Friday, August 15, 2014

The Balancing Act of Pills

I was inspired to write this post after reading another awful article off of Natural News my mom sent me about how SSRI antidepressants decreased feelings of love in patients.

It is impossible for me to take that website seriously after its many "anti-vax" articles that gave little to no real evidence that vaccinating your children is dangerous (seriously people, vaccinate your kids). Even though I completely disregarded this article as being legit (it listed Fox News and some other "natural" sites as its resources) it got me thinking about my own experience with prescription pills during this brain injury.

I would like to point out how easy it is to become a pill-popping drug addict after getting a brain injury. My doctor and neurologist were not only prescribing me pills I probably didn't need, they were also oddly willing to give me just about anything.

During my first visit with my doctor, we were talking about the nerve damage in my neck and the horrible migraines I got all day long. We barely even talked about it and he looked at me and said:

"What kind of pills do you want? I can give you any kind of pain killer you want."

He then looked at me as if I had already had a preference. When I didn't say anything, he started listing off some names of painkillers that I only knew because I had heard a lot of college kids being addicted to them.

Eventually, we settled on a non-addictive migraine pill only because I would get migraines so awful that I would actually start crying from the pain. I did without the pain killers because I honestly did not need them that badly.

Besides this experience, I also had my neurologist prescribe me sleeping pills (I never took them) and anti-seizure medication (I never took those either). I am shocked on how willing they were just to hand pills to me like candy, especially when most of them were a controlled substance.

Look, I understand that many people with traumatic brain injuries need pills, but it is worth the risk of addiction?

Now I did begin taking 10 mg of Lexapro about 5 months after my brain injury because I was so goddamn depressed - blame it on the lack of neurotransmitters in my brain or how much my situation sucked, but the Lexapro sure has helped me a lot.

However, it did come as a shock to me how willing doctors were just to give me whatever the heck I wanted just because I was injured. At college, my doctor was unsure about giving me codeine for laryngitis (even though I couldn't swallow my own spit because it hurt so badly) because of the risk of abusing it.

Let's be honest here, too. A whole lot of college kids abuse prescription medications, so what was it about me that made my doctors think I was any different?

They don't know. They have no clue if I am one of those college kids who snorts Xanax like it's my job (to anyone who does this...WHY).

It's also very frustrating to me that none of my doctors recommended changing my diet or to exercise lightly, even though these two things alone have helped me tremendously. Instead, they just tell me to "rest" and take a handful of pills.

My doctors never even told me to stop drinking coffee or taking my Adderall - in fact, they recommended that I continue taking my Adderall. I found out later that all stimulants can irritate the hell out of your injured brain. I gave up caffeine and within weeks my awful migraines disappeared.

Are doctors just not listening or do they not care? Why are natural remedies not talked about?

As someone with ADD and Bipolar Disorder, I am well aware medication is definitely needed in some situations. However, eating right and exercising are equally as important to healing a brain injury.

After these experiences, this definitely makes me nervous about the current state of our country. Researchers have found that nearly 70% of Americans are on at least one prescription pill. 70 PERCENT!

I am one of these people too. But am I the only one who worries about all the people who are on pills they might not even need?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Let's Talk About Depression

When someone gets a traumatic brain injury, the emphasis is always on treating the physical symptoms - take a Sumatriptan pill for the migraines, close the blinds to keep the sunlight out, turn off electronics to keep the brain fog and headaches away, etc.
However, mood and emotional issues usually are not discussed until later when you're already experiencing them. About half of the people who experience a  TBI experience depression within the first year after the initial injury.
When changes take place in the brain after an injury, certain chemicals called neurotransmitters often get thrown off.
Neurotransmitters are responsible for bodily functions, like making your heart beat and telling your stomach when to digest, but they are also responsible for regulating your mood and creating natural highs like excitement and happiness.
Serotonin and dopamine are two common neurotransmitters. Dopamine helps with depression and serotonin stabilizes your mood. Epinephrine is responsible for your stress levels while norepinephrine is responsible for anxiety levels.

When all these neurotransmitters are not functioning properly after a TBI, you basically have a normal person turning into a deeply depressed and stressed out individual who is screaming at you for no actual reason except you pissed them off by taking their clothes out of the dryer 2 minutes too early.
That could be an exaggeration, but it could not be one either.

