Early Recovery

Spoiler Alert: I’m not sure anything was recovered.

After a concussion, it’s important to have brain rest. Studies show that athletes who keep playing after concussion take 2x longer to recover, and animal studies have shown that physical activity shortly after concussion inhibits healing. Well, I totally blew the physical and cognitive rest the first week following my concussion. However, the weeks that followed included plenty of rest. My brain craved rest, constantly. My ears rang incessantly, and my head always ached. Walking up the two flights of stairs to my room left me tired and dizzy. I tried to read, but I couldn’t understand the words on the page. The outside world was overwhelming, too much light and too many sounds. I wanted it quiet and dark. Podcasts and music became my forms of entertainment. By the end of summer, I was filled with random facts from listening to every npr podcast known to man.

My mental state was precarious. I was totally confused and in denial. I couldn’t comprehend how I drove back to St. Louis after my concussion, and 2 weeks later, walking around the block threw me into a headspin. I avoided telling people my predicament, it seemed unnecessary. I was sure I could act like everything was fine until I recovered. I wouldn’t let myself accept that I had a concussion. Instead, I was under the impression I was going crazy. I called my mom multiple times telling her this. She told me how ridiculous this was; I told her she wasn’t listening. This was of course, ridiculous.

After the first two weeks, my neck began to hurt more than it had initially. This coincided with my first bout of insomnia. Sleep had always been a friend of mine, so I really struggled to deal with the loss of it. By the time I followed up with a primary care physician, I was averaging 3 hours of sleep at night. I was prescribed a benzo and a muscle relaxant, as my neck muscles were constantly spasming, which was likely the reason I couldn’t sleep. The next few days were bliss, until my meds ran out (benzos are not appropriate for long term insomnia).

This doctor I saw was also skeptical that I had a true concussion. It is a common myth that you have to lose consciousness to have a concussion, a myth that even people in the medical field still believe (you do not have to lose consciousness to be diagnosed with a concussion).  After the appointment, I was even more confused. School was rapidly approaching and I still couldn’t study. I worried that I was going to be kicked out of school, and that the school wouldn’t believe I had a legitimate problem. This was not the case at all. The deans at my school helped me get an appointment with a neurologist who manages concussions, and I started physical therapy in August. The neurologist confirmed that YES, this was a concussion. And he finally said something that stuck with me…that every concussion is different. It takes some people weeks, months, or even years to recover. My likelihood of a full recovery was very high, there was just no way of telling how long it would take.

The concussion experience is different for every concussed person. Memory problems, headaches, balance issues, anxiety, depression, trouble concentrating, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, and nausea are a few of the common symptoms associated with concussion. Some people have many symptoms and some only have one, and recovery times vary. However, there ARE tools for rehabilitation for people who don’t recover on their own after a few weeks. Next post, I’ll talk about the first step on my road to recovery.

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