About a week after my second neurologist appointment, I got word from the UVA concussion clinic that they had scheduled me an appointment to meet with their neuropsychologist, occupational therapist, and physical therapist. So Jeff and I once again traveled to see specialists. During the initial meeting with the neuropsychologist, she got the impression from what I told her that visual stimuli seemed to be causing most of my issues and so when I met with the OT, she gave me eye exercises to complete daily in order to strengthen my eye muscles. Basically, they thought that my brain and my eyes were working at different speeds which was causing it to feel like my brain was shutting down. Finally, it at least felt like I had something I could work on doing myself, instead of just sitting and staring at walls. They also said that if I didn’t start seeing improvements with these therapies in a month, to make an appointment for neuropsychological testing, a four to six hour test to figure out cognitive deficiencies and create therapies to remedy them. With this in mind, my daily schedule began to look like this:
|Day in the Life 10/21/14||12 weeks post concussion|
|Breakfast:||Smoothie with Greek yogurt, almond milk, blueberries, Amazing Grass Superfood, turmeric, flaxseeds, chia|
|I try to alternate activities that use my mind with those that are more restful. My daily activities include:||· 45 minute walk (2.5miles)· 30/40m Barre3· 10m Vinyasa yoga flow
· 2x 10-15m meditation, one guided (from the UCLA website) and one to classical music
· 2x eye exercise
· 3x eye contrast bath (8x each eye, alternating hot and cold water)
· eye acupressure relief
· lots of listening to the Norah Jones Pandora station
· Some browsing Pinterest
· Listening to The Twelve on my iPad
· Lots of daydreaming
· Kitten snuggles
· Pretty Little Liars
· Padfoot care (she had to get stitches)
|9:30-10pm||Stressful dreams but good sleep|
I also discovered a brain injury forum back in September that not only provided useful information and advice, but also provided intense insight into this world of “mild” brain injuries and the severity of the long term effects of post concussive syndrome—some people had been suffering for year with only a little improvement, a fact that did little to assuage my fears. However, this was also a community of people going through the same experiences and sharing the processes that had facilitated their healing process, an invaluable resource.
At this point, I began to have good and bad days, greatly dictated by the amount and quality of my sleep and how hard I pushed myself. There were even times during the day where I felt completely normal, if only for a moment, and those fleeting minutes continued to bring the most hope to my healing process. As I write this (beginning of November), I’m having a “bad” day—dizzy, tired, head pressure—and it definitely brings back those feelings of despair—I just want this process to be over with and to have my life back.
At the end of November, I traveled to visit my sister and new nephew in Colorado for Thanksgiving. During the weeks leading up to the travel, I had been hoping that this trip would sort of kick start my body into finally finishing the healing process. I had given up returning to work before January but wanted to spend the next few weeks slowly increasing my work load until a part or full time return on January 5th. However, Colorado seemed to get the best of me. Instead of having good days with a few bad days in between, the entire time I was there it was like my body had regressed a few months. I tried to go into stores with my family and though my body had seemed to be handling visual stimuli so much better in Virginia, I could barely even take my eyes of the floor for fear of increasing vertigo and headaches. It was also a struggle at my sister’s house. I guess my brain had been so used to mellow, quiet time that it just couldn’t quite function in the chaos of a house full of family, and I had to stick to my strict schedule just to even have a chance of functioning for a few hours during the day.
After a week of struggling in Colorado, I returned home discouraged and annoyed but not entirely ready to give up to my dream of returning to work in January. Almost immediately after returning, my brain was able to return to being able to handle the same amounts of stimuli I had been able to at the beginning of November. I’m still not sure if it was the increase in altitude or just the stimuli, but it was upsetting to say the least.
The day after I got back home was my 27th birthday. I had been hoping that I wouldn’t have to turn 27 still feeling this way, but at least I was able to handle a little shopping! I began to go to Starbucks almost every morning to work on my computer, which has been one of the hardest things for me to do throughout this entire process. Some days were easier than others and some days, the computer work almost destroyed any chance of functioning for the rest of the day. When I saw my primary doctor the second week of the month, she basically told me that she had never seen post concussive syndrome last this long and really didn’t know what to tell me; we needed help. So, I made an appointment with the neurologist I had seen back in October at Wake Forest in January and tried to get appointments to see the people at the concussion clinic again, but never got a return phone call. At this point, it was pretty obvious to those around me that returning to work the first week of January just wasn’t going to happen, but I still had to cling onto hope, if just for my own sanity.
Towards the end of December, we flew to California to celebrate Christmas with our families and miraculously, I was able tolerate so much more than in Colorado, maybe even more than I had in Virginia. We went to see a naturopathic doctor who put me on a strict vitamin regimen—multi-vitamin, fish oil, vitamin E, vitamin K2, curcumin, and an Australian tree bark pill that was supposed to help with concussion symptoms—and told me to cut back on carbs as my lab results showed high triglycerides. You mean eating chips and salsa every day as a snack wasn’t good for me? I knew that through this entire healing process, I should have been more focused on eating healthily, and at times I was, but it became harder and harder the more time I had to myself at home. However, I left the naturopathic clinic with a renewed commitment to healthy eating and focusing on the aspects of healing I could control. It helped to be at home where my mother cooked mostly vegan anyway. In the 3 weeks after seeing the naturopathic doctor, I’d lost 7 pounds and weighed less than I had during marathon training–I guess he knew what he was talking about!
It’s sometimes hard to measure progress day by day in this process, but finally, I began to have faith that my body would maintain some sense of a baseline each day when I woke up and could place just a bit of trust in what I could accomplish that day. At of the beginning of January, I no longer had trouble concentrating and a change in schedule, routine, or sleep no longer seemed to impact me like before. Sometimes its hard to see marked progress in this recovery progress, but just writing that makes me know how far I’d come. My vertigo still seemed to be one of my worst symptoms, though directly related to how much stress I was trying to force my brain to endure. I also decided to participate in the January Barre3 challenge since I knew barre workouts were one of the few exercises my body could handle without increasing symptoms and to further my commitment to eating whole, unprocessed foods. Plus, I needed something positive to focus on to kick off the new year.