Exercise has been on of my greatest struggles with TBI, but I also acknowledge how lucky I am to even be able to physically exercise still. I did Orange Theory before my accident, I had started on 12/4/2016 and went regularly. I started Orange Theory Fitness (OTF) after I had broken my back, gained 30 pounds and needed to lose the weight I had gained and get back into working out and had just moved back to Hillsboro and I found and joined Orenco OTF before it was even open, I was a founding member. I absolutely loved it, its a group fitness class and you rotate between stations, wither two or three stations depending on the class size. There is the cardio, treads or bikes whatever you choose, then the rowers which in larger classes you have 3 groups, smaller classes 2 groups so the rower is not used as its own station and then the weights. This is considered High Intesnity Interval Training (HIIT) and the class in for an hour. On 2G classes with two groups you do weights then cardio or cardio then weights for 25 min each. The last 5 or 10 of each class is stretching. The workouts are also heart rate monitored with a band you wear. I absolutely loved it.
I lost almost my goal weight loss in the year and a half I went consistently, which was about 30 pounds. I felt amazing and comfortable in my own skin again, I felt strong and fit too. The best part about it is that I started out as a walker, walking on the treadmill portion and was able to run again after I broke my back. I was able to do push ups too without using my knees. My herniated discs that acted up all the time, just bending over would cause dire pain for a few minutes due to my back injury had cleared up and no longer were a problem anymore. I was able to run a mile in 8.5 minutes regularly, I was able to do 90 minute classes and often did the hour long class twice a day. I would go to the gym at 5am. I loved it. Then my work schedule changed and I worked at 5am until 130pm, so I had to work out at 330 or 430 pm which I did, but I was more regular at 5am. I am definitely a morning person especially for working out.
Then one day on 5/16/18 I worked at 5am, left work upset a little early and canceled my afternoon workout class at OTF and headed to the motocross track instead of working out. That is the day I would almost lose my life and it was forever changed. I was not in the right mindset to go ride a dangerous machine, and should have just went to workout but I didn’t and that sucks but it is what it is, at least I am alive.
I was in the hospital and rehab for almost 2 months, I had left sided weakness due to my stroke like symptoms and a ton of other deficits. I did therapy at home, then therapy at outpatient rehab. I wasted to get back to working out so bad, May 15, 2018 would be my last workout for awhile. But me being me, I was back to working out on October 22, 2018. Mind you at this point I had no memory every day once I went to sleep, I woke up like 50 first dates the movie. but I went back. I was so much weaker. I could no longrer do a push up, I could not feel my left arm or leg, but I kept pushign, kept trying, kept making progress. I made a lot of progress. I slowly gained enough strength to do a push up without my knees. I was needing to hold on to the railing as I ran on the treadmill, which was huge that I was even able to run. I no longer could run fast by any means though, my pace was much slower now but I didn’t care, the fact I was even doing it was a success. I only lasted until December 15, 2018. I had went 9 times during that period. It absolutely exhausted me. I was spent every time I did it and was trying to do 2 days a week, I started missing the second day of each week and thats when I decided I was not ready yet for that intense level of exercise. But I was determined to get back.
On March 11, 2019 I would go back gain. I thought I was ready. I was able to do 5-10 push-ups without using my knees. I was so excited and I slowly was able to run and not use the railing. My rowing watts increased from 50 when I left in December to 75 and then 100-125 regularly, so I was getting stronger. Reflecting back, I was pushing myself because I was so determined and have such survivor guilt. So many people with a TBI and especially at Diffuse Axonal like I have can not run, workout and do all I was doing. And it wore on me, I felt like I had the ability to do what so many cannot do due to injury, that I was going to do it no matter what.
It took talking to a therapist a year later to realize it was survivor guilt. On this go around I made it until August 23, 2019, my 39th birthday. It was definitely kicking my ass, I can see it on the stats that you get after each class, my splat points and calorie burn were way down because I could not fully do the class at full strength. So I decided to cancel that package. I still had my founder rate on freeze, but I had signed up for the 8 times a month package. I was not meeting that amount to make it worth it for me. I was averaging 6 times a month. I sopped on 8/23 but had some free classes so I went on September 4th once with a friend.