A lot of people don't like talking about their depression, no matter what the circumstances are. Everyone just talks about the "it made me stronger" part without mentioning the part where they wanted to light their house on fire and punch their closest friend in the face.
I'm not here to tell you that I "endured this hardship life placed in my path with flying colors." No, I'm going to be honest with all of you and tell you I turned into an angry, depressed lunatic almost instantly after my concussion and I am not afraid to admit that because it is the truth.
For a good while, I had no tolerance for anyone or anything (basically, I turned into my mom - just kidding mom!). I got so angry at the weirdest things to the point where I would shout and I wouldn't even remember what I said afterwards - nor did I care. If my family so much as had the TV on, I would get obscenely angry and lash out because I felt they did not respect my noise sensitivity. I had crazy panic attacks for no reason and I started hating humanity as a whole.

Please understand I am a journalism major and liking/understanding people is my specialty. I usually like being around people but I did a 180 just days after my concussion. Even though I am feeling much better, I still do not feel like myself.
If you know someone who has had a brain injury and is acting like a psycho, for the love of God do not tell them to "calm down" or "stop acting like that" - there's a good chance they cannot help it. Plus, they do not feel like their normal selves so they can't just hit the 'off' switch and start acting like their sweet selves again - they are embodying this new person and it might take a while for them not to hate you anymore. They don't really hate you, they just really hate you right now.

Yes, this is all normal, whatever that word even means in the TBI world. My neurologist told me one of his patients was an outgoing man who was very successful in the workplace, but after his injury, he quit his job, divorced his wife, stopped talking to everyone he knew and continues to live as a hermit in his apartment some years later. Another man who was in a motorcycle accident could not stand being around his newborn baby. Brain injuries can change you, that is a fact.

So what can you do?

1. Talk about it. This isn't always an option if the injury is severe enough, but as soon as the patient is well enough to talk, find a good therapist who specializes in brain injuries. If an hour session is too long, have a 20 or 30 minute session instead. Believe me, having someone to vent to who knows you haven't lost your shit for no reason will do A LOT of good. They can help you understand why you feel the way you do and how to handle it.

2. Antidepressants. I always try to use pills as a last resort but this can be especially helpful for people whose brains are not producing a speck of feel-good chemicals. Depression does not go away on its own without help, and if it is severe enough, antidepressants may just do the trick to keep you sane.

3. Get out of the house, if you can. It is not always an option for a while if you can't drive or do normal everyday things, but even a short walk around the block or going out to a (quiet) restaurant will improve your mood. Being around too many people drove me crazy because of sensory overload, so going some place quiet and calm with few people is usually best in the beginning stages.

4. Exercise (if you are able to). Exercise might seem like the worst idea but studies show that light, modified exercise can help heal a brain injury much quicker. Yoga is often recommended for TBI patients because it can be modified, it helps build your strength back up and it helps get your mind off of those damn, noisy kids who won't shut up outside (brain injuries basically turn you into a crabby old man).

5. Get your family/close loved ones to understand. Chances are, they have no clue about brain injuries. One day I printed out a list of symptoms and hung it on our fridge. Apparently that was weird but it helped my family understand what I was going through without me yelling about it. Have them read this article at the very least.

Don't give up on this. You will get better overtime, and one day you'll realize everyone isn't against you, they just have no freaking clue how to make things better for you.
Brain injuries ring true to the old "one step backward, two steps forward." Some days you don't want to be nice. Some days you feel like you will never get better. But that's okay. You will be okay. Eventually, the good days will start to outweigh your bad days. You will be on your way to peace.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Essential Oils & The Brain

Essential Oils

Essential oils contain highly-concentrated nutrients from herbs, spices and plants. For example, it takes almost 100 pounds of rose petals to make one drop of essential rose oil. Whatever nutrients the plants have, the oils allow you to receive these benefits in the maximum amount.

In a desperate attempt to speed up my brain's healing process, I did a lot of research to find some unconventional solutions to help my brain out. I have had great luck using essential oils. The theory is that only certain sizes of molecules can pass through your brain's filtering system while harmful chemicals are usually filtered out. Only certain essential oils are able to permeate the brain barrier and may help heal your symptoms. 

