Author: marciaallyn

Rowan’s Law Day

Four years ago, I fell hard. Literally. I fell backwards and down into a recessed patio and hit head first. I’m 5’5″ and the patio had four steps, so my head fell well over 6′ before cracking on the brick. It was June and the air conditioning was on, but my mom heard the noise from inside despite the windows being closed. My ex-husband and girls’ dad watched it happen and tried to reach me before I fell. He watched me fall with my arms doing circles in the air. I remember the pain but I didn’t lose consciousness. I curled into a ball rocking and holding my head. I was immediately nauseated and my head was bleeding pretty bad. When the ambulance came, I remember telling the paramedic that she might want to move because I was going to throw up. My sister was a paramedic, but I had never been in an ambulance. It was an intense experience to say the least.

Backyard patio.
This is the recessed patio from the walkout basement at our old house. I was standing where the plant is in the bottom right corner (at the top of the retaining wall) when I fell and hit my head on the brick. I hit my head right where my daughters are having dinner–the table wasn’t there at the time. To give perspective, there are 6 beams/posts stacked for the retaining wall opposite where I was standing (back of the photo). That’s at least 2 feet tall, plus another 5 and a half feet (my height). So picture me falling from the top of the retaining wall, backwards and down, hitting head first.

At the hospital, they put 3 staples in my head. The doctor had to wait for me to stop throwing up before they could proceed. He asked me if I wanted freezing first, in which case we would have to wait another half hour. I said I would just grin and bear it for the sake of 2 staples. Yes, that’s right. He initially said 2 and then gave me a bonus staple for good measure. It’s exactly like what you would picture in your mind. A heavy duty stapler being popped into your damaged and bleeding head. The silver lining is that he didn’t shave or cut my hair.

Then the doctor noticed that my left eye was swelling and turning purple. He started asking questions about how I fell. “Did your arm come up and hit you in the face? Were you holding something in your hand?” No one could quite tell me why my eye was black. It was actually a friend of mine at a holiday dinner several months later who said, “That’s physics. Your brain gave you a black eye from the inside out.” I also believe he used my story as an example in class. You’re welcome!

As a side note, I’ve always had headaches. Usually migraines, but all kinds of headaches from a very young age. This was nothing like I had experienced before. The closest I can come to describing it is that the concussion was a headache from the outside in while my other headaches were from the inside out. It was a pain that I couldn’t alleviate. I took ibuprofen as advised and used ice packs. I couldn’t keep my eyes open for very long and any noise would cause even more pain. As I gradually recovered, I found that I needed sunglasses and a hat to shield my eyes. When I started to work again, I could only do a half hour to start. I slept and rested.

I thought once I “recovered” it would be over. I saw so many doctors and all I heard was “give it time”. I was given medication for chronic pain by a neurologist, I was treated by a chiropractor, my eyes were tested by an ophthalmologist. I felt I would never get back to “normal” and that I would simply have to accept the new me. The new me was extra sensitive to lights and sounds, she couldn’t listen to more than one noise at a time, she had difficulty concentrating especially when fatigued, she was irritable, she was almost always in pain (except maybe when sleeping), her memory was worse than normal, and she had trouble finding words. To be quite honest, she was a shadow of her former self. A dark shadow.

And just when I thought I was learning to cope and adjust to my new normal, I hit my head again. Not even that hard, but it was enough to set me back again. This cycle happened a few times over the past 4 years, until (once again, feeling fairly good) my daughter jumped onto my lap and bonked my chin with her head. This couldn’t be the rest of my life. I shouldn’t have to be afraid of being close to anyone or anything, should I? I should be able to play with my children, no?

