February 15, 2014.
The doctor tells me, “You fell while you were upside-down? Just take it easy and you’ll be fine.” Oookay. I think I can take 9 things off my 50-item to-do list. Maybe. Teaching, working as a resident advisor and finishing school while practicing acrobatics doesn’t leave room for much else.
February 20, 2014.
This doctor’s face is serious. She tells me I have a concussion. She says on the first day, I am allowed to sit and stare at a wall. On the second day, I am allowed to walk. This is much worse than I thought it was…
September 27, 2014.
My head hurts. I can’t understand the paragraphs that the students wrote without getting a headache. Everything is harder with this mental fog. I’m not allowed to do anything that makes my symptoms worse, which is a lot. People, noise, normal exercise all make my head hurt.
I’m confused. I can’t remember where I get off at the bus, or what I’m supposed to be doing today. People keep sending me emails even after I tell them I can’t look at screens. It takes me 10 minutes to find my lab keys because I keep forgetting what I’m doing. And how am I supposed to finish grad school if I’m not supposed to use computers? This is bad.
Some people say depression is a black hole. For me, before the hole, there was the twisted labyrinth of a broken brain. Sometimes it was fantastical, like the time my processing slowed down enough that I watched how my mind moved through 6-7 snap decisions before starting a conversation. Other times, my brain, which before had propelled me through the world of academics and science, turned its efforts to telling me that I needed to die. You’ll never get better, you’ll never be able to do acrobatics again, you’re too broken to be useful any more, they’ve replaced you with someone who can actually perform…
Until post-concussion syndrome stole my life as I knew it, I was teaching, innovating with, and performing acrobatics, the one thing that kept me sane in graduate school. At first, I thought I was fine and that I would be back to my favorite activity after a short break. After a while, it became clear that no matter how much I bargained with myself, I couldn’t keep up with the goals and path I had set for my life. I struggled with anything that stimulated my brain too much: social situations, academic puzzles, keeping track of my too-full schedule.
It’s no wonder that suicidal ideation is common with traumatic brain injuries, and severe depression in injured athletes. I could no longer access the creative “flow state,” my version of a moving meditation, and was forced to leave behind the people and activities that made life worth living. My “human doing” came to a stop and trying harder just made it worse. People were nice at first – if they even noticed that I had an invisible injury. As my condition dragged along, “I don’t know when I’ll get better” became an unsatisfactory answer for them. I regressed to a place where choosing to get out of bed took all my mental energy, never mind feeding myself or arranging therapy appointments. I struggled with summoning the willpower to do even a single push up at one point, and my brain became a disoriented labyrinth of worries, invasive thoughts, and destructive tendencies. I stopped remembering that I could learn and make my own decisions as I was pinballed around the medical system, relying on family to fight the unpredictable nightmare of insurance coverage. My anxiety skyrocketed to a point where I stopped sleeping, started losing my appetite completely, and endured nausea 24/7. I knew I was trapped in a loop and for once, I couldn’t figure out how to get out of it by educating myself. One of the drugs I was prescribed made me feel like I needed to run away, dull as a zombie with a panic attack, and heavy with lack of sleep all at the same time. The things that were supposed to help me were hurting me. It was a classic example of learned helplessness, feeling like I had no relief or escape from suffering. I had become an entirely different person, needing to find a different way to exist in the world, and I had no idea how to do that.
Crawling out of the hole of depression and complex trauma is a long, hard, and often confusing process. After wandering through dark landscapes of mental and emotional numbness and pain, my self-image felt like it was permanently damaged. These days, I still feel like I continuously rediscover my sense of self-worth, constantly finding what I realistically value to break out of the rut of depressive thought.
Group lessons with Dr. Feldenkrais’ Mind Body Studies (MBS, http://www.mbsacademy.org) make this challenging recovery process easier. During lessons, we lie on the floor and refine our bodily perception: which parts of ourselves we can sense more clearly, which areas feel lighter or heavier, etc. We then focus our attention during slow movements that are specifically designed to provide an environment where we can learn new ways of doing things. For example, we might fix an arm in an unfamiliar position and move the rest of ourselves around it, allowing us to break habitual movement patterns by reorganizing the sequence, quality, or direction of our motions.
Throughout these lessons, my nervous system calms down as I focus on new internal sensations, so very different from the disorganized terror of the past two years. As I progress through my healing process, I find support among my fellow students, individuals who are honest about their shortcomings and sincere in their pursuit of deeper, fulfilling lives dedicated to learning and self-improvement. Since I had previously tried to stay current with my peers through social media, I had developed a host of unhelpful patterns as I compared myself to the band of young, able-bodied, attractive new-age gurus hawking themselves on Instagram. In contrast, the depth and breadth of experience that participants and trainers bring to the seminar create a community that is unique to MBS, an environment that provides an alternative to these unrealistic, image-centric external standards. My MBS community is a group of peers focused on the process of transformative internal experiences, something that cannot be captured in a picture or social media sound bite.
Life becomes much easier after you stop comparing your experience to others and defining yourself by past physical limitations – as Mia Segal says, “If you know you have a problem, why hold onto it?” This is the power of the MBS method: once you understand how you limit yourself, you can move beyond those self-imposed boundaries. I can cultivate my ability to change how I see myself; finding beauty in ease of movement helps me feel more capable, reversing the doubt stemming from a psychosomatic experience that stole my ability to walk every time I had an anxiety attack (imagine carrying crutches around “just in case” you suddenly stop being able to use your legs). During group lessons, where I literally expand the contracted space I occupy with body and brain, I reverse the knotted ball of depression and anxiety through an exploration that is often playful, creative and incredibly gratifying……… continued
Anonymous contributor, 2018