiment to figure out what was most calming to me. I learned to listen to the warning signs (before they become alarm bells!) that overwhelm might be around the corner, in life or in mindfulness practice. Now I know that when I start to feel overwhelm coming on, I can call on many resources to support me. These are some of my go-tos: a walk outside, long/slow deep breaths, mindful self-compassion, joy and gratitude practices, slow yoga, a bath.
In order to be able to feel the power of ‘being with’ my symptoms rather than fighting them, I figured out that I can control the dose. I don’t need to jump into the lake of my concussy feelings, I can just dip a toe in, or maybe a foot. I can titrate in and out. I learned that in this way I can handle my symptoms rather than feeling like such a slave to them. I also have a choice where to place my attention and it need not be so hyper-focused on my symptoms all the time. I can allow my attention to land on the sweet smell of those flowers, the sun on my face, the smile from a friend.
As I write these words I think of you, dear fellow survivor. I don’t know who or where you are, but you are in my heart. Around the world each year 69 million of us get a TBI. We are not alone. You are not alone. From my home here in Vancouver Canada I am sending you much love and light to wherever you are, hoping that you too may find your way to some calm clarity in the face of your TBI storms.
Thank you TBI One Love for all you do for us survivors!
If any of our TBI community would like to reach me, please visit: mindfulconcussion.ca