Part 1 of 3 It’s been one year.
I have post-concussion syndrome, otherwise known as a traumatic brain injury. According to a specialist I recently saw, 80% of people with concussions recover within the first 3 months. Another 15% within the first year. The remaining 5% may take years to fully recover, or they may never regain everything that was lost. That’s me. The 5%.
I have resisted acknowledging this as my story. The reality of my experience has pulled at me, demanding to be seen and spoken, and yet I kept turning away. This is not me. This is not who I am. This is not my life.
But it is my life. The story is part of me. As I make my way from the false security of denial to allowing my story to take its true shape and form, acceptance builds within me, opening the possibility to live and thrive in this new landscape.
Sept 14, 2022 was an absolutely beautiful day. One of those fall days injected with the taste and feel of summer. Working from home, and with a wonderfully extra long lunch break, I called to my dog that we were going for a walk in the woods. We bounded out of the house, down the deck and off to the trail. At 10 years old, my dear friend was still up for adventures, and his years seemed to melt away as he joyfully pushed through the undergrowth ahead of me. I laughed as I took off after him, running through the woods.
Moments later I rounded a curve I’ve walked hundreds of times. And everything changed. My right toe caught on what I assume was a tree root. It happened so fast, I didn’t even feel myself falling much less have time to slow the descent. My face crashed into a mossy root. My glasses spun off and landed a few feet away. Pain erupted across my brow, nose, and cheekbone. As moments passed, that initial pain ebbed, I found my glasses, assessed I was in one piece, and ok. My sweet friend waited a few feet away, remarkably unperturbed by his human sprawled out on the ground.
It took about 10 minutes for a different type of pain to set in. I suddenly became very aware of my brain. It was as though I could feel its contours within my skull. I could feel it bouncing and scraping against the sides of my skull with every step. I was not ok and I needed to get home. By the time my feet hit the deck attached to the house, my vision was no longer clear, nausea was billowing up, and the roaring in my head that would be my constant companion ever since had begun.
The ER nurse brought a cold compress for my head – oh my god, that felt so good – I just wanted to sit with it forever. A CT scan revealed no visible damage. The doctor explained that with my particular fall, my brain had likely slammed into the front of my skull with the initial impact, and then as my head recoiled backwards, my brain likewise crashed into the back of my skull. Each impact, and the wild motions in between, causing damage to the precious cells that make up my brain. He prescribed anti-nausea medication, recommended ibuprofen and acetaminophen for pain, told me to take it easy and symptoms should resolve in 7-14 days. I’d be fine.
Those 7-14 days were like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I existed only in my head, so intense were the sensations swirling within my skull. I could sit and be with the pain, roaring, and pressure, or I could drop heavily into sleep as though gravity was pulling me to center of the earth, trapping me with with fatigue.
I counted off the promised 7-14 days. There was some improvement. Slowly I could stay awake longer. It gradually became easier to walk across the room, or look at light coming in the windows for brief moments. I was a long way from ok, but the story I held onto was the one started in the ER. I’d be fine.
Over the next few weeks, I slowly started back at work with a reduced schedule. My brain felt tender which helped me remember to pace myself and be ever-conscious of the need to stop and rest. I shifted the story to allow that I was having a slightly slower than average recovery, but I’d still be fine.
It was when the constant tenderness abated, that my new struggle began. Without the ever-present reminder that I was injured, I became laser-focused on bringing my full and complete recovery into reality by sheer force of will and the seductive power of denial. I. Would. Be. Fine.
The following months revolved around convincing myself and those around me that I was better, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Their questions reflected the puzzlement familiar to anyone hit by sudden illness or disability, particularly those conditions invisible to the eye. Aren’t you better yet? Are you still dealing with that? You must be feeling better. My cousin’s had 3 concussions and he’s fine. Why are