On December 28th of 2009 I stepped on what I thought was a puddle. It was a good, confident, I’m-ready-for-this-day-even-though-it’s-six-in-the-morning-and-winter, step. And then I slipped on the “puddle” and fell down. It was ice. And I’ve probably been falling down, one way or another, ever since.
I tried to go to work that morning. My co-worker said rather unabashedly, “You look terrible,” and asked what happened. I said “I hit my head,” even though it felt like what had happened was so much more significant than that. “I hit my head” makes it seem like I opened the cupboard door on my forehead, or I misjudged the ceiling when I got out of my car. “I hit my head” is something you say right before you erupt into giggles at a sleepover.
I should have said, “There’s been an earthquake. In my brain. 8.0 on the Richter scale at least.”
I was diagnosed with a moderate concussion and told to take the week off from work. I went home, but I’ll admit still worked.
Six years later I understand that what I thought was perseverance was poor judgment.
My second and third concussions were unremarkable. For the second, I slipped on the ice again. The third, I fainted and hit my head on the way down. These concussions were unremarkable in that they were mild. I was back to my old self within a little over a week.
The fourth concussion was stupid. Dumb luck. The kind of situation that makes you think, really? She’s having this much trouble because of that?
My dog hit me. Like a boxer, he reared up and clocked me right under the chin. Uppercut. I didn’t even fall down this time. And yet, this injury has tipped the scales of my life in ways that have completely knocked me over.
It’s been 9 months since the accident and I still experience dizzy spells, an inability to concentrate, stuttering, fatigue, and balance problems. I’ve come to accept that “returning to my old self” might not happen for a long time, or ever.
This is what I’ve learned as I recover from my fourth concussion.
The body is a wild, intelligent creature.
I assume, though I can’t know for sure, that when I don’t want to drink coffee, and beer tastes like Scope Mouthwash, it’s my body’s way of saying, “Don’t drink that shit, we’re trying to heal a brain, here.”
I realize that my body was probably sending me messages like this even before the accident. I was just too distracted to pay attention.
Hard is not the same as bad.
I had to quit my side job as a fitness instructor because I couldn’t do it anymore. I taught one class a week on Saturdays and I loved my clients. They are wonderful people, and choosing to give up that Saturday morning routine was hard.
But after I made the decision something happened. Instead of feeling like exercise was my job or something I did for other people, exercise became something I did to feel good, and something I did for me.
Sometimes We Don’t Know Why
In the weeks after the injury I was scheduled for an MRI, and an x-ray, both
of which came back clear. My doctors told me things like, “concussions are weird,” and “we’re sort of guessing,” and “let’s give it more time.”
Two months after the fourth concussion I had what was likely a stroke. Again, my tests came back clear, and as I lay in the hospital bed, waiting to be discharged, the doctor asked me if I had any questions.
I asked through my stuttering, “Why does this keep happening?!”
The question I was really asking him was, how can I be having these neurological episodes if all my tests are coming back clear? The poor doctor didn’t have an answer.
But I think I was asking something else, too. I needed to ask the question out loud, and the doctor just happened to provide the opportune moment.
Why does this keep happening, to me? How can a person who doesn’t play contact sports, or rock climb, or work construction have four concussions?
I was talking to someone who also fell and got a concussion. She said, “It’s weird. So many things feel different now. I feel like I got the sense knocked into me.” And I knew exactly how she felt. It took the inability to use my brain to begin to use it wisely.
Getting the sense knocked into me was about giving myself permission to start over. To have a second chance at being me. To learn how not to fall down, and more importantly, how to stand up.
note: This piece originally appeared on a separate blog owned by the author.