New neural pathways are constantly forged in the human brain. The habits you form reinforce those neural pathways, so it is important, maybe more so now than at any other time in your life, to reinforce the patterns you want your healing brain to develop. I think that having a brain injury is an opportunity to design the kind of neural responses that you want to influence your life. Approach this experience (that you’ve been put into, whether you like it or not) as you would in creating a work of art. By trying different approaches to see what you like, what fits for you, you can have an influence on the development of your brain’s neural pathways.
I think there are two key elements to building healthy new connections between your brain and body. The first is to do something that matters to you, and the second is to surround yourself in an environment that fosters growth. If you don’t have any interest in art, or if you just don’t have the energy to attempt anything creative right now, that’s fine, you’re not in competition with anyone. It’s really hard to find activities that don’t tire the brain, but if you are desperately looking for something you can do that won’t give you a headache, think back to when you were kid. What did you choose to do?
Going back to something that you would consider play is probably the best thing you can do for your brain right now. For me, playing at art is something that has no real purpose, I just enjoy the process. I don’t stress over making anything look right, I am simply exploring drawing and painting. I think it’s key to do something physical; use your body to help your brain. I am working on the connection between my eyes and hands to draw, but other people might find a similar connection through larger muscle groups. Working out, dancing, hiking, even playing with a dog, these are all activities that reinforce brain-body connections. They are healthy, they improve circulation to your brain (really important) and they make you feel good. Who knows where this is going to take you, maybe nowhere, but waiting for your brain to fully heal is a long journey, so find something you can enjoy along the way.
Finding the environment that will nurture your play activity of choice is more complex than just choosing a gym near your house. It’s important to look for a community within that environment. Make a deliberate effort to spend time in facilities with people who are both considerate of your current limitations, as well as knowledgeable in their field. If you don’t have a a friend who is able to join you in your play activity, take the opportunity to meet people through this activity. If you show up at the same gym every day at the same time, you’re going to overlap with the same people, and it’s likely that at least one of them is also going through a healing process of their own. People who take the time to take care of themselves are pretty good candidates for friends. You don’t have to spend time with other people if that’s difficult right now though. Time spent alone is also a good healing environment. When you set your own pace and learn to enjoy your own company, you may actually be able to figure out what you like to do. This is your chance to take charge and take care of yourself.
Growing up, opportunities and choices influence our careers and the people we associate with, leading down a certain path. Wherever you ended up, it was one option, not that it’s good or bad, it was just one possibility. When you’re in a situation that prevents you from continuing, even temporarily along that one path, you have an opportunity to go back and hit the refresh button. Just remember, a real work of art cannot be rushed.
(Below: I had company outside my kitchen window recently, he/she wasn’t rushing anywhere!)