Use the extra time to your advantage. Because I was no longer traveling or spending time commuting to in-person meetings, I used my extra time to finally take my 500-hour yoga teacher training. It’s something I had always wanted to pursue, but never had the time to commit to it. Thanks to the pandemic, teacher training became available online, which is something I hope holds true even after we return to normal. I am now teaching accessible, trauma-informed yoga classes to the TBI community and anyone else who is looking for more wellness in their life. Classes are all done virtually, so members can join from anywhere!
With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life. With that in mind, I created this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, and I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Zellmer
Amy is an award-winning author, keynote speaker, and Editor-in-chief of The Brain Health Magazine.
In 2014, she suffered a TBI from a fall on the ice which began her journey into advocacy and extreme self-care. She produces a podcast series called Faces of TBI and hosts TBI TV on YouTube.
She is addicted to Starbucks and the Target Dollar Spot, and loves all things glittery and pink!
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Amy! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
I was a professional photographer for 20 years before a suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from a fall on black ice in 2014. Since my accident, I have had an intimate look into our traditional healthcare system and how it is failing folks with concussions/TBI every single day. I decided to begin my advocacy career in an effort to help others find the resources that can help them in their recovery.
I now focus my efforts on advocacy work, which includes producing a podcast and a YouTube channel, as well as lobbying at our nation’s capital. Additionally,I am passionate about helping others take charge of their wellness and self-care routine through accessible, trauma-informed yoga classes and Reiki energy healing sessions.
Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
I did work from home already; however, I had a co-working space I frequented. It has been a big adjustment not leaving the house for regular in-person meetings or lunch dates with friends. Those of us living with a brain injury are already experts at self-isolation; however, it’s always been on our own terms. The pandemic added a level of anxiety and depression that many of us were already on the brink of. As humans, we need physical interaction and socialization, which can be accomplished partly through Zoom or FaceTime, but it’s just not the same when you start getting months into isolation.
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
I really miss socializing with friends and going out to lunch. I also miss speaking at conferences and events and connecting with my friends all across the country. I was in the middle of my #NOTINVISIBLE awareness campaign, which involved traveling across the country and speaking to small groups of survivors, as well as photographing them and sharing their stories on social media. I had to abruptly cancel all my planned events for 2020 (and so far for 2021 as well).
The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
I would love to see us as a country become more inclusive of those who are not exactly like us, whether it’s our skin color, our gender, or our lifestyle choices, we need to embrace each other rather than putting each other down or turning each other away.
What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
I feel that in the beginning of the pandemic, we came together as a society, even though we may have still been divided politically. There was a collective feeling of everyone looking out for each other, and checking in on those who were most vulnerable. We shared a lot of uncertainty of what would happen next, and I believe we all held onto our friendships and families a little bit tighter, even if we couldn’t physically be together.
How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?
I began thinking of ways to build some community and “normalcy” in my TBI community, who were quite vulnerable to isolation. I created weekly TBI BINGO events to bring us together on Zoom to give us an opportunity to socialize and to play BINGO, which is one of the most ”normal” things we had going during the pandemic. I also created monthly Zoom “meet-ups” for anyone who wanted to attend, and on average had close to 100 members participating to get some face-to-face socialization with other TBI survivors and caregivers.
Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
In April of 2020, we discovered a tumor on my Yorkie, Pixxie. She was a rescue and had been with me for the past eight years. She helped me through my recovery and was the sweetest little pup a gal could ever hope for. Because of COVID, I wasn’t able to go into the appointments with her. They discovered the tumor was an aggressive form of cancer and on July 3rd I had to put her down. I was fortunate they were making exceptions to the COVID rules and allowed me to be with her for her final breath, but it was absolutely heartbreaking not being able to grieve with loved ones during this challenging time.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Pivot and adjust. I abruptly had to cancel my #NOTINVISIBLE campaign events, as well as any speaking events that had been planned for the year. I turned to Zoom and offered more online events for my Tribe, and I also decided to begin a new project. I compiled a book, Concussion Discussions: A Functional Approach to Recovery After Brain Injury, which is a collection of articles written by 20 of the most sought-after experts in the TBI field. This book will offer hope to many struggling with the lingering effects of brain injury.
- Use the extra time to your advantage. Because I was no longer traveling or spending time commuting to in-person meetings, I used my extra time to finally take my 500-hour yoga teacher training. It’s something I had always wanted to pursue, but never had the time to commit to it. Thanks to the pandemic, teacher training became available online, which is something I hope holds true even after we return to normal. I am now teaching accessible, trauma-informed yoga classes to the TBI community and anyone else who is looking for more wellness in their life. Classes are all done virtually, so members can join from anywhere!
- Create Community. I already had an active Facebook community of 10,000 members, but I knew I needed to create an environment where they could feel more connected during isolation. I began TBI BINGO and monthly Zoom meetups to keep everyone feeling connected, even during a time of chaos and disconnection.
- Practice good self-care. This is something we should always be doing, not just during a time of crisis. However, it is critical to your mental and physical health when you’re in “fight or flight” mode during times of stress. This is in part why I began to reconnect with my yoga journey, and additionally became a Reiki level, two practitioners. In my advocacy work, I help others on a daily basis, and I can’t pour from an empty cup so it is critical I take steps to practice self-care every single day.
- There is always hope — embrace the journey. Never lose hope, no matter how much doom and gloom you may be hearing in the media, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
I actually have two — “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and “This too shall pass.” I always do my best to consider my actions and how they are going to affect others around me, and I knew at the beginning of the pandemic I needed to lead by example. I also knew this would all eventually pass (though at the time had no idea it would take this long).
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Sharon Stone is my dream podcast interview. She suffered a stroke in 2001 and is an inspiration to many in the TBI community. I remember reading an article once where she explained how a producer or director was getting upset with her for not remembering her lines, and she said, “I have a brain injury, get over it!” This quote has stuck with me over the years, and I use it myself a lot.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I have a podcast series, Faces of TBI, available wherever you listen to podcasts. I am on Instagram @amyzellmer and I have a private Facebook group for survivors, caregivers, and loved ones called “Amy’s TBI Tribe.” Additionally, I have a ton of free resources at www.facesoftbi.com and my books are all available on Amazon.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.