Concussion Thoughts

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. 

I was rear ended at fairly low speeds, but by a very large vehicle. My head hit the chair, the wheel, and then the chair again. Can we just pause to give props to tubing mascara, which stayed in place through a lot of crying that day?

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!” 

The Instagram community was SO supportive! I got advice, encouragement and pep talks from people who have been through concussions and from professional in various fields. For someone anxious like me, that was incredibly helpful!

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! 

I had to get new glasses two weeks after the accident… but the lights in the store felt like looking into the sun, and I couldn’t see clearly at all! Bless the staff for giving me great advice, and Jamie for picking good frames for me via text!

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. 

Because of the extended healthcare I get through work, and because I wasn’t at fault in the accident, I’ve been able to have every medical expense covered so far. Even the insurance agent seemed surprised how far my coverage was lasting… which isn’t a good sign for Canadians relying on provincial healthcare!

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! 

At work, wearing sunglasses in a dim office. Spoiler: I regret going back when I did – but I really through I was ready! It has all worked out ok in the end.

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.


51 thoughts on “Concussion Thoughts

  1. First, I’m glad you’re returning to full health. I’ve never had a concussion but my son has, during a football game. He got hit so hard 😦 He was about 4 weeks out from that when he decided to play pond (ice hockey with friends). He fell. He fell backwards and hit his head on the ice. THAT one? I think he probably stopped having headaches about 2 years later.

    The US a healthcare system is terrible. It’s needlessly expensive and not accessible. We have really good insurance and the minimum we will pay out of pocket annually is $7000 in premiums, $1000 deductible (this is dirt cheap for family!), and whatever copayments and prescriptions we have. We do have a low “out of pocket maximum” and the most well spend in a year is just over $10k. Blergh.

    Some professions still have unions and thankfully, many states are starting to institute mandatory sick leave. But so many people would be utterly destroyed if they had a serious illness or injury. It’s so disturbing.

    Also, journaling is so underrated!! I’m glad yours is working well for you.

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    1. Wow, that is a shocking amount to pay our of pocket when you have “good” insurance!!!! I will never understand the American medical system – my cousin in NC just had to pay $700 copayment for 6 stitches, which is more than I’ll end up paying during my whole recovery! Outrageous. I’d rather pay slightly higher taxes, thank you very much! 😉

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  2. Dear Gillian, I’ve been following your journey faithfully, reading your posts and empathizing with you. I’ve never had a concussion, and so never understood really, very much about the long lasting effects. Thanks for being able to articulate the healing process, both physically and emotionally. I’m a breast cancer recoverer, 10 years now, and looking back, it was the incredible support of friends, customers (I owned and operated a busy sewing machine dealership), my hubby, and 1 amazing sister that helped the process of healing. I wish you well dear Gillian.

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    1. Thank you for the support, Yvette! It is such a joy to have a network of people around for support and encouragement – I’m glad you had the same when you needed them most! ❤

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  3. I started a gratitude journal after I read about the one you began. It’s so easy to focus on the negative but the positives are often as prevalent, if not moreso. Thanks for giving me that kick in the but. (I’m grateful :-)) When I had the years of migraines, I pretty well lived in sun glasses. That’s when I learned that amber glass is the best for filtering out the light my brain couldn’t deal with. FWIW, I am much less light sensitive than I was – but it took years. (It won’t for you, I’m just saying that, even if it takes much longer than you think it should, it’s going to improve!) Even now, I never go out without sun glasses (unless it’s winter and there’s no light – another thing to be grateful for?!) but I look super cute in them, so all is well. I mean, I wear glasses or I wear glasses.

    And let me say, I totally agree, letting go is fucking hard. Letting go of your understanding of yourself, your strengths (which are much more numerous, but totally diff, than you could possibly imagine), your limitations. How do you adapt? How does adaptation influence who you really are? What does that shit even mean? FWIW, I think of you as one of the more flexible peeps in the land! That comes out in your writing, crafting, how you pursue things. So just because you have “controlling elements” in your nature, that may be impacting your healing journey, those elements have a vital raison d’etre. We all fundamentally have a baseline need for control or we’d be spinning tops. I know this sounds insane (and of course, we’d all forego these sorts of lessons given the choice), but you have already gained so much in this experience and the way you now see the world is going to influence those you know and teach. Seriously, the next time you encounter someone with a concussion, your degree of empathetic comprehension is going to be game-changing for that person. And how they can help you to see your own experience, retroactively, is a gift that will keep on giving. You’ve just gazed in the mirror of your own resilience and you have passed with flying colours! xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for believing in me! I am so relieved that the worst feeling of being out of control are over – as hard as it is to head back to work full time, I’m relishing the feeling of being able to DO things again! I really hope you continue on your own path of improvement!

