I once thought that my TBI and vision loss meant my life had fallen apart, yet today I feel it beginning to fall into place.

Her words fell on my ears in a way that death does. A part of me had died. A fall I could not fathom. In a split second, I was lost on the trail my life had taken. Lost in the chaos of an ophthalmology research hospital, directional signs, medical symbols, hazard warnings, emergency procedures, arrows and doorways littered the hallways, where overwhelming foreign tongues danced to a tune that shattered my ears. Foraging under the fluorescent lights for somewhere to hide in the darkness, I wanted to run from the nightmare.

Hiding, falling, lost in intense darkness in the light of day. I wanted to run back to how life used to be, back to the sports’ field where life was good. For months following my traumatic brain injury, I was rolled throughout trauma hospital halls passed between the hands of a slew of specialists. Days in a wheelchair turned to weeks unsteady yet assured my right eye would open and my left would start moving once the blood from my bleeding brain cleared. My teetering walk improved as weeks turned into months yet prognosis nor eyesight was leaning in the direction of clarity. German, English or what was frequently a mix of the two, my medical team continually budged goal posts. False promises came as steady as needles, medication and meal carts; far too often.

Tossed between a laundry list of optometrists, ophthalmologist, neurologists, neurotraumologists, neurosurgeons, neuropsychologists and neuroophthalmologists, I was exhausted, raw. Amidst a new year snowstorm, I was taken across Germany to one of Europe’s most reputable ophthalmology research centers. After hours of draining dialogue, interviews, experiments and tests, Dr. B.’s coddled opening words halted my hearing. The puzzle of vocabulary aside, it was the way she sat so close and intimately bedside me, I had no doubt that she was indeed sorry. Though any articulation of her explanation was far too much for my brain to decipher, I felt her compassion. I would not get my eyesight back. The trail my life had taken would not return to where a ball knocked me to the ground of a Bavarian sports’ field.

Like the accident itself, I can precisely replay the conversation as though a bird perched on a branch outside her office window. Life changing for me, another day at the office for her, yet the doctor’s compassion created warmth in my memory. Her gentle benevolence cushioned my fall. I turn to that blustery winter’s day as a reminder of inner strength. When a fall feels too heavy, an obstacle a blockade, regardless of the amount of eyesight I have, I know everything I truly need to keep striding ahead is within.

A toy to some, a simple hard ball, was the catalyst which sent life from full speed to a screeching halt. My spirit was crushed on impact. Then the news from Dr. B., inconceivable. I fell flat. The impact of the fall felt stronger than the strength I had.Relocated to more specialized care in another foreign land, life got even darker.

After months of seeing no reason to live, I stoically stared at the Rocky mountains from yet another hospital window. As the Aspens shifted their wardrobe in preparation for Colorado winter, I had a shift of mindset. While my medical team relentlessly guided me from darkness, through tears and loneliness, I began rising from the fall as I imagined the power of those mountains. What felt to be an ending had potential to be a beginning.

Taking my recovery to mountains around the world, from the Pyrenees to Patagonia, from peculiar to thought provoking, between language barriers and disconnected cultural norms, comments, questions and stares could be a book each with their own story. From far fetched to funny, the curiosity of how I run tends to intrigue because why would someone with only 30% eyesight choose mountains and trails when there are treadmills and tracks?

Articulating how I run feels like a foreign language that only I alone comprehend. Depicting the combination of what and how I see even before applying my eyesight to trail running, can feel like I am telling a story of a fictitious character. Rather than getting frustrated and isolating myself in sadness as I once might have, I respect other’s empathic curiosity as they wonder how I see the world and specifically trails. A combination of semantics with actions, I aim to take my audience along with me on a trail to see through my eyes; one paralyzed, black as night, the other narrow and weak.

Determining distances and the ability to tell if an object is near or far away is helpful in trail running. Because my eyesight comes solely from a limited range within my left eye, without binocular vision, I am forced to rely on other visual cues to gauge depth. Technical descents, camouflaged roots, rocks, stumps and stones make trail running exciting yet with monocular eyesight often more bloody. Slopes of shale and scree around the globe have taken countless tokens, fresh flesh from my hands and knees. Echoes of runners in my blindspot, screeches of bike brakes, sounds of baseball fields, sport lessons, hovering helicopters and nightfall are triggers that taunt me both on the trail and off. Trailside tears still happen yet my brain has adapted along with my patience and acceptance of falls and the trail my life has taken.

