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Your Two-Week Long Concussion Isn't the Same as My Brain Injury

Over the past nine years, I have had the “I have a brain injury” conversation several times. I have had this conversation with friends, family, professors, significant others, co-workers and the internet. While the people who know my story are diverse, many of the responses I receive are very similar.

There has been a lot of work done to re-frame our understanding of concussions as insignificant knocks to the noggin’ to acknowledging them as brain injuries. Concussions are a type of brain injury that fall on a very large spectrum. While I agree it’s important to acknowledge concussions as brain injuries and treat them as serious injuries, there is one important thing I need the people in my life to know — your two-week long concussion that left you with no residual side effects or symptoms is not the same as my brain injury.

When I have the “I have a brain injury” conversation, a very common response is for people to tell me about their experiences with concussion. The majority of these concussions occurred years ago, lasted for two weeks and have had no long-term impact on the person. I understand we seek to relate to the world around us through our own lenses and experiences, but comparing your two-week long concussion to my nine-year and counting brain injury adventure is insulting.

This may sound harsh, and you may be thinking I don’t care about what you experienced during your concussion. That is not true; I know your concussion was unpleasant and you had a lot of the same symptoms as I do. I’m glad you recovered and I hope you never have another concussion, but this is the difference between you and I — you recovered and I didn’t.

After your two-week long concussion, your symptoms improved then disappeared, and you returned to your life.  You have to be careful as you will now be more susceptible to future concussions, but your life has carried on symptom-free and exactly the same as it did before your concussion.  Your concussion may have stalled your life for two weeks, but it hasn’t resulted in any big life changes or having to give up anything you love. You returned to your life, but I had to create a whole new one.

If the mention of my brain injury is the only reminder you will have today that you had a concussion, we are not in the same boat. I have reminders daily through symptoms at all hours. I used to shrug these conversations off as people trying to empathize with what I experience daily, but this happens far too often and usually becomes an unbalanced conversation. The people I have come across who do this usually interrupt me before I can even get a sentence in beyond “I have a brain injury.” I sit and listen to people share their concussion stories — stories I’m jealous of because they have an ending. We never get back to my brain injury. If I’m having this conversation with you, it’s because there’s important things you need to know about my brain injury.

I find these conversations exhausting due to the brain strain it takes to have any conversation and the emotional labor involved.  By interrupting me to share a story about a concussion that no longer affects you, you’re saying our experiences are comparable. To be blunt — they’re not even close. I can’t sit here and hold your hand about your two-week battle with a concussion that no longer impacts you while I’ve been battling mine for nine years and will for the rest of my life. While I appreciate your attempt to understand, this tells me you actually don’t get it.

Over the past few weeks, I have started experiencing seizures related to my brain injury. This is new for me and poses a more significant safety concern. This means I’m going to be having way more “I have a brain injury” conversations than I did before. If I talk to you about my brain injury, please be quiet and listen — it’s more important for you to know what to do if I have a seizure than for me to know about a headache you had three years ago.

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Getty image by Antonio Guillem.