Concussion Confessional: What I Learned From Concussion Recovery

Hello friends! Wow. It. has. been. a. minute. But I promise I have a valid reason for my absence, and it was related to my health. Specifically, this spring, I had not one, but TWO concussions within a 3 week period, which greatly limited my allotted/tolerable screen use time, and I had to be selective as to what I used my computer time for.

And as much as I love blogging and intend to blog consistently from hereon out, it fell to the wayside when I could only be on the comp a few hours per day, and computer-dependent school deadlines cluttered my calendar for several months.

Anyways, I wanted to talk about why I’ve been gone and to share my experience with having multiple concussions.I didn’t tell everyone I knew I was going through concussion recovery, mostly because I really didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. While I was going through all this, I felt really alone, scared, and quite sad.

I am hoping sharing my experience will help at least one other person going through concussion recovery to feel some sort of relateablity, and hopefully, a bit of hope.

So buckle in, here’s the story:

How It Happened: Concussion #1

My first concussion happened in late February, the day after I published this pasta post. I was on the phone with my mom and bent over to pick something up. When I stood up, I slammed my head into a hanging lamp on a building and promptly fell to the ground. I chucked my phone across the sidewalk, and the bag of potatoes I was carrying (classic me) went flying.

I momentarily blacked out, and when I came to, I felt stunned. Like when you scare an animal and it’s paralyzed in fear. What just happened? Was I okay?

I stood up and collected my potatoes and my phone. Almost immediately, I started crying. I couldn’t help it. I was SHOOK. My head was killing me, and I hadn’t blacked out since I was a toddler and fell out of a tree. Luckily, I was close to my apartment building and headed home determined to drink some water, eat some food, take some ibuprofen, and feel better.

And I did exactly that.

Except, a few hours later, I still didn’t feel right. I remember trying to tap away on my computer on my homework, and my mind felt fussy. The screen had an odd glow about it, and looking at it hurt my eyes and my head. I was irritable, and felt as if reigning in my emotions was beyond my control. I wanted to start yelling and crying uncontrollably. Something was definitely off.

I texted my friend who is in his 3rd year in med school for some advice. As always, he was kind and gentle and compassionate and gave me good advice.

A few hours later, I still felt pretty shitty, and I was afraid to go to sleep since it’s known that you should be careful with sleeping soon after after a concussion. My friend and mom sent me texts every few hours to check in, and I set multiple alarms to make sure I didn’t fall into too deep a sleep.

The next morning, I woke up sure I’d be fine. I headed to school for the day and as I set in class, I still felt as if everything was off kilter. I couldn’t focus, my screen hurt my brain, and the lighting in the room we sit in every day was suddenly the most intolerable thing imaginable. I was nauseous and irritable and wanted to cry.

Between classes, I went to the health center, where the NP diagnosed me with a concussion and sent me home to rest for the day.

“Rest” meant no screens, no fine print reading, no homework, no exercise. Basically, just sit in bed. Aka my worst nightmare.

I was simultaneously surprised and unsurprised. I couldn’t believe what was happening was happening to me, yet I knew something was definitely wrong since I did not feel like myself.

So I went home, listened to some YouTube, and cuddled my doggo. Hot damn, it was boring. And the stress and anxiety of not being able to work on my mounting pile homework stressed the daylights out of me.

I’ve always been an anxious, busy-body type. To me, procrastinating is anxiety-inducing. I’d rather go attack mode on my too do list than let things pile up. To me, accomplishing things is soothing and helps me feel less overwhelmed. On top of that, I have ADHD, and like to be engaged in some sort of something – whether it be baking or blogging or homeworking or scrolling through Instagram – at all times. So slowing down was really hard for me.

Eventually, I went to bed. I was so certain I’d feel better the next day. And when I woke up, I did feel marginally better….for about 30 minutes. Then, once again, lights still felt weird and invasive to my brain. Looking at my phone gave me a headache. And I was so, so, so tired.

Recovering From My First Concussion:

I opted to take the day off from school (the NP told me I could/should). And for the day, I mostly chilled and slept. The major difference in concussion recovery Katherine vs. regular Katherine was my need for sleep. I was consistently sleeping 10 hours a night, and taking multiple naps. Normally I’m golden on 7 hours. But my brain felt the need for rest, and I obliged.

