How a Single Concussion Changed My Life
April 10th, 2018, was the day that would change my life forever. It was an ordinary day, until I got extremely sick. Awoken by stomach cramps that were unbearable, I ran to the bathroom and began throwing up. After my nausea calmed down, I remember standing up and feeling extremely dizzy; I couldn't see anything. Crawling my way out of the bathroom seemed like it would be easy, but I was so scared, I was shaking, and I just wanted to lay down. I began to panic, so I stood up once more—everything just went black. All I remember are the moments prior to going unconscious. I do not recall falling or hitting my head.
After regaining consciousness, I was in an extreme state of confusion. I noticed that my head was in excruciating pain so I got up to look into the bathroom mirror. Everything was blurry and all I could see was blood running down my face. The state of shock that I was in was so intense, I couldn't talk. I had absolutely no emotion, I was confused, and chills covered my entire body.
At the hospital, several tests were done including a CT scan, EKG, and vital signs. They explained to me that my blood pressure was extremely low, but otherwise, everything else looked normal. They glued the gash above my eyebrow shut, and sent me home.
I may look okay on the outside, but on the inside—I am confused, lost, broken, scared, and alone. And I'm not sure if, or when I will be myself again.— Ashley Riley
I Was Diagnosed With a Mild Concussion...
The days following my injury, I felt completely normal. The area where I had hit my head was sore, but nothing was alarming or concerning. It wasn't until about the 10th day when I began to notice that something wasn't right. Very unexpectedly, I began to cry uncontrollably, felt extremely exhausted, and developed severe headaches.
I made a follow-up appointment with my primary care doctor to make sure that everything was okay. After a neurological exam was performed, they concluded that I had developed a mild concussion. No treatment was required, and I was sent home with a note to rest for a week.
After a week went by, I felt much better. My headaches had decreased drastically, I was no longer emotional, and I had more energy than before. I finally felt like myself again.
Unfortunately, this feeling didn't last for long. What I didn't know at the time was that concussion symptoms may not show at first and can potentially worsen over time—and that's exactly what they did.
...and Then Post-Concussion Syndrome
In May, my family and I began to notice that I was repeating myself quite frequently, and that I would forget little things very easily. By June, I had also developed vision, coordination, balance, and cognitive impairments. After much consideration, I made the best decision to see a neurologist for further testing.
On June 19th, 2018, I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome and short-term memory loss, and received cognitive therapy for three months to help improve my cognitive abilities.
Now, just so that my readers are aware, every concussion and recovery process differs for each person. I would like to describe what concussions generally are and interject some of my own experience so you can have a fuller understanding of concussions.
What Are Concussions?
Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body, that causes the brain to move rapidly back-and-forth. The sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce between the skull, creating chemical changes, potential stretching, and potential brain damage.
What Causes a Concussion?
Your brain has this protective fluid surrounding it—almost similar to a gelatin consistency—called cerebrospinal fluid. When you have a head injury, the force of the impact can cause your brain to push through the cerebrospinal fluid and collide with the walls of your skull. This could potentially cause bleeding in or around your brain that may cause symptoms such as confusion and fatigue.
Symptoms are very unpredictable, in some cases, and can develop immediately or later on. Bleeding of the brain (brain hemorrhaging) is extremely serious and is potentially fatal, which is why it is important to get proper monitoring, testing, and treatment after a head injury.
Symptoms of a Concussion or Traumatic Brain Injury
Signs of a concussions may not show immediately and can worsen over time, as mentioned before. The most common symptoms are headaches, memory loss (amnesia), and confusion. Since symptoms may differ in other concussion cases, I will share my personal experience.
Symptoms of a Concussion That I Experienced:
- Severe headaches
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Pressure in my head
- Short-term memory loss
- Seeing tiny moving floaters
- Upset stomach
- Attention and focusing struggles
- Changes in my sleep routine
- Both anxiety and depression
- Had a difficult/delayed reflex
- Cognitive, balance, and vision impairments
- Extreme frustration and irritability
What Is Post-Concussion Syndrome?
Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is a concussion that lasts weeks, months, or in some cases, even years after a head injury. Concussions should last no longer than a week and if a concussion lasts longer than that, continued treatment and further testing may be required to make sure that there is nothing more serious going on.
Treatments for Post-Concussion Syndrome
There is really no treatment for concussions or post concussion syndrome. However, there are specific types of therapies to help with symptoms.
Be careful with which over-the-counter pain relievers you take for your concussion headaches. According to Mayo Clinic, ibuprofen and aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding, and acetaminophen (Tylenol) is preferred. I generally go look for natural alternatives such as peppermint oil. I've found that peppermint gum and peppermint tea helped me.
Memory loss and Difficulty Thinking
No medication is used to help treat memory loss and thinking problems. Certain treatments such as cognitive therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy may help improve symptoms. Cognitive therapy helped me regain memory, focus and attention. Cognitive therapy is designed to help challenge your brain.
Anxiety and Depression
It is always good to reassure a person with a concussion or PCS that their symptoms will get better with time. Educating them about the disorder could help ease their fears and doubts and give them peace of mind.
In some cases, the severity of the anxiety and/or depression may require medication. If you do not want to take that route, other alternatives such as meditation, counseling, music, may be able to help as well—at least in my experience. I tried taking an anxiety medication (Zoloft) to help with my anxiety for a little while, but I noticed that it made my depression worse. I used music as an alternative, and I found that it really does help soothe your emotions.
How Post-Concussion Syndrome Affected My Life
Going to work; having conversations with family and friends; going on a dinner date—all seems so simple, right? Piece of cake. However, trying to live a normal everyday life with post-concussion syndrome is very hard. All of the things in life that once seemed "easy" seem nearly impossible with PCS.
I remember after hitting my head, I didn't work for a couple of months while I recovered. Eventually, in June of 2018, I got a job as a studio coordinator at a fitness center. Walking into the job, I thought that it would be something I could handle—answering phone calls and checking guests in and out of the computer system—but I was wrong.
Because of my short-term memory loss, I couldn't retain information that I was taught. I would write everything down—from passwords to greetings for answering the phone—you name it. I'm never going to forget the day that my boss left me alone at the front desk with no guidance or help. I ended up having an emotional breakdown and called my RN at the Concussion Center because of how hopeless I felt.
I remember all of the times people would try to have a conversation with me, but I would be in a daze because my brain couldn't process things the way that it should have. The frustration of being able to look at people as they were talking to me but not being able to make sense of the words drove me crazy. People would ask me, "Are you okay?" or look at me in a state of confusion because my mind was in a haze.
I remember going on dates with my boyfriend and being anxious around all of the noise. Going out in public was one of the hardest parts for me. There were times when I wanted to isolate myself because I just wanted to be alone.
I remember crying uncontrollably at times because I felt like no one understood how much I was struggling and hurting inside. I felt as if no one believed me. There were numerous times that I felt hopeless and wanted to give up, but I refused to let myself stop fighting.
Although the seven months since my diagnosis have been challenging for me, some of my symptoms have improved drastically since my injury. After receiving three months of cognitive therapy, I have regained my memory, focus, and attention back. I still experience severe headaches, head pressure, dizziness, anxiety, and fatigue, but I am determined that I will be my true self again one day.
If you are someone currently experiencing or have experienced a concussion in the past, you are not alone. I know how hard it is when it seems as if no one else truly understands the severity of your condition. Always remember that it WILL get better with time.
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© 2018 Ashley Riley