The comorbidity my TBI served stirred confusion within. From Germany to Canada to Colorado, no vacation, no hope.

On the morning of a fierce Bavarian snowstorm early in January 2016, I was admitted to Schmieder Neurological Hospital and Rehabilitation Center. The goal of the intensive structured rehabilitative care was aimed to improve my ability to focus and concentrate, develop short term memory ​​​​​​skills and move towards independently completing activities of daily living with my disabilities. Physical focus was intended to improve strength, endurance, balance and mobility which had all been hampered by my traumatic brain injury. The ink had not dried when these goals were paused. Admittance procedures instantaneously revealed red flags that the hospital was not prepared to manage;  therapies were held before they even started.  The concern for my Body Mass Index (BMI) took priority and a seemingly frantic search for relocation to a more appropriate health care facility began.

Schmieder instantly labeled me anorexic; I felt misunderstood stuck with another label I did not fit. I was a non-German speaking expatriate anorexic, with severe vision loss struggling through the wake of a traumatic brain injury. I fit nowhere and no one was jumping to have me on their team.  German Eating Disorder centers would not take me because I could not speak their language and my BMI and electrolyte levels were beyond their realm of care; the Neuro Rehab hospital would not provide for me as I was too malnourished to reap the benefits of the rehabilitation program. Language barriers aside, no one seemed to understand; I grew increasingly frustrated while losing hope for my future.

Germany has world renowned medical experts at a cost much more feasible than my home country; as such my insurance provider was unwilling to send me overseas for treatment in an English speaking environment. The Schmieder team would not proceed other than essentially holding me. Without therapies to fill my day, before the light of dawn I would sneak out to the forest that encapsulates the hospital for hours at a time. Running, movement meditation, gave me a small sense of freedom though was never completely at ease knowing that frolicking in the forest  was not part of doctors’ orders. I would wander and wonder; wonder where and how this trail could possibly end.

I could see no light on the trail ahead. As time passed my health deteriorated and my insurance provider was notified that my survival was questionable if relocation was not imminent. Attempting to translate the word dwindle as I described my loss of hope to my Medical Team, I felt shame and guilt when, fearing the worst while facing reality, they contacted my brother in Canada.

Perhaps his experience as a Fire Department Acting Platoon Chief played out as R, calmly yet efficiently took charge. Though eligibility obstacles due to foreign insurance, non-residency status and my grave health, R was able to work with the admissions team at Homewood Health Eating Disorder Center in Guelph, Ontario, Canada to secure me a bed. Despite a demanding schedule, a busy, growing family of his own, when R got the desperate call he boarded the next flight to Germany so that he could accompany me on the flight overseas. R saved my life.

Despite the change of location and company, I continued to sink. My eating disorder had become my latest label, my life magnified; I was defined my TBI and my ED, my only identity. It was scales, kilos, pounds, BMIs, EKGs, cognitive decline and resentment, being perpetually cold, muscle long gone and mountainous stairs.  It was belts too big, underwear falling down, stares and lingering comments that pierced me. A destroyed mobile, emails received out of care and concern left unanswered.  It was waking up tired and going to bed restless. Being desperate but not sure for what. It was an inability to conceive a future beyond the next handful of  hours with 30 % sight, lack of vision – literally and figuratively. My future was a dark abyss. The only answer I could fathom was to put an end to them all; No one would have to worry about me anymore.

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  1. Sophie Joseph says:

    Dear Mrs. Wheatley,
    I am a student from a Life skills class in Germany. Our Class teacher, Mrs. Ater, a former college of yours, showed us your Blog and I wanted to let you know how inspiring your story is. That you have been through so much but did not give up. Even though life let you go through some rough times, you did not give up and stayed strong, which is very inspiring to me. I myself struggled with a lot of mental issues, depression, eating disorder and suicide thoughts. I had a lot of moment and points in my life where I also wanted to give up, but you gave me another reason to not give up. Because life is worth it and its worth to keep fighting for better and happier times.

    My entire class is inspired by what you have written about and have been through, and thank you so much for sharing this very personal topic with us. You opened 20 9th grade students (and probably a lot more) the eyes to keep going and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you very much, and enjoy traveling and every moment in your life!

    Kind regards,
    Sophie Joseph and my 9th grade Class

    • Jill Wheatley says:

      Your thoughtful, heartfelt message feels like a welcome hug here in the Himalayas Sophie!

      I am so thankful you have found some light and inspiration in my story. Keep climbing, know that I am thinking of you and want you to find the spark that I had been missing for so long. I am ‘here’ if I can help and do hope you will continue to follow along and feel the light.

      Sending strength and gratitude to you Sophie,