On this, Rowan’s Law Day, I write this post about concussions, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and post-concussion syndrome (PCS). If you’ve never had one of these, you really have no idea what it’s like. “Rowan’s Law Day” is in honour of the memory of Rowan Stringer, commemorated on the last Wednesday in September to raise awareness about concussions and concussion safety. Rowan Stringer was a 17-year-old Ottawa rugby player who experienced 3 head injuries in 6 days and died from second impact syndrome (catastrophic swelling of the brain) (Government of Ontario, n.d.). I am on a mission to bring understanding to everyone so they can support the people in their lives who might be suffering. It’s not a “trend” or “fad” and it’s certainly not limited to professional athletes (though I will say, I don’t know how they ever play again after going through this). If anyone can learn from my experience, I would be grateful and happy.

But this post is also about the light at the end of the tunnel–hope. I found little to no help from traditional medicine and had to seek out alternative therapies on my own. As luck would have it, I finally found help. I learned about Irlen® Syndrome from 3 different people in the last year and the most recent person linked it directly to concussions. And I thought, “maybe I should be tested”. What is Irlen® Syndrome? You can read about it on my website here or at www.irlen.com.

What I want you to know though is that, for the first time in 4 years, I have hope. Hope that my brain can actually recover. I am more myself today than I have been in years. I’m not popping ibuprofen every day multiple times, I’m not falling asleep with an ice pack behind my head, I’m not nearly as irritable (unless it’s before my morning coffee!), and I have my words back (yay!).

I am able to handle so much more and function without “coping” and shortcuts. I used to try and rest as much as possible so that when my girls came home I would be there for them, but then was debilitated afterward. And most of all, I’m not in pain all the time. You don’t realize how much pain you’re tolerating until it’s gone. There are many things that can and have helped me along the way: Bioflex Laser Therapy, physiotherapy, massage, Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, but Irlen® spectral filters are one very big piece in the puzzle.

References:

Government of Ontario. (n.d.). Rowan’s Law Day. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from https://www.ontario.ca/page/rowans-law-day.

Where have all the hugs gone?

I am a hugger. When I see friends, I hug them and then I hug them again when I leave. I don’t like fake hugs…you know the kind. Where you barely put your arms around the person and kind of pat them on the shoulders. When I hug, I go all in: arms wrapped around you, big squeeze, cheeks touching. If I care enough to hug you, I care enough to hug you properly.

Since COVID-19, hugs have been in short supply. It’s no longer socially acceptable to hug people (mask or no mask) unless they are in your “bubble”. And even then, you don’t want to hug them in public in case someone sees you and gets all “judgy”.

So where have all the hugs gone? I’ve formulated a working theory. I think the ungiven hugs are stored up in your body, trapped until they can be released. It’s a well-known fact that people need hugs and affection in order to survive. But what happens when you can’t give hugs?

I know there are many reasons, as a 41-year-old woman, that my body might be sore. I sit in front of a computer much of the day, I don’t exercise enough, when I do exercise it’s in spurts and jumps while running after my daughters. But I think my pent up hugs are one source of bodily discomfort. I think it causes strain in your body to keep those hugs inside.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I miss hugs. On the hugging scale, if I’ve missed out on many periodic hugs, can I compensate by hugging one person for a long time? I think the type of hug is also very important. For example, hugs from your children always count for more. Snuggles from a dog or cat are also high on the scale since they don’t ever feel obligated to hug you. I’ve even resorted to sleeping with a teddy bear again just to wrap my arms around something while I fall asleep (sad…or genius?).

I have absolutely no expertise in this matter. I’m not a psychiatrist, I don’t practice physiotherapy or kinesiology, and I certainly haven’t conducted any controlled studies. But remember in a time when hugs are scarce, to hug those in your bubble a little longer and a little tighter. Give a hug to someone who looks like they might need it (as long as you can do so safely). And maybe dig through your childhood things to find your favourite stuffie…or borrow one from your children.

Hugs do your body, mind, and soul a whole bunch of good.

Who has time for self care?!

As if self care wasn’t hard enough before, the pandemic has made it nearly impossible. Flight attendants advise parents to put on their own “oxygen mask” first, otherwise they may be unable to help children or dependents. I believe this to be true, but when you are working, parenting, and homeschooling…there are just not enough hours in the day. Self care becomes sleeping, eating, and showering, if you’re lucky!

Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

Another truth I have heard about self care is that it doesn’t have to take a long time. It can be 5 minutes, 5 hours, or anything in between. This should make it easier for busy parents, but is it feasible to benefit from anything that only takes 5 minutes? I’ve tested this out more than a few times since the pandemic began, not intentionally but out of necessity. I have, on more than one occasion, locked my bedroom door and laid down on my bed, not to sleep but just to close my eyes and have some peace. While 5 minutes doesn’t do much for me, I found that 15 or 20 was useful. It gives me a much-needed “time out” but also allows my twin girls enough time to sort things out on their own. This way, when I emerge from my time out, everyone has moved on from whatever drama drove me to retreat in the first place. And trust me, the percentage of meltdowns by everyone in our house has gone up during COVID-19 isolation.

Maybe you can count this as self care, and maybe not, but it was effective in the moment and there are many things you can do in 15 minutes. At this stage in life, I also feel that I’ve lost track of my own interests to a certain degree. I’ve been focused on kids for the last 6 years, what do I even like to do anymore? Reading is a given, I’ve always loved reading. Some of my other interests have changed though.

Here are some ideas:

  • a hot bubble bath (preferably in a deep claw foot tub);
  • a cup of tea, coffee, or a cocktail and a book/magazine;
  • a short walk, run, or even sitting outside enjoying some sunshine and scenery;
  • going for a drive by yourself and listening to music;
  • engaging in some intimacy with your spouse/partner or by yourself;
  • watching an episode of a grown-up show;
  • or a phone/video call with a friend you haven’t talked to in awhile.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but all of these are things that make me feel better!

Since the end of March, I have boycotted “homeschooling”. My girls are 6 and keeping them focused on anything is a challenge. Instead, I have been taking opportunities for learning as they come. I have taught them how to count money, bake cookies, play “go fish”, sew, and a number of other things. A question or a problem arises and we do it together. What I realize now looking back is that this is a concerted effort on my part to incorporate learning. It may not be a 3-hour block, structured on certain subjects, using the online resources that the teachers have provided. But I am taking the time away from work and “normal” parenting to focus on these things. And it’s been challenging but fun. Don’t short-change your efforts during this unusual time–the weight we are all carrying and the accompanying stress needs to be balanced by some much needed self care.

Why don’t we make time for ourselves? Unfortunately, as parents, we often put our kids’ needs above our own and since the younger ages need us frequently, the “to-do” list is never complete. We think that we will get to ourselves once everything else is done, but who are we kidding? If having kids has taught me anything, it’s the that the list keeps growing and you simply have to prioritize the items. So, self care should really be scheduled and prioritized. I still struggle with this…I tend to do it only when my girls are with a family member or when I’m about to lose my *&%$#@!

But what if we taught our kids to engage in self care as well? What if we asked them what activities make them feel calm and happy? What if we schedule time for the whole family to engage in self care, individually if that’s what’s needed? Would everyone will learn to respect each other’s needs and boundaries? It might not be easy at first, but it might also be worth a try…

Confessions of a Twin Mom

Confessions of a Twin Mom started out as a column for the Durham Parents of Multiples newsletter. I joined DPOM when I found out I was having twins and found a wonderful group of people. Since I love writing, I began to write some articles for the newsletter and then eventually became the newsletter editor.

One of my articles was picked up by TWINS Magazine which was fantastic. I also wrote my chapter for “Silent Grief, Healing, and Hope” under the “Confessions” banner.

“Confessions” is my way of communicating that motherhood is not what I expected. Sometimes it’s better and sometimes it’s worse. It’s my way of calling it like it is and trying to break down the social-media-perfection barrier. It’s my way of reaching out to say, “I’m not always okay, are you?”

Now I’m writing through this blog. It’s not always going to be about motherhood or twins, but it will be honest. I found that if I talk about what’s going on with me, I find other people who have been through (or are going through) the same thing. You can help them, they can help you, and then you have an open dialogue with someone like-minded.

If nothing else, this blog will maybe make you laugh!

Marcia