Survivor Story: You Are Not Broken, You are You! with Sara Howe


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By Mariah Morgan & Eryn Martin, Mariah Morgan, and Eryn Martin. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Since brain injury is invisible, survivors are often left on their own to figure out their cognitive and mental health.After injury, it can be hard to recognize what is going on, realize that this is not how your brain would normally function, and that you need help. Survivor Sara Howe joins us in this episode to share her story and her realistic perspectives on recovery. She has found physical and mental fitness to be monumental to feeling well. Listen on to be encouraged. We promise you’ll be nodding your head in agreement and leave feeling inspired. We know we did!

In this episode:

  • Sara tells her survivor story
  • Playing hooky from college takes an unexpected turn
  • Falling asleep behind the wheel led to a motor vehicle crash, many injuries (see below), an ICU stay, and moving back home with the parents
  • Right vertebral artery occlusion that led to a right cerebellar stroke and subdural hemorrhage
  • Cervical and thoracic spinal fractures, collar bone fracture, left arm and wrist fracture, right hand fracture, lacerations
  • Punctured lung
  • Compartment syndrome
  • Outpatient PT, OT, Speech
  • The invisible brain injury
  • The fractures are the easy thing to address
  • Sara and her mom needed to advocate as they were told she was “neurologically sound” when she didn’t feel it and knew things were off. Find a doctor that will listen to you!
  • Stimulant medications post brain injury helped for years with attention deficit issues post brain injury. It was very helpful, but she eventually wanted to wean off of them
  • Ways to cope with attention deficits without medicine: lists, to-do-lists, reminder app on your phone, take it day by day and be patient with yourself
  • Sometimes you do need to be on medicine for a little bit; it’s ok to have help. If the first med doesn’t work, work with your doctor to find something that does
  • Sara’s experience rehabbing from multiple injuries
  • She could walk post injury but needed to be cared for by her mom for 4 months
  • PT/ OT for hand and neck.
  • Speech therapy (SLP)-Sara was in denial that anything was wrong, “I can talk fine.” Denial was very strong
  • Speech is more than talking. It's your organization and processing
  • 4 Phases after trauma: denial, anger, depression, acceptance. You cycle in and out of these throughout recovery. It takes a long time to get through all of these
  • Physical recovery was a lot shorter than mental recovery. It took Sara a few years to recover mentally. You never really get back to your preinjury self. Post injury Sara feels even stronger because she has a different perspective on life, she doesn’t take things for granted, she has patience for people, and she’s learned so much through it. She’s not the same but she ended up better. (14:07)
  • Mental and cognitive health are often the hardest parts to get over. People assume that since you are physically fine you are also mentally fine
  • Since brain injury is invisible, brain injury survivors are often left on their own to figure out the mental health piece. It can be hard to recognize what is going on and realize that this is not how your brain would normally function and that you need help. (15:40-16:14)
  • Mental health therapy
  • People wait until something is wrong to go to therapy but “You go to the gym to keep your body in shape, You go to therapy to keep your mind in shape” (16:40)
  • You shouldn’t wait until you’re super out of shape to go to the gym, if you do it is harder to get back into shape. Therapy gives you support in your day to day life. It’s good upkeep
  • You don’t have to have a brain injury to go to therapy
  • Grief and anger post brain injury
  • Anger isn’t always a part of the injury. It is always part of the grieving process
  • Hearing you should be thankful and grateful makes you feel like you aren’t allowed to feel anger or be mad. It’s ok to feel one with the other. You can be grateful and angry. You don’t have to have one without the other, you have to feel the anger to get through it (19:30)
  • Caregivers feel all this too--they too will need help and therapy
  • Feeling hard emotions--all of your feelings are telling you something. You don’t have to be afraid of them. It is a clue to be curious as to what negative feelings are telling you. Welcome them, pause, sit with it, and be curious (20:15)
  • You ping pong in the 4 phases of trauma--it is not linear and just because you’ve had one phase of it doesn’t mean you won’t be there again
  • Part of being an adult is learning to live in the gray. You don’t have to be just one emotion at one time, we’ll likely have many feelings at once and have to live through them
  • If you don’t feel all the feelings you won’t appreciate happiness as much
  • You learn more about yourself when you are going through hard times
  • Do something really small everyday to make you happy. Even if you don’t feel it, do something that used to make you feel happy. For Sara it is being outside.
  • Science behind being outside and how it helps mental health. Book recommendation: The Nature Fix by Florence Williams --speaks about the importance of children being outdoors and the science behind it
  • Sara’s journey out of depression using exercise
  • It really took getting back into working out to get Sara feeling better
  • Running and being outside
  • Sara is now an Occupational Therapy Assistant who works with stroke and neuro patients. Being someone who has been through it herself has added another layer of empathy and understanding. Patients have found it invaluable. You can be an inspiration to those recovering. It gives hope.
  • You don’t have to be all put together. You being imperfect and real makes others at ease to be their true selves as well.
  • If you have to tell somebody something, tell them! Tell people if they mean something to you.
  • Exercise after injury
  • Consistency can be a struggle
  • Advice for those trying to create a new habit: do your new habit right after something you already do everyday. Start very small I.e. do 5 squats while making your coffee. Go for a half mile run
  • Doesn’t need to be all in or all out
  • Keep your goals small and once you see yourself succeeding stack on more slowly instead of wearing yourself to the ground and being zonked for a week
  • Thank your body
  • Sara’s instagram is a great source of workout inspiration
  • Surprising lessons post brain injury
  • Embarrassment about the injury
  • What you eat really affects your brain (refer to episode 18 “Find your Triggers, Stop your Suffering” with Chelsie Moore)
  • Journaling and meditation impact your brain and make a huge difference
  • What you put in is what you get out
  • There isn’t a lot of instant gratification in recovery. It takes a lot of time, patience, work, and building habits before you feel the effects
  • “I need to do more to be more productive and to be better”--flip it to “what can I add into my day to feel joy and feel better today” (refer to episode 21: Facing Fatigue with Jenn Freeburn)
  • We don’t need to go, go, go to be productive--rest is productive. You are giving your brain what you need by resting. (39:15)
  • Not being able to go back to normal life and having to accept a new way
  • People in the right places at the right time during your accident--divine intervention?
  • “Nothing is wrong with you. You aren’t flawed, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. This is something that has happened. It is up to you to decide if this is something you want to use to propel yourself in life or if you want to be a victim of your brain injury. Who you surround yourself with is really impactful, what support system and friends you have. At the end how are you going to use your injury for good? (45:25-46:16)
  • Be patient and reach out for help. Got to therapy. Anyone listening should go, everyone needs it even if you don’t have an injury
  • There is life after injury. Injury is not a bad thing, you can still live your best life
  • You are not broken, you are you. There doesn’t need to be a measurement between pre and post injury you
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff If it isn’t going to matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes being upset by it. Brain injury puts into perspective how quickly life can disappear.
  • Would you give someone else a hard time about the thing you are giving yourself a hard time about? If not, let it go. Be your own friend. What you say to yourself matters. Our thoughts are so powerful. Your body is listening to what you’re thinking i.e. gut issues. Anxiety and negativity manifest in so many different ways in our bodies


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45 episodes