Brain injury recovery (TBI One Love podcast interview)

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Brain injury recovery and everything that comes with it: that’s the topic of this episode of the TBI One Love podcast. You can listen to the entire podcast episode by using the player below. Or, if that works better for you, you can read the text under the player.

Table of contents:
03:28 No brain injury awareness
05:09 Relearning after brain injury
09:44 A brain injury is an invisible illness
13:50 Brain training after rehabilitation
18:40 Melanie’s brain injury recovery
22:04 A brain injury doesn’t define us

James Durham talks with Melanie about relearning after traumatic brain injury, about courage and hope, and about how important it is that you choose to recover from your concussion. What now follows is a transcript of the podcast episode.

TBI One Love podcast introduction

[0:05 James] Good evening survivors, caregivers and of course, all of our followers all across the globe that are tuning in to tonight’s TBI One Love podcast – which is spreading a positive form of hope, inspiration and education to those that have been touched by brain injury, along with awareness and prevention to the general public.

We hope that everyone has been enjoying this fall season kicking off more, and it’s hard to believe that we’re almost to the end of the year. For tonight’s show, we have such an inspirational guest that you are all going to enjoy.

Introducing Melanie

We have Melanie Wienhoven calling in from Amsterdam. That’s right, Amsterdam. Melanie in 2012, cycled home from work one day, she had a beautiful evening, it was warm and nice. And of course, being outside the office was even more fantastic.

Unfortunately, though, during her ride, she noticed something was off with the front of her bike. But it was too late and she sustained a concussion that resulted in a six year process of recovery.

There is hope with recovery

Even though she’s been having some difficulties, like we all did with brain injuries that are short and long term, she definitely has been thriving, continuing to move forward beyond repair. And has even started her own work that shared her story to help other survivors understand that there is hope with recovery and also to let them know that they are not alone, just like we’re doing with TBI One Love.

So without further ado, let’s get this show started and have a positive outreach like we always do, but getting a guest calling in from Amsterdam. Melanie, can you hear me?

Melanie joins the interview

[1:51 Melanie] Yes, I can.

[1:52 James] Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule and calling in the evening time from over in Amsterdam to be on tonight’s show.

[2:01 Melanie] Thank you James. And I don’t mind because my work really is my life today and I love doing it. So that’s no problem at all.

More about Melanies concussion accident

[2:09 James] Hey, well, I really appreciate it. You heard me give a brief description about yourself and how you sustained your brain injury. Would you mind introducing yourself a little bit more?

[2:18 Melanie] Yeah, sure. Yeah. So you said, my name is Melanie, and I’m 33 years old. And yeah, I’m Dutch, as you can probably hear. Yeah, back when I sustained my concussion in 2012, my life took a completely different course than what I had anticipated ever before.

That’s exactly what led up to this moment – that you and I are talking right now. It’s been a rough ride, but there have also been so many beautiful things. And I guess that’s what we’re going to going to talk about right now.

A brain injury can happen to anyone

[2:57 James] You know, and that’s what’s very important, not only that you’re thriving, but also to share key elements that are going to help our listeners understand, of course, how a brain injury can happen anywhere at any time to anyone, but also with your work to show that there is a chance of hope to continue to thrive, develop, and most importantly help others understand that they are not alone.

[3:24 Melanie] Absolutely, yes, that’s very important.

No brain injury awareness

Brain injury awareness

[3:28 James] You know, so during your process and of course on the way home when you say in your brain injury, had you ever heard of a brain injury before that happened?

[3:37 Melanie] No, I hadn’t. That was exactly the problem, I think. Because, well, as you already said, I was cycling home, and when my accident happened, a lot of experiences occurred in that moment. So for example, I couldn’t see for a while, I had a loud ringing in my ears and a lot was going on.

And when all of that subsided, I saw all of the people around me and I felt ashamed in that moment. Because I was in this business district in The Hague, I was living there back then. And I was on the ground, in a skirt, and I was really just ashamed. And I wanted to leave.

No thoughts of a concussion

And there was nothing, no thought in my mind, about whether or not I could have a concussion. There was nothing that really alerted me to that, even though all of these experiences came over me.