Here is an article briefly explaining the brain barrier and essential oils:

I did a whole lot of research on which essential oils help your brain the most only to realize that Young Living's "Brain Power" essential oil contains all of these oils in one bottle. I have heard that Frankincense helps the most with brain injury patients.

I thought applying a simple oil to your skin would not help, but it does. I was using Young Living's "Stress Away" and "Believe" almost everyday ("Believe" contains Frankincense) and I noticed that my mood was improved and my brain was functioning just a little sharper. I could definitely tell which days I did not use it because my thought process felt more foggy and I felt exhausted and groggy.

How To Use The Oils

Take a few drops and apply it to the back of your neck where it meets your skull, on the sides or wherever you have pain. If you are interested in reflexology, you can apply a few drops to your big toes too and rub it in. Do this as often as you like. Some TBI patients swear they experienced the most improvement when they applied the oil to their big toes instead of their neck.

Here is an article about a TBI patient and her experience with Frankincense:

The oils are pretty pricey, but one bottle will last a long time and it is completely worth it. Visit to purchase some oils. I recommend Young Living because they are the oils I am familiar with. Some cheaper brands are not pure or high quality oils so they do not work as well as Young Living oils. I have also heard that Young Living oils from Amazon may have been tampered with or diluted, so I do not recommend using Amazon either.

The Best Oils For The Brain:
2. Sandalwood
3. Cedarwood
4. Lavendar
5. Blue Cypress
6. Helichrysum 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Quickly Find Ways to "Adjust"...Or Else

One of the most maddening things about having a traumatic brain injury is that everyone is different, meaning there are no specific set of rules that will help you. In reality, there are very little guidelines out there to help you at all. Before you know it, you're screaming at your step father because he put the dishes away too loudly and it felt like someone was scraping a knife on your eardrum (or is that just me?).

Sorry, but the brilliant advice to just "rest" was not enough to keep me from turning into an angry psychopath who hated light, noise and human interaction for a few months.

Here is a list of things you will need to survive this:

1. Sunglasses and heavy duty earplugs. If you're like many TBI patients, everyday noises sound like an orchestra is playing inside your ear canal and normal lights cause you to feel like you're staring straight into the sun. Unscrewing a few lightbulbs and dimming TV, computer and phone screens works wonders too. Even if you don't feel this way, the earplugs will help when someone's talking is pissing you off or when you just cannot fall asleep. Speaking of sleep...

2. Sleepytime tea and melatonin. Trying to fall asleep can be an absolute nightmare for TBI patients, which is unfortunate because sleep is the only time your brain can really heal. Even the crickets outside can cause you to stay wide awake all night, no matter how exhausted you are. Some warm tea and a melatonin supplement saved my life when I just could not sleep. You shouldn't take melatonin everyday, though. I'm not a fan of sleeping pills, but your doctor can prescribe them if you aren't sleeping at all since your accident.

3. Therapist/counselor. Of course it isn't talked about, but depression, anxiety, mood swings and more are a real problem for people after a TBI. It is normal to feel like a completely different person after your accident - your brain chemicals are all thrown off and you just aren't functioning like you normally would. As soon as you feel the symptoms of mood problems starting, it is very important to talk to someone right away. It will only get worse with time, even if your brain is getting better.

4. A new/old hobby. After the injury, you might lose the ability to do most or all of the activities you would normally do for pleasure. However, there might be a way around it. When I was in really bad shape, I could not watch TV, write or read without getting TBI symptoms, but I did find that I could paint without getting symptoms. This is a time to appreciate the things you can do, not the things you can't (because we all know there are quite a lot of things you can't do right now, and that is depression). 

5. Someone to confide in about everything. I know it's tempting to push everyone away because nobody really understands what you're going through, but you need one person, at least one person, to talk to. I had it in my head that no one cared about me, but the truth is, they just don't know what to do to help. So talk to one person about what you're going through everyday and tell them how they can help. Trust me, you don't want to lose everyone because of this TBI. It might seem like no one is there for you, but the people who really love you are nearby and waiting to help as soon as you ask for it.

