TRUTH TELLER: Michael
Breathe In, Breathe Out
On March 19, 2013, I took my last breath. I had just experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from a ski accident in Whistler, Blackcomb. Buried in an avalanche, upside down and four feet under snow, I was found unconscious and not breathing. My body was without oxygen for roughly 4 minutes. From that moment on, my life would no longer be what it once was; I would need to adapt to a new way of living.
Prior to the injury, I was always on. Working as a financial advisor with one of Canada’s top banks, I was running and operating at a fast pace with no intention of slowing down. Beyond dedicating the majority of my time to building my client book of business, I would train as if I were an elite athlete, followed by nights of the social component to the business. Name the place and I was there! I was living the iconic Bay Street lifestyle.
It was the fast lane and I had hit a brick wall. My accident could not have been more timely. At first, I was unwilling to unplug from life’s distractions. Turn off your blackberry was my doctor’s order. Stop checking and responding to emails, to client inquiries. Regardless of my diagnosis and how I was physically feeling, I still felt the need to live the life that I knew. But I wasn’t doing myself any favours. I had to make changes. I was not recovering, I was suffering. That lifestyle was no longer serving me. I found it challenging to sit in front of a computer screen for long periods of time without getting headaches, fatigue symptoms, losing focus and attention. I found it difficult for my eyes to adjust to reading. I even found it challenging to be out socially in large groups at restaurants with the background noise and still today the car radio is an irritant while having a conversation. It took me almost three months to understand and accept that I would need to remove myself from the lifestyle I once knew. It was time that I said good-bye to late nights, drinking, working out, and those high energy or loud social situations that my old self knew. I also needed to turn off my blackberry. I was told that I would be off work for at least 3 months. Those 3 months turned into 6 months, which rolled into a year.
Thinking back, it was really my journey to recovery that might have been the most challenging. I didn’t like not performing at the same speed and capacity I was once used to; adaptation was a new word. I became determined to improve my health and my quality of life. I had cognitive testing done by neuropsychologists, I incorporated brain healing foods into my diet approved by my nutritionist, and sought out cranial sacral therapy. I believe that this type of therapy, combined with those other techniques, accelerated my recovery process and noticeably improved my overall quality of life. The next step on my journey was the work environment. I had to slowly ease back into it, but there was always the risk that over-stimulation might put strain on my brain or provoke the return of my old symptoms. One step forward, two steps back. There was no one magic technique. It was all of these methods combined, along with my ongoing perseverance to feel better.
On one hand, I wanted to share my experience to help others in their own recovery. But on the other, I was only able to share it with friends and family. Because of this I created a new social network and became more active in finding a new community of great people to surround myself with.
It was not until the Summer of 2017 when I was invited to a wellness retreat, organized by a top branded international company, that I felt it was my time to speak. I was one of 25 men hand-selected from across Canada. There was something incredible about this retreat that empowered me. On the final day of that weekend I finally mustered up the courage to tell my story. My talk, while perhaps only 5 minutes long, ignited a fire inside me and sparked my desire to help others in my community.
Even prior to my accident, yoga was always a part of my life since the university days; I was always interested in pursuing my yoga journey and would practice almost daily. My existing yoga background gave me the ability to deal with my TBI and the associated symptoms. My practice didn’t end after the injury, it in fact was a key component of my rehab. Even if my accident stripped me of all the familiarities that I once knew, the one thing that I could strengthen was my breath. Today, I am very proud to say I have come full circle; I have completed and conquered the first step of my yoga journey with my 200-hour yoga teacher training. I am excited to share my teaching practice with everyone in my community and have even been given the opportunity to showcase my talents by teaching all level community classes at Yoga Space in Toronto. Living with a TBI has fueled my journey to discovering what I am truly passionate about and my desire to give back to those that supported me during my recovery.
I can truly say that being buried alive, surviving that experience, and successfully going through the recovery has grounded me in body, mind and spirit. Where do I go from here? I am continually growing, recovering, changing and improving my focus with personal and business relationships. My injury has taught me to be empathetic to the people and environments around me. I was and still am seeking a balanced and feel good life. I am grateful to be alive, grateful for my health and grateful to be able to breathe again.
Today I live with gratitude, empathy, practice, mindfulness, love & friendship, and continued healing which always brings me back to my breath.
Recovering from a brain injury, I sought out many sources of healing: Cranial Sacral Therapy, working with a nutritionist to create a meal plan that aided the healing of my body and brain, physiotherapy, chiropractic. To this day I heal my body and brain with all natural healing methods.
Using a Muse meditation headband daily and practicing yoga only helps my healing journey and has led me to the next stage of my recovery. The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Peak Performance by George Mumford: I saw Mumford speak at a Lululemon event and not only was it inspirational, but it truly made an impact in my life. Writing thoughts on paper has really helped in my recovery (The 5 minute Journal). Talk therapy can also be beneficial to recovery. Recovering and living with a brain injury can be quite lonely at times, and it helps to talk to someone about everything you're dealing with and what's on my mind.