As the summer is winding down, and I prepare to move back into my dorm, I’d like to reflect on a few recovery milestones. I spent the summer taking on various adventures with friends and family, starting a new exercise program, and interning at ChiroPro Performance Center in Acton, MA. Over the past three months, I have continued to take care of myself while keeping busy, working, and relaxing.
Throughout the past three months, I was able to participate in many more activities than in the previous three summers combined. I often measure my progress by my ability to withstand symptom-inducing behaviors during events, and after they occur. In the past, watching a football game would set me back two weeks, and now I can watch every game on Sundays without a problem, other than my usual headaches. Going to the movies would keep me in bed for weeks, and now it only takes a few hours to feel better, even though I still have to wear sunglasses. It took me almost a year to return to a full day of high school, and now I am attending college classes and living away from home. These are some of the milestones that I have kept track of, and often compare to my current goals. These were lofty goals at the time, and I am proud of how far I have come. Setting small goals is important, and looking back on those goals is just a reminder that I can achieve anything.
With this mindset, and my headaches, light/noise sensitivity, ringing in my ears, neck pain, POTS, and ADHD improving, I felt that this summer was a good time to start taking some risks, and crossing more goals off of my list. Having 24/7 symptoms for almost four years is unpleasant, painful, uncomfortable, irritating, inconvenient, and stressful. Looking back on the progress that I have made, I knew that I could use this summer to make even more progress. As expected, each activity that I did made certain symptoms worse, however, I did not expect to recover so quickly from them. Nothing that I did this summer took me more than a day to recover from, which is a huge improvement for me. I now know that I can do more on a daily basis, without the fear of feeling awful in the following weeks. Two of my greatest accomplishments this summer were attending an outdoor concert, and hiking three miles up and down Mt. Major in New Hampshire.
I had been to one concert in my life prior to July, and it was the summer before my injury. My noise sensitivity has greatly improved, so that was not my biggest concern. My increase in pain and symptoms came from the flashing, colored lights, and the crowds. Standing in, and looking at crowds of people has always made my head worse, and this was the case at the concert too. On the bright side, it only took a day to feel back to my baseline of symptoms. I’ve learned to deal with pain in the moment, and as I previously mentioned, I worry about my symptoms after events. Going to this concert proved to me that I can be in crowds of people because I know my symptoms will be better the next day, and not in two weeks.
Regarding the hike, I was completely out of shape because I have not gone to a gym, exercised, or used my muscles in almost four years. This is exactly how I expected to feel. However, as a former athlete, it is also what I needed to feel. I was tired, sore, and my headaches skyrocketed from being out in the sun, and exerting myself. I know that someday, I will be able to get back in shape, do this hike without a headache, and with more ease. It was gratifying to get to the top of the mountain, not only to rest, but to think about what I had just accomplished. I am extremely proud of myself for this feat, and I am looking forward to hiking again, hopefully in less pain.
After hiking, I became motivated to try different forms of low-impact exercise, so that I could remain active. I knew running and lifting weights were out of the question, but power walking was not. I live in a neighborhood that is a loop, and has a large hill within the loop. At the beginning of July, I started walking that loop every day at a fast pace. I began with one lap for the first few days, and worked my way up to six laps in a row by the end of July. This is the equivalent of a 5k, and so far this summer, I have walked seven 5ks. While walking, especially up the hill, my headaches do increase as my heart rate increases. So, this is a painful 5k, but nonetheless, I can do it without more than a few hours of extra pain when it is complete. Every day I spend walking, I can’t help but think about this 5k becoming a 5k that I could someday run. It is frustrating to be limited, but I’ve learned to accept it, and work hard at what I can do in the meantime. I’m hoping to be able to run a 5k road race in the future.
In addition to walking, I have revisited one of my old passions and talents—hula hooping. I spent weeks teaching myself to hula-hoop at a very young age, and ever since, I have loved learning new tricks, including juggling while hula hooping. I never saw it as a form of exercise, but since the beginning of August, I have used a weighted hula-hoop while watching television for up to two and a half hours at a time. I truly enjoy hula hooping, and it has become a prominent form of exercise for me. I can simply stand in one place, or walk around with it going, and not have an increase in my symptoms. Sometimes, it is nice to know you can do something enjoyable without being in an extreme amount of pain.
As anyone with a brain injury knows, it is quite difficult to find a job that is tolerable for certain symptoms. Throughout high school, I was unable to have a typical job in a store or a restaurant because I was at appointments, and my symptoms were so unpredictable. I could not be on my feet for hours at a time, nor could I lift things, listen to the ringing of registers, or the clanging of silverware. This summer, I decided to start my progression into working life. I was offered an internship at ChiroPro Performance Center in Acton, MA working as a rehabilitation assistant. ChiroPro is a center for functional neurology, clinical nutrition, and chiropractic care. As a patient, I have been receiving treatment at ChiroPro for over a year, and when I found out about this opportunity, I was excited to be healthy enough to take it. Throughout July and part of August, I learned how the office is run, the methods of treating diverse neurological conditions for patients of various ages, and how to assist patients with their rehabilitative exercises. I’ve met and assisted so many interesting people, and I am thankful for what ChiroPro has done for me. I am lucky to have been a part of their team this summer. I enjoyed my experience, and I am fortunate to have been able to learn valuable information in my area of study.
This summer has been an incredible learning experience not only at work, but also at home. I realized that I am able to do more now than ever before, and that it is ok for me to safely do certain activities. I am continuing to improve and manage my symptoms as I head off to school for another semester in the city. A great summer has come and gone, but months of accomplishments and milestones will not be forgotten. I wanted to end by sharing my proudest moment of the summer, and of the past four years.
On July 29th, 2015, at 8:29pm, I was headache free! I was just sitting on my couch watching television when I noticed that my head felt different… in a good way. I often wondered if I would ever be able to recognize what normal felt like again. For the first time in almost four years, I was pain free, and for thirty-three straight minutes! Not just one minute, because that had never happened before. Not even thirty seconds. But I was given thirty-three whole minutes in a row! Now that is a milestone.
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