Life after a Concussion

Back in April I was playing a friendly game of pickup hockey with friends. Early in the first period, I was skating towards the boards to get to the puck. I put my head down (big no-no) and one of my friends on the other team nailed me right on my right temple with her shoulder. I fell to the ice, thinking on the way down, “So this is what getting a concussion feels like.”

Life hasn’t been quite the same since then.

(In case you ask, like everyone else has: yes, I was wearing full protective gear, a mouthguard, and a helmet that is relatively new. I’m not stupid. Everyone I play with dresses like this. The protective gear I was wearing is the thing that kept this from being worse.)

It’s hard to read about sports these days without hearing about concussions. However, usually the subjects are youth athletes or professional football players. No one is concerned about middle-aged women who get concussions while playing sports – probably because we are a pretty small demographic in the universe of concussed people.

If you are lucky enough to have escaped concussions in your life, bravo! I wish I could rejoin your ranks. Since I can’t, I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve learned about living with a concussion since that day in April.

  1. Each concussion is a unique butterfly, and even if the doctors don’t call it “major” at the time, it can have long-lasting mental, physical, and emotional effects.
  2. Recovery is a process, and anything you already had going on with your brain is only going to complicate the recovery. Side-eye at YOU, migraines and depression. My maybe-once-a-month migraines have turned into days-at-a-time migraines, and my depression, which has been at bay for almost 2 years, is starting to creep back in around the edges. Needless to say, I’m not thrilled about either development.
  3. Communication patterns can get disrupted after a concussion. Before my concussion I was able to talk on the phone with my folks easily for an hour. Now I struggle to follow conversations on the phone if they’re longer than about 5 minutes. I hate that and know my parents do too. It’s made collaborating with people outside of my place of work harder too, although a committee I’m on recently gave Google Hangouts a whirl at my request. Happily that worked a lot better for me (and I think everyone else on the call as well.)
  4. Physical recovery is weird. Another person who goes to my gym got a concussion around the same time as me (hit by a softball at his daughter’s game.) He took a few weeks and was able to get right back to working out. Me? Seven months in and I get screaming headaches whenever my heart rate goes up. That makes things like playing hockey, weightlifting, and doing CrossFit (my three main modes of activity) really challenging. So I walk a lot, which is fine and all, but nothing like the kind of exercise my body craves.
  5. Having a solid Team You – both at home and at work – is nothing short of a godsend. My supervisor and colleagues are supportive of my ongoing recovery, and have shown compassion when things don’t happen like they used to pre-concussion.  And Amy – who loves me, feeds me, and is my rock – has provided me a safe space in which to struggle through this recovery process. Eternal gratitude and love to her. 

Over the course of this recovery I’ve had two brain scans. The first was a CT scan a couple of days after the concussion, mainly to determine if my brain was bleeding. It wasn’t, thank goodness. I don’t remember much about that day other than waiting over an hour for my insurance to approve the scan TO MAKE SURE MY BRAIN WASN’T BLEEDING. Seriously? Seriously. I hate insurance companies so much sometimes. Except when they do pay for things like brain scans. Then I like them.

The second brain scan I got was an MRI a couple of weeks ago, because my migraines have gotten progressively worse since April and my primary care doctor wanted to rule out any obvious reasons beyond concussion recovery (like tumors). (There aren’t any, so yay!) So a few words of advice if you’re going to have a head-first-into-the-tube MRI (much of this was thanks to friends on Twitter, who I turned to for advice in the hours before I had the MRI)

  • Take the blanket they offer you or ask for one if they don’t. And keep your socks on! It’s chilly in the tube.
  • Yoga breathing is really helpful in the tube. 5-count, breathe in, 5-count, breathe out. Repeat.
  • Find a happy place and go there in your mind. I found that having motion in my happy place was useful – I spent 45 minutes in my brain skiing in fresh powder at Big Sky, a ski resort in Montana. Maybe your happy place is biking or boating or floating on your back in the ocean – having movement and something to “feel” kept me in that happy place instead of focusing on the fact that I was in a very small enclosed tube.
  • Keep your eyes shut. You don’t want to know how big or small the tube is. If you must open them, don’t look up AT the tube, look down at your feet, which are outside the tube.

So yeah. I’m still living this thing every day. This morning I woke up with at 3am – it’s wedged in right behind and above both my eyes. I’ve taken some medication, but it’s not really helping, so I’ll be going to work late and having a differently-productive day because of it. And I thank my colleagues who let me be flexible with my work and let me figure out how to handle this concussion recovery as it ebbs and flows.

If you ever find yourself in possession of your very own concussion – or someone near you has one – I hope this small snapshot of what life after a concussion looks like helps you out just a little bit.

2 thoughts to “Life after a Concussion”

  1. Oh Megan, this truly sucks. I’m so sorry you’re going through it. I hope you’re able to find some relief. Hugs…
    PS – I’m so glad you’re blogging again!

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