Loving Myself for who I am: Living with my Traumatic Brain Injury

I have always been that *super involved girl*. That crazy girl you know who always has a million things going on. I’m not quite exactly sure how it started, but I convinced myself that I always had to *do it all* — no breaks, no rest, no sick days. I had created the subconscious belief that I would appear weak if I didn’t.

At first, I was succeeding at balancing my activities + I really did enjoy them. Others would ask me about what I was involved in + upon hearing my answer they would often remark something similar to, “how do you even sleep!?”. Each time I heard a variation of this — it only added fuel to my fire. I thought I was impressing others. Accepting the comments as compliments allowed me to mask any uncertainty or self-doubt I had + inspired to keep *doing it all*

I am embarrassed to admit how long I carried on like this… It began to wear on my mind + body. The things I loved doing — exercising, photography, being outside — were given little attention as I felt I needed to prioritize the things I *should* be doing. The crazy thing is, the activities I felt I *should* be doing were the things I would list on that oh so important piece of paper that employers would judge me with. I had placed my own personal needs second to this crafted resume version of myself.

I didn’t like living this way + I recognized I should make a change, but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. Eventually, I reached the inevitable burnout. I had dragged myself so far, fueled only by my desire to impress others, + I couldn’t continue surviving this way. Part of me felt that I was admitting defeat, but another part knew I could no longer neglect myself. I was exhausted + I needed to take care of myself.

I had always viewed trips away as a chance to escape my *normal life* + get away from stress. I had a trip abroad approaching just as I reached this burnout point.  I saw this as my perfect chance to #reCHAARG. The week abroad was amazing to say the least! I felt refreshed + I was ready, or so I thought, to begin *doing less*.

However, right before coming back to the States I became the one unlucky person to get sick from something I ate [E.coli — yikes]. I was still really sick upon getting back to school + I took about a week to recover enough to return to class. Prior to starting my first class that Monday, I had headed to the hospital for my observation hours. I was nowhere near 100% recovered, but I wasn’t contagious + I decided felt *good enough*. But, this was just an attempt to hide from being weak + I wasn’t well enough. Standing for a few hours had exhausted my body so greatly that I ended up fainting that morning.

Now, this story could have two endings — I would be A-Okay in a few minutes, or perhaps I wouldn’t be. I had a previous history of concussions from a lifetime of sports + this fall was a lot more serious than I could have ever predicted. I was unconscious for an unknown amount of time + I have only a few 10 second flashes of memory after waking up. I was cleared of skull fracture, diagnosed with concussion + was taken home by one of my roommates just a few hours later — with the instructions to sleep.

I have no idea how long I slept + I couldn’t tell you how long it took me to realize that something more was wrong. I remember having very little, if any, ability to think, hear or speak — for what felt like several days. For the most part, I have almost zero memories from the fall through the following month.

But the one thing I vividly remember: the terrifying feeling when I just *knew* somehow that something wasn’t right. The fall had caused me to slowly bleed into my brain. No tests were run prior to sending me home to check for this sort of possibility, so the damage took its full extent. My fall that morning resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury. An injury that would forever change my life.

I could account for you all of the losses + ugly obstacles that resulted — but these aren’t the things that come to mind when I think about my TBI. I don’t see it as something tragic or awful or disastrous. Don’t get me wrong– there are plenty of things I’ve had to accept as permanent changes. [I can’t play team sports, I can’t do activities where I might hit my head + I completely lost my ability to smell.]

There are many things that have transformed into fears. [I am afraid of situations where I could fall unexpectedly — like walking on ice. Sometimes I am afraid to speak in public because I sometimes forget words or forget the point I was trying to make. ++ yes, sometimes I am afraid to tell someone about my TBI because I fear it will change what they think of me]. There are countless more things to come. But, I WILL take them on as best I can. I will never be “healed”, “cured”, or “fully recovered”.  My journey is far from over + I am no where near finished with the process of learning to accept + work with my TBI. Despite this, I don’t view my injury in a negative light.

I see it as something that changed my life in the most positive way it could have.

I see my TBI as having given me the ability to begin focusing on the things I hadn’t been able to figure out. The ability to devote my time + energy to caring for myself. To focus on doing things to honor my commitments to my health + happiness. To work on learning first to accept + then eventually beginning to learn to love this new Teresa.

Teresa with a new personality, new abilities + a new opportunity.

Teresa, with a new life.

Just as I was beginning my journey into the recovery process, I discovered CHAARG on instagram. I was hooked by the positivity + love I saw with these women encouraging each other. I hadn’t seen encouragement like this since I had been part of team in high school. I was a secret *CHAARG fan girl*. I knew I wanted to join this community + I knew this was exactly the kind of support I would need to help me through my journey. All of you amazing CHAARG girls [YES, every single one of you!] helped me to begin focussing on what I could do, not on what I used to be able to do. Your endless encouragement inspired me to begin celebrating every positive aspect of my day as if it were a huge accomplishment.

I moved from learning to accept my TBI, to wholeheartedly loving myself for who I am. Loving what I can do + loving the opportunity to begin living the way I had always wanted to. I dedicated every day to growing stronger in my relationship with myself — to loving this one body + life that I’ve been given. I began accomplishing goals I never dreamed imaginable in such a short period of time. For the first time in my life — I felt deeply proud of myself. I was no longer doing things for the purpose of  impressing others. ++ I wasn’t proud solely proud because I had achieved something, I felt proud because I was doing it for myself!

I was doing the the things I loved! I was filling my time with the things I am most passionate about! I have always made health + fitness a huge part of my life + it was through finally making my health my priority that I began to discover my passions.

I am passionate about taking everyday as an opportunity to grow, to learn, + to help someone. Something may feel like an impossible obstacle, it may look like a list of failures + mistakes, + it may feel scary to be vulnerable, to open up + to take a chance. But I have learned that if there is a possibility of a positive outcome from the experience, it is worth it!

I am passionate about people. I want to inspire others to believe they are strong, beautiful, capable + they are enough. I want to support others in believing they have + will always be enough — that there is greatness inside of them. I want to encourage others to take pride in who they are, to love themselves, + to find genuine happiness in every day.

I was taking every opportunity to appreciate + feel grateful + look for the positive. I had always dreamed of feeling this way about my life + now from the bottom of my heart I can say —  I am doing what I love + I right where I am supposed to be! I am incredibly grateful to continue in my journey surrounded by the amazing women of this CHAARG community!

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This is your life. You are #inCHAARG. You have the power to do what what you love. To create the life you’ve always imagined. To start living out your dreams + begin sharing your passions with others. Life is short. Do what you love + do it often! Today, we want to hear your passions! Make sure to tag #CHAARGSBFP + @CHAARG in your posts!

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+ Teresa [@tasandoval], OSU CHAARG

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