Next to never is the curiosity of a stranger intrigued by how I run left as history. Regardless of how a conversation instigated in one’s curiosity of how I run ends, I tend to take it far beyond a simple conversation and onto trails where I silently commentate the play by play of me on the trail often with a laugh of how and what I see and that which I do not.

Running and laughing, two things I thought would never happen following my TBI. Like life’s tough times, like falls on the trail, I embrace impermanence, grateful that I am healthy to run and fall. Full sight, some sight or no sight, life happens, falls happen.I once thought that my TBI meant my life had fallen apart, yet today I feel it beginning to fall into place.

Still curious about how I run, life following traumatic brain injury, living with severe vision loss or anything else? I welcome your questions, thoughts and suggestions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Thomas Stevens says:

    This is brilliantly written. Jill has a talent for taking the reader on her journey using sparkling prose. A trip no one wants to take, but in order to understand TBI and how it changes lives, it is necessary.

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      Unforeseen and unmeasurable, not unlike the ball that changed my life, I celebrated the relief that presented itself once I finally mustered the courage to click the green publish icon after months of hesitation to share Mountains of My Mind. There would be no hiding, no pretending that my recovery was miraculous; pristine mountain villages, smooth trails blooming with colourful alpine flowers while cowbells chimed and waterfalls create a mystical, soothing playlist. My reality is so much deeper than the paint of such alpine picture. My index finger pressing the return key was an invitation to the global population into the paint; every detail, every emotion, every sentiment. Anyone who wants has an open window to see the authentic reality of days that nearly broke me and times the only hope I had was that they would.
      My reluctance to publish my story was rooted in vulnerability; essentially fear of judgment. Appearing weak, seemingly inadequate, could potentially lead to further self doubt and bruising of the relationship with myself. It felt instinctual and natural to resist such a potentially dangerous situation and protect myself from society’s harm. Nature resisted the risk of further humiliation to that which I already struggled in my battle of accepting the ways my life has changed.
      Running alone in mountains fosters the development of a stronger connection to myself; I am fulfilled by aloneness. Vulnerability is human nature; with Mother Nature, I am reminded of how insignificant I am. She adds perspective and instills confidence to face feelings vulnerability.
      Showing up authentically without semblance or a protective shield, simply sharing my story, is beyond feeling vulnerable, it is vulnerability.
      Opening up has led to connections and experiences that, had I stayed in my protective mode within that zone of comfort, would have never made for chapters of growth in my story.Thank you for being an integral part of my story Tom; thank you for helping me grow.

  2. Drew Alexander says:

    “I once thought that my TBI meant my life had fallen apart, yet today I feel it beginning to fall into place.” Jill, during this season of thanksgiving, my gratitude for your inspiration, insight, perseverance and optimism!

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      Your thoughtfulness moves mountains Drew.
      My struggle has helped me find strength I once believe did not exists. When such rocky thoughts loom, it is encouragement such as yours that strengths me to keep climbing and embracing every step on this trail that is life.
      Thank you for your company along my trail ~ I look forward the day our trails connect on land. Until then, best for good health and happy trails to the entire Alexander clan. I am taking that smile you gave me out on the trail today 🙏

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      Personal connection is truly emotional energy for me. Your connection is heartfelt and assuring as I climb on Diane. Time behind a screen can feel lonely and heighten vulnerability; knowing you are along with me is inspiring and so very much appreciated.
      With gratitude and best to you and your family ~x

  3. Mac says:

    You are not alone in your grief… there are many people in your corner that will gladly share your burdens with you… You have proven that you can accomplish great things despite the obstacles placed on your path… nothing more has ever been asked of any person who ever lived.. you are an inspiring being ❤️

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      Thank you for reaching out Mac ~ your thoughtful cheers stretch into a Himalayan sized hug felt here in Khumbu.
      In the wake of my TBI, I have learned the beauty of impermanence. Thankful to have taken the upward turn through the stages of grief to a place of acceptance and celebration of that which has flourished from a seed of adversity.
      Knowing you are along with me is light that flourishes. Keep shining and sharing your beautiful light x

  4. Jessica Krol Myndio says:

    Goosebumps….I once thought that my TBI meant my life had fallen apart, yet today I feel it beginning to fall into place.
    Thank you Jill. I am thinking about you.x