6. Massage therapist/physical therapist. Depending on the severity of your injury, a physical therapist might be needed. My injury wasn't too severe, but I went months without getting proper treatment for my neck. I regret this because no, it didn't "heal on its own." Your doctor can decide if you need a physical therapist, but almost any blow to the head should require some kind of treatment. A trip to a massage therapist may save you many sleepless nights.

Don't Give Up!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Changing Your Diet to Promote Brain Function

Changing Your Diet

I thought I would write about dietary changes first because changing my diet has helped my improve faster and has helped me feel much, much better overall. It is also the most daunting and difficult of all the ways to help heal brain injuries. When you start eating clean and eliminating chemicals, you will see positive results very quickly.

1. Ditch the caffeine, immediately. My crippling 24/7 migraines were cut in half (probably more) as soon as I gave up drinking my daily dose of caffeinated coffee. If you're experiencing any head pain, getting rid of caffeine in your diet may get rid of some of your headaches (after the 2-3 day caffeine withdrawal headache, of course). If you've never gone through caffeine withdrawal before, you might be very irritable and you will probably get a pretty bad headache for a few days, but it will help your brain overall in the end. I drank hot decaffeinated tea in the morning to curb my hunger for a yummy, hot cup of something in the AM.

2. Start adding Omega-3s and healthy fats to your diet. Omega-3s are necessary for brain function - try eating some wild caught fish (none of that farmed stuff full of chemicals and pollutants), flax seed and walnuts. Some healthy fats to include are olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and nuts. I take a vegetarian Omega-3 supplement everyday and I eat a lot of olive oil and nuts everyday. Olive oil is particularly good for the brain because it reduces inflammation. Don't eat too much of these fatty oils though because you will gain a lot of weight without realizing it (something I learned the hard way).

3. Get rid of ALL of the junk food in your diet. All of it. I know it seems impossible, but it is necessary to heal. My headaches have been a curse and a blessing because I immediately know when my body, and brain, do not like something I have ingested. I feel decently energetic and well when I eat only vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains. However, if I eat junk food, my brain feels foggy, confused and the beloved migraines come back. Junk food isn't even food, it's food-like. Do your brain a favor and stop feeding it junk food that is filled with harmful chemicals. Your brain is in need of REAL food as it is healing, and feeding it MSG and high-fructose corn syrup is not helping. If you can't cut all of it out, try cutting it out of your diet little by little, but the faster it's gone, the faster you will heal. 
When I came home from school because of my TBI, I was eating whatever I wanted and I felt horrible all the time - tired, cranky and just awful. As soon as I started eating healthy, my recovery seemed to speed up and I am getting better and better everyday.

If you hate them, you will simply have to learn to love them. Vegetables and fruits do marvelous wonders for your brain. Blueberries are nicknamed "brain berries" because they help memory and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's. Carrots contain beta-carotene, which is excellent for your brain (carrots also reduce brain inflammation, and so does celery and bell peppers_=). If I don't eat plenty of vegetables and fruits one day, I pay for it. My brain just doesn't work as quickly and I feel fatigued and groggy. Learn to love them, and just about every kind is good for the brain, and body, in some way. 

5. Say goodbye to sugar. Sugar just sucks. There is nothing good about sugar, unless it is from fruit. If you're eating sugary things, you're probably eating junk food. Researchers say sugar is as toxic as cocaine and tobacco, because not only does it make us fat, it wreaks havoc on our metabolisms, liver and (aha!) our brains. There are healthy ways to get rid of a sugar craving, like fruit and natural coconut.

If you take these 5 steps seriously, you will most definitely see improvement quickly, maybe not at first, but I promise you will. You can't put water into a gas tank, just like you can't put nothing but junk food into your diet without your body malfunctioning. Since you (or a loved one) is already suffering from a TBI, putting unhealthy foods into your system is a plan that is already set to fail. Give your body the nutrient-dense food it craves, and it will repay you.

Some more tips:

-Drink A LOT of water. Your brain especially needs water during this hard time. I personally don't think 8 cups of water is enough. I usually shoot for about 15 cups of water a day. Also, ditch pretty much any drink that isn't purified water. Juice really isn't that great for you unless you have your own juicer.

-Remember that you get what you pay for. Organic fruits & veggies are always better for you and your brain because they are chemical-free.

