A Concussion: The Untamable Beast

It’s been quite a while since I last posted, a half a year to be exact. And what a year it’s been for me recovering (sadly ongoing) from a nasty concussion. It quickly turned into a year of practicing patience for me so as we embark on a brand new one, I am going to make continued patience my new best friend in 2018.

As you must all know by now, I am the kind of person that whole heartedly believes that everything happens for a reason. Even my concussion.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about concussions; and I don’t know if it’s the typical experience of once you think of something or experience something it shows up around every corner, on every billboard, commercial, book or movie. Life is weird that way; but it always seems to happen, in my life anyway. So concussions have been on the lips of many this past year, they’ve been in the news, in new policies in the sports world, new school policies, concussions have become the new buzz word.

I don’t typically shy away from writing very personal stories but it’s taken me this long to write about my concussion because this story is probably one of my most personal and exposes a vulnerability I have never experienced before in my life. Even as a new mother when the world becomes a scary place and you have to be brave in ways you’ve never known before; that pales in comparison to what I’ve been through with the untamable beast; a concussion.

I knew instantly that my world had changed when I got hit but immediately something takes over and says you can overcome this, you can hide this, but what you don’t know is, those rational thoughts are only heard inside your own clouded head, to the outside world you make absolutely no sense and you can not hide. Life as you knew it comes to a screeching halt and a new uphill battle begins; an all out war to regain some sense of function or any shred of life as you knew it to return.

You are lost in your own head, no one gets in and nothing gets out. It’s mind numbingly quiet but excruciatingly loud all at the same time and constantly hazy and eerie to say the least. You truly live in a dark, dense fog that’s impossible to get out of  – let alone think yourself out of. The headaches were very different from the ones I had pre concussion, it felt like a vise grip was tightening around my skull. The pressure and the pain was gruesome, made me sick to my stomach and at times and impossible to cope with. It’s paralyzing because you feel so vulnerable and out of control.

No matter what life threw at you before, you were always in control of your own thoughts and your actions. But not with a concussion. The concussion rules your thoughts and your actions for the most part. You have no idea what thoughts you can trust and or believe. You are literally living outside of the reality everyone else is living in. You come in and out of the fog, with tiny glimmers of a clear head, but then it’s gone again as fast as it fleetingly appeared. I remember the tingling in my head from time to time, I described it as caterpillars crawling through my brain and I decided to label that as my brain healing in that moment. It was horrid but I knew enough to grab on to something and trick my brain that I was in control. So I looked forward to that sensation throughout the day. I meditated on my office floor….from sun up to sun down, literally leaving that room crippled me with fear. That’s the only spot in my house where I felt comfortable, safe and at peace for the first ten days. I listened to delta brain wave sounds on my headphones and imagined that as healing waves enveloping my brain.

I now have a new understanding and appreciation for those who are going through the process of concussion recovery. I now realize each and every concussion is different. The length, the pain, the fog, the confusion, the lethargy, the isolation, the recovery, all different for each sufferer. It’s frustrating because you look fine, there’s no visible bruises, you don’t look or sound sick…so people just think all is fine. But what they don’t realize is the absolute torture that is going on inside your brain. And not just the physical pain of the brain crushing headaches, but the mental distress and loss of any rational thought. I’ve read a lot about concussions since suffering from one, I even have very close friends going through the same thing; wait…that’s my point….she and they are recovering from their own concussions….and it is not the same thing. Each individual goes through their own torture, whether it be quick or agonizingly long.

And when I read other blogs or articles, I understand people’s frustrations about how others roll their eyes when you talk about your concussion, how they say well at least you don’t have cancer or it’s just a headache it will pass. I can’t get mad at those people, because simply put; they have no idea what it’s like unless they are unfortunate enough to suffer a concussion themselves. The absolute gripping fear and anxiety I felt at the thought that I had to leave the house to go to a doctor’s appointment was beyond overwhelming. Never in my life have I been afraid to leave the house, go out and run errands, see friends…do the simple day to day things I did without a passing thought. Not when you have a concussion, the anxiety is what scared me the most I think. It’s an inner doubting, a fear that was foreign to me, one that I couldn’t control or ease with the more rational thoughts I had. The anxiety and fear completely take hold of your thoughts and it’s nearly impossible to rid your mind of them.

