Dealing with Concussion

Concussion - a temporary injury to the brain caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head.

NHS

Dealing with Concussion - A Pretty Place to Play, London running and fitness blog

Disclaimer, I wrote this while recovering. There are probably grammatical errors. #keepingitreal.

It’s funny how one trip can affect you. On Monday I was out walking the dog and took a tumble. Actually it wasn’t really a tumble, it was more like I went from vertical to horizontal in one swoop landing squarely on my chin. Adrenaline kicked in and when kind passersby asked if I was ok I assured them I was, and that the dog and I would be fine walking the 5 miles (!) home. It was only after the people dispersed and Hugo and I were gearing up to carry on our walk that I realised that all was not well. Luckily I was just around the corner from Mike’s office and was able to call him to come rescue us. As I took up residence on the couch in his office, drinking tea and holding ice to my sore chin (thank goodness for Christmas party season!) it was pretty clear things were getting worse. I was struggling to put sentences together. I was vague (more vague than normal). My head hurt. I was dizzy and felt sick. Concussion is always a topic of conversation in sport, trying to prevent it, trying to manage it, so I’ve learnt what it looks like. I knew I had a concussion.

Of course, me being me I didn’t go to hospital. I left the dog with Mike and called an Uber home, where I sat in a dark room and tried not to fall asleep, drifting between wooziness and acute awareness of how much my head hurt. I wasn’t so out of it I couldn’t check on the guidance for handling a concussion - it wasn’t like I was in a position to remember it off the top of my head - and was reminded not to take anything that could thin my blood. I was also reminded I needed to check where I should be concerned about taking my meds. Which led me to call 111, who told me to get myself to hospital. Probably something I should’ve done from the off, but at least I made it there eventually. A night in A & E and a doctor confirmed a concussion and sent me home to rest.

Dealing with Concussion - A Pretty Place to Play, London running and fitness blog

Concussion is really weird. For the first few days I felt so sick, dizzy and tired. It might’ve been the night in hospital (it’s never fun spending a night under bright lights when you’ve had a bang on the head) or the concussion or both. The whole of Tuesday was spent in bed in a dark room. On Wednesday I ventured out. I still felt pretty terrible but staying indoors wasn’t going to help that. The tube made me feel sick, so did escalators, but being outside and wearing something that wasn’t PJs. The distraction of a work meeting helped, although I’m not sure how much I contributed! Day by day my head has become less cloudy and the headache has eased up gradually. Slowly my sentences have formed and I’ve been able to communicate more clearly, which is a relief because working in customer service and not being able to speak clearly or think on your feet are pretty major impediments to doing your job.

One of my biggest questions for the doctor was when could I train again. I’d already had a couple of weeks off because of my workload at uni and I didn’t really want to miss any more. What really surprised me was how enthusiastic she was about me getting moving again! Running and swimming (with supervision) were more than ok as long as I didn’t do anything stupid and stopped if my symptoms got worse. Weights were out because I couldn’t be trusted not to drop them on myself. Yoga wasn’t really discussed, but I figured a hot room probably wouldn’t help things.

Dealing with Concussion - A Pretty Place to Play, London running and fitness blog

Falling really rocks your body. Turns out I’m relatively ok at it, I avoided putting my arms out and didn’t do too much damage beyond my head, but I had the worst DOMS. Like I’d run a marathon. The mixture of everything tensing up with the shot of adrenaline you get after a fall had sent everything into a tail spin. A very achy tail spin. I needed to move, and thankfully one of the yoga teachers at work was happy for me to slip into the back of her class and do what I could. My balance was so off and my muscles so tight, but moving through a gentle flow got me, well, moving. And that felt good. It was the gentle introduction back to my body I needed to brave going on my first run. Run Namaste Eat are training me for The Speed Project and have been awesome at dealing with this curveball, switching up my training and making sure I’m not getting too carried away! 30 minutes easy was a tough challenge. My head hurt the whole way though and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a great idea to eat two cheese scones right beforehand, but it was still nice to get out, and it was an even nicer surprise to see my easy pace creeping up! Little wins!

