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Friday, July 6, 2012

Concussed: One Year Later

The point that laid me low.
It's hard to believe it, but a full year has passed since I dropped a bag of beads on the stairs, painstakingly picked up all five hundred of them, and then jumped up from my kneeling position, smashing the crown of my head against the pointed corner of the handrail directly above me. Twelve months later, I have yet to fully heal from the resulting concussion.

An explanation as to why a minor concussion could have such a profound effect on my brain.

Abbey was a big help.
I've come a long way from those first awful weeks where I was confined to my parents' darkened bedroom, unable to tolerate any light, and so nauseated I could barely stand drinking tiny sips of water through a straw. The concussion caused migraines that felt like a roaring chainsaw was being pressed into my brain. My heart raced and I was badly overheated all the time. The slightest noise was agonizing. I was terribly fatigued, but had difficulty sleeping because of my heart rate and the pain. My nausea limited me to a diet that consisted mostly of fruit juice popsicles, a few peanuts for protein, dried apricots for potassium (otherwise I got nasty muscle spasms), and the occasional bland cracker, and my weight started to drop. My one comfort was the company of my loyal dog.

Five Weeks Out: Before and After

Stormy winter weather
caused fatigue and pain.
Eventually, I got well enough to sit up in bed and read, then to spend fifteen minutes at a time on the computer if I wore my darkest glasses. I gradually progressed to watching ocean documentaries because I was able to tolerate the blue underwater scenes. I had a hypomanic burst of energy in August that I used to open my second Etsy store, but most of the time, I found it difficult to think clearly and difficult to concentrate. I was exhausted all the time and had to spend most of my days in bed. My eyes were more light sensitive than they had been before and I suffered as the angle of the sunlight changed with the coming of winter. My migraines were more painful than they were before. I found I was more susceptible to changes in the weather, too.

Eight Weeks Out: Where I'm At

The effort it took for me to take
this photo proved costly.
As the weeks went by, I improved enough to get back to my photography work and watching TV shows on the internet and spending time with my family. I was able to be present, at least for the meal, at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although they wore me out, I was able to take some dog-sitting gigs. But after three months, my recovery stalled at about 80%.

Three Months

Hanging out with horses
has been very helpful!
I celebrated my birthday a couple of weeks ago, which seemed very strange, since I could have sworn that I'd just HAD my birthday a few months before. In many ways, that was true. July through February had more-or-less vanished into a gulf of concussion recovery; life did not truly resume until eight months later, in March, when I started getting involved with horses. Since then, I've had more strength, energy, and stamina, I've been better able to drive again, and I'm much more likely to leave the house for fun or to ride along on errands and not just for medical appointments.

The beads that caused it all.
But if you compare where I was last year at this time to where I am this year, it's clear that my recovery is still not complete. Last year, I was wrapping up the prep-work for a children's ABC book. To get the necessary props to photograph, I went on many errands and was capable of making three different stops, including at visually chaotic places like thrift and party supply stores, before getting a migraine. I had built up enough strength to occasionally walk the dog. I was taking tons of photographs. My life was, by necessity, very small in scope, but I had sufficient energy to enjoy it and get quite a bit of work done, especially when the weather was nice.

My boxes of ABC props
have been put away.
This year? The ABC book has been shelved (quite literally, in the hall closet) indefinitely. I just can't see having the energy to take on a project of that size any time soon. While I have started driving to visit the horses, I'm most definitely not running multiple errands in an outing. I've taken myself to the dentist and the bank in recent months, but I avoid going in stores, which are just too loud and busy. I ride along on fewer errands with my family than I used to; too often the visual chaos of the outside world speeding by is too much for me. I've found there are movies that I used to be able to watch that I can no longer view because the quick and jagged editing style gives me a migraine after just a minute or two. Sometimes I'll go for a walk around the block with the dog, but any further than that and I risk getting a headache from too much exertion. I'm still more noise sensitive, especially to music, than I was before the concussion. It's really just in the last couple of months that I've been able to resume reading at the my pre-concussion level and sometimes my brain and my eyes are still too tired to handle small print and complex sentence structures. I spent so many days this winter incapacitated by the weather that I actually brought up the possibility of moving to California. It's depressing to spend so much time feeling wiped out and unable to think clearly, but I don't think I'm well enough to live on my own, whereas before the head injury, if I set things up properly, it might have been possible. I also have this ongoing sense of nearly always being stretched too thin, trying to do too much. I feel like I have no reserve whatsoever. I'm very driven by my creativity and my general inclination toward hard work, so it's not easy to scale back to the minimal level of activity my brain demands. I still take lots of photographs, but I've slowed the expansion of my photography as a business. Also, before the concussion, I used to make an Etsy treasury every single week. I seldom have the ability to look at the computer screen for the amount of time it takes to make one (and if I am having a day where I'm able to look at the screen for extended periods, I'm probably busy doing something more immediately relevant to making Etsy listings, like editing photos in Photoshop), so I've created only a dozen or so in the last year. I've also noticed that I watch far fewer movies than I used to; they sometimes seem just too long and demanding. I've been saying for several months now that when the weather finally gets nice, I'll know for sure how far my concussion recovery has come because a) I always do better when the sun is out and b) it had been very sunny prior to my head injury, but I know that even with the sun shining, I'm not up for making extensive alphabet lists and driving from store to store in search of props like I was before.

Photographing things like shrew-
moles keeps my spirits up!
I'd say that I hover around 90-95% of a full recovery one year later. It's a real shame that this happened to me, since the last thing my inflamed migraine brain needed was more inflammation and nerve damage, but what can you do? As I discussed in this post, none of the decisions I made that led to me to get this concussion were decisions I would want to take back. It was simply really bad luck, an accident. Life is full of accidents. I can't take this concussion and its lingering impact away. Sure, it would be lovely to be doing better than I am, but I'll be damned if I waste any of my precious energy on useless regrets. So I do what I always do: take photos, pet the dog, read when I can, watch nature documentaries when I can't, write blogs and listings when I'm able, crochet baby blankets when I'm not, spend time with my family, spend time with the horses. In time, my brain may heal completely. Or maybe it won't. Either way, I'll just keep doing as much as I can with the amount of energy and wellness I've been granted for the day, which, when you get down to it, is as much as any of us can do and a reasonable recipe for satisfaction.


  1. I remember when you hit your head... Just thinking about it now makes my had throb in sympathy.. You have made remarkable progress all things considered.

  2. I feel for you my dear. I know all too well the intensity of Migraines :(

    For me, living with a chronic illness that is so unpredictable, I know I have to have a sense of accomplishment everyday and sometimes that can be as simple as doing a load of laundry.

    I see that you do the same, I think the overwhelming feeling is because we know we want to do more but our bodies won't let us.

    Stay strong, cheers, T. :)