It is hard for me to know what it is I want to say. This might be because I have a brain injury, or then again, it might be because I’ve recently gone through a traumatic experience that is hard to talk about. I revolve around this question–is this a brain injury issue or something else?–several times every day.
I didn’t know anything about concussions a month ago, except that you’re not supposed to sleep through the night with one. Only that might not be true because I slept through the night eight hours after sustaining a serious one and didn’t die. Hooray?
I mean, yeah, definitely hooray. I really really really don’t want to die right now. There were times when I was in such bad shape I was asking to make sure someone would take care of Nala if something happened to me and trying to give instructions about reaching my sister, who is off on her annual silent retreat right now and therefore complicated to reach. We (we being mostly myself and my friends Sara and Tony, who are two of the best people I know) tried to downplay it a bit on social media because freaking everyone out didn’t seem like the thing to do, however much I personally was freaking out, but now things have gotten a bit better, I will say things were pretty bad. They are still not great, although I look great and if you have seen me, I might have seemed great, and when I have company to distract me, I am certainly greater than I am the rest of the time.
One thing about concussions I didn’t know is that concussions can cause mood swings, anxiety, depression, you name it. Like, BIG GIGANTIC MOOD SWINGS. Like, I am in so much pain and it is very early in the morning and I don’t know what to do and I don’t know who to call so instead I will just cry for an hour straight type of mood swings. Combine those swings with cognitive impairment that makes it almost impossible to engage in critical thinking or make decisions and things get very interesting indeed.
In case you haven’t gotten it, by interesting I mean nightmarish.
Focus in on me that morning, in pain and sleepless in the dark in what felt like the middle of the night but was probably more like five a.m., questioning myself, my life, and the decisions I’d made that had led to me lying there, terrified and alone. What, then, did my life amount to? I suddenly wasn’t sure. It seemed as if every other person on the planet was an impossible distance from me.
I questioned my recent move. I questioned all the time I’ve spent writing books that practically nobody has read. I didn’t question relationship choices, but I did feel terribly sad. All that time and effort fostering connections with other people, and there I was, so confused I couldn’t figure out if there was anybody I could call who would be okay hearing from me at that time of night and in that terrified state of mind. I wanted my sister very badly.
I thought of this blog, and I thought, “That has been some good work, even if hardly anyone reads it.” I thought of Nala and how devoted we are to one another. I thought of integrity and courage–even a faltering courage, which is what I was experiencing at the time–and love. So there was some comfort.
Eventually I did call a friend, cried for another half an hour on the phone, and said I wanted to go to the doctor. Voluntarily. I voluntarily thought it was a good idea. (For context, I hate going to the doctor. I never want to go. Sometimes I force myself because going to the doctor is part of being an adult.) I kept coming back to the panic of knowing I couldn’t do this, and the only answer I could come up with for not being able to do it was to get some help.
When the advice nurse told me to go in, I was relieved. If the doctors could do something to alleviate in any way even one of my symptoms, I thought it would be worth the horror that is Urgent Care when you have a concussion and are super confused and light and noise sensitive and about ten seconds away from bursting into tears at any given point and also have neck and back injuries that make sitting in their uncomfortable chairs a particularly unpleasant kind of torture. That is how awful I felt. When the nurse brought out the needle to take a blood sample and get me started on the IV, I again felt relieved, even though I have a lifelong phobia of needles. And indeed, he had to make two tries to get the IV going because of my teeny tiny veins. Whatever, I thought. It was so worth it. Anything to lessen the pain. Anything to blunt my awareness that I was about to go in for tests to show whether my brain was bleeding and the knowledge, given to me by surreptitious forays into the internet, that if it was, there was brain surgery in my near future. I told Patrick, who was with me during the wait, that if I went into brain surgery, THEN he had permission to contact my sister.
There was no brain bleeding. I want to say thank goodness, but that doesn’t even begin to cover it. Instead there was me trying to get all the information I needed from the doctor even though I was confused and exhausted and not even with it enough to think to take notes or record the conversation. But hey! I had already figured out how to take cab to Urgent Care, and that had only taken me an hour of dithering.
Even doctors don’t seem to quite get how disorienting having a concussion can be. When your primary means of self-definition is your brain and suddenly your brain isn’t working right, it feels like the bottom has fallen out from under you. Suddenly easy problems seem completely insurmountable and normal stresses want to consume you whole. And it’s not like brain injury is a particularly normal stress anyway.
Today marks the three-week anniversary of my car accident. Like I said, I am doing somewhat better. I have good days and not-so-good days. Yesterday was pretty bad, today is better. I have recovered some of the cognitive function I was missing, which is a relief, although I still become easily overwhelmed with decision-making. I am no longer stuttering or pausing as much between words, and the sound and light sensitivity have improved. I still have spikes of anxiety. I still have sudden weird memory gaps. I still lack focus. I still have frequent terrible headaches. My neck really hurts. When the pain is bad, I become more confused. I’m exhausted all the time, and I usually need an afternoon nap. If I don’t get enough to eat and drink, things can go downhill quite quickly.
Me today. Turns out concussions aren’t always very visble injuries.
But I am here, and I am very grateful for that.
Next time I am well enough to write, I will tell you about the help I’ve been receiving and how it feels like a miracle.
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