By Saturday my head was feeling so much lighter. I could focus. Nothing hurt and the only angst I felt was about jumping in Brockwell Lido when it was 2 degrees out. But that’s another story for another time.

The doctor thinks it’ll take 4-6 weeks for me to fulling recover from this little blow. I am so glad I’m making progress and feeling more like myself, it is no fun feeling really out of odds.

*images: Anna Rachel Photography

Unpolished Journey

It’s nearly two years since I ‘came out’ about my mental health, and one of the most amazing outcomes of being brave and speaking up is that people have started to approach me to share their stories. It’s an amazing privilege when someone tells you their struggles, that they trust you to open up to you. Not too long ago I got an email from Emily and Morgan, the creators of Unpolished Journey, an e-commerce platform specifically for creators who’ve used their art to manage their mental health. Morgan in particular was keen to share her story of using creativity to share how creativity has, in her words, defined her recovery journey. Of course I couldn’t refuse…

Unpolished Journey - creativity and mental health recovery - A Pretty Place To Play

I spent a lot of time in the dark. Dark rooms filled with Kleenex from tears releasing years of suppressed emotions, dark bathrooms purging out those feelings in attempt to numb them once again, and dark headspaces filled with hopelessness and exhaustion from the years of fighting my mental illness. I was sick, head sick with an eating disorder and PTSD, and at the time I felt like there was no way out. I felt trapped in a tunnel of darkness with no ladder or rope. I was just there floating in my pain, feeling alone and forgotten.

Art is unique in so many ways. I am convinced that art comes straight from a person’s entire body’s experience. It tells a story of where each person was at a moment in time - their thoughts, their desires, their fears. It is a compilation of everything within that person being purged out for the world to see. Art is personal. Writing, painting, photography, dance, drawing, videography, textiles, and so many other forms of creativity have literally been created from someone’s mind.

Did you know that listening to music is the only time that you use your entire brain? Your whole mind is consumed with the melodies and lyrics. It is a deeply personal experience, which is why I never critic anyone’s music preferences. Those songs are theirs. They speak to them in a way I’ll never understand, which is beautiful and something I don’t feel worthy to have an opinion on. In the same way that music is uses your entire brain, I have a theory that the creation of art uses your entire body.

I came up with this theory through the evidence spilling across the pages of my sketchbooks. I spent a lot of time in the dark and my artwork reflects this - scribbles of dark images, filled with red monsters, and terrifying compositions.  I look at these images and my body remembers. It remembers the pain, suffering, and struggle that I was consumed with during that time in my life. I used every part of myself to purge creations onto those pages. It was my release, my singular way of documenting to the world what it was like to be trapped inside my brain. As the years past and I began to receive help for my mental illnesses a narrative of healing began to unfold.

Slowly those images began to gain color. The black and white scribbles starting taking shapes. Birds symbolizing a reach towards freedom, water symbolizing renewal, and trees symbolizing growth became common motifs among my work. I gained strength both physically and mentally as I began to nourish my body and mind with words of hope and meals of kindness. My artwork reflected this. As the years of recovery would pass, my artwork became more and more free. Rainbow colors and playfulness entered into my sketchbook as I fell deeper into the person I was created to be. This became my evidence that my creativity matched my body’s experience. As my soul grew healthier so did my artwork. My body remembers. It remembers everything and the artwork that spilled out of my soul throughout the years documents my body’s narrative.

Art is unique in this way. It is a deeply personal act of vulnerability as it documents a person’s journey through life. My evidence comes from my own recovery journey. My creativity is a full body experience, leaving behind stamps on the world defining healing and change. Art became my unique means of sharing with the world what my recovery actually looked like.

