I process everything better through writing and talking, so please indulge me as I reflect on the unexpected experience of having a concussion! 6+ weeks at home is a long time to think about things, and I’d like to let it out so that I can move on.
Concussions are slow. EVERYONE told me this, but I didn’t understand how truly glacial the pace of recovering would be. Hell, I drove to work 6 days after the accident, and thought I’d be able to work a half day! Nope, I left after 20 minutes, before the students even arrived. I kept expecting that I’d feel better day by day, like you do with a cold, but progress was measured in weeks at best. The most useful thing for me was trying to remember benchmarks, like “Two weeks ago couldn’t type a blog post, and now I can, as long as the screen is dim and i haven’t strained my eyes on something else!”
I am not alone. I cannot tell you how much it meant to talk to so many sewing friends who have had concussions or have professional experience with people who have been concussed. I had no idea so many of you had struggled with this before! You gave me pep talks when I needed them, told me I wasn’t crazy, reframed my experience, and let me know that this is normal. You also reminded me through your own stories that I’m getting off lightly, and recovery could have been much worse!
Brains are complicated and confusing. I really wanted there to be one medical practitioner who knew all the answers… who could explain exactly what happened in my brain to make my eyesight change. Instead, there was rather a lot of (informed) trial and error… trying one prescription then another, only to find my brain healed itself while we were waiting for yet another pair of glasses! At this point I’m maybe 80% of the way back to normal. There’s no telling how long that last 20% will take – when will I walk out into a sunny day without wincing? When will my memory of words and details kick back in like it used to? I’m not sure.
Letting go is hard. My osteopath turned to me on our second appointment and said, “I’m trying to figure out how to phrase this better… but… would you consider yourself a control freak?” Yes, yes I would. I had to work really hard the whole time to trust what my medical team told me to do, and not fret or dream up some complex series of if/then plans. It was easier for the first 3 weeks when I thought glasses would fix everything… and much, much harder when it became clear it was not that simple. In the end, the most comforting, relaxing thing was finding some articles meant for optometrists, because I just really needed to understand what was going on.
My privilege is showing. This was all so much easier because I have money. Not unlimited, but enough that for a while, I could prioritise paying for things that made life easier. Not allowed to drive? Get an Uber. Can’t cook? Order delivery a few times a week. Overwhelmed by housework? Get a cleaner. That stuff was all hugely helpful, but I’m keenly aware it’s not possible for everyone. On top of that, my emergency visit was free because I’m Canadian, and my private health insurance through my employer paid for physiotherapy, massage and glasses. Thanks to decades of work from my union, I was able to be on paid leave when I need it. I spent the whole concussion wondering what the experience would have been like if I was a single mother working minimum wage – and even in Canada, it would be have awful.
Life continues. Wouldn’t it be handy if all other stresses and obligations went away while you were sick? Sadly, it’s no so easy… we had to replace my car, deal with insurance and the police, winter arrived, and Jamie had a TON of stressful stuff going on at work. I’m very grateful to Jamie, my parents, and all our family and friends who helped us when the going was tough!
Note from future me to past me: I wrote everything up to this point on December 8th. It’s now February 2, and I’m still a week away from being back at work full-time without any assistance! In other words, healing was even slower than I thought. My vision didn’t resolve until early January, and within days of being able to use a computer easily, I’d reawakened my old RSI, and had numb arms and hands. Great. Turns out that lying around unable to do anything isn’t good for your muscle tone, and the two are related! I went back to work half time, then alternate full days… then full-time but still with the teacher who had been hired to cover the job in my absence. Next week I’m full-time, and she is just in for two days, and then I fly solo. Again, I’m privileged to be a teacher who has this option of overlap.
I’m writing here about concussions… but I bet that you’ve had similar lessons through many different experience! Broke a leg? Had a baby? Lost a job? The same lessons probably apply! We are going to have a callout on the Sewcialists very soon for contributions from people who have had neurological changes through concussion, stroke, or other reasons, so if you have stories to share, I hope you share them there are well as here in the comments!
My final lesson is that being grateful helps. I used a free app called Happyfeed to do a gratitude journal (once I could look at a screen for a few minutes), and I swear it helped me stay positive. I’m past 90 consecutive days using it now, and it helps remind me that roadblocks come and go, but they usually don’t last forever.
P.S. Oh my goodness, go read this post right now! I’ve met several colleagues (ok, like 5, which is far too many) who have had much more serious concussions than mine, and Allisa Jacobs’ description of her concussion aligns closely with what they’ve told me.