Life after concussion has been more challenging than I expected it to be.
Disclaimer – I am a #TeamTELUS advocate and this post was written in affiliation with TELUS. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed on this blog are my own.
It was just a regular day on the farm. I was walking my daughter to the bus stop and on my way back, I slipped on our icy lane and my head hit the ice.
Immediately, I was seeing stars, flashing balls of light, and had ringing in my ears. I crawled on all fours and tried to get up, but the movement was making me vomit. I thought that as soon as I managed to get myself into the house, I would take a rest and everything would be fine.
I was very, very wrong. I ended up having to go to the hospital emergency and after assessment, I was told I had a severe concussion and whiplash. I was also sent to Sudbury for an emergency CT-scan because there were so many red flags.
Thankfully, my CT-scan showed nothing to cause concern, but my road to recovery, and life after concussion would be a long and challenging one.
Life After Concussion
Some of the symptoms I suffered from were:
- Extreme light sensitivity – Light and brightness aggravated my headaches and made me nauseous. I had to wear sunglasses in the house and have all the curtains and blinds closed.
- Extreme noise sensitivity – Too much noise just aggravated me, made me confused, made me lose concentration, and gave me a headache. It was so hard for our Little One, who is forever singing and dancing, and ready to tell stories.
- Movement/Motion – Any kind of movement, whether it was something as simple as getting up from a chair or getting out of bed, would make me dizzy and nauseous. I would get sick in the vehicle almost instantly, and would require Gravol just to get from our home to the doctor’s office or to the physiotherapist’s. If I had to bend or pick something up, that would make me terribly ill. If I looked up or down, and left or right, that motion would make me ill immediately.
- Difficulty focusing – I had trouble focusing on tasks or on information in general. Most of what information I was given in the early days of recovery were lost. I just could not comprehend any information that I was being told. It was so frustrating, because I was just not able to understand anything people were telling me.
- Equilibrium – One of the reasons I was sent for a CT-scan early on was that when I raised my two arms together, my left arm would be raised considerably lower than the right. They were supposed to be even or parallel, but the left was always much lower than the right. Balance was also an issue. I could not stand on one foot. I was always losing balance even when walking.
- Short-term memory issues – One of my biggest challenges, and it continues to be a bit of an issue is short-term memory. People would tell me things and I just was not able to remember what they had told me. I could remember events that occurred from my earliest childhood days (in great detail), but if anyone asked me what happened the previous week, or even the day before, I would not be able to remember.
- Lack of appetite – Because I was always so nauseous due to the above symptoms, I was not able to eat much in those early days of life after concussion. I survived on water and saltine crackers. My sister-in-law started bringing me Ensure and I was able to keep that down.
- Sensitivity to smell – It seemed as my brain was being challenged, and my other senses were weakened, my sense of smell was heightened. My husband joked that I had a superhuman sense of smell. This was much to my detriment though, because most smells made me terribly nauseous.
- Visual and vestibular issues – To put things simply, my brain and my eyes were having a hard time working together. I was not able to have any screen time for six months. No TV, no cell phone, no devices, and I wasn’t even able to read books, magazines, or the newspaper. My head just could not handle it.
- Difficulty processing information (especially oral information/phone calls) – One of the things I could not do until recently was to have a conversation on the phone. When someone would call for John, I would be able to tell him that someone had called for him, but I wouldn’t be able to remember who it was, what he wanted, or what was being discussed.
I am still in recovery from my concussion and whip lash, though my fall happened in January of 2017. To be honest, I was not expecting life after concussion to be so challenging. It has been a long road with weekly (and then monthly) physiotherapy appointments, and learning exercises for how to manage my vestibular issues as well as avoid having blow outs. In the beginning, if I attempted to do too much, or if I was overstimulated or in a busy environment, I would have a blow out and it would set me back a day or two. I always felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back.
One of the biggest challenges (apart from not being able to work and contribute to the household’s income for half a year) was that a brain injury is not like other physical disabilities or injuries. A brain injury is not something others can see. Physically, I may look fine, but cognitively and otherwise, the brain has been taking a while to heal for me. It was a severe blow to the back of my head. The crystals in my ears were also knocked out of place, causing balance to be an issue. There has been a lot of work with physiotherapy to get to where I am now.
Since I work as a digital strategist, most of my work is done online. With not being able to have any screen time, answer emails, read emails, or do any of the work I was accustomed to doing, it was frustrating. Thankfully, I had people who were able to cover me in my absence and my clients were more than understanding. I was being supported when it came to work and I was covered on my blog as well. Anita and Tammy kept blog posts going for me.
I must add that I had two friends of mine who did some virtual assistant work for me just to keep my social media accounts from being dormant, and Little One kept my friends and family updated daily on Facebook and Instagram. She was really helpful, and such a character!
To be honest, in a way, being forced to have a social media detox was a bit liberating. I didn’t think I could do it, because social media is so much of my work life and personal life. Plus, I have FOMO (fear of missing out)! Much to my surprise, having a forced internet sabbatical was quite a relief.
I went from being online all the time for work to being completely removed. There were moments when I wanted to sneak a peek at Facebook or check my email, but if I did, I’d immediately feel sick and get a terrible headache.
