By Ian Hebeisen
While working on her Master’s degree, Dr. Mallory Fox studied traumatic brain injuries, sports-related injuries, and concussions. She wrote a paper on CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, in that time. Yet, despite all of her studies, Fox still struggled finding the steps to recover from her own TBI.
Fox received a few undiagnosed concussions as a child. One incident occurred during her time as a competitive swimmer when she struck the bottom of a pool. None of these compare to what Fox calls her “Big TBI”: a motor vehicle accident. “I was able to walk away from the scene, but within six hours I got a headache that lasted for over ten months,” said Fox.
The accident not only left her with a persistent headache, but vision problems as well. “I had found out from seeing a specialist that my eye had moved in the accident, and my brain had shut my other eye off to try me with, essentially, movement survival,” said Fox. This made her legally blind in her left eye, and resulted in lifestyle changes including restricted driving.
Fox began all sorts of treatments and therapies. She underwent vision therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and treatment for EMDR. “I truly tried everything,” said Fox. “If someone said craniosacral therapy could help, I tried it. Acupuncture, massage, every medication that my doctor recommended, every type of therapy, every type of test.”
But the recovery took longer than anticipated. “My doctors have said ‘Here’s the normal progression, all brain injuries are different but within this timeframe,’” said Fox. “And then when my recovery didn’t meet that expectation, I didn’t know what to do.”
About four months after the accident, Fox hit her lowest point. She realized she created a life where people depended on her for different things, and expected her to deliver at full performance right away. And if she could not fully understand her condition, how could she expect other people to know what she was going through?
Fox concluded her life changed in a manner that made it impossible to return to her pre-accident self. That didn’t mean she had reached the end of the road. “I made a promise to myself … that I would do whatever I had to do to embrace the person I was becoming.”
While on vacation in San Diego, her husband got sick, and the two of them ended up doing nothing for a few days. During that time, Fox noticed her headache disappeared. Taking the time to actively rest – not just sleep – relieved her symptoms drastically.
From this active rest came a period of self-discovery. Fox started to identify indicators of an oncoming headache or jaw tremor. “My brain was getting exhausted from stimuli. And if I could notice that first sign that the overwhelm was coming on … then I could potentially avoid the giant headache or aphasia.”
In order to calm her system down, Fox turned to mindfulness. “I needed something that I could do anytime and anywhere … I first started with mediation, mindfulness work, and breath work.” When she felt an overload coming on, Fox would excuse herself and focus on her breath, her feet, or the world around her to bring herself out of her head and into the present.
Fox found mindfulness to be so valuable, she started a text message service to help others on their journey. “I wanted to make mindfulness really accessible to people. And I thought pretty much everyone has a phone.” The text messages range from a simple “hello” and a deep breath, to more complicated exercises like “What are four things touching your body right now?” Each message is designed to remind the recipient to slow down and take a moment to enjoy the present.
According to Fox, mindfulness does not need to be a 20-minute meditation or an hour-long yoga session. It can only take a minute to come back to the present and reset yourself.
Continuing to forge ahead, Fox encourages others living with a TBI to connect with their communities and to keep persisting. “You are doing a great job with a really challenging circumstance. Don’t give up; we need you.”
To sign up for this text service, text “mindful” to 480-531-9810. To find Dr. Fox online, visit www.befoxyfit.com.
To listen to the entire conversation, listen to the Faces of TBI podcast on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Ian Hebeisen graduated from Saint Mary’s University in May 2020, earning a degree in Literature with a Writing Emphasis. Now living in the Twin Cities, Ian writes comics, graphic novels, and poetry. In his spare time, he enjoys playing board games with his family.