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  4. I admire you, G, for ‘wearing’ this so publicly on your own me-made sleeve. (Is this too many images stitched together?). This is a marvellous living example of who you really are. xox, Daddy

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for always believing in me, Dad! It’s on of the great gifts that you and mom give me – the confidence to do things because I know you’ve got my back! My gratitude journal app shows me what i wrote 3/2/1 month ago, and you and mom are popping up regularly in my things I that kept me going this fall!

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  5. Hi Gillian. Speaking as a spouse of a two time concussion survivor (both were mountain biking accidents, cause he didn’t learn the first time) , the road to recovery can be longer than you think for sure. His first accident caused double vision that went on for almost 9 months. A second opinion from an ophthalmologist was valuable, as he explained that the nerves to the eye muscles were damaged or stretched and that nerves can take up to 9 months to regenerate. He was told to spend some time each day forcing his eyes to focus so as to exercise the muscles.
    I Hope your recovery comes soon, but be too hard on yourself if it takes a bit longer.
    Barb

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    1. Oh thank you! That’s helpful to hear! I have a “video game” style program that helps me build my binocular vision, peripheral vision, and memory… it’s interesting to see my scores increase over time! I’ll keep working on it – and I hope your husband and found a safer hobby!!!

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  6. Glad you’re on the road to recovery and that you’ve had such an amazing support system.
    Also glad someone else has found the magic that is tubing mascara! :-p That stuff is INCREDIBLE!

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    1. All hail tubing mascara!!!!! I layer it over a normal volumising formula, and it makes such a difference. I used to always have to remember to wipe my raccoon eyes by 10am to get rid of the undereye transfer!!!! 😛

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  7. So glad your healing is proceeding and you’ve been able to make things easier for yourself. I’ve been there when it wasn’t quite so easy, but really still easy. It’s a blessing to be able to heal from these things without too much trauma, and even so, it’s not easy. Feeling so fragile is hard.

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  8. I’m so glad you’re getting so much better, even if you’re not all the way there. Your comment about memory and details made me think of when “mommy brain” kicked in after I had my first daughter. I kept waiting for my brain to come back. I’m not sure it ever did, but you learn to cope and live around it after a few years… 😂

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    1. Can it ever really come back given that you don’t sleep for a decade at which point perimenopause brain starts to kick in 🙂 I actually think I’m smarter now, in some ways, because my memory is SO shit.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Ha – that’s exactly what I’ve been saying to people about going back! “I’m not myself, but I don’t think I’m any worse than people with baby brain, and they are working!” 😛 In the mean time, people around me are getting used to me saying a bizarre free-association string of words when i can’t find the term I want! Thank goodness someone on the Sewcialists team can usually figure out what the heck I’m saying!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I had just a small concussion after a fall where I broke my arm. Nobody told me I had a concussion, but I was having trouble thinking clearly for several days. I could only do one thing at a time! As a teacher, you know how hard it is to have only one thing to think about at one time. I spent a lot of time actually watching TV and petting my cat. Eventually I got where I could listen to the TV and work on paperwork at the same time.

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    1. YES! That’s it exactly! I used to listen to music or Youtube videos while doing things, and post concussion my brain would just grind to a halt if it had a single input. No multitasking for me at all! How did you figure out what was going on with you?

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  10. Gillian, i’m so pleased you’re on the mend my luv. We take health for granted when we have it, seems it takes the lack of good health to make us realise what we had. Speedy recovery x

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  11. I had a minor concussion a couple of years ago and the headache was dreadful, so I can’t even imagine how difficult it has been for you. Glad to hear that you’re finally feeling almost back to normal. I know how important it is to feel your usual self again, but make sure you still allow yourself time because being back at work completely solo will be another big demand. Best wishes.

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    1. That sounds awful! Funily enough, headache was never one of my symptoms – I do get pretty bad tension headaches with visual distortion regularly, but I actually had less of those while I was doing nothing during recovery. Proof that everyone has a unique experience, right? I dodged a bullet there.

