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Concussion: The Insanity of it All – by Kimberly McGuire

Concussion: The Insanity of it All

How a concussion taught me life lessons I never wanted to learn 

By Kimberly McGuire

February 20, 2014, about 9 PM. I’m driving on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair, NJ. I stop at a red light and BAM, someone rear-ends me at 30-40 MPH. I had whiplash – felt it within 10 minutes. An hour later I had nausea and headaches. Days, later, I had a full-blown concussion. But a concussion’s not that big a deal, right?

A week later, my life had disappeared down a black hole. I went from being a fast-paced, single mom, clinical psychologist, professor, and endurance athlete in the midst of intense Boston Marathon and Iron-man training, to being a patient sitting on the couch for endless hours, unable to hold a single thought. My heart and brain were broken and bent; I couldn’t work, couldn’t train, couldn’t teach and I could barely parent. All I was able to do was sit, close my eyes and do NOTHING.

For a person with an intense, internal drive, being unable to DO anything is the ultimate cruelty. An insidious depression crept in. The longer I was still and the longer I wore sunglasses, the more depressed I got. I was having an existential crisis. Why a concussion? Why now? What are the metaphors? Is this synchronistic to events occurring in my current life? Am I to be rising to a higher level of consciousness; a higher vibration level? Then there were the thoughts…What if these symptoms never go away? What if I’m always sensitive to light? What if these headaches never leave, with their buzzing and ringing in my ears?

Rest. Rest is the only prescription, but the more I rest, the more helpless and insane I feel. I have no outlet for my stress. I can’t do yoga. Can’t do massage. Can’t watch a movie. I try to meditate, but my mind is racing – too many thoughts, too much anxiety…

Well-intentioned friends, and family say, “I thought concussions went away in a few days,” “You are so healthy, how could this happen?,” and “You didn’t lose consciousness, so how can you have a concussion?” These questions are themselves crazy-making.

What I’ve learned about concussion is that those who are over the age of 40 have a higher chance of developing long-term problems because their brains are not able to regenerate as quickly or effectively, and that women tend to be more severely affected by concussion than men. I’ve learned that concussions can bring a strong person to his/her knees. They can cause irritability, tearfulness, depression, and the symptoms can increase rather than abate as days go by. Just getting my child ready for school and driving her there uses all my energy for the day. WOW.

What does a driven person do with their drive when they can’t use it? Right now I’m forced to sit. I can’t use my eyes, can’t listen to music, can’t talk for long, can’t text, can’t read, can’t use the computer, can’t watch a movie, can’t go outside, can’t walk, can’t ride in the car, and on and on. But my drive is still there. With no external release, it turns inward, slowly “driving” me crazy.

I’ve had to use ALL my coping strategies to get this far: seeking support, crying openly with friends, praying, doing reiki, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, meditation, sleeping, thinking positively, breathing deeply, talking it out, facing my fears, eating right, drinking right, taking supplements, seeing a psychologist, etc., etc. I’ve tried to treat this as an opportunity for personal growth – to become more grounded and to stay optimistic when I feel only depressed and discouraged. But I also have to acknowledge that the effects of my concussion may outweigh all my strategies. So what to do?

Well, I freaked out. It’s how I felt and it’s what I did… I freaked out for a few days. Then I had a good, long, direct, firm talk with myself. Look, I said, you have to get your act together, lady. You’re a mom. Let the beauty of that knowledge guide you. I spent more time cuddling with my daughter, talking with her as I had my sunglasses on and my eyes closed. I talked it out more with friends, cried more, and spoke with those who have the wisdom of life experience, using all my strategies as best I could.

I’m still in the throes of the concussion, although it appears I’m finally healing day-by-day. I have had to take a medical leave of absence from work. I’m still wearing sunglasses ALL THE TIME. I’m trying to return to “real” life, but it’s slow going. With the guidance of healthcare professionals, I am teaching my brain how to handle my busy routine again.

Slowly, I spend a few minutes on the computer, maybe make a few phone calls, then rest. I try 30 minutes EASY, EASY, EASY on the bike trainer. I walk for 20 minutes. Then I rest. This is unbelievable to me as only a few weeks ago I was completing an 18-mile training run, riding 2 ½ hours on the bike trainer, swimming and training up to 12 hours a week. I wonder each day, “Will I ever get back to that level of training? Will I ever get back to who I was?”

What I take from this journey so far is a few things:

1) Slowing down when you have an intense drive is NOT enough after a concussion. You must STOP completely in the days following the incident. My drive will be there waiting for me when I’m better.

2) I have a greater appreciation for the many individuals I work with who have brain or spinal cord injuries and must live their life in a way they hadn’t imagined before.

3) The human mind/body connection is unparalleled and even enlightened; intelligent individuals can take it for granted.

4) Learning to detach from expectations is healthy, powerful and ultimately healing.

5) The power of a good support system of friends, family and professionals is the best medicine there is!

These are all tough life lessons to learn at any age, but I do my best to remain positive. If I can channel my drive into that one thing, it won’t be wasted.


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