For the following few days through the weekend, I eased back into normal life in an adapted manner. I went to class and took notes by hand rather than on my laptop. I took quick walks with my dog here and there. And I attempted homework…with frustration.

I had never before in my life been so bothered by screens and the need to concentrate (this is mostly the reason why I stopped blogging for 2 months). Tasks and assignments that would have normally been no issue were suddenly exceedingly difficult. I noticed my writing for assignments and responses to emails were not as sensical as they normally would be. And reading textbooks? Forget about it.

I felt dumb, slow, and sad.

All of this really, really shook me, and I got rather sad and worried. Was I going to be stupid forever? I wondered. What was I going to do with my life know? If I can’t do school, a PhD is out of the question. Would I be able to write again? Or am I forever ruined?

I would be lying if I said this experience didn’t really make me consider my identify and what I take pride in. I strongly identify with being a student, thinker, and academic person. And as a writer. What was left of me if this had been robbed?

A week past and I felt better, but still far from normal. I grew increasingly frustrated by my new reality, and terrified by not knowing how long it would take for me to feel like myself again.

A solid 2 weeks after easing back into normal life, I began to feel like myself again. Things felt more normal. Lights were okay. My screen caused strain, but if I took a 10 minute break every 20 minutes, it was tolerable. I thanked my lucky stars.

How It Happened: Concussion #2:

Just three weeks after my first concussion while I was home for spring break, I was involved in a car accident that triggered all of my symptoms again. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t lose my shit. I had heard that a second brain injury too close to the first put you at risk for long-term damage.

I went to the doctor, and just like that – another concussion diagnosis.

Again, I was terrified. And again, my screen and homework bothered me. I did my best to rest as much as possible while I was home, but with take home finals and projects, it was difficult.

The looming anxiety of Will I really be stupid, this time for GOOD? jerked into my mind every few minutes.

But I did my best to recover. Using my coping mechanisms from the first concussion, as I waded my way back into normal tasks, I took lots of breaks, slept a ton, and was very forgiving with myself.

Of course, I ignored the doctor’s caution to refrain from flying for 2 weeks post brain-injury, and headed back to NY/NJ about 5 days after the concussion. And man, let me tell you – I really regret that. It wasn’t as intense as a third concussion, but I really felt it. I had the worst headache for about 2 days as a result.  So if you’re recovering from a concussion, I’d urge you to not fly if you don’t feel 100% (at least based on my experience, but you do you).

I am happy to state that after another 2 weeks, I felt back to normal. Checking my email and looking at my phone no longer caused me headaches, and I could manage school and being a human again.

What I Learned:

img_1502

Since then, I’ve been mostly back to normal and up to full speed and I am so incredibly thankful for that. Going through this dual concussion recovery was one of the most humbling things I’ve ever done. In addition to bringing up all sorts of emotions, it also taught me some important lessons, like how much of my identity I wrap up in being a student/writer, the beauty of rest even when it seems difficult, and how challenging I find it to unwind, and how that’s something I should probably work on.

The biggest lesson I learned, however, was how to be more forgiving with myself. I was forced to lower my standards of myself, and to not sweat the small stuff, and to not get angry at myself for falling short of my expectations or accomplishing everything on my to-do list for the day. And this was actually an important thing to learn. I find my self doubt is my biggest enemy and that I’m my own worst critic. But easing up on being my own ass-hole boss has been great. I have a better perspective now of what’s truly important, like my health, an d how lucky I am to be able to think and learn and create.

Still, concussions are shitty and I wouldn’t recommend them. In fact, I’d recommend going out of your way to avoid them. But if you have one, know you’re not alone, and know that things can get better.

So if you’re still reading this, WOW! I feel like I wrote this mainly as personal therapy and less because I think people will actually read it. But if you’re here, hey. I promise yummy food and plant-based lifestyle stuff is coming your way – in fact, I even have a few stories saved in “Drafts” from right before my head injury.

Anyways, have a nice day! Remember, you’re doing great, and Millie loves you!

Leave a Reply