And also one week later – one a half week later, actually – when I finally got really… how do you say that? I finally discovered that I had all of these symptoms, I became aware of them, I still didn’t realize that I might have a concussion and all of those symptoms might have been related to my accident.

That’s… yeah, that’s really, really interesting huh? I think it’s fascinating, if I would say it in a positive way.

Relearning after brain injury

Relearning after brain injury

[5:09 James] Oh, very. Wow. You know, and during your process of the recovery mode, what are some of the things that you literally had to relearn? For example, did you have to relearn with balance, communication, eating, thinking, writing, stuff like that?

Relearning finding words

[5:27 Melanie] Yes, yes, I had to relearn a lot. So, for example, in the beginning I had a lot of trouble, for example, finding words, and articulating my words. And I had to learn again, well, first, I had to learn patience with myself, and give myself time in order to find words.

Relearning the art of conversation

And then also, later on, I had to relearn the… I would say: confidence – to be able to speak with others. Because I had become so insecure about words, which before were my strength, there was always… I functioned on my thoughts, on my brain, on my words, and then I suddenly couldn’t rely on that anymore. So I had to relearn, I would say the art of conversation.

Relearning to concentrate and interpret

And the other side of conversations, of course, is concentration, and focus and being able to interpret what other people say. And that was something that was really hard for me. So I would say that even though it was hard to speak, and find words, and all of that, it was even harder for me to concentrate on other people.

So it was easier to talk than to listen. And that also made it hard for me to be there for other people. So all of these side effects came from that.

Relearning to balance

Let me see, yeah, for example, I also had to relearn to keep my balance. So to stand up still, and not to fall over without reason. There was something that I had trouble with.

Fear response in traffic

I had to learn again, to navigate in traffic. That had a lot of aspects of, so for example, my incident was a traffic accident. So I had the fears that came from that. And mostly those fears were not in my mind, literally like thoughts, but most of them they were in my body. So if I were in traffic, my body would respond to the weirdest things. And I would just go in some sort of shock, or fight flight mode, I don’t know.

Releaning to navigate traffic

But also, I had to navigate traffic, which, of course in… how do you say that… it uses a lot of your brain capacity and a lot of planning and spatial skills that I no longer could rely on anymore. So those are just examples of things that I had to relearn.

Relearning daily life after a brain injury

[8:09 James] You know, and this, I’m glad you mentioned not only these examples, but also really shared key elements that our listeners can relate to. What I’m referring to is the process of relearning. We do have to relearn multiple steps of life, even our daily activities, once we sustained a brain injury.

And what’s always good to understand is that when we relearn, it’s not saying that it’s a bad way, it’s actually not only recharging, but it gives us the opportunity to also connect new neurological pathways to learn different ways to do it than we did before.

We have to believe there is a way

But we have to understand, and when I say we, I mean, us survivors, we have to understand because we are the ones behind the wheels the most of the time, both physically, mentally, and of course, emotionally, that for there to be a change, we have to want there to be the change. We have to want and start believing that there is a way to continue to move forward and better ourselves.

Support and love yourself

Because we’re always going to have others giving us motivation. We’re always going to be having people in our life that support us and lift us up. But we mentally are always going to talk more to ourselves than we talk to anyone else. So we have to constantly make sure to believe in ourselves, be nice to ourselves, and most importantly love ourselves every step of the way in life.

[9:41 Melanie] You are very wise.

A brain injury is an invisible illness

A brain injury is an invisible illness

[9:44 James] You know, with your recovery and, you know, moving forward with your brain injury, what are some of the key steps that you think survivors, or caregivers, need to know about brain injury recovery that you recommend?

[10:00 Melanie] Wow, that’s a very good question. So the first thing I would say, is the invisibility of it all.

Unaware of the concussion process

I think when you say that we spend the most time, I don’t know exactly how you just said it, but we spend the most time with ourselves and with our minds. This is something that I really wish I had known before from the start.

So I didn’t realize anything that was happening to me in the beginning. So I didn’t know the process that I was in, or this river that I was swept away in. But also, I didn’t realize so much that people couldn’t see what was going on with me.

Little emotional awareness

And back at that time, I wasn’t… emotionally, I wasn’t very adult-like. So I hadn’t been able, so far in my life, to really be aware of all my emotions and experiences, and to be able to be able to communicate them with others, let alone tell people what I needed from them, or ask for help. And this is something that’s so so so important about brain injury.

