Coming to, I heard the sound of my own voice punctuating a worried stream of unfamiliar words above me. “I’m not Dutch,” my voice said, sounding indignant. “I don’t need an ambulance. I’m fine.”
I wasn’t fine. The back of my skull had just dented the Amsterdam pavement with a thud. The cycling shop assistant had been extra reluctant to find me a helmet – and I hadn’t insisted. After all, I was just going for a leisurely ride through the tulip fields. But on my way back into the city a motorcyclist ran a red light, knocking me and my un-helmeted skull onto the ground in the process. I didn’t know it then, but I’d just had my fourth concussion.
Hours earlier, I’d spoken at a conference on behalf of my then employer, Headspace – you know, the mindfulness brand inspiring all of us to “be kind to our mind.” Boy had I just been very unkind to my mind – or, I guess, brain?
For the next year, my skull and the ghost inside it ached. There were moments when everything was normal, and there were moments when there was a delay between me and my senses. Too late, I’d realize that the time for my response in a conversation had come and gone; the word was not at my fingertips, and it was not going to come. I was still me, but I was shook up in my own foggy snow globe.
A long-time meditator and former yoga teacher, I sat with my brain in this warped state and observed. I was familiar with the mind and the ways it can spin with anxiety, but I was new to sitting with the brain. In these long meditation sessions I realized – regretfully – that while my existing mindfulness practices could be tools, I could not meditate my way out of this concussion. I would have to find a deeper solve – there was no shortcut back to brain health.
I thought the brain was what it was: static, unmovable, in control. Now I view it like a tree: The brain grows slowly, and it wilts slowly. It can get hurt, and it can also heal.
Covid hit before I could see a neurologist, so my healing path looked like this: I stopped drinking alcohol, radically reduced caffeine, ate like Gwyneth Paltrow, spent copious amounts of time in nature and silence, and I healed. I can’t tell you which one thing did it, but I know that through the combination the snow globe settled.
Before my experience with traumatic brain injury (TBI), I took my brain for granted. I thought it was what it was: static, unmovable, in control. Now I view the brain like a tree: It grows slowly, and it wilts slowly. It can get hurt, and it can also heal. The aliveness of my brain depends entirely on the soil, water, and sunlight I give it day to day. And the quality of its aliveness determines the quality of my life.
Brain health can be hard to relate to or deem important. It often takes experiences of radical health – of deep calmness, of beautiful clarity, of being in the flow of mental agility – to help us realize what our brain feels like when it’s deeply, truly well. Unless and until we’ve had peak experiences on either the hurting or the healed poles, we exist with complacency somewhere in the middle.
The aliveness of my brain depends entirely on the soil, water, and sunlight I give it day to day. And the quality of its aliveness determines the quality of my life.
This is my concussion story, the one that got me deeply curious about the brain and how to care for it. It’s one of the reasons why I’m here, writing you this note. And now I'm curious about your stories of brain health. If you’ve read this far I’d love to know: Why do you care about your brain? What experiences have connected you to it? How do you relate to it?
Brian and I created Parable to demystify the brain – and to bring stories to life that inspire more of us to think about it every day, not just when things are really good or really bad.
So, reach out! We’re listening.