-Whole grains are a great way to stay full and have consistent energy throughout the day. Brown rice, quinoa and couscous are my favorites.

I've made some tasty clean recipes since I've had my TBI, so I'll post some delicious recipes that you don't have to feel guilty about eating.

Four months ago, my life was normal.

It was a normal Saturday in January. I had just gotten back to college to start my spring semester of junior year, and I was already loving it. I spent the previous night drinking shots of Jack Daniels with my friends to celebrate everyone's "homecoming" back to school. I had just returned to my loving dorm room after a quick run around campus.

I had the friends I loved, the dream job I wanted at my school's daily newspaper and I was ready to move on from last semester's terrible breakups. However, life had something much different for me in mind.

I began moving around furniture in my room (part of the whole "new year, new me" crap everyone does) and I was extra clumsy. I picked up my mini fridge from the back, causing all my food to spill out all over the floor. I pushed my desk/shelf back and a tall plastic cup of water spilled on the desk and under it.

I quickly grabbed my towel from the hook and began soaking up the massive amount of water on the floor. I heard a weird noise only for a second, and before I could look up, my plastic bin full of paint and art supplies came crashing down and hit me snugly on the back of my head.

It hurt a little, but I just laughed because of how stupid that day was going. I stood up quickly, and immediately felt dizzy, nauseous and confused. I immediately texted my mom to tell her that I got hit in the head, and she called me.

"Liz what happened?" she asked worriedly.

I opened my mouth to tell her, but I couldn't get words out. I knew what I wanted to say, but I just could not speak the words. It was then I knew something was seriously wrong.

The hospital blew it off, telling me I would be better in a week or two. They were wrong. I don't remember much from those first two weeks after my concussion, but I do know that my little box of paint would change my life as I knew it forever.

Within days, I suffered from amnesia, crippling migraines, temper tantrums, light/noise sensitivity and crying spells. I could no longer drive, watch TV, surf the internet, text, write, read...nothing without getting an awful migraine and wanting to go to sleep. I couldn't sit through class, and I could not do my editing job. I couldn't even talk to my friends without getting tired, confused and moody with a headache to follow.

I left school, my job and my friends behind in the hopes that I would heal in a month or so. I guess I was wrong about that too.

For the next 3 months, I did almost nothing but sleep. I was sleeping 14 hours a night with a nap during the day. I had to wear earplugs and sunglasses everywhere I went - normal talking sounded like screaming in my ears, and my eye's sensitivity to light was bizarre. The migraines hurt so badly that I would cry, even when I was in a dark and silent room. I could not handle my intensified emotions and I went from being a social, fun-loving girl to one who yelled at her family and hated being around anyone who I wasn't close to.

Everything I had worked for was ripped out from beneath me, and I didn't have any choice but to live with it. Even worse, most of my "friends" from school never asked how I was doing, not even once. I fell into a deep depression I am still experiencing. It felt like I had no where to turn.

When I was up to it, I started doing some research on brain injuries and how to heal them. My neurologist told me to "rest" and did what any other doctor would do - prescribed prescription pills for my migraines and nothing more. 

I knew this was not right. Brain injuries are incredibly common in the United States, so why do doctors not seem to know anything about how to treat them? As long as TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) patients are alive and somewhat functioning, nobody really tells you anything you can do to speed the healing process up.

That's where I come in.

I've been doing things like changing my diet and habits to improve more quickly, and it has been working! I can watch Netflix all day now and actually do social things without feeling like I want to die. The migraines are gone, my mood is slowly improving and my memory is coming back.

I want to share with you the information I have tested myself that I think has helped me heal, and none of it is expensive or too difficult. I understand that I am not a doctor and I am in no way certified to tell anyone how to heal their brains, but these are the things that have helped me personally. They may (or may not) work for you too.

But if you want to get better or to help a loved one heal from a TBI, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes - even if that means abstaining from foods or activities you love until you are better.

I still have some trouble writing well, but I can get the point across so please excuse any sentences that might sound confusing. I'm doing the best I can to help others who have experienced a TBI. It is something that can temporarily ruin your life and it just isn't talked about in society.

Together, we can heal ourselves with Mother Nature. So let's get started and good luck!