Seth was hospitalized for five months and I will never forget the smell of a hospital room. Seth was still wearing diapers when he was discharged, so this was also an issue we had to address when he came home. (If you have ever had to care for or visit someone who was incapacitated, you know what I mean). That smell has an effect on you psychologically and can mentally wear you down. It's the power of aromatherapy, but in reverse. I researched essential oils and we used them in massage oil and other ways to aid Seth's recovery. The following is a list of the four oils we feel benefited Seth the most:
- Peppermint - We learned a trick from a pediatric nurse early on who showed us how to fill a fresh humidifier water bottle (the humidifier is generally found on the wall by the hospital bed and is used for breathing treatments). We would fill the bottle and put a few drops of Peppermint oil in it, turn it on without the hose or anything, and it would literally blow the vapor into the room as an instant odor killer. 😉 I continued doing this at home with in a diffuser in his bedroom. Seth also suffered from chronic motion sickness and I found that applying Peppermint oil on a cotton ball and leaving it in the ashtray of our car would immediately kill the distinctive smell associated with chronic motion sickness.
- Frankincense - This oil promotes brain healing so I would add a couple of drops to his diffuser and even rub a couple of drops on his pillow inside his pillowcase. Take caution and do not apply essential oils to anything that will have direct contact with the skin (some of the oils can burn the skin).
- Lavender - Lavender is a natural microbial that aids in relaxation and helps you sleep. You can add a couple drops in bath water. It is an excellent tonic for nerves and anxiety issues. It benefits the brain and nervous system and can also be helpful in treating migraines, nervous tension, or emotional stress. It has a well-researched impact on the autonomic nervous system, which is why it is frequently used as a treatment for insomnia and to regulate heart-rate variability. One study followed subjects taking exams. When the participants combined the use of Rosemary and Lavender oils, the study showed a significant decrease in mental stress and anxiety, as well as increased cognitive function.
- Rosemary - Rosemary is an excellent brain and nerve tonic often used by students to study more efficiently and for increased concentration during exams. It stimulates mental activity and is a good remedy for depression, mental fatigue, and forgetfulness. Inhaling Rosemary oil seems to lift your spirits immediately. Whenever your brain is tired, try inhaling a little Rosemary oil to renew your mental energy. If you are a caregiver or a patient, the excess cortisol in the blood that occurs due to trauma or chronic stress can wreak havoc on the body’s hormonal balance and efficiency of metabolism. A study released in 2003 found that inhaling Rosemary oil and Lavender oil for five minutes significantly reduced the levels of cortisol in the test subject’s saliva, which could seriously decrease the dangers inherent from chronic stress, help boost the immune system, and fight off cancer causing free radicals.
LETTING GO OF THE PAST
The person you were before your accident, and the person you are now after acquiring a brain injury, are two different people. The ‘essence’ of who you were remains, along with some of the memories of your past, but understanding and accepting that you are different will help you move forward in your recovery. This is true for both the patient and the family members. (I tell Seth he is the new and improved Seth 2.0 version 😉)
It is a normal part of the recovery process to feel sadness and a great sense of loss for the person you once were and of the life you would have had. The grieving process is actually a continuation of letting go of the past. Until you and your loved ones allow yourselves to grieve, you will remain stuck in an in-between place and unable to move into your future.
EMBRACING AND ACCEPTING THE ‘NEW YOU’
This stage will be difficult for those around you. Although they are grateful you are alive, it is still difficult to see a loved one in so much pain. It will hinder your recovery if you are constantly trying to ‘become the old you’ everyone knew.
Surround yourself with people who are patient and encouraging — those who will give you a good motivational speech and keep you focused forward. You will find that many of your old friends and family will not be strong enough to stay in your life. Many people you were close to will abandon you because they don’t have what it takes to stand and fight this battle with you. Get mad, and then Get Over It!!! Don’t waste your energy or lose your focus trying to figure out ‘WHY’ they no longer call or visit. Make New Friends by getting involved in Special Olympics or finding a support group. You only need a couple of true blue, stand-by-you friends.