A brain injury affects your whole life

When we have brain injury, our lives change, they just… I always say a brain injury never is just a brain injury, it affects your whole life. It’s the center of your whole life: your brain.

So if it’s broken, so much changes, but nobody can really see it. Some people who are very empathetic will maybe see the effects and see that something’s going on with you. But nobody will fully understand, aside from other survivors, of course.

Mental health after a concussion

But it’s so important to involve others, because if you do not, it’s really a big risk to get isolated. And this is the mental health aspect that I’m talking a lot about on Lifeyana as well. I think it’s a really under… how do you say that in English… it’s not really much talked about, aside from us survivors, especially those who have been through it already, but in the medical system, for example, that mental health is not something that we talk about.

[12:31 James] Exactly, very true.

From physical symptoms to mental health

[12:32 Melanie] Yes, but it’s so important because at first, it’s just physical symptoms. But once the mental health is involved and for example, isolation is involved, and maybe anxiety or even depression, then it’s an even bigger hole that you find yourself in and have to get back from. And that’s the importance of realizing the invisibility of it all.

[13:02 James] Exactly. And that what’s very important. And I’m glad that you also mentioned mental health, because it’s very important, not only of course for survivors to understand that, but also caregivers.

A brain injury affects all loved ones

Because a brain injury affects everyone that is friends and especially familiy with the survivor. It’s not just the person that got affected with the brain injury, that is the only one it touches. Everyone’s life has to change: the more they’re involved with the survivors lifestyle, the more that they will be touched by it. And understand because they have to evolve with it, they have to grow with it, and so forth.

[13:39 Melanie] Yes, that’s true.

[13:43 James] But you know, it’s very important that people understand that.

Brain training after rehabilitation

Brain training after rehabilitation

You know, and also, people need to understand that there are steps that are going to help them during the recovery process move forward, and especially some activities that they can even do after they get released from their rehabilitation center that will continue to help them spark different areas of the brain, help them stay on top of their recovery method, and of course, excite them with the changes that they personally get to see.

[14:18 Melanie] Mm hmm.

[14:18 James] Do you have any recommendations for brain activity that you personally enjoy or know of?

[14:26 Melanie] Well, yes, of course. There are so many things. There are I think literally 1000s of things, pieces of the puzzle that really helped me cure my concussion.

Meditation rewires your brain

But I think that, well, a lot of people of course know about meditation. And meditation, of course, is a very important aspect of rewiring your brain. It literally rewires your brain, but also it helps stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. I’m sorry, that’s a very hard word.

[15:04 James] That’s true. That is very true.

Meditation is brain training

[15:08 Melanie] Yes. And a lot of people I think, don’t know it, but it’s a very important part of brain training. Because most of us, of course, are in the state of… how do you say… high alert, when our brains are injured. For some people also PTSD is involved.

And stimulating your nervous vagus, so stimulating this more resting system of your body, helps free capacity in your brain to continuously grow and improve, and also to have these healing processes, well, help them actually.

Continue recovery after rehabilitation

And I think if you say, for this stage for example: people coming out of rehabilitation centers, and doing more work in order to improve, I think, for example meditation is a very good technique, in order to be able to get even more improvement all the time.

[16:07 James] Very true. And I’m glad also, you recommended meditation. A lot of people have not really understood the power of meditation. That has been wrong for generations.

Meditation for brain injury

And I think especially like how you list it with the brain injury is very helpful, because it helps us ease our mind and really relax all areas of wellness. And the areas that I’m referring to, of course, are physical, emotional, and most importantly, mental.

[16:35 Melanie] Yep, absolutely.

[16:38 James]  And meditation, I want our listeners to understand, that it can be done anywhere, anytime, with anyone or just by yourself, you just need to find a comfortable area to where you can go and really relax, clear your mindset. And most importantly, enjoy what you’re doing without any distractions.

Walking meditation

[16:59 Melanie] Yes, that’s true. And I also love to do, for example, walking meditation. So sometimes I don’t feel like sitting down or laying down. Actually, I do it often laying down. But I like to go for a walk, and just pay attention to how my feet land.

