January 26 is an emotional day for me. Though today I have four years of distance from the event, I suspect this day will always feel turbulent. It’s a reminder of so many things for me, but one that rises to the top is that my personal world could be demolished in an instant. Of course, that goes for all of us.
On January 26, 2016, I sustained a concussion while playing college softball. It sounds so clinical. I can’t tell you exactly what happened from a medical perspective, and I learned quickly that doctors and specialists can’t either. I do know that my concussion did not follow the typical pattern. It lasted four months, and during that time I couldn’t read or tolerate light or sound. I lost weeks of memory. I could barely speak and sometimes couldn’t speak at all. I couldn’t understand words spoken to me. I was paranoid and irrational. I couldn’t feel my real emotions. I dealt with something I came to know as "brain flooding," where too much stimulus would cause my brain to shut down and would leave me curled in the fetal position and unresponsive for hours.
When I became aware enough to be scared, I wanted to commit suicide. Had I not believed it would end eventually, and had I been physically able, I would have.
After recovering, I was left with permanent migraines, aphasia, hormone imbalances, reduced mental stamina, and PTSD that I dismissed far too quickly. I was lucky. I am lucky. It could have been so much worse. Yes, I have to deal with these things, but I get to wake up every day and stand in the sunshine. I get to read and write and listen to music and hike and enjoy my life. That is not the case for so many people in similar situations.
Why am I writing this? Honestly, I don’t fully know. I think it’s important to share these stories and spread awareness. My D1 college coach actively encouraged players to hide head injuries from trainers because concussion protocol meant time off the field. The cost of hiding a head trauma could be unimaginable. Helmets do not prevent concussions. The primary “treatment” for brain injuries like mine is drugs. And more drugs. One of the supposedly "top" neurologists in the country overprescribed medication to the point that I wound up in the ER with a drug overdose. And let's not forget the often repeated advice to "push through it" and the fact that people (women especially) are often accused of faking or exaggerating symptoms, since concussions aren't visible on any tests or scans.
There are a lot of things related to concussions and TBI that should be common knowledge and aren’t. Do I believe this blog post will rectify that? No, of course not. I suppose I would like to reach a few individuals, or just one person. But then again, that's always the goal.
Writing this isn’t particularly cathartic. In fact it’s hard. I’ve considered writing a memoir of the events, but I worry I’m not emotionally strong enough to relive them. Perhaps someday, with more distance. Or wisdom.
Despite everything I learned during those months about the terrible things people are capable of and how dangerous the world really is, the injury set me on the path to so many things I love. Editing, my home, hiking and backpacking, my sweet husky. I don’t know that I’d have any of those things if I hadn’t stolen second during that scrimmage. If I had been a step slower or faster. If I had made it a few more months and ended my softball career with one less head trauma.
Even four years later, I have more questions than answers. But I know a few things for sure. I am immensely grateful for my life, every moment of it. My family is stronger and more giving than I could have ever imagined. There are no guarantees in this world. And somehow, someway, things seem to work out. Maybe not the way we want and rarely the way we plan, but life goes on and we make of it what we will. Each day and moment is a choice. Choose to smile and laugh whenever possible.
Thanks for listening, friends.