So coming back from any injury as an athlete is probably pretty difficult. I’ve been very lucky to never have to deal with a serious break. I did break my toe when I was dancing (in Scotland.. Edinburgh Castle, actually) but I still continued to dance. But I have to say, coming back from a TBI has been incredibly difficult. This is something that has completely altered my life. Little things that I so often took for granted before have now become daily struggles. Some have gotten better, while I’m still trying to work at others and figure out, understand, accept and learn how to deal with new strategies to try and live life as normally as possible.
When the concussion first happened, I had almost no idea that anything was wrong. First, I realized that my hearing was gone and my balance was way off. I assumed that, since I had had a cough and sore throat, that it was nothing major and was likely just an ear infection. So I let it slide. I played the whole game, and though I couldn’t skate well or stay on my feet I chalked it up to the slippy floor and the ear infection. I don’t remember much of the game, just that I felt horrible about myself and my performance. I sat in the dressing room crying at half time, something I’m not prone to do during any sports performance. And after the game, I called my brother and was crying to him about how badly the game had gone.
The next few days I seemed alright. A bit slower, more tired maybe, and nauseous the day after but I assumed that was the hangover from the afterparty (yes, I did make the mistake of going out and drinking that night). I went to a practice or two that week as I was supposed to play a game with FDR the next weekend, but I still couldn’t stand on my skates. That’s when I knew something was wrong. I had practically been on skates since before I could walk, so falling everywhere was way out of character. The next day I decided to go to the clinic to get something for that damn ear infection.
When I saw the doctor, they did a few balance tests and checked my ear. Turns out, I had been hit so hard that the reason I couldn’t hear was that all the blood vessels on my ear drum had burst. When I asked if my hearing would come back, the two doctors (or doctor & nurse.. can’t remember now..) were not sure. I remember thinking “I’m 22.. and I might have gone partially deaf.. at 22.” I couldn’t believe it. Having had many concussions before, I didn’t think that it would be anything more serious than headaches for a few days and maybe 2-3 weeks off training. Boy, was I wrong.
After that is when things started to get really bad. They say that symptoms may not occur at their height for up to 10 days. Which is pretty much exactly what happened. I slept. A lot. Like, 20 hours a day. I couldn’t get out of bed to take a shower, or make a meal, without feeling like I was going to pass out or throw up, or both. So I would go back to bed. I missed out on school, and I had to stop working. I went to my prof to explain the situation, and he told me I would have no choice but to get a medical exemption from the class, delaying my graduation. I did not like this as an option, so I struggled to go to class as often as I could. But waking up, having the energy to shower, leave the house, and go to class.. that simple task seemed daunting. Sure, lots of students skip lots of classes, however, I have never really been one of them. I think over my 3 prior years of school I had missed maybe 10 classes total (including illness, travel, etc). That semester I’m not even sure I made it to 10 of those classes.
Talking, something I do a lot of, changed. I would sound like a broken record. I would get stuck on words, and I would repeat them, trying to spit them out, to no success. I would forget what I was trying to say midsentence, or I would completely blank on words. Not just once in a conversation, but pretty much every sentence. When I would go on repeat, I would have to stop talking for about 10-30 seconds, and then try again from the beginning of the sentence to get everything out. This was frustrating, and exhausting, and honestly it made me feel so stupid. When I would go to class, and I’d try to say something, everyone would look at me. It wasn’t like a normal stutter or something, something that people have gotten used to… this was different and people couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. But with all the other difficulties I had, I tried as much as possible to at least make that 10% participation grade to get any points I could to pass my classes.
My friends and family told me my eyes looked different. I don’t think this is something I ever really noticed, though. But they all said that I had a glassy look in my eyes, or a vacant stare. When they’d talk to me, they’d never know if I was there or listening or understanding what was going on. Since I never really noticed it myself, I think it was pretty easy for me to ignore. But now that things are better, people in my life have told me how scary it was. And I can imagine that it kind of seemed like they were talking to a vegetable, or some kind of zombie. Which I understand is probably not fun. But I swear, I was “there” to the best of my ability! It may not have always seemed like it, but I was trying to listen to what you talked about!
Memory… oh, how I wish I had one. My short term memory has pretty much been wiped clear out of my brain. I’ve also realized that I seem to have some gaps in my long term memory, but luckily it was left mostly intact. However, trying to learn something in school, or remember where I put something, or someone’s name.. what I had for breakfast, or if I turned off the stove (actually I learned to deal with that one after 2 or 3 serious burns), how I had gotten somewhere, where I was if I was in a new place… a phone number, address, bus, anything, everything, I now have to write down if I want to have any chance of remembering it. My phone is full of notes, to do lists, reminders… and I still forget half the things I have to do in a day. Taking daily medication is now left to an alarm on my phone, or I forget it. Going to a doctors appointment is now set to an alarm an hour before to make sure I remember to go. I can have the same conversation two or three times and not remember if I had ever had it before. I think a goldfish is probably better off than I am in this department.
Then there’s the crying. I cry, a lot, and often, for no reason. I could have had a perfectly normal day, but when I get home I just start crying and I can’t figure out why. A lot of the time I’m not even sad. Or at least, I didn’t think I was sad until it started. I started dealing with emotions that I didn’t even know I had, things from the past that surfaced with no trigger would set me off. It’s worse when I’m tired, but it still happens probably weekly and I’m sure its no fun for my boyfriend or mom to keep having to deal with.
There’s definitely more after effects that I’ve had since the concussion (such as not being able to concentrate on one thing for more than about 45 minutes), but I feel like this post is long enough already. I’ll keep updating and maybe, if nothing else, someone else going through the same thing will read this and understand that they’re not alone in it either.