Forced Mindfulness: How a Concussion Made me More Patient, Calm and Purposeful
People have always called me patient. And I am…with other people. But intrinsically I haven’t always been so patient. My lack of patience stems from being a late bloomer; growing up I constantly felt as though I was missing out on things that hadn’t happened to me yet. I saw my peers grow up, move forward and be successful while my life was at a perceived standstill. My life wasn’t in my control. I would tell myself: be patient, my turn was coming, deal with it. But time was in control. Time was in the driver’s seat.
But still, I would push against it, I would try and muscle things, make things happen, create progress. This was effective in some situations but in others I was merely creating movement where none was required; I used up my energy and wore myself out. Slowly I discovered that when I truly trusted my path and put myself in time’s passenger seat I always got where I was going without burning myself out.
More recently life has forced me to become even more patient and purposeful about my choices; and not in the way I would have preferred. Instead, life tossed me an unexpected lesson. And I walked right into it.
Last July, I walked into a glass door. I was completely stunned but I wasn’t knocked out, I didn’t have a broken nose or a black eye. My glasses were intact. But it was no joke: I had hit that door full force with my head. I didn’t even know how bad it was until a couple of days later when I wanted to return to my normal life. I went into the city for a meeting and immediately regretted leaving home. I was unsteady on my feet, nauseated by the movement of the subway and overwhelmed by the energy and number of people on the street. In my meeting I struggled to concentrate and engage and was so relieved when it was over, and I could return home.
That night, things took a turn for the worse, my symptoms became overwhelming and unbearable. I went the emergency room where I was diagnosed as having suffered a concussion. A concussion? Really? As bad as I felt I didn’t fully comprehend what having a concussion meant. I assumed a few days of bed rest and then I’d bounce back. Little did I know this was the start of a long journey of recovery, adjustment and learning.
The next day I was contacted by a nurse from the concussion center and I had many questions: how long will this last? When can I go back to work? When will the nausea go away? But the nurse only had vague answers: it depends on you, everyone is different, some people bounce right back, for some it takes years to get back to normal. Years to get back to normal? This wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I had things to do, I had trips planned and speaking engagements booked, I didn’t have time for un unknown period of recuperation.
Despite my protests my body told me what I had to do: I had to rest. I stayed home for a couple of weeks. I spent a few days in bed then graduated to the sofa. I couldn’t watch tv because the noise and visual action was nauseating to me. The light from outside was too bright. I stayed indoors and would venture outside for a brief breath of fresh air only to retreat back indoors to the comfort and quiet of my home. At night I slept deeply, silently, dreamlessly. I napped and rested for hours during the day and spent my hours prone, resting, reading, thinking; my cat a quiet and constant companion.
Simple things were no longer enjoyable. Scrolling made me dizzy so using my phone and working on my computer was nauseating. After a few weeks I progressed to watching some tv at a low volume, only watching shows that were filmed in a dark, moody, style, my eyes closed during any commercials. I read light fiction on my kindle, anything to fill the hours I spent in bed or on the sofa.
After about 2 weeks I started going to work. I could summon the energy for a half day of work but no more. Everything drained my energy: the subway ride, walking to my workspace, talking with others, being in a room with others, being on the computer, being “on.” Every day tested my body and every day there were micro-improvements. And every day there were reminders that I was still very much recovering.
I wanted to feel better, to jump out of bed and feel 100%. I yearned to “go back” to my old life, my old, reliable state. But that’s not the way it works. Time was in the driver’s seat and time was truly in control. I was in the passenger’s seat once again. But instead of fighting it, instead of pushing myself, I learned to stop pushing. I leaned into resting. I leaned into listening to my gut. And I leaned into taking time to slowly recover. It was all I could do.
It was crystal clear that I couldn’t force myself to improve, to feel better, to snap out of it. Instead I was forced to be more mindful. I had to ask myself before doing anything - literally anything - “is this the right thing for me right now?” This ruled out so much: I canceled plans and reworked my schedule, I only booked myself one appointment a day, I focused on one-on-one meetings where I could focus on one person rather than many.
Each action I took was very conscious: I wasn’t up for much activity, so I became very choosy with my time. I was constantly nauseated so became very choosy with what I ate and drank. I had little energy so had to be choosy with how I spent it. I had to listen to myself so I could be clear with others and set reasonable expectations. “What am I physically able to do?” became my mantra and guiding principle.
I was forced to be mindful because my body was compromised. I was forced to be patient because there was no clear timeline for recovery and repair. I was forced to be calm because I simply had no bandwidth for any nonsense. And this created a series of new habits. A new way of being. A new, purposeful way of moving through life.
Months later much has improved. I haven’t “gone back” to normal. I’m actually enjoying an updated & improved normal where mindfulness has become a habit and patience has become an action; an active choice on my own behalf. Time is a wonderful thing. Time is a powerful thing. Time is a trusted thing. I’m reminded of it all the time.