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Exercise and Brain Injury Recovery

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

In August 2017, without any warning, life changed...encephalitis “e” came into our lives. We had absolutely no knowledge of what encephalitis was, of how people recovered from this brain inflammation, of how long it takes to recover and what recovering from an acquired brain injury would look like. All we knew is that one day I was fine and the next I wasn’t. The day before “e” I still had my usual high level of energy readily available to go by my daily activities, and the day after “e” all that energy was gone as if it had vanished into thin air. During the days, weeks and months following the illness I learnt the true meaning of the word fatigue.

I’ve always been an active person. I’ve always been keen to exercise and one to push the limits of what my body and mind could achieve. I think that’s why I’ve always loved endurance sport because your only true opponent is your personal best time. With endurance sport, success comes through staying focused, pushing through and finding the mental strength that you didn’t think you had in you to complete a challenge. Little did I know that all those years of running, cycling, swimming and so on would eventually serve another purpose, that all those skills acquired would pay off in other ways later on in my life.

How did "e" affect my usual exercise routine?

I’m not going to lie, going from exercising everyday to struggling to make my way from the bed to the couch has been one of the hardest thing to accept following “e”. As much as some people dread exercising, I’ve always made it a point to include it as part of my daily routine. I absolutely love exercise. A sort of addiction if you want. I feel my brain has always greatly benefited from it too. I reckon exercise is not just a thing that the doctors tell you to do because they have to, it truly works wonders inside out.

So what happens when for various reasons it gets taken out of the equation?

The only honest answer here is that I was a pure mess for a long while and it was an aspect of my life that I truly missed. I missed the physical challenge, I missed the good happy hormones that it releases and I missed the social aspect that often comes in pair with exercising.

As I started the long journey that is brain injury recovery, exercise was something that I was very keen to start introducing back into the mix. It was hard and often came at a cost, but I was so lucky to have a supporting partner and friends that believed in me and allowed me to chose to invest some of my increasing energy into this bucket. I’m thinking dearly of my partner when I say that my exercising would often end up being at his detriment. Investing energy in exercising meant that my already low energy tank would get depleted much quicker and often leave me overtired for the rest of the day. Therefore, he had to pick up the loose ends and mind the kids while I was knocked out in bed sleeping. Greg, you are the best and so grateful for stumbling across you one autumn night at "Edgar Hyper Taverne"

So why chose to exercise then?

Valid question with some very valid answers. It would get me out of the house, enable me to get some fresh air, change the scenery, it would provide me with a sense of achievement, it would enable me to start building up my strength and most importantly it was keeping me sane. I think that many people do not fully realize that any decisions you take when recovering from an ABI have an impact. Whether you stay home or get out there, there will be pros and cons on your health and well being. So if you are going to land on a decision that implies that you will suffer consequences later on, it may as well be for something you are passionate about. For me, it was exercise.

As time went by, I started feeling stronger and I was equipped with better fatigue management strategies that enabled me to gradually increase the level of exercise I could do. To this day, exercise still has to be well planned into my schedule and even then, some days I have to accept that it’s just not going to happen or that my original plan will have to be scaled down massively. I’m still learning to be okay with not being able to do whatever I want whenever I want, but I understand the benefits of managing things differently. Those who are part of this journey know first hand how hard it is to manage but also how important exercise is to keep up with the positive attitude and to keep me focused on long terms goals.

I started way back compared to where I used to be in terms of fitness, but seeing the ongoing progress is something that I am really proud of. I am so grateful for all of those who motivated, joined me on my journey and most importantly believed in me and encouraged me to work towards what I thought I would never be able to achieve again. It gave me a sense of purpose, direction and made me look for the wonderful in that new weird brain of mine.

Where to next?

16 months post "e": That day when not even "pay back time" managed to take my happy place away from me!

Exercising is still an ongoing challenge but I feel that the little wins that occurred along the way have given me the motivation to keep moving forwards on my journey. This is totally a TEAM effort. I can’t do it alone, it still has to be managed VERY carefully but all those little wins give me hope that things are going to keep getting better. I can’t give up when so many people believe in me. It gives me a more positive outlook on what’s to come and that is absolutely priceless.

I'm ending this post with an inspirational quote that an encephalitis survivor that I follow on Instagram shared. It really resonated with me:

“ Winners are not people who never fail, but people who never quit”.

There sure are wins along the way: Spirited Women Adventure Race

For more blogs relating to exercise and brain injury recovery, please filter on Exercise on the Weird Wonderful Brain Blog page.

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