Since I was quitting orange theory, I ordered a Peloton Bike. It’s a cycle at home but has a ton of classes with my membership. It’s amazing, for the bike payment (no interest financing) and the membership it is cheaper that my orange theory package was. My son uses it almost daily, my husband can use it, I can use it and they have an app too and I do meditation daily with it as well as they have other classes, yoga, boot camp and more. It’s pretty amazing. I used it a lot at first, well the first month. I was doing 30 and 45 minute HIIT classes and climb classses. That lasted a month and then I was down for 3 weeks because it wiped me out so bad! I did not know how to pace, I still don’t. Recently I decided to do 15 minute classes, a low impact 10 min class and 5 cool down. I did it for 5 days, my goal was once a day Monday through Friday for 15 minutes. That’s nothing, I could do that. Well it lasted 2 weeks then I was down a week no joke. This is my life. this is life of living with a traumatic brain injury. Although I have lots of survivor friends and not everyone feels the same, brain injury’s in general are all unique. Some people are super fatigued after a brain injury, but not everyone. No two brain injuries are the same.
Then comes October 2020. We are in the midst of a pandemic I am so thankful I decided to get the peloton especially since gyms were shut down for awhile. Best investment ever. But with the pandemic, came the stay at home orders, then they were lifted a bit and gyms open again. But travel is not advised, so much of what we did before we are not able to do. We dont have very many friends and the ones we do don’t really reach out a ton. Basically I think people make assumptions and did not want to include us thinking I was anti that due to my public health background, I don’t know. All I know is how isolated we feel and felt.
Then gyms reopened. OTF now had a 4 times a month membership, that can be used once a week. I can do that. So I signed up because I needed the social interaction desperately. Well this time I went back October 1st. Four times a month. I lasted 3 days. So 3 weeks. And after the 3rd week, I had a full 6 days until my class, but I never made it back. I was exhausted. It wiped me out. My husband even drove me there on his break and picked me up on his lunch. I was so tired.
So that leaves me to today, November 12, 2020 as I write this. I am back to doing my peloton. For The first week I did 5 days in one week, 15 min total. Then on Saturday I ran 3.5 miles outside with a little walking and I’m still exhausted and havne’t been back on my bike. I was going to do 5 days a week, 15 minutes a day, but as I write this I see that I have tried that before and it was not sustainable. So I am at this crossroad once again, where I want to be active and workout every day. But I have to be honest with myself. I journal daily and track my mood, how I feel, the positives and negatives of each day, my overall energy and roadblocks/frustrations and I can look back and clearly see how working out too much directly relates to my moods, my energy and my frustrations daily. It is beyond frustrating and this is one of the hardest parts of my recovery. Not beign able to do something I want to do, something that is healthy and helps my mood. Not to mentioned I have gained a ton of weight and I eat ok and am not lazy. Next step for that is to discuss with a registered dietician. There must be more too it, chemically in the brain or hormonal since brain injury or I am not eating enough calories. Before my injury this was all known to me, as a health educator I knew how the body worked and different approaches to nutrition, however I am not a dietician and whatever is happening is specific to my body and injury and I don’t have the knowledge to do anything about it myself without seeking help.
As my friend, who happens to be a doctor reminded me one day when I was venting is that I need to give myself grace. There are tons of people, fully able physically and mentally that do not work out for 30 minutes a day and I need to not look at normal exercise guidelines and make it a must for me. There is a lot to factor in for me. And as a therapist told me, its ok to rest. I need to rest and its ok. I can rest for the best me, to be fully there for myself and family. So I am learning slowly, 2.5 years into this TBI and learning every day.
The biggest thing I have learned is to accept where I am at. Be proud of what I can do, but don’t push myself so hard that then I’m down for weeks just because I can. I can rest in order to fully mentally and physically be there. Resting does not mean you are weak. It doesn’t not mean you are lazy. Resting is so important in general, resting is vital to a brain injury and your recovery so I’m learning, not mastering yet, but I am learning its ok to rest. It’s needed and I can do it and it does not mean I’m any less of a person.
It’s ok to rest. It’s ok to not do what guidelines say to do. It’s ok to do what’s best for you, your health and your situation. It’s great to know your limits and to not push them and do what’s best for you, your health and those around you.