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Gillian. Recovering from a concussion is such a long, difficult and scary process and I really appreciate you sharing what it has been like for you with so much honesty. I’m wishing you all the best in your continued recovery and sending you so much love and so many hugs. ❤

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      1. It really is!! Going through something like this can be very scary and feel really isolating and confusing. Being able to read about other people’s experiences can help you feel less alone and show you there is light at the end of the tunnel, which is so important. Any time I’ve gone through something difficult I’ve sought out writing by people who experienced it too and it can be a really comforting and empowering thing to do. I strongly believe that sharing our difficult experiences can turn something that might be a negative into a positive by showing others they aren’t alone. You writing about this is wonderful and a gift to others. ❤

        I also wanted to add that reading about your experience inspired me to take action when it comes to the severe migraines I’ve had since my last concussion. I’ve finally brought it up with a doctor and have been referred to a neurologist. I might not have pushed myself otherwise or even realized there could be a connection if I hadn’t read your posts and started thinking about my own experiences again and doing more research, so thank you. You’ve had a positive impact on my life and I wanted you to know. ❤

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  13. “Concussion” always sounds like such an innocent thing: just rest for an hour or two and you’ll be fine. I hadn’t realised how ignorant I was about the whole situation, so thank-you for writing about your experience and sharing your story with people who will be in your situation in the future. It’s always so good to know you’re not alone.

    I hope your recovery continues swiftly. 🙂

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    1. I keep finding myself saying “I had a minor car accident and no one was hurt” or “I had a small concussion”… but for goodness sakes, it’s taken me 3.5 months to get back to work, so I need to rethink my phrasing! I had no idea a concussion could have such lasting impacts from a crash that left no visible marks. Live and learn!!! ❤

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  14. Thanks for sharing. I mean that quite sincerely. Your perspective on coping with long term illness is illuminating and uplifting. The effects of your gratitude journal are very obvious in your perspective. As a fellow control freak with a chronic disorder, I understand your drive to know and to actively engage in “fixing” the situation. I wish you all the best as you continue to learn patience with your body and the course your life has taken. Slow, even, deep breaths. Be present in this moment. Be compassionate with yourself. Keep posting.

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  15. Good to see you are recovering so well. Please take your time, ‘a few steps forward, consolidate, then repeat.’
    Concussion from a high speed roll over that totalled the car, plus being a teacher of younger students and I thought I would be fine to go back to work 😦
    A few minutes with the class demonstrated that the demands on my memory were just to much!
    I am in Australia, so all you mentioned about free health care, applies here, Transport Accident Commission for physio, transport, home help, etc. together with my being in a strong Union with the associated benefits, all helped to set my mind at ease whilst unwell.
    Take care and give yourself time out if you need it – we only get one brain :).
    Sam the Aussie

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  16. Gillian, I am so sorry to read about your injury and wish you all the best in your recovery. As a former teacher, I understand the “culture” of needing to be “in charge” all the time, but your attitude is so positive in understanding that recovery is on a very individual schedule and it will take as long as it needs to. I know of a Primary Care Physician with a practice in a very well-known medical facility who had a serious bike accident while riding with his family this past Fall. He was wearing a helmet but suffered a serious concussion. By his own admission, he had no idea how much of an impact on daily living this injury had caused, and it would probably make him a better physician in that regard.

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  17. Okay…whelp…your Dad’s comment made me cry. You wrote how supportive your family and friends have been throughout your concussion/healing journey and I got it, but then ‘hearing’ your dad’s voice just brought it all home.

    Although I’ve followed along on Instagram, I’m sure I’ve missed some of your positive milestones. Thank you for sharing your story here. Not only do I have a deeper understanding of what you’ve had to go through, but I really believe that in sharing your experience, many people will benefit from your words. I know I feel an optimism and a brightness that wasn’t apparent before I opened your blog post. I really admire your spirit Gillian!

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  18. I’ve had two concussions, both when I was a kid (like 4-6, I think). I really don’t remember much from them, just snippets, as with anything from that age, and I don’t know if they were minor or not (if there’s a scale). Therefore I haven’t thought too much of it, plus what you hear on the news with hockey players getting concussions left and right. I am aware that anyone can get them and when my kids have hit their heads I always know to check that they’re crying right away, that reduces the risk of it being a concussion, as they would have lost conciousness then.

