Tag Archives: RossGay

Brain Rest: The Hero’s Journey

To be clear, I do not fancy myself a hero. I am simply drawing a correlation between the experience of brain rest and Joseph Campbell’s, 12-step Hero’s Journey. I believe myself to be somewhere between stages 7-9.

In my own experience, brain rest is a journey of simultaneous torture and enlightenment. Brain rest = physical and cognitive rest in order to focus the brain’s energy towards healing as opposed to other cognitive functions. This means “completely withdrawing from any metabolically demanding activities that aggravate symptoms of a concussion.”

In everyday terms: no television, no computer, no telephone/texting, no caffeine, no alcohol, and wait for it…no reading. What’s really left after that? I’ll tell you: eating, showering, sleeping. And the fine art of staring at the ceiling. That’s what’s left.

I’m not much for disclosing medical experiences to the masses. In fact I’m the person that tells her parents days before heart surgery that it’s happening. I’m a silent and private processor when it comes to matters of the body. However, what I learned and experienced in these past few weeks is worth mentioning, worth sharing.


Two weeks of brain rest means you need to actually rest. I realized quickly I don’t know how to do this exactly. This is why I don’t take vacations. The transition to relax is far too hard. This is why a sick day from work is never a day to rest but a day to get all the “other stuff” accomplished. I kept strategizing about how to spend my time over these next two weeks more productively. Lying around and resting seemed, well, wasteful.

I haven’t stopped and appreciated the opportunity to be entirely still, to be with myself for quite sometime. I’ve been too busy fighting and healing and charging ahead over the past year and there are times when fate intervenes and what seems like the most inconvenient of happenings actually brings you to a place you’ve needed to visit for awhile. That place, in this instance, was rest.

On a Scale of 1 to 10

From the moment the accident happened every doctor, every physical therapist, every concussion specialist, has asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Here’s what: this is a horrible marker for pain. Especially for someone with a head injury because what’s a 5 today feels like an 8 tomorrow or vice versa, and really I’m diagnosed “confused” so how credible am I? It’s all arbitrary. And now, everything is operating on a scale of 1 to 10.

How bad do I want McDonald’s today? Eh…6. How much do I miss coffee? 10!  To assign such specificity and labeling to a feeling, to the category of pain, is intriguing to me. (This is what one thinks about while staring at the ceiling for two weeks).

Getting Creative

I steamed every item of clothing I own. Even the t-shirts. That didn’t cause me pain and it was what I considered “mindless” work so why not. It ate up a day. One day out of 14.

Then, I listened to every CD from Poetry Speaks. I listened to podcasts. I began a love affair with meditations on youtube. I found the settings feature on my computer that would read articles to me. I used the voice recorder to record any notes/thoughts/poetry ideas that I had since it was not comfortable to write them down. In between all of this, I ran the gamut of emotions and the scales titled heavily towards the negative ones.

Thanks to the urging of a great friend (thanks CVB!) I learned to embrace the opportunity. I was granted permission to turn off my mind, to remove myself from social media, email, the phone. I was allowed to be still. And more importantly, I was allowed to heal, from that which got me in this situation and all that came before it.


Up and Down

When one is still and resting, it’s inevitable to become slightly emotional along the way. To think of all the things you’ve avoided or suppressed. To reevaluate your place and your participation in this world. I forgave myself for mistakes and shortcomings. I celebrated myself for persevering. I thought about all the people past and present that have found their way into the fabric of me and took time to be present with the memories and experiences. And I felt richer for that time. I worked on answering the questions of what I want and what’s next.

On the Mend

Meditation, juicing (it’s as close to cooking as I will get), and vacationing. These are my new focuses as I hit reset after this experience. The frustration of doing visual exercises suitable for children to build my strength back up and deeming subtle neck stretches as daily exercise are taking their toll, but I’m learning to take my time. I’m slowing down. I’m learning to be gentle with myself. And every day I’m praying that I don’t forget how to be a poet. It sounds extreme but it’s a real anxiety (again, there was a lot of time to think).

What Awaits

Stacks of books. Poems swimming around in my foggy head. Running at the Parkway again. Somehow I’ve turned into a moderately positive person with a new appreciation for the road I’ve traveled in the past 12 months and am looking forward to finding my new normal.

Can't run but I can sit and enjoy the Parkway!

Can’t run but I can sit and enjoy the Parkway!



The stack of gems I bought in early July that await me.


Jeffrey Levine

poetry, publishing, and mentoring

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