My Changing Brain
Life. What a rollercoaster! Am I right? The ups, the downs, the free-falls. And then there’s the loopty-loops, when life throws everything upside down for a moment. Have I mentioned yet that I don’t like rollercoasters? Nope. Not a fan. I prefer solid ground.
Three months ago, I sustained a concussion. I was dazed, confused, and seeing stars. Having worked in the health and wellness field for many years, I know that concussions change the way your brain works. But in that moment, all that knowledge vanished.
The symptoms immediately began to bombard me: excruciating headaches, sensitivity to lights and sounds, nausea, dizziness, foggy memory, and delayed reaction time. I closed all the windows and blinds in my home and went to sleep.
The next day, still experiencing severe symptoms, I logged on to my computer and began working. I pushed through the painful symptoms because I was in denial of what happened. I convinced myself that it wasn’t really a concussion, and that I would be fine in a day or two.
It was awful. I turned the screen brightness of my computer all the way down, but it was still painfully bright. It took me longer to perform tasks. I had difficulty concentrating and tying things together. I had to write and rewrite things numerous times because I kept making a huge number of typing errors and misspellings, which is not typical for me.
After a few hours of pushing through symptoms, I was exhausted and could do no more. I closed my computer and went to sleep. I was afraid of taking any time off work because I needed the money. I don’t have insurance, so I couldn’t go to the doctor. I live on my own, so the only income I have is my own.
By the third day, I had to face the fact that I did indeed have a concussion. It should have been obvious to me; I knew the warning signs and symptoms. In fact, in my previous job, I was the head coordinator for a concussion awareness program for my county. I went around and helped raise awareness about concussions and the dangers of not taking the time to heal properly.
So why didn’t I take the time and rest properly in the very beginning? Well, concussions change the way your brain functions. In that moment, when I tripped forward and my chin slammed into the metal arm of my chair, my brain function changed. Everything I knew about concussions completely vanished from my memory.
Fortunately, a few days later, some of that knowledge returned to my memory, and I knew what I needed to do to rest and heal. That’s not to say it’s been an easy process, believe me. I’m nearly three months post-concussion and I’m still experiencing significant symptoms that impact my daily functioning and activities.
During this time, I’ve been able to observe the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that my brain has responded to this trauma, how my mental health has suffered. I have been more impatient, anxious, stressed out, argumentative, sad, upset, scared, helpless, and angry—all on a regular basis.
I’ve also been concerned about the security of my employment. If I couldn’t perform my job duties that I was hired for, would I even continue to have a job? How could I possibly look for another job in my injured state, not to mention the state of current affairs? What would happen to me? Would I become homeless?
What a rabbit hole I allowed my restless mind to go down! I think it’s important to note that I don’t generally experience most of those thoughts/feelings on a regular basis, only on occasion (and some only rarely). My fears are totally unfounded. In fact, my employer has been incredibly supportive and encouraging me to take the time I need to heal and recover. So it has been interesting to observe how my knee-jerk reaction has been to reach for these useless emotions and negative states of mind/being.
A great spiritual mentor once told me about The Arc: that our understandings dictate our feelings. If you want to change your feelings, you have to change the understandings you reach for. If only I had heard these words sooner in life, maybe I could have saved myself from years of therapy in my late teens and early 20s!
So I have been taking this teaching to heart. I have been working on changing my understandings about what has happened. When I’m feeling stressed out, anxious, sad, or scared, I sit and I meditate, focusing on my breath. This allows me to drown out the mental chatter that reinforces those useless feelings.
When I feel argumentative and angry, I take three slow, deep breaths. Then I remind myself that the person I’m interacting with really is just trying to help me, and that he doesn’t have any control over how quickly I heal.
When I feel helpless, I remind myself of all the things I’m doing to help my brain heal: staying properly hydrated, eating nutritious foods, limiting activities that exacerbate my symptoms, engaging with healthcare providers and practitioners, managing my stress, and resting when symptoms are too much.
I can’t change the fact that I sustained a concussion. I can’t change the fact that I am still in the process of recovering. What I can change is how I respond, the thoughts, beliefs, and understandings that I reach for surrounding it. When we stop trying to fight the current, we can finally start to go with the flow.