So I feel my heel, I feel the ball… do you call it the ball of your foot? Yeah, and I feel my toes. And then in the next step, the next foot, I also realize this rolling of my foot. And that’s just what I focus on, breathing, focusing on my foot.

Meditation doesn’t have to be serious

And that really helps me be in the moment. And well, it has the same effect, in my opinion and my experience as for example sitting down. It doesn’t always have to be this serious thing, that a lot of people have this image of right? We have to sit down, and now we have to let go of our thoughts. That’s a really hard thing, it makes it easier to bring up a little bit of levity into it.

[18:07 James] Exactly. And that’s very important again for others understand: it’s not only enjoyable, but also you have the availability to really get the best out of it if you’re willing to try.

Brain training takes time

And it’s kind of, in a way, like riding a bike: it’s gonna take time, but once you get into the right area in the right style that each person enjoys, you’re going to want to do it more and more and more to where it becomes more of a natural part of your schedule.

[18:35 Melanie] Yes, yes, I can completely relate to that.

Melanie’s brain injury recovery

Melanie’s brain injury recovery

[18:40 James] Fantastic. You know, and also speaking of some great steps, why don’t we talk more about your Lifeyana work and some of the ways that others can view more about it?

[18:52 Melanie] Yes, of course! What was the second part of your question?

[18:55 James] How others can learn more about it? First, we’re going to talk about it and then we’ll make sure to share links and some information so that others can get in tune to understand that they are not alone as well.

My brain injury was supposed to be beyond repair

[19:05 Melanie] Yes, of course. So while I was recovering, I was going through a really rough time. And back when I made it my resolution that I would recover… Because… I think I need to share my story before I can tell all about Lifeyana.

So doctors told me repeatedly that I wouldn’t… that my brain injury was beyond repair. So I was told that I had to learn to live with my symptoms. And if I, when I got back to a doctor or a different neurologist, I tried so many, for example one time I got the remark that I hadn’t integrated my lesson shared and I still had to learn to live with them.

Losing all hope of recovery

And those were the kinds of comments that I got. And of course, these doctors were doing their best with the limited time they had for me. But still, I had gotten into this place where I had lost all hope of recovery, which is a very, very bad place to be in.

Deciding to find a way to recover

And then one moment I just had this, yeah, it was just this moment that I realized that I have only gotten to this place, this hopeless space, because I had belief that I couldn’t recover. And when I realized that I didn’t have to accept this world view, I decided that I would not accept that I could not recover, and that I would find a way.

And that’s also when I decided that when I did, I would help others. Because during my struggles, I have felt so alone. So that’s also where my reason to focus so much on “you are not alone”, like you do, came from. Because I don’t want others to feel so alone as I have. And also, I wanted to share all that I had learned with others.

Melanie’s full recovery

But I wanted to make sure that I only shared this once I have once I could say that I had fully recovered. And that was back in 2018. And so since then I haven’t had any symptoms ever. And also I used all of the techniques that I learned during the process of recovery, to even get better than ever before. So I still feel that I get sharper and fitter every day. And that’s, that’s a really, really good place to be in.

[21:43 James] Oh 100%. But that’s also a great source of motivation for others. In all areas of life: it’s very important that how you just stated, not only with your work, but also impacting others, and how you even just explain how you can feel the difference every single day.

A brain injury doesn’t define us

You’re helping others understand most importantly, that whatever obstacle that we’re going through in life, that’s just the obstacle. That’s not us. And especially with brain injuries, you’re helping others understand, most importantly, they are not alone. But also that the brain injury does not define us.

Courage and strength define us

Our courage and our strength to move forward every single day, and also improve ourselves, is what really defines us. So it’s an honor not only to hear your passion, your inspiration, but also be able to connect with you on all levels of wellness, and share your guidance with others that tune into our show and of course, our organization.

[22:44 Melanie] Thank you, James. That’s really, really nice to hear.

How we handle a brain injury can inspire others

[22:48 James] No, it’s really nice to hear you, your passion. And like I said, the inspiration that you’re sharing just by being yourself. That’s a great source that others …some, not all, but others, and I mean, literally anyone, not just survivors, forget to understand that we are an inspiration, there’s only one of us.

Of course, we all have difficult times in life, brain injury or not. But the way that we handle it, really helps us inspire others either that we know or others that we’re really never going to get the opportunity to connect with, but they still understand and can feel the vibe that we share.

