Spirituality can mean different thing to different people, but generally spirituality relates to a connection with something bigger than us. Whether you settle on a form a spirituality that relies on prayers, spending time in nature, art, meditation, religious services or perhaps yoga, it’s important to consider the role that spirituality can play during brain injury recovery.
In this blog, I’ll relate a snippet of Jessica’s story where I address how spirituality became an integral part of her recovery and of her approach to life after a brain injury.
The onset of Jessica’s stroke
Jessica was working at the hospital when on January 2nd, 2017, she noticed that something felt different. Initially she thought that she may be starting a migraine, but in a matter of minutes, she felt off and compelled to act quickly. She soon after left the hospital with her sister and with some migraine medicine.
Realising that something was really unusual, her sister took her back to hospital where no further investigations were carried out. Jessica was however released with more migraine medicine. The following morning, she was found unresponsive and taken back urgently to the hospital.
After investigation, she was diagnosed with Cerebral Venous Thrombosis. Essentially, she had a clot at the base of her brain that travelled to the left side of the brain and turned into a haemorrhage. On top of that, she had also developed a pulmonary embolism. The prognosis wasn’t great, and her family was invited to say their goodbyes. Her parents were told that it would be a miracle if she survived the night and if she did, she’d be likely to live with several disabilities.
The doctor said: “if she was my daughter, I wouldn’t want her to live as she may go on living with a number of disabilities.”
As you can guess, this is a lot to take for anyone, but her family had faith that Jessica would beat the odds. She survived the night and many more subsequent nights until she was released on Valentine’s Day.
“When I woke up, it was like a veil was taken off my eyes. I wasn’t scared and I wasn’t confused. I had no idea I had had a stroke. “
How the stroke affected Jessica
Jessica struggled with aphasia, was left side affected and an ENT specialist later discovered that she had a hole in her esophagus which was making breathing, swallowing, and talking very difficult. Despite having seen countless specialists and having had several interventions, the hole in her esophagus wasn’t healing. Doctors were at an impasse and Jessica believes that God eventually led her to the specialist who would go on saving her life.
In August 2018, one and half year following her stroke, a solution was found which would enable the healing of her esophagus to occur. That’s when she was finally able to begin physiotherapy, speech therapy and to begin her life after stroke.
When life throws more challenges
In January 2019, her beloved brother who took care of her daily while in hospital and who she loved dearly was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. Life changed once again. Jessica no longer cared about herself and stopped all therapy to look after her brother. Together they kept working at things until he passed away in September 2021. She experienced survivor guilt for a long time, but in early January 2022, she realised that God must have kept her for a reason, so she decided to make the most of the time that had been granted to her.
That is until she had a TIA in March 2022. When no doctor could guarantee that she wouldn’t have any other TIA, she decided to go by a new mojo: “Get busy living or get busy dying”. She decided to start living her best life by visiting friends and family throughout the state and planted a large flower garden for her brother that kept her busy throughout the summer.
Came August 2022, Jessica had another TIA and not long after her dad was diagnosed with Parkinson.
What’s the place of spirituality for Jessica?
From the beginning, all odds were against her. But her faith in God helped her feel supported. She knew with all her heart, mind, and soul that God kept her under his arm. Her Faith gave her a sense of peace, wholeness and balance amidst the pain and challenges that she was experiencing. In addition to bringing meaning to life, Faith can often be linked to lower levels of stress which can go a long way in supporting our nervous systems.
“I am alive today because God saved me for his reason. I will say this to the day I die, this life does not belong to me, it belongs to God” and I will do whatever He brings my way.”
Her mojo “Get busy living or get busy dying” also helps her stay in the present. Living in the present, which many refer to as mindfulness, is also a form of meditation which can be applied to the rest of our lives. Illness has a way to ground people and make them truly appreciate the gift of life. It makes us appreciate the fact that life is so precious and fleeting. With that in mind, living in the present and not holding on to the negative that we experience can be supportive of recovery. “There are many possible benefits of mindfulness including lowering stress, improving emotional regulation, boosting cognitive abilities, and strengthening relationships. Research has also shown that mindfulness can lead to changes in the structure and function of the brain.” 
“I don’t visit the past and I don’t look too far in the future. I stay present.” says Jessica.
Benefits of spirituality during recovery
Spirituality can bring many benefits to a person’s life, but it can be particularly helpful and uplifting when going through challenges.
Physical and mental pain as well as managing big life changes can be physically and mentally draining. Spirituality can trigger an inner strength that will allow people to move forward. Experiencing gratitude is also a common theme when it comes to spirituality…whatever form of spirituality you practice. Gratitude can help us stay focused on the positive and help us achieve an outlook that will be supportive of brain injury recovery. For some people, spirituality will provide a meaning to life or may help them find purpose. Following a brain injury, we often feel lost so including spirituality as part of brain injury recovery can help provide a sense of direction and contribute to making us feel valued. Isolation is also a common theme experienced by brain injury survivors. Whether spirituality is used to connect to a higher power, to nurture a connection within yourself, others or with nature, spirituality can lead to meaningful connections which can go a long way in restoring a sense of belonging.
All those benefits linked to spirituality can be supportive of healing, so why not see how Faith, meditation, yoga, prayers or spending time in nature could be helpful in the context of your own recovery? If you need help getting started, read my blog on gratitude.
A few more words from Jessica
Having a stroke changed my life forever and, in some ways, it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I don’t stay focused on the negatives, sadness, on what happened to my life or even on the loss of loves ones. I am thankful for the blessing of a new day. A new day to make different choices, different thoughts, different words, different actions. It is a blessing to wake up with the capability to care for yourself because for the longest time I could not.
I have no idea what God has for me in the future. But I can certainly tell you I will live the best life that I can. I will not live my life in fear or worry about the possibility of having another stroke. I’m going to enjoy my life and be joyful to myself and to others. I embrace survivors and want to encourage them. No matter how bad things are, know that it will get better. Don’t give up and love yourself and others. You are blessed with what you have today.
“With God all things are possible” Matthew 19:26