A Four-fold Miraculous Gift

20160803_164954A Four-fold Miraculous Gift

It was eight days into our extended holiday. I had been experimenting with different strategies to mitigate some of the sensory issues related to traveling. Each day required monitoring activities that threatened to zap the reserves that I would need to complete the day. Each day required adjusting the schedule of activities so that I could replenish my reserves for the next morning.

We arrived at our pre-book campground chosen for its spectacular scenery; Six hundred foot tall bluffs, forty foot tides (38.7 feet to be exact), broad expanses of red beaches, an unlimited opportunities for rock hounding and a tranquil location. That aptly describes Blomidon Provincial Park on the Bay of Fundy.

Preparation

When we arrived at the campground we had already worked out a refined routine for setting up camp. (The drive to Nova Scotia had included three evenings of setting up camp and three mornings of packing up and pulling out. Between the two of us we each had our tasks. I would set up the camp stove, hook up the propane and make sure the table was functionally level. I would then set up the tent, pump up the air mattress and arrange all the bedding. Meanwhile Jane would set up the campsite; unpack the lawn chairs, retrieve the necessary food supplies and dig out the required cooking utensil prior to preparing our supper. We would share the clean up, the boiling of water for washing, clearing away the dishes and securing the site for the night.

Our time camping at Blomidon turned into four activity-filled days. This included hiking several trails to a ‘look off’ (what most places would call a ‘look out’), cycling, walking along the beach for half a dozen or more kilometers, rock hounding at low tide along the base of the bluffs, reading in the campers` community building in the evening, and excursions into the some of the surrounding villages and historic sites.

After the first night of sleep I decided to unicycle through the campground. It was the first time I had ridden a unicycle since my ABI. I was thrilled to once again experience the delight and sense of awe that children express when they see a unicyclist in action. The children would run to the edge of their campsite and either just stare or be bubbling with questions. I would humour them by idling, which they  would find even more exciting, while answering their questions or responding to their comments. For the very curious I would demonstrate a few extra maneuvers before moving on.

Gift #120160330_135415

The four days of camping was the first time in a year and a half that I experienced no ABI symptoms. The wonder and joy of not having to monitor or curtail my activities gradually washed over me. I can only describe it as a truly miraculous gift. To be able to go through an active 14 hour day and experience no ABI symptoms was truly exhilarating and invigorating. Needless to say, nothing could stop me from increasing my level of activity as each new day dawned.

20160803_182928Gift #2

The absence of ABI symptoms enabled me to help out around the campsite. Being able to pull my weight and feel like I was doing my share of the work gave a boost to my self-worth. It was a glimpse of what I had forgotten had once been possible.

Gift #320160719_153215

The satisfaction of experiencing a restful sleep did not escape me. Being able to sleep ten hours a night brought additional healing. The length of my sleep was the only a subtle reminder of my ABI.

20160803_164954Gift #4

It was four days in which my sense of loss inconspicuously faded away. The emotional toll of being reminded of another loss each time I reached my limit was absent. It didn’t happen with a flourish or fanfare. My sense of loss melted away like a wave being absorbed into sand.

Moving on

The thought of leaving the park on day four was rather upsetting. How could I leave a place that had briefly turned my world ‘right side up’ again? How could I leave a place that had shown me what had once been possible? No stiffness when I woke up each morning because my ‘fight or flight’ response was under control. No consequences from failing to curtail my activities or modifying my plans. No need to plan my day to ensure I didn’t develop sensory overload. No headaches. No blurred vision. No nausea. It was amazing to feel ‘normal’ for a few days.

Some reflection

What was it about my experience at Blomidon Provincial Park that allowed me to shed my ABI limitations for four days? Will the answer escape me or will I come away with some helpful insights?

Was it the narrow range of social interaction while camping with just the two of us? Was it the variety of subtle naturally produced sounds? Even the raucous call of a murder of crows in the top of the trees is easier to deal with than indoor sounds that get amplified as it reverberates off walls and other hard surfaces. Was it the shedding of all the stresses and responsibilities associated with living in a house? Was it the absence of self imposed obligations to participate in community activities? Was it the iodine that mixes into the fresh ocean air that blew through the campsite? (The ‘fight & flight’ response that often subtly accompanies the sensory overload, drain’s one’s adrenalin glands. Iodine taken internally is one way to replenish the adrenalin glands.) Was it just a coincidence – an alignment of the stars?

More questions than answers.

A case for living more simply

One thought is that the four days of ABI respite was partly a result of a simplified life. It allowed for proper sleep hygiene, sleep being important for healing the brain. Each day was comprised of a few simple tasks. Camping involved a lot of physical activity but non-strenuous or stressful. Just to use the washroom involve a 200 meter walk. Getting water required walking two campsites over to a tap fill a bucket and haul it back. Washing dishes involved getting more water, getting it heated on the stove and then washing the dishes with a makeshift set up.

The challenge is to take the possible lessons learned and translate them into new routines and expectations when I am at home.

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Author: Jasper Hoogendam

After 36 years as an educator my career ended due to a TBI. Renewable energy as part of 'walking lightly on this earth' has been and continues to be my interest since my teen years. Since early 2015 I have been learning to live with ABI (Acquire Brain Injury). I don't want to let my ABI limit the goals I set for myself. I'm living with a different brain, not a lesser brain. In sharing my day to day successes and struggles, I am better able to understand how my life had changed and begin to accept the change. In sharing my experiences I'm hearing from caregivers and fellow ABI's. I'm encouraged when my experiences are helping others understand some of the complexity of living with ABI.

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