JoAnne Silver Jones says she has found a new appreciation for the relationships in her life after her brain injury.

Importance of Community after a TBI

By Eliza Marie Somers

Cultivating connections and staying active in a community are common threads that help survivors of traumatic brain injuries move forward in their journey from recovering to regaining a zest for life.

These approaches weaved in and out of conversations during the first Brain Injury Hope Foundation’s Survivor Series of 2021 when a panel of five survivors discussed their tactics at the Strategies to Move from Surviving to Thriving Zoom event in February 2021.

“It’s really, really important to stay connected to community,” said Jose Reyes, who spends time volunteering and serving as a mentor. “My support groups are extremely important.”

Panelist Nathalie Kelly, who has a YouTube Channel called Brain Recovery Coach, agreed with Reyes.

“After the TBI was the most difficult,” she said. “I felt knocked out of society. There was no connection with it.”

Nathalie Kelly is helping other TBI survivors with her YouTube Channel, The TBI Coach.

But Kelly said the isolation made for a “richer life.”

“It was a spiritual awakening. A soul’s evolution more so than if I stayed busy in the rat race,” she said. “It helped me trust the Divine; to surrender control to the Universe. It’s a beautiful feeling to let the Universe take care of me. It helped me be more fully human and realize how fragile we all are. We are all just a bump on the head from being that guy on the street. No one is above or below me.

“As I recover it gets much, much easier to find self-love the better I get. I can become a lighthouse in the dark.”

JoAnne Silver Jones, another panelist, stated she has found a new appreciation for the relationships in her life after her brain injury.

“I’ve been able to really connect with others and their life experiences,” Jones said. “I understand that even when all the circuits are working we don’t pay attention to what is happening to others. I’ve been more humble, more compassionate. It’s been a gift to learn about others’ life experiences. I embrace more and more people, and how to best walk through life.

“TBI is an inside job,” Jones continued. “No one else can decide how you live, but at the same time we can’t do it alone. It takes family, support and love. I’m stubborn, but when I let others in, it helps me tremendously.”

Jones also found solace in writing; a journey that lead to the book, Headstrong: Surviving a Traumatic Brain Injury.

“In the midst of my recovery I started to write. I wrote and wrote, and it turned into a book,” Jones said. “I was writing about brain injury, but I was not a brain-injured person when I was writing. I wasn’t injured or damaged.”

Diet and Recovery

Nutrition and what survivors put in their bodies play a huge role in the recovery of people with brain injuries, and that rang true with the panelists.

“We are what we eat,” Kelly said. “We have so much control over our diet than anything else when it comes to a TBI.”

Kelly follows a Paleo Diet, stressing the need for healthy fats. “We have to make sure our energy comes from fats not sugar.”

Kelly recommends the book, How to Feed A Brain: Nutrition for Optimum Brain Function and Repair,”  by Cavin Balaster, who is a TBI survivor. She also praises bulletproof coffee, which includes MCT oil and butter, for energy.

Reyes turns to a vegan-based approach to his diet. “Diet is huge. I gave up many things,” he said, and feels better overall with the change.

Jones gave up alcohol after her brain injury as it is known to impair recovery. For more information on alcohol and TBI here is a medical study on the subject.

Please check out the two Survivor Series blogs on nutrition and brain injuries.

Mindfulness and Being Present

Another practice that is common with thriving brain injury survivors is their practice of meditation, yoga and breath work.

Jose Reyes exercises, practices mindful meditation and breathing exercises to help him thrive.

“It’s extra, extra useful to focus on the present and living in the present moment,” Reyes said. “We tend to live in the future or the past.”

Reyes practices SKY Breath Meditation through The Art of Living Foundation and that helps put him into a mindful state. For a free lesson click here.

  • What is mindfulness: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Reyes also cited two of his favorite quotes for his inspiration to living one moment at a time.

  • “There are only two days in the yearthat nothing can be done. One is called yesterday, and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do, and mostly, live.” – Dalai Lama
  • “Nothinghas ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now.” – Eckhart Tolle

Kelly finds inspiration from Viktor Frankl, who was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor.

“Be in the moment. Live today,” Kelly said. “It’s important to find our purpose. What my purpose is: just to be love and light in the world.

“I used to teach Journey Into Self-Love before the TBI,” she said with a chuckle.
“It’s so hard to love yourself after a TBI. It’s like a Ph.D. program for self-love. Be nice to yourself. Self-talk is so important. Dignity is seeking to love yourself more than what others think.”

Jones find mindfulness in practicing yoga and in this quote from Martin Luther: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

“If we can live that way we can be so much richer,” Jones said. “It’s OK to feel sad, angry, and despondent. It is OK to give yourself permission to have those feelings, too, but plant that tree.”

Tom Quinlin says once he accepted his TBI he now appreciates life.

Panelist Tom Quinlin said, “By accepting it (the TBI) I got my power. After four years, one day I kind of woke up and got to accept: I’m Tom with a TBI. I’m not giving up. I appreciate life more. My former life might be over, but I’m still happy.”

Positive Thoughts

Finding that silver lining after a brain injury can be hard to fathom for people beginning their recovery journey, but it’s something that helps turn survivors into thrivers.

Al Gerni says he doesn’t take life for granted anymore.

“I don’t take life for granted anymore,” panelist Al Gerni said. “I don’t take walking for granted anymore. I walk terribly, but I’m better than not walking at all. I’ve learned to refocus. And I’m thankful for the help and support around me.”

Reyes suffered a horrible cycling accident, and was in a coma for many months.

“I was close to death,” he said. “I see my accident as my birth. I don’t look back. I’ve been given another chance to be alive. That’s a wonderful blessing. I look at life differently. I see thing differently. I live in the present. I appreciate all my relationships. I don’t take things personally anymore. I can let go of things now that would linger in the past. It’s a blessing that change my life to a new life.”

Jones, who was attacked with a hammer while on vacation, said understanding the injury helps her.

“Learning how to live the life I have while understanding what the brain injury has done has been helpful with my recovery,” Jones explained. “Something I learned was realizing the things I can live with and care about versus what I can’t live with.  Life is always changing, and that is true for everyone.”

Quinlin finds love serves many purposes when healing.

“Love as many people as I can, and keep loving myself,” he said. “Laugh when you make a mistake. Be kind and courteous, and try to maintain a balance in life.”

He also reveals a helpful tip for people who work with TBI survivors.

“Be patient with brain injury people. Help but don’t serve. Don’t do everything for the person. We are re-inventing ourselves to get back to normal.”

Therapies That Helped The Panelists

Disclaimer: The Brain Injury Hope Foundation recommends that you please consult your physician for all medical advice. And please remember, the statements On the Brain Injury Hope Foundation website and its social media platforms are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Brain Injury Hope Foundation, its representatives and officers have not verified and do not condone any opinions or recommendations contained herein and are not responsible or liable related thereto.