This town is overflowing with amazing people from all walks of life. Every month I will be profiling an extraordinary person who lives in our community. If you know someone who has an inspiring story to share, I want to hear about it! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It happened so fast. In a split second, Emily Southby’s life completely changed and her world turned upside down.
“My first time snowboarding was also my last,” says the 27 year-old. “There’s still a lot that I don’t remember about that day.”
The snowboarding accident that left Emily with a traumatic brain injury happened four years ago at a ski resort in Milton, Ont. Bits and pieces are a blur. Shut down and tucked away in a place that Emily can’t access. Trauma does that. But maybe it’s best not to remember every little detail of the worst day of your life.
What Emily does recall is going down a big hill and rapidly gaining speed. The friend she was snowboarding with encouraged her not to be afraid of going fast. Suddenly, the back edge of her snowboard caught. It was either a rut or ice. She isn’t quite sure.
Emily lost control on her snowboard and was thrown upwards into the air. She came crashing down fast and hard. Her head sustained the blow. At that moment, it became very dark.
I saw black dots, and then I couldn’t really see at all. I couldn’t move. I was so scared and in so much pain. All I remember thinking is that I have to get off the hill.
Paramedics took Emily down the hill on a stretcher. No one was certain if she had a concussion or not. Her friend then drove her to the hospital where she saw a doctor in the emergency department. He gave Emily the once over. He told her to take it easy over the next few days. He didn’t think anything was wrong with her. He definitely didn’t suspect it was a concussion—or brain injury for that matter. But then again, he didn’t conduct a single test.
“The next day I went to a different hospital and I failed every single concussion test that was given to me. I couldn’t hear the same out of my ears. I would sway when I stood, and I couldn’t tandem walk. I couldn’t do something as simple as touch my nose with my finger. But I was sent home and told that I would be okay and that my symptoms would go away over the next few days.”
The severity of her symptoms worsened by the day. She had ringing in her ears and she constantly felt nauseous. Often her vision went blurry and she became extremely sensitive to light. She became more and more aware of the symptoms.
It was her regular doctor who recommended that Emily see a brain injury specialist. The worst was confirmed. The snowboard accident had caused a brain injury. It was a diagnosis she didn’t want to hear. There was no cure. There was no overcoming it. She was living in a bubble of chronic pain and despair.
She would sleep for 20 hours in a day; being awake was exhausting. She went from being physically active—working out five to six times a week—to not being able to get off the couch. Her speech was slurred and she stuttered. The migraines were crippling and she couldn’t stand let alone walk. There were times when she thought that death would be easier. She had no desire to continue on with living, as living a life like this was hell.
Emily can’t put it into words…
“No one knows how difficult it really is to lose yourself.”
Incomprehensible and unimaginable. Unless you have survived a brain injury you can’t begin to fathom the obstacles. Not being able to think straight or make a decision or even recognize your own reflection in the mirror. Not wanting to be burdened with the daily ‘chore’ of brushing your teeth or hair. Emily experienced all of it. Depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Simple tasks were no longer simple, and every fibre jn her body ached. The level of pain was off the chart. And making matters worse was that her brain injury was affecting her sensory nervous system.
Emily remembered—probably because it was fate!—that when her sister sustained a concussion she was treated by a manual osteopathic practitioner and she saw improvement. Emily’s first appointment proved successful and for once she felt some relief. Maybe there was light in the very dark tunnel after all.
And somehow, some way, through her perseverance and determination (tied in with a whole lot of pushing it to the limits) Emily slowly began to find herself. Not the old Emily. She was gone. This was a new Emily. Life was never going to be the same; she had accepted that. But if she was going to live a life with meaning and purpose she would just have to make some adjustments. And she would definitely have to keep pushing.
“I still have symptoms every day, I’ve just learned to deal with them,” she says. “I have noise-cancelling headphones and light and loud noises still bother me. I’m hypersensitive. My body can’t take changes. I have certain things that I like: soft clothes, my blankets and pillow. I used to love to drive at night and now I can’t.”
She defied the odds that were stacked against her…
Although it took a lot longer than she originally planned for, Emily ended up graduating cum laude from York University with an undergraduate degree with specialized honours in kinesiology and health sciences. She truly believes it was her keen interest in the human body that saved her. It added an element of personal awareness she would not have had otherwise. As time went on, so did Emily’s desire to grab life by the horns and live. She just kept pushing herself. Having faith and believing. She wasn’t going to let her injury dictate her future. She was going to make something out of herself. And she did. She even found love. True love. The kind that makes you feel warm and fuzzy.
Emily’s background in manual osteopathy has not only given her the opportunity to do what she loves and make a living from it, but it’s also fulfilling her desire to want to help people. Just last year she decided to start a support group for brain injury survivors. It started slow but it’s gradually gaining attention. It’s about looking at the bright side of things, says Emily, and offering a different perspective.
I know what it’s like to live with the darkest pain cloud over your head. If I can somehow make someone who is ready to give up feel a bit better by offering them a new tip or trick, that’s the best feeling in the world
Tough as nails, determined and a true fighter. In a few words, that sums up Emily. She’s not just a pretty face with a gorgeous, dimpled smile. She’s so much more. She’s the ultimate warrior with a good head on her shoulders, big brains in her head, and loads of love to give.
Emily had a Grade 3 education when she first sought out secondary school options. She didn’t have a loving father figure and she grew up below the poverty line. She has overcome obstacles and hurdles and she’s endured more struggles than the average person twice her age. And through it all, even the dark clouds that she once thought would never lift, Emily has managed to stay positive. Her sunny disposition is something to marvel at.
“There doesn’t have to be a sun to see a silver lining,” she says.
You have to believe that.
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