I first began chronicling my experience with post concussive syndrome back in October and since computers were a struggle to use, I kept my handwritten entries in a small journal. The following excerpts are from October through the middle of November, and I’ve tried to leave it as unedited as possible to highlight my original thoughts about the ordeal.
Today is Saturday, October 4th, nearly eleven weeks after I sustained my concussion. I woke up around 7:20am after about nine hours of somewhat restive sleep, my usual these days. The hours? minutes? seconds? before I woke were filled with stressful, strange dreams, which is also usual these days. Last night, I dreamt of driving down a wide, one way road, desperately seeking the freeway entrance I wanted. I drove past the entrances, about five total, each leading a different way, unable to spot the one I needed: highway 70. After turning around, I finally spotted it a second too late and had to drive a distance to the next light to make a left turn and turn around. This then put me the wrong way on another one way street, but instead of pulling over, I dodged traffic, Fast & Furious style, until I could safely make it back to my side of the road. Finally, I found a spot to make a U-turn and proceeded to my destination. As I mentioned, these kind of stressful dreams are a normal nightly occurrence. Often, I am in my classroom unable to complete a task or teach my students.
Last night’s dream, however, seems so metaphoric of my current situation and is perhaps my brain’s way of communicating its struggle to regain its former connections. And, then, there’s the destination: highway 70. At first, it seemed so random—why would my mind choose a road as an end point and not a place or a person? Besides the obvious “life is a road” yada yada connection, highway 70 also the less traveled way to our cabin in Warner Valley near Lassen National Park in the California Sierra Nevadas. It is a place of my childhood, of so many firsts. A place of family. Though it takes a little longer to get to the cabin, the route traverses the breathtaking Feather River Canyon, and I see now, that perhaps my subconscious was really trying to help me come to an understanding.
My journey with PCS, though so much longer than many others, will ultimately guide me back to a familiar place of peace, of love, and most importantly, of growth. I may not be the same person I was when I arrive, just as I changed so many times with each childhood visit to my cabin. This time, the journey looks different, but this road to healing may be the most important yet. As I took my now ritual walk in this cool, crisp autumn air, I realized that this journey has already passed through a season—from summer to fall—and the thought overwhelmed me as I was bombarded by thoughts and feelings from these past eleven weeks. And, as I walked, I began retracing those steps.
It all began Sunday morning on July 20th, 2014. As usual, I was rushing to get ready because I wanted to take a few outfit photos for my blog before we took in a summer afternoon movie. As I was putting away my make-up basket in our hall closet (we have super limited bedroom and bathroom storage), I turned to rush into the office/guest bedroom to add some final hairspray before heading out the door. As I turned, I hadn’t realized that my head was still inside door frame, and as I turned, I smacked the upper right side of my head against the edge of the door jam, whipping my head back into place. My head stung for a few minutes, but nothing major—I’ve experienced way more painful accidents than that in my 20+ years as an athlete. Trying not to think too much about it, Jeff and I headed out to grab a sandwich before shooting the photos and heading to the movies. The rolling of the car made me feel a little nauseous, and I just started to feel a little out of it, but never did I really think I had a concussion. I hadn’t lost consciousness, and to this day, I remember the entire event clearly.
I tried to continue normal daily life for the next three days as much as possible. I tutored at the Sylvan center and while I was having difficulty focusing and concentrating at first, I was able to push through and eventually feel relatively normal. I also continued to work out, going to spin class, running, and doing my daily Barre3. Again, I felt a little “off” and dazed, but I just kept thinking the feeling would eventually subside. Finally, on Wednesday morning—three days after hitting my head—I was getting out of the shower and was struck by an extreme wave of dizziness/vertigo and mental fog and almost knocked me over. Terrified, I drove to my tutoring job and somehow made it through the next two hours without losing it. When I was done, I immediately called the nurse practitioner I had seen once before for a physical and obtained an appointment for later that afternoon. Still in my usual exercise mode, I walked the 1.5 miles to the appointment, and I vividly remember doing tricep dips in my chair while waiting for the nurse to come in. When she finally did, I described my symptoms—dizziness, feeling out of it/not like myself, inability to focus/concentrate—and after performing a few tests, she immediately diagnosed me with a mild concussion.
Based on my symptoms, she did not think a needed a CT scan (too small of a chance for a brain bleed), so she sent my away with a print-out explaining concussions (complete with a picture of a head with an arrow pointing to the brain—um, thanks, but I think I knew where that was) and a list of things to do/not do over the next week. I could not read, play video games, watch too much tv, exercise, or essentially, think too much. She also wanted me to sleep as much as was humanely possible. I cried at the diagnosis and left her office with tears streaming down my face—and proceeded to walk the 1.5 miles back to my house.
I’d never had anything seriously wrong with my before, not even a broken bone, and frankly, I was terrified. And if I had known what was in store for my future, I would have been even more so. The next week passed in a bit of a blur. Ever the overachiever, I immediately started sleeping 12-14 hours per night and taking three short naps during the day. During the short time I was awake, I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix or pretty much stared at the wall. If the doctor said this was going to take one week to resolve, I was going to do it in even less time. Ha. As I continued to rest, I actually started to feel a lot worse than I did initially. And at my one week check-up, I lied, or rather hoped, and said that I was starting “to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” even though I was slowly becoming even more discouraged and perhaps even depressed, becoming emotional and crying at the smallest things. Looking back and based on research I’ve since done, I really think those first few weeks of total brain rest actually hindered my recovery—I was lying down way too much, staying indoors, barely even moving, binge eating, and watching way too much too t.v.. At this point too, Jeff was becoming increasingly frustrated with me, discounting the effects of the concussion and emphasizing the effect my anxiety over the past few weeks were influencing my situation, so he did his best to try to encourage me to do a little more.
I really had no idea how much was “real” concussion symptoms and how much was anxiety induced, so I began to listen to him and started to stay awake for longer periods of time and incorporated some walking into my daily routine. And I really did begin to feel better, probably because the small amount of exercise was actually helping to curb my anxiety and depression. Still, during this entire two and a half week period, my mind was constantly foggy, my head felt heavy, and I was dizzy all the time, though at the time, was experiencing little to no head pain.
To Be Continued Next Friday…