    Long comment, but your post, and Insta posts as well, has made me realise that I’ve been lucky or forgotten a hardship, but it’s not something my parents have talked about a lot, so my guess is I was lucky. You post was honest and heartfelt.

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  19. Deja Vu. I have been there. I would encourage you to see an opthalmalogist for your eyes rather that the optometrist. In the meantime, you are on my prayer list for healing.

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  20. So glad to read that you are indeed doing much better now. And I find it’s very rough on us creative types to be forced to be extremely limited in what we are physically able to do. Never had a concussion either, but I know that with any head trauma, it’s all a matter of taking life a WHOLE lot easier than you did previously and give your body the time it needs to heal.
    XOXOXO

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  21. I’m so glad you are finally feeling better! I know concussions are very serious and should not be taken lightly, though I’ve not had one myself. Hopefully the road to recovery continues to be steady for you, and that you can get back to feeling like yourself soon!

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  22. I’m glad you are making progress. It really does patience doesn’t it? Is it bad that I laughed the control freak question? Definitely the laugh of recognition. Chin up.

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  23. I just found this because of your Sewcialists post asking for contributors. I didn’t know about your injury!

    I can’t remember if you expressed an interest in others with brain injuries, but I occasionally read http://www.dejongdreamhouse.com/ which is written by a quilter who recently passed her 10th anniversary of her traumatic brain injury. (You can search brain injury on her blog.) There was a post by her husband on living with somebody with TBI. There apparently are some things she will not recover.

    Well, a month later, you must be on your own at school. I’m glad you’re still around to inspire and keep Sewcialists going!

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  24. p.s. I have given up on mascara because waterproof flakes into my eyes (contact lens wearer) and non-waterproof smudges so badly under my eyes. I never heard of tubing mascara before…off to check it out now!

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  25. OMG I just saw your Sewcialist post and had to write. I almost started crying. I had a spinal surgery in Feb and there was a “dural tear” which caused my cerebral spinal fluid to leak. I had to have a “blood patch” (THE most horrendous type of procedure!). And since it didn’t take, I had to lay flat for four weeks. It was like having a migraine, the worst possible motion sickness, light sensitivity, extremely stiff neck and loud ringing in my ears for weeks. I couldn’t even open my eyes. Coke Zero became my best friend because it helped with nausea and the headache. A few weeks into this, I was taking my dog outside and lost my balance on an icy sidewalk. I broke my wrist and had to have pins put in (so three surgical procedures complete with anesthesia in four weeks!) Two months later, I’m better but not recovered. Now, I get dizzy / vertigo episodes that make me feel like I’m going to fall over about twice a day. I still have the tinnutis in my ears and I get headaches easy. Sometimes the screen dances before my eyes. And I am exhausted all the time. I am a researcher by nature and I can’t find anything about long term effects. Like you, I am an overachiever and I feel so hopeless like nothing will ever be the same. I can’t even keep my apartment clean. I’m afraid to drive or walk outside or ride a bike because I’ll have an “episode.” I was told the vertigo could last a few months but the anxiety is crippling. I can understand why people become agoraphobic. The doctor bills are tremendous.

    I look at my stash of fabrics and I can’t even stand it. I don’t know if I’ll ever sew again. Or ride a bike. I’m scared to babysit my granddaughters. Walking my dog is tough but I have to do it for her sake.

    I never thought of this dural tear as a brain injury but my experiences match a lot of these stories. I had no idea.

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    1. Oh Karen, i really feel for you!!!! You are just in the early days yet, though I know it doesn’t feel like it! I wish I could go back and tell myself that what I thought was “taking it easy” was actually pushing too hard… sounds like you need the same message. I got a house clean er after the accident, ordered a lot of takeout food for months, and i still don’t drive more than 15 minutes, because exactly like you, I’m scared of what would happen if I push my limits. You got this, though. Time will help, and your family and the sewing community is there for you!!!!

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  26. Hi Gillian,
    I am in the throws of my 4th concussion of my lifetime and was looking for other peoples stories when I ran across yours. It was nice to read your story, thank you for writing it.
    Have you tried Neurofeedback or Hyperberaics?
    Both have helped me tremendously with the emotional and physical symptoms.
    May you have a speedy recovery!
    Lara

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