Re-introducing Tech into Daily Life
It took nearly a year, but once my condition started to improve, I was able to slowly re-introduce tech into my life. The truth is that I actually need tech and the internet in my daily life since my livelihood depends on me being online to help clients.
Because processing information is an issue still, I have had to learn to take detailed notes. I have had to learn to leave myself physical markers so I do not forget things. In the beginning of my recovery, I almost burned our house down by forgetting that I had a pot of soup cooking on the stove. I walked Little One to her bus stop, walked over to my mother-in-law’s, and John called me, asking where I was. He said I had left the stove on and the pot of soup was burning. The fact that I did not even remember making soup, let alone turning on the stove was quite worrying. The physiotherapist taught me a technique so I would not forget I had something on the stove. I began putting physical markers like a bright orange pylon and leaving it on the counter by the stove. When I saw the pylon, it would remind me of the soup on the stove. I know it sounds silly, but that is what I had to do. I also started leaving Post-It Notes everywhere. Visual reminders work wonders!
Each time I attempted to get back online, my eyes and head could not take looking at the computer screen. I’d push myself and then end up needing two days to recover. New steps needed to be taken.
- Lessons were learned. I needed to know where my limit was and stop before I reached that limit. When I first got back online, I was only able to do two minutes of screen time. Then it was five minutes, then ten. I was soon able to do twenty minutes of screen time and then eventually I worked my way up to thirty minutes. I can only do a maximum of one hour and then I need a break. After that, I can resume for another hour. I still cannot spend too much time online, because the headaches start and then the dizziness and nausea hit.
- In order to remember deadlines, appointments, and things that may seen like regular/daily/easy chores (like getting my child out the door in time to catch the bus, making sure to eat lunch, making sure to take a break, making sure to pick up Little One at the bus stop) are all things I forget to do if I do not have them scheduled on my phone. Yes, I actually have to set alarms on my phone for every mundane task, otherwise it slips my mind. It was actually my friend, Yashy from Baby and Life who implored me to set an alarm on my phone to make sure that I stop working and shut down my computer, phone, and all devices, and take a break. It sounds silly to schedule a break, but it has to be done!
- I used to be able to multi-task, but now my mind is a sieve. Using my calendar and notes on my phone really help me get through each day.
What has changed?
Life after concussion has forced me to make a lot of changes in how I live my life. Now, I use tech to benefit me in a more manageable way. I am using my mobile device to set up new habits. Life after concussion has taught me that I need to slow down. I have learned to live more in the moment.
So many of us are tied to our mobile devices, but the overuse of tech can have some serious effects in children, teens, and in adults. The TELUS Health article here gives some tips on managing screen time for young children, but really, this can apply to everyone.
Have my online habits changed with life after concussion? Though I am still on my device quite a bit, I have learned to schedule breaks and turn off my phone or put it away for an hour. I also try not to use my phone too much after dinner, because that is family time. I used to always check my phone every time I saw the notification light blinking. For the most part, I try not to work after supper, and if I have to, it is when Little One is already in bed sleeping.
What I’ve learned
Since my accident and throughout my long (ongoing) recovery, I have learned to:
- know my threshold for work and screen time, and do not exceed what my brain and body are telling me I can do. Some days, I can function as though I never had a brain injury, and other days I my brain shuts down and I cannot process information or even fulfill simple daily tasks.
- accept help when offered. If people offer to take my daughter to her dance lessons or if they want to run errands for me, I need to allow myself to accept help. I need to see it not as a failure or a limitation on my part.
- Some people just do not “get it”. Head injuries are complex and no two cases are the same. Because I don’t have any visible disabilities, it is assumed that I’m fine. “Oh, so you bumped your head. You’re fine.” It is a bit frustrating for me when people dismiss the trauma to the brain and think that the short-term memory issue and processing information, or the vertigo are not significant. I am not looking for sympathy, but I am looking for understanding. Imagine getting blurry, dizzy, headachy, and nauseous when trying to accomplish daily tasks or even travel to a physio appointment? It’s a real issue.
- do what I need to do online for work and a bit of catching up on news and communicating with family and friends, but make sure that after supper it is family time. It’s not hard to put away my device for a few hours and make my family my focus. I have learned that I absolutely need my breaks from screen time.
TELUS WISE shared an article called 2018 Resolutions: WISE tips for responsible technology use and though recent research from Statistics Canada shows that most Canadians say life is better with technology, it can also interfere with their lives. Though technology plays a useful and important role in our lives, we can all use some strategies to help manage our tech use.
I find reading this article especially useful with life after concussion. One of my favourite tips from the article is:
Seek out some variety and time away from the screen – with so much screen time in our lives – whether it’s at work, on social media, or binge watching your favourite TV show, it’s important to make a conscious effort to step away and do something different once in a while – it can be as simple as picking up an interesting book, or going for walk, or maybe 2018 is when you can start a new class or hobby you’ve been thinking about.
Another point that is very important not just with life after concussion, but in our daily lives:
Be cognizant about when and where you’re using your device – use the night mode feature on your phone to limit the times of day at which your phone rings, or better still, you can turn it off at certain times of day, or leave it out of sight, out of mind. For instance, leave it in the glovebox when you’re driving, or keep it out of the bedroom when you’re sleeping. You may opt to not allow phones at the dinner table to help ensure quality, undistracted family time.
As strange as it may sound life after concussion has taught me to take breaks, and live in the moment more.