It’s a lonely and desolate time and you have to be or learn to be comfortable being alone and really like yourself. You feel like a social outcast uncomfortable in your own skin. For me, it was the Christmas season, a time for parties, Christmas shows and concerts, shopping, socializing, twinkling lights and music….but a concussion allows for non of that. I remember, about 12 days after my injury, a trip to the grocery store, where I had to call my husband and have him talk me off the ledge or from going postal in the grocery store. I could hear every sound imaginable, the beep of every purchase, the music, the wheels of every cart, even people breathing and it was sending me into a total tail spin of uncontrollable rage. To try and find a product on the shelves was impossible as your brain and eyes have to scan the shelves as you are moving forward. Makes me sick to even think back to how that felt in that moment. Moving on!!!

I was lucky and have had three amazing doctors/specialists taking good care of me. I was a mess with what was going on inside my head, I was in pain, I was scared, I was frustrated and I was foolishly determined to get past this as quickly as possible. But what you don’t realize about concussions….it controls you…you don’t control it. It decides all.

One of my doctors really explained what was going on and told me until I really give in to my concussion and respect it….you can not begin to recover. She said a concussion wins every time, it’s like standing in front of an oncoming tidal wave and trying to stop it with your two hands. Impossible, she said you have to allow your concussion to run its coarse, accept and acknowledge all the crazy thoughts and give them their due time. Encourage your thoughts to come and then go, don’t try to fight them. She told me to think of my concussion like two people. Kimberly and Concussion Kimberly and as old, strong, secure, in control of her thoughts Kimberly looks on to the mess that’s become Concussion Kimberly; show her compassion, give her the time to have her concussion temper tantrums, let her believe people are trying to kill her family, let her be weak and tired and quiet and then pick her up by the hand and slowly begin to walk her to the door. Visualize it; every time the thoughts come; let her in and walk her out. It may take a day, a week, a month, a year or more, but Concussion Kimberly will eventually start visiting less and less. Once I began to respect Concussion Kimberly is when I started to feel my brain healing. Once I understood that patience was the key to recovery I began to feel in control again. That advise was a game changer for me. That advise validated what I was going through; my doctor knew this was a real thing, she understood how scary this was and she became my rock, my stepping stone for a painstakingly slow recovery process.

In the weeks after my injury, just looking at a computer screen drove nails into my head. The flashing of a TV screen felt like my head was going to explode. Music was too much, especially if others were around having a conversation or going about their day. My family was forced to live in darkness as lights were too much for me to handle. I just sat there wishing for quiet and to be alone…but at the same time, having spent so much time alone and in the dark, I was craving company and conversation. It’s so frustrating. And the mood swings, my goodness, I barely recognized myself at times. My poor daughter looked at me a few times like I was abducted by Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest when I had a full on temper tantrum in a store or out in public.

EVERYTHING became overwhelming. After being forced by my doctors to leave the security of my office floor, I spent hours upon hours alone in my car. I found that was the next place of serenity for me. I would grab a tea and my headphones and go sit in a parking lot of a local park. I would sit there, heat blasting, listening to my meditation music and watch the squirrels prepare for winter, nature was soothing for me. Let me tell you; I felt like a bit of a weirdo sitting in my car alone in a city park parking lot (with my big white Beats headphones on) Then I would keep my headphones on but unplug from my phone, because the city noises; car, trucks, streetcars would trigger a meltdown and have a nice walk around the park by myself. My doctors all said nature is the best healer, so get out and be near water or a forest or anything that is calm and soothing. It was true, it was helping but the process of getting there was the stickler.

As the weeks, months and now a year has past I know I have come along way. I can work again, not the same as I used to mind you, but I am writing another book which feels like a monumental accomplishment. I can sit in a restaurant for longer periods of time without getting nauseous. I can listen to music again for longer periods of time. My life is just different now, I am more aware of my triggers, I respect them and listen for them. I still don’t accept them; but I respect them and I am hoping for continued progress for a full recovery one day.

Patience my new motto in life – my lifeline. Not a bad motto to embrace. I had to be patient with the untamable beast, patient with myself, patient that I would be able to write again, patient that I will one day be able to sit in a crowded room and not want to toss my cookies from the layered noises. Patient that sitting through my daughter’s volleyball tournament doesn’t send me reeling for days after (still working on that one). Patient that my goals and my ambitions from the year before are still there and attainable this year. Patient that one day; I will make a full recovery. And if not, than be ever patient with who I have become. I guess that’s why they say patience is a virtue.

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