Gillian s Story
New London, CT USA
"It often takes a big life-altering event to make us realize that we need to dig deeper in ourselves. Then we have the choice to do it, and to better ourselves, or to not. For me, this event was brain trauma. That is what four concussions back-to-back in short succession will do.
For a year and a half, I sat around hoping to just wake up one morning and be healed. I didn’t realize the bigger picture or that there even was anything going on with me other than some major post-concussion syndrome. At the same time, I wasn’t ready to realize it, or to hear it for that matter. My mom tried to tell me that there were other things besides post-concussion syndrome playing a role in the disconnection from myself, but I was so unaware that her reasoning made absolutely no sense. What I really needed was to realize it for myself.
Eventually the realization hit me during the spring semester of my sophomore year of college. All at once I realized how miserable, lost, and unhappy I was and had been. After learning that I would never be the same person that I was prior to my traumatic brain injury, I was terrified. I spent months freaking out that the person I knew and loved for the first 19 years of my life was gone. I couldn’t accept it.
I was in a complete identity crisis. I idolized my old self and only focused on the positive attributes, which I thought I had lost. I completely and entirely convinced myself that the new, current me, sucked and that I’d never be good again. My head was bursting with negative self-talk.
That is when I decided I needed to seek professional help and get away. I was beyond depressed, tired of the heightened anxiety and the frequent panic attacks, and I knew I needed help. This was not the life I wanted to live and I wanted to make a change for the better.
A month and a half later, I boarded a flight to Costa Rica to attend an Adventure Wilderness Therapy Program. It was 12pm when I got off the plane and I was driven three hours into the middle of nowhere, where I knew no one. I had to give up absolutely everything that I had with me- from my phone and jewelry, which I never take off, all the way down to my bra and underwear. In exchange, I received a heavy duty hiking pack, a pair of hiking boots, Crocks, a sleeping bag, a toothbrush, and what looked like some of the ugliest and baggiest clothing I’d ever seen. This is what I was going to live off of for the next 9 weeks. No bed, no personal belongings, no comfort.
The next 9 weeks consisted of hard work and self-exploration. I spent much of the time wishing that I’d wake up one day and my brain would be healed. I soon realized that even if I miraculously woke up one morning and my brain was healed, the emotions would still be there. No matter what, I would be forced to deal with the mental side of brain trauma. I worked hard every day to get to the point where I could accept my post-brain trauma self. Eventually I reached this point and I was able to begin to love myself for who I am instead of for just who I was pre-brain trauma.
Making the choice to ask for help and to go to an Adventure Wilderness Therapy Program was the best decision I have ever made. There is not a day that goes by where I don’t spend time reflecting on my experiences. I can confidently say that the 65 days I spent there were the best 65 days of my life.
Although I had such a great experience and made so many positive changes to my life, my mental illnesses are still very present. I still have my bad days, weeks, and even months. I know that my diagnoses will never just go away and that dealing with my mental health is going to be a lifelong journey with many ups and downs. But, I’m ready for it."