Unpolished Journey - creativity and mental health recovery - A Pretty Place to Play

Unpolished Journey is a community of artists seeking to share their stories of recovery from mental illness through art. Unpolished Journey has launched a marketplace where artists of any medium who have a story of recovery can sell their work to the world and share pieces of their journey along the way.

Recharging with Ayurveda and E.On

This post is in collaboration with E.On.

Ayurveda for a healthy autumn - A Pretty Place to Play

I know it’s not on trend to say, but I really don’t love Autumn. Pumpkin Spice makes me gag, I hate that the nights are closing in and while I do enjoy both flannel and knitwear, I’d sacrifice my jumper collection for warmth and sunshine any day. It’s a time of year when I often end up feeling totally depleted and really lack motivation. However, I also live in London, have no plans to move in the immediate future and a massive to do list, so I need to suck it up and find ways to cope as the leaves fall around me.

A couple of weeks ago E.On invited me down to their Recharge Retreat on the Southbank to hangout with Jasmine Hemsley and get some ideas around how to recharge as the winter closes in. I always find Jasmine’s perspective interesting, and as we discussed the change in seasons she spoke about how we can respond to feeling drained in a way that is nurturing.

Ayurveda for a healthy autumn - A Pretty Place to Play

Much of Jasmine’s thinking focuses around Ayurveda, an ancient holistic system of wellbeing. It’s about harmony between the body, mind and spirit and tuning into the ebb and flow of our nature. While it might sound like another trend, it’s a science of life that’s more than 5,000 years old and was developed to help people thrive in an ever-changing environment, something that’s never been more relevant than it is today. A medical system in it’s own right, Ayurveda literally translates from Sanskrit at life (Ayur) knowledge (Veda). There’s a lot to Ayerveda, but at it’s core it’s an energetic system. We each have a Dosha (body type), and our Dosha has individual needs that need to be addressed through how we eat, move and live in our space. However, the really beautiful thing about Ayerveda is that we can incorporate it’s principles into our lives in little ways. No big lifestyle changes, just tweaks that will help you thrive, and one of the most practical ways to do this is with food.

Ayurveda for a healthy autumn - A Pretty Place to Play

Huddled in a makeshift kitchen on the Southbank, Jasmine told me how what, how and when we eat is at the heart of Ayurveda. We should be focused on nourishing and satisfying our bodies, something that’s a real departure from all the noise that surrounds us about low-calorie, low-fat diets and the tendency to grab-and-go. Food sustains us at the most basic level, but we need to understand how to let it benefit us so that it recharges our systems. We can’t just ingest mindlessly. In Ayerveda this comes down to healthy digestion, and Jasmine has a few simple tips we can all adopt easily to keep our digestive systems healthy and get the most out of what we eat this autumn.

1. Switch from cold or iced drinks to hot. In Ayurveda, digestion is understood as a fire – “Agni” – which we want to be working optimally when we introduce food to it. Cold foods and iced drinks (even room temperature as we move into winter) can dampen it. Opt for hot water or herbal tea to keep your digestive fire ablaze!

2. Prioritise well cooked foods, such as freshly cooked soups and stews, as these are more readily digestible. Avoid too much raw food (regarded in Ayurveda as cold, dry, light and rough) which can put a strain on your digestive fire, in turn leading to poor absorption of nutrients and imbalances in your body.

3. Savour your food. Eat mindfully without distractions and in a stress-free environment to nurture your digestion and connect with the food that ultimately becomes you. This can make a big difference to your overall sense of wellbeing and becomes a regular opportunity to create calm in a fast-paced world.

4. Use herbs and spices (aka nature’s medicine cabinet) in your everyday cooking, not only to create delicious flavours and keep seasonal foods interesting, but also to support our health by helping to maintain important functions in our immune, hormonal and digestive systems. 

5. Have your main meal at lunchtime when your digestion is at its peak and go back to traditional suppers — light meals eaten earlier in the evening to make sure you are able to fully digest your food before bed for a better night's sleep.

*images: Anna Rachel Photography. Bra gifted by Shock Absorber.