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Suffering in Silence: A Concussion Story

Novemeber 2015. 

It was Remembrance Day (oddly enough) when I hit my head, for the second time that week.
 
The first time was a few days prior... the hubby & I had flown to Nevada for a weekend conference.
The very first night there, after a really long day of traveling, I plugged my dying phone into the wall, spent a few moments with it then stood up under the open door of the safe.
[email protected]! that hurt.
But an ice pack & a few hours of sleep saved the day.
I felt great the next morning, all things considered, & the rest of the trip went pretty smoothly.
 
The second time though, I was back at the gym training a client; after clearing away some equipment, I misjudged my location & stood up under the weighted arm of the cable machine. Yowza!
 
Well actually, I didn’t stand up…I very much stayed down & I remained seated on the floor while training the 3 clients I had scheduled that evening, then drove myself home.
 
Sure, my balance was off & my vision was fuzzy, I definitely had a headache & the lights seemed increasingly nauseating but, I had never suffered a brain injury before; thought I could just sleep it off...
 
The next day back at the gym, my first client was a young nurse. She could tell something was wrong & insisted I see a doctor, but I stubbornly just repeated "I'm fine" throughout our session & tried to shrug it off. 
Then Gail came in; this opinionated woman in her late 60’s literally sat on the floor & wouldn’t move until I promised to go see a doctor immediately!
 
Reluctantly, I made my way to the hospital.
 
Once inside, the patterns on the floor made me dizzy & the fluorescent lights were increasingly flooding the space; I felt sick to my stomach.
 
As I sat on the bed in Urgent Care waiting for the doctor to arrive, I struggled to type out, copy & paste a short message to my remaining clients to let them know I wouldn’t be in today.
 
That’s when he walked in. 
 
The doctor took one look at me and said “if it’s not affecting your ability to be on your phone, it’s just a migraine; you’re fine, you can go back to work.”
 
So, armed with a type-A personality and “expert advice”, I chalked it up to jet lag & went back to work the next day. #ImFineRight
 
I did my best to brush it off, I really did, but unfortunately, it didn’t last very long. 
Despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t do it. 
 
Upon second & third inspection, turns out these consecutive blows left me severely concussed & suffering from whiplash; not “just a migraine.” 
 
 
Before this traumatic brain injury, I was an articulate, extroverted, motivated night owl with a photographic memory; brainiac, party girl & all-around people person.
 
After it happened though, I couldn’t leave the house.
Constantly nauseous, dizzy & paranoid with terrible headaches, no short-term memory, extreme light sensitivity & I was seriously imbalanced emotionally.
We’re talking tears at the drop of a hat, literally - like a toddler, I’d cry & scream “we’re never gonna make it!!” if my husband had to stop the car for a red light.
 
Of course I couldn’t drive, I was afraid to go outside.
When I was convinced to go out, I’d have panic attacks, especially in crowded places or bright spaces.
I had an intense fear of falling, afraid of hitting my head again.
 
The doctors were remarkably unhelpful & my mandatory appointments left me sick & drained for days.
I was a complete wreck; physically incapacitated & socially paralyzed.
 
I couldn’t see straight, think straight & had trouble putting thoughts into words.
When words did form, they came out garbled & slurred.
People couldn’t understand what was wrong with me, cuz, “you look okay!?”
But, I wasn’t - I wasn't okay at all.
I sounded drunk & felt unbelievably hung-over; yet, I could barely eat, let alone drink any amount of alcohol.
No caffeine or sugar of any kind either!
 
No reading, no writing, no video games, no scrolling through social feeds or watching movies...'cuz if I did, I was in for a cascading whirlwind of symptoms that would immobilize me for days.
 
Friends & family didn’t check in.
My newly-wed husband had receded.
 
I was suffering in silence.
 
Here was a trained chemist, athlete & health coach who couldn’t successfully pour water into a glass, make a meal, take a walk, read a book, write an email or even recall if she’d just fed the dogs...."or was I about to feed them?" *cue tears*
 
I felt like an invalid; I’d gone from the top of my class in math & chemistry to being confused adding 5 + 3 on my fingers.
In my opinion, it was the worst form of torture.
 
