A woman’s journey of self-care

The slam of the door, the chatter of people, the hiss of the espresso machine. Imagine doing something as mundane as going to a coffee shop while being unable to filter out the excess noise. That constant cacophony is a reality for Rachael Loucks.

“A lot of times I liken it to some people who have autism and they experience that really overwhelming feeling, and then they have a breakdown. For me, it’s just like that,” Loucks said. “Everything is magnified. Something that really isn’t that loud to a normal person is 10 times louder to me.”

This makes it impossible for the 33-year-old to hold down a regular 9-to- 5 job, like the kind she had in the conservation field before her second traumatic brain injury.

“My brain injury happened because I fell off my horse. In 2010 was my original injury,” Loucks said. “In 2015, I had a really bad car accident, making my symptoms a lot worse.”

And for a while, the compounded injuries made even Loucks’ daily life nearly impossible due to the post-traumatic stress disorder she suffers.

“I couldn’t even be in a car and hear the noise without being extremely afraid. So, there was a period of time that I barely left my house unless it was for doctor appointments,” Loucks said. “It’s been a very slow healing process.”

But Loucks has persevered. Her love of animals and her need for an active lifestyle motivated her to get involved with the K9 Fit Club, a national organization that certifies people as trainers for both animals and humans. Loucks said she got the idea after working with her mother, who is a small animal veterinarian.

“If a client came in and they were overweight, most of the time the dog was too. That was also another piece of it. Pet obesity in general has gone way up and humans are struggling with that too,” Loucks said.

After earning her certification in 2016, Loucks spent most of the year teaching classes regularly.

One for people. “We’d have people rotating around stations, and the people would do things like mountain climbers, planks, pushups, different types of ab workouts. The dog was really just there to motivate you to come to class,” Loucks said. “They moved around with you, but they didn’t do a dog-specific workout.”

And one designed for dogs. “I had equipment for dogs. I would combine different exercises together so that they had to do different movements that they normally wouldn’t do. Like how a person does a pushup, I could simulate that for a dog’s body,” Loucks said. “Or things like working their core, which doesn’t always happen if you’re just walking with them.”

However, even with the newfound activity, Loucks still felt off.

“I wasn’t doing well, even though I was only teaching once or twice a week and my classes were an hour. That was still too much,” Loucks said.

So last spring, the classes stopped.

Loucks said that part of the reason was that she wasn’t getting fulfillment with her mental health, and she began to feel overwhelmed and anxious again. In an effort to motivate herself to complete regular tasks, she took up meditative coloring.

“When I started coloring, I just did it because I wanted something to do, but then I started seeing how psychologists are actually studying coloring and its effects on the brain,” Loucks said. “It has a meditative component, too.”

That meditative component has been covered by the likes of the Atlantic magazine, CNN, the Huffington Post and more. Loucks said that since she started, each project she completes is like a milestone—proving that she can consistently progress. She said her focus has improved, and she said she feels motivated to teach fitness again.

“By continuing to do it, it has taught me how to relax my body when those stress signs come up. It’s helped me to just start doing something, an activity,” Loucks said. “Those are also all barriers to being physically active.”

But Loucks said she wants to do more varied classes when she begins teaching again. She is slated to resume teaching fitness in fall but will include courses on self-care also.

“I would like to figure out a way to help the average person who is looking for a different way to live healthy or for general wellness. I’d like to have the ability to reach both populations,” she said.

“I’d love to be able to bring coloring to a retirement home or places like that where people could benefit directly from that type of activity. And the same thing with animal therapy, that’s another component of it.”

Loucks said all profits she earns from her classes will go directly to benefit organizations that have trauma support.

More information can be found about classes online at daring2pursue.com, as well as on Instagram and Twitter.