Do what you can with what you’ve got! Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” Don’t be discouraged — the recovery process is slow. If you do a little everyday, then every day you will be one step closer. Set small goals and then work hard to achieve them. Brain injury will cause you to feel very tired quickly, but using your energy to exercise will actually produce energy. It is medically proven to help to grow brain cells, especially in the hippocampus area, which affects memory. Exercise also releases Serotonin which helps you feel happy and optimistic. And when you exercise outdoors in the sunshine you are getting a double dose of the ‘feel good vitamin,’ Vitamin D.
When Seth came home from the hospital, he had to use his wheelchair because he could not walk long distances. He wore a brace on his right leg and needed assistance to walk short distances. We began with two people, one on each side of him, holding onto his arms and walking him down the street we live on. Once he could walk unassisted, we began working with him the same way to be able to jog... then to run. He still had to wear a brace on his right hand, which was closed into a fist. We bought tiny dumbbells and would help him lift them. We took a tray and put nuts and bolts on it and had him put them together and then take them a part. Think outside the box and do something — anything — don’t just sit idle waiting on the perfect therapy to ‘fix you.’ Work hard to fix yourself.
The great thing about technology is that you literally have Brain Games at your fingertips any time of the day or night. Seth was still unable to use his right hand, and was not too coordinated with his left, when we begin downloading some brain games in the hospital. Card game and board games were also great — anything you can do to force the brain to process and think strategically is helping it to get better. For example, if you struggle with Speech, as Seth did, we found it helped him to practice a page or more of handwriting each day. This process helps rewire and rebuild the Language Center in the brain.
Nutrition and vitamins are very important for your brain health. The following are all very beneficial for new, healthy brain cell growth and improvement in memory and cognitive function:
- Blueberries - While Seth was still in the hospital, we put blueberries in everything as soon as he was able to eat real food. He ate tons frozen or fresh blueberries and he drank gallons of blueberry juice. We put them in oatmeal, yogurt, ice-cream, etc. Seth continues to eat 2 cups per day in oatmeal or a smoothie.
- Coconut Oil - We would give him 2 tablespoons a day of cold, pressed coconut oil. We also used this as a lotion massage his body after showering. Coconut oil is proven to bypass the blood-brain barrier to give the brain energy. Seth continues to take 2 tbsp per day.
- Fish Oil - In the beginning, we would give him 12 a day (6 in morning and 6 at night). He now takes half that dose.
- Turmeric Curcumin - He takes one a day.
Be grateful to God for a second chance at life and be fully aware that every day is a gift. Take notice of all the small things in your life that remind you that YOU ARE ALIVE. You are less likely to be depressed when you begin to give thanks for everything in your life, no matter how big or how small. They are all reminders that God sees you and you are important to Him.
Be confident in this... You are still here for a reason. Now it’s up to you what will you do with your life. Will you waste it or make it count? You can bring Purpose to your Pain by using what you came through to encourage others who are going through a difficult or traumatic situation. One way we do this is by going back to hospitals and visiting TBI patients. We also volunteer with Special Olympics and participate in community events. Helping others serves as a reminder there is always someone fighting a battle more difficult than yours. It is empowering to know that you took what was meant to destroy you, and used it to give someone else Hope that they can overcome their own struggle.
Your story is not finished. There is nothing stopping you from going back to college to get a degree or maintaining a job. You may have obstacles in front of you resulting from your brain injury, but they can’t stop you unless you let them. You will have to be creative in figuring out a way around or over those obstacles, but you can overcome them if you don’t quit. No matter what the well-intended experts say you can or cannot do, it is up to you to prove them wrong. It may take you longer to do it, but if you fight hard enough and long enough you will succeed.
One of Seth’s tattoos is the Latin phrase “Carpe Diem,” which means “Seize the day!” It is more than a saying, it is a philosophy of life that means, “Live your life today, with no regret for tomorrow. Don’t waste a breath God has given you.” I pray you Live your life in a way that inspires others.