What Life Is Really Like After a Concussion
Since February 28, 2017, I have had many, many conversations I don’t remember. I have said, aloud, to myself, “I want to die,” countless times every single day and come up with plans more times in a week than I did in all my years as a depressed teen. Many nights, I’ve laid awake in bed completely and utterly exhausted, but my brain too overwhelmed and pained to let me sleep.
This is life with a concussion.
Before crashing my car at 60 miles per hour into a cement barrier, sending me spinning off the road into the ditch, I thought a concussion was a bad headache. I didn’t think it was headaches which engulfed your entire skull that no painkillers could relieve. I didn’t know the headache was coupled with a confusion that got worse when people asked questions like, “What do you want for lunch?” and “Do you want to go for a walk?” I hadn’t the slightest clue that such questions could send someone with a concussion into a fit of tears and rage; being confused by such simple questions leads to the most intense frustration and feelings of powerlessness.
I’m 27 years old, but when my mom asked if I wanted mayo on my sandwich, I yelled at her, stormed off into my room and slammed the door. When my husband tried to explain a cheaper — but somewhat complicated — way to get my print job done, I yelled at him, stormed off into my room and slammed the door. When my parents wouldn’t leave me alone in my apartment, despite me asking them to, because I was unable to cook for myself, I yelled at them, stormed off into my room and slammed the door.
Life with a concussion is hell.
Any movement can cause a dizziness that has me falling over. Bending to pick something up. Turning my head. Walking down the hallway. Anything done without calculated caution and incredible slowness has the room spinning. Caught in my first earthquake, I thought I was just concussion-ing out because the dizziness has me feeling like the earth is moving. I’ve fallen more than once, which is why for the first few months I had to shower sitting down, only when someone else was home. I still can’t lock the door to the bathroom, just in case.
This feeling that the world is tipping is followed by a nausea that cannot be relieved by anything. It leaves slowly, after hours of sitting perfectly still, starring off into space.
Off into space, not at a television or phone. This means no Netflix. No news. No texting friends or scrolling through social media to see what’s going on in the world. Complete isolation. Which is probably a blessing, because with a concussion you miss everything and don’t need reminders. Mention of a good party, mediocre coffee or even a stressful work meeting sends pangs of jealousy that end with another fit of teary rage.
Sensory overload is real and it’s terrifying. Lights in the doctor’s office, sound effects in podcasts, strong perfume, a hand touching the shoulder. Too much sensation leads to an explosion in the brain; it’s like a light suddenly bursts in my mind and all I can think to do is run, scream, cry and find somewhere dark and quiet where no one is going to try to comfort me with words or touch.
Sometimes it’s impossible to escape. “Where is that music coming from?” I whispered to my husband one night. “Turn it off. Right now.” There was no music. Feeling my brain fail the most basic of tasks is the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced.
What’s worse, is that no one understands. Worst is being asked again and again what concussion symptoms are and how long recovery will take, despite information being available online. People still leave me voicemails despite me repeatedly explaining that listening to them is difficult and having even three messages to go through is overwhelming. No one seems to understand a concussion is a brain injury and your brain is responsible for everything from moving to feeling to hearing to answering the most mundane questions.
Recovery is slow and oh-so-painful. A day when I can write is often followed by a day of being unable to walk around my dim home without sunglasses. One week I’m hiking, the next I’m clutching my husband’s arm to keep me upright through the grocery store. There’s no way to predict. There’s no brain power to plan for the bad days.
It’s a depressing, painful, uncomfortable and lonely hole.
I understand now why a high risk of suicide is associated with brain injuries. It’s getting harder and harder to hang on. So, until recovery, my only job is to hang on and hope my loved ones are still there for me when I get through to the other side. But, with so little public knowledge about concussions, I don’t really have high hopes that my uncontrollable rage, unpredictable health and inconsistent communication will be forgivable by everyone.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
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Lead image via Imane Boudadi