October 2017 Daryne Rockett
February 26, 2018
Daryne Rockett October 2017
Click here to download a presentation by Daryne: "The Art of Gratitude" (this is a 140 megabyte Dropbox file, have patience)
Cashew-crusted chicken was searing in a skillet on the stovetop while tomato sauce simmered on the back burner and a pan of brownies baked in the oven. I had waited longer than recommended to turn on the exhaust fan, because eleven months into my recovery from a so-called mild TBI, I was acutely aware of the toll background noise took on my ability to concentrate. My gamble did not pay off in this case, as the smoke alarm started going off at the same moment as the timer on the brownies, just as I stood bent over the hot oven with the baking pan in my hand.
My recovering brain stalled in the bedlam, and I was frozen in space. I could feel the heat starting to penetrate the protective oven mitt, but I could not initiate the next action in the sequence. I was aware that there were important matters to tend to, and my mind seemed suspended outside of my body as it observed the scene.
I leaned on a decade of meditation experience and let go of my effort to control what was happening, relaxing into the experience and just breathing. I asked myself what needed to happen first, and when the answer came to put down the brownies, the brakes finally released and I was once again able to move. Step-by-step, I placed the pan on the counter, closed the oven door, turned off the timer and then all of the burners, waved a towel under the alarm to silence it, and sat on the couch quietly resting until my husband came home and could finish cooking our dinner.
Prior to my injury, I had been able to balance a multitude of highly complex activities in my life as a clinical social worker, professional musician, amateur photographer, and family member. I worked as a readjustment counselor at the Bangor Vet Center, providing mental health treatment to combat veterans, military sexual trauma survivors, and the immediate family members of those killed on active duty. Each time I conducted a new intake with a veteran, I was required to ask a series of questions specifically designed to help prevent TBI from falling through the cracks in the system of care. I had received specific training to allow me to respond to TBI survivors with empathy and understanding, and make referrals for further evaluation when needed. Had it not been for the years spent repeating those screening questions with clients, I likely would have missed the important signs that indicated my own concussion warranted special care and consideration.
It was during the first roller derby practice of 2014 that the concussion occurred. We were practicing an offensive drill, and I was the inside blocker on the defense as my coach rolled in for a shoulder block to create a hole for her jammer. She is a powerful player with pointy shoulders, and I didn’t want her to hit me. I slowed my pace on the misguided belief that she would miss the hit and her momentum would take her out of bounds in front of me. Instead, the action of my sudden deceleration caused my head to drop, and rather than hit my shoulder, she struck the side of my jaw. Everything happened so quickly that she never even knew she had hit my head and sent my brain bouncing against the inside of my skull.
I never lost consciousness, though there was a brief moment when everything went gray. My teammates were resetting to repeat the drill when I said, “Hang on, I’m not okay.” Someone pointed out that I should sit down, and since I had skates on my feet, this seemed like a very good idea. A nurse on our team conducted a cognitive screening that I aced up until the moment I had to repeat three numbers in the opposite order they were delivered. My husband was called to bring me to the hospital where I was diagnosed with a mild concussion. I insisted he stop at the fabric store on our way to pick up my car because I had a coupon that was about to expire. The first tangible sign of difficulty was that I left my cell phone in the store that evening.
Despite my training in TBI, despite excellent early interventions from my primary care doctor who insisted on complete brain rest, and despite vestibular therapy, cranial-sacral therapy, and speech therapy, it was nearly a year before I came to fully recognize that I had a serious injury. Each time that I attempted to reintroduce moderate amounts of activity, play music, or return to work, I would inevitably encounter problems and have to resume my rest. With every other challenge in my life to date, whether physical or mental, perseverance had been the key to success. Always before, it had been important to push through pain, fatigue, or hindrance to emerge stronger on the other side. It wasn’t until I sat amid the smoking ruins of that chicken dinner that I started to understand that I was going to have to conquer this foe by retreating to a certain type of stillness. The amazing brain that had figured out the solution to every other problem in my adult life was being sidelined, and without it I was like a sloop without a sail.
I have become a world champion relaxer over the past four years. After switching to an autoimmune Paleo diet, my healing trajectory took a sharp turn upward and I flew past milestones that had previously looked like insurmountable obstacles. Though I still become easily fatigued and can lose words, patience, concentration, and temper, I have been able to return to full-time work at the Vet Center where I am now a certified brain injury specialist and have a case-load brimming with TBI survivors. Just two weeks ago, I gave my first full-length solo harp and storytelling performance since my injury to a full house. I slept for three days afterward, but goodness it felt wonderful to be back.