After 2 months of bed rest, suffering with nasty symptoms that didn’t seem to be getting any better, I became suicidal.
My brain started telling me, “you want to die… you’re never going to get better; the pain will never go away.”
 
Suicidal ideation is surprisingly common among concussion victims & studies have shown that suicide rates are astonishingly 3-times the population norms.
 
I genuinely feared for my life.
 
But here's the thing: 
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a gamer; Atari, Nintendo, SNES, PlayStation, Dreamcast, XBox, Wii…I love them all. And not just video games, I love board games, card games, dice games, dominoes, sudoku puzzles, riddles, hide-and-go-seek…the list goes on.
 
It’s been proven that playing games helps us tackle tough challenges with more creativity, determination, optimism & makes us more likely to reach out for help.
 
That's when I realized that I had two choices,
I can either kill myself – or – I can pull myself together & turn this into a game.
 
So that's what I did #EverythingIsFigureoutable
 
Unfortunately, my symptoms prevented me from playing any traditional games, so washing my hair, doing a few dishes, reaching out to a friend or standing outside for a minute, were some of my “special missions”.
 
I pushed myself to do just one thing every day that made me feel even a little bit productive.
 
Cannabis was a life-saver with the nausea, anxiety & some of the pain, my daily quests helped to boost my mood & I was starting to show signs of progress but, recovery was still rocky. I suffered with unpredictable & overwhelming pain & exhaustion, confusion, mood swings, vision problems & frustrating memory fog.
 
I had a strong suspicion that indoor mold was contributing to my ongoing symptoms, even more so after watching Dave Asprey’s Moldy documentary. 
But my doctor didn’t agree. He actually suggested pharmaceuticals; thought a mood stabilizer might help me transition back to work.
 
That's when I panicked.
 
Despite my desire to get back up & running, the thought of medication was frightening.
 
It was then I remembered Matty; more recently known as Dr. Matthew Bennett, Naturopathic Doctor and formulator of the Bennett’s Choice line of brain supplements.
I’d recently heard my highschool crush had whipped up a wonder drug that was helping pro athletes with their concussion recovery. I messaged him immediately.
 
Miraculously, within days of taking his Brain Evolve formula, my motor skills & sleep quality dramatically improved & my vision stabilized enough to broaden my game play.
 
Video games like the Lego series & ones based on Agatha Christie’s mystery books worked best in the beginning. These slow moving games helped me problem solve; they gave me an outlet to try & fail, without suffering a setback of physical symptoms.
 
Video games have been shown to improve coordination, problem solving skills, attention & concentration. They can enhance memory, improve brain speed and be a great source of learning. Virtual avatars can help us live our real lives with more courage, ambition & commitment to our goals.
 
Jane McGonigal, an online game designer, believes we need to play more games in order to save the world; she figures upwards of 21 billion hours a week as a planet should do it.  hehe
 
One day, Jane’s 2012 SuperBetter TED talk made it’s way to me somehow and I cannot begin to express what a huge inspiration it was in my recovery.
Thank you, Jane!
As I listened to her concussion story that day, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel so alone. I watched that video with tears of joy as everything she said deeply resonated. She understood what I was going through.
 
Many studies have proven the power of support & understanding in times of healing. I urge you to join a support group or find someone to speak with if you’re currently suffering in silence.

In that short TED talk, Jane confirmed everything I was trying to accomplish by playing my games. She said, “some people get stronger & happier after a traumatic event”, it’s actually something called post-traumatic growth.

That day, Jane gave me permission to play harder.
 
Fast forward 3 years …
Now the way I see it, the universe has funny ways of giving us exactly what we need; and, in all honesty I suppose I needed that, to experience it first-hand.
 
You can’t taste an apple in a book.
 
This experience has given me a new perspective on life, health & the human body.
It’s made me a more grateful, compassionate & patient human being.
It gave me the permission I desperately needed to slow down & truly get to know myself.
It helped me embrace the fact that we really can’t do more than one thing at a time & yoga isn’t just for sissies
 
It has shown me that the real key to health-care is self-care & the key to everything is to KISS it! (Keep It Simple, Sweetheart)
 
 
With much love & gratitude,
thank you for reading.
~meg xo

 

P.S. Have you had a concussion? How are you doing post-trauma?
Please leave a comment below; I’d love to hear your story.
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