So once again, thank you for all you do, letting others know that they’re not alone, but also improving your own self impact that’s having a ripple effect on others that get the opportunity to connect with you.

Melanie’s recovery wasn’t a lucky strike

[23:44 Melanie] Thank you so much. Those are really kind words. And I believe I have to say, I feel like I have to say, that it really hasn’t always been this way. And I the reason I want to say this is that maybe some listeners now think that this is some miracle lucky thing that happened to me, maybe.

But it’s… the thing I really want to share is: I have felt so lost, and I have experienced depression and panic attacks and anxiety disorder. So many things have happened to me after my concussion. But still, in the end, I got to this place. And I’m just like you, we’re… all all of us, we can relate on a level that a lot of others can’t really understand.

Choose a better future after brain injury

And all of us have the ability, like you say, to choose courage, for example, to choose hope, to choose that there is a better future waiting for you. That’s all of the things that really started my recovery. It’s not in the techniques. It’s not in all of the brain training and all of the meditation… Anything that I did, it all started, when I decided that I could recover, that there was hope for me. So that’s really the important message that I want to bring across.

[25:11 James] You know, I’m really – again – glad you stated that. And that’s another great source of inspiration is admitting that it hasn’t always been how you’re sharing. And that’s something that all individuals need to understand, brain injury or not, once again, is who I’m referring to.

We make our injuries even more invisible

Everyone has a story, everyone’s going through stuff, but very little of us have the passion or honor to share what we’re going through with others. Because we live in such a judgmental environment. That’s how life has always been. So we keep a lot of our situations on the inside, which affects us even more, short and long term.

But when you have the availability, and most importantly, the flexibility and comfort with sharing what we’re going through, it’s not only again inspiring others, but what it does to ourself as it takes weight off our own shoulders, so helps us move more, think better, and most importantly, climb higher, so we can grow through it, and become a better self. So thanks again for all you do, are, and of course sharing more inspirational guidance for all of our listeners.

The TBI One Love stories

[26:17 Melanie] Thank you. And I want to thank you as well, because as I see it, you do exactly the same, if not more. And I really admire all that you do and the stage that you provide for all these kinds of conversations to happen. Not only on a very practical level, but also spiritually. And I think this is very important.

It’s so important for YOU to heal

When you were speaking, you also made me think of a quote by Marianne Williamson about… There’s nothing, I think she says something about: there is nothing enlightened about shrinking.

[26:56  James] Probably so, yes.

[26:59 Melanie] Yeah, we are all meant to shine. And I think that’s something very important for everyone to hear that if you’re not feeling well, and you feel like life maybe hasn’t been good to you the last years or months or weeks or whatever time this all of this has been going on for you, you still have so much to offer. And only you can offer this.

So it’s important to remember that your light needs to shine, and there’s so much more waiting for you: it’s so important for you to heal.

Wrapping up the show

[27:38 James] Exactly. Amen. I could not agree more. Well, before we wrap up the show, and I know it’s getting late for you over there in Europe, do you have any more questions for me, Melanie?

[27:52 Melanie] At this moment no, actually, I don’t. I really enjoyed this this conversation. Thank you so much for this.

[27:58 James] No problem. Thank you for all you do once again, and the inspiration you spread for others, brain injury or not. And I look forward to doing more teamwork to help paint the world green. Thanks again for the opportunity.

[28:09 Melanie] Thank you.

TBI One Love podcast closing

[28:12 James] Wow, everyone. What an amazing show we just had. It was a great source of not only education, hope and of course inspiration for those that have touched by a brain injury and even the general public.

If you would like to learn more about Melanie and her guidance, make sure to visit tbionelove.org and click on the family tree. You can find her because she is one of the TBI One Love survivors and helping us spread our positive form of hope, inspiration, education, awareness and prevention.

We will continue our growth and impacting all areas of the world. And you are helping make that possible by liking us on all forms of social media and making sure to follow us on YouTube and of course checking out our website. Thanks again for all you guys are making possible and walking side by side with us to paint the world green. One Love.

Now I’d like to hear from you

What do you take away from this podcast episode? Do you recognize yourself in Melanie’s story? Leave your comment below.

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