On Brain Rest

hilary final i hope
With Téa, during our summer of Cognitive Brain Rest.


Even though this photo shows her on my back, the truth is, I piggy-backed on my daughter’s two months of cognitive brain rest.  And what I got out of that delicious summer of CBR with Téa was life-changing.  

First of all, I needed it.  My twelve-year-old daughter had been unconscious for fifty-six hours in the hospital, and the bedside vigil for us, her parents, was like being put in a rapid aging machine.  When we were leaving the hospital following her miraculous recovery—five days after she arrived by Life Flight and we did not know whether she would live or die, be permanently brain damaged or recover—I saw a cute elderly couple across from us in the parking garage elevator.  I thought they looked a little banged-up by life, but like whatever they’d weathered together had clearly created a bond. Then the elevator doors opened, and the couple vanished. Because it turned out they were a reflection. Of us: of me and my husband. We were forty-six years old.  (This may be obvious, but I was sleep deprived, in an altered state, susceptible to mirage.)

I promise I know that OF COURSE Téa was the one who really needed cognitive brain rest, not me. Severely concussed, injured internally and externally, she had a lot to recover from. She was required to follow the CBR regime for two full months, July and August, avoiding anything that could strain the brain. No reading. No devices. Television limited only to half an hour a day of non-violent, non-plot-driven shows like Animal Planet, and cartoons for pre-schoolers (which we watched, cuddled on the sofa, and actually enjoyed.)  Plenty of rest. And plenty of crafts—which were soothing, engaging, but in a non-cognitively demanding way. Téa’s brain needed this. And she needed someone to enforce the CBR protocol, to monitor her, and to be there in case she bumped her head or got jostled in any way—which would have put her severely concussed brain at risk. So I hired myself. I took a leave from my work, as well as a financial hit from having no income—which was made worse by my excessive spending on crafts supplies. Gimp. Shrinky dinks. Clay. All manner of paints, papers, glues, glitters. Beads. String. Clasps. Make-a-plate kits. Rainbow sharpies to sign Téa’s waterproof cast.    

I am not what you’d call a loll-around kind of person. (Except when I have Seasonal Affective Disorder. In the dark winter months, I only want to get out of bed for a few spoonfuls of almond butter, then slither back under the covers.) Before Téa’s accident, I had been careening around in a minivan from home to office to soccer field. From orthodontist to piano recital to office again. From school play to vet to grocery store to dance recital then back to the grocery store because I realized I’d left a full bag of groceries in the cart in the parking lot. Periodically leaving town to visit my parents who were going through a crisis due to my father’s own medical calamity. In short, I was your basic semi-strung-out working-part-time mother in the sandwich generation.

But that summer of brain rest, I learned to slow down. Really slow down. We floated. Literally. Téa was not allowed the exertion of swimming, so we floated on swimming noodles and rafts, in pools and in ponds. We watched clouds. I am getting teary as I write this because the experience was so precious. So sacred, to be granted not only the miracle of my daughter being alive and fully her same hilarious companionable self again. But also, the gift of living from my relax-and-respond parasympathetic nervous system for a sustained period of time. I wish we could all have this — not the emergency-induced part, but the chance to reset our nervous systems, our experience of moving through the world. It changed me. Not that I don’t still whip around like an over-extended maniac operating out of my sympathetic nervous system from time to time.  But I had the privilege of sinking so deeply down into my parasympathetic nervous system that it beckons me, always, to return.

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