In February of 2014, I found myself in a car accident resulting in a concussion. My friends and I were taking a weekend trip when we began hydroplaning 65-70 mph into the back of a Dodge truck. Traffic ahead had stopped suddenly from a different accident, so everyone came to a sudden stop on the freeway. We hit them straight on and veered into the left median. The whole story is now hilarious as my friends and I retell how our personalities came out, our police car rides and the following events. However, my focus in this article will be on my experience with post-concussion syndrome (PCS).
How did it happen, you might ask? Well I sat in the back behind the passenger and to make room for my long legs I stashed my purse behind my head on the rear dash. So, when we collided, not only did I whiplash forward, but my purse also hit the back of my head. I don't remember if I passed out, but the next thing I knew I was stepping out of the car over the bumper, which had rolled under the car, and went straight to the other car to get their information. I was in shock for a while. To make it worse, my boyfriend at the time didn't care to answer or reply to my calls. Two weeks later we broke up, which was ugly (at least from my perspective; I can't speak for him, and I will not share what happened...mostly because I can't remember thanks to PCS). Nevertheless, the breakup did not help my situation, like I knew it happened, and I remember certain details, but I can't remember what he said. So, I did not and still do not know why it happened. Luckily, I have moved on and have met a really amazing guy who continues to blow my mind with his kindness, strength, and brilliant heart and mind.
The day after the accident, my friends and I went to the emergency room to get checked out by the doctors. Initially, I had a panic attack. Mostly because it was my first time in the ER, and to me that meant I was not okay, and that hurt my pride to admit I wasn't ok (and I sort have always been a hypochondriac). Even though the doctor's said that I didn't have a concussion, the symptoms, which developed over time, made it evident that I had a concussion, which is a mild traumatic brain injury. If you don't know anything about PCS, then you don't know that no matter how traumatic your concussion is, you can experience PCS.
What is PCS? Mayo Clinic defines PCS as "a complex disorder in which various symptoms — such as headaches and dizziness — last for weeks and sometimes months after the injury that caused the concussion." The only treatment for it is specifically aimed treatments at certain symptoms. However, there are many symptoms Mayo Clinic lists, such as "headaches, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, loss of concentration and memory, noise and light sensitivity...[and] in some cases, people experience behavior or emotional changes after a mild traumatic brain injury. Family members may notice that the person has become more irritable, suspicious, argumentative or stubborn." I experienced all of the above, and two things Mayo clinic forgot to mention was depression and dyslexia. Though I am convinced the break up had much to do with my depression, it later lead to suicidal thoughts. Sometimes I didn't want to stop at the red lights.
The worst part was that I didn't tell anyone about the worst parts. I didn't want to seem weak, or look like I was faking it so I could take it easy. Even some friends and family reading this now didn't know. As a full time student-athlete and Theology major there seemed to be too much pressure to maintain my normally enduring, strong and put together self. But I had dealt with suicide and depression before, so I thought I could get through it. And I did, but only after I finally asked for help. I would just lay in bed all day feeling numb and snapping back and forth between irritability and irrational goofiness. It was impossible to process any of my emotions from the accident or my breakup, from school drama or anything else. I was as numb as all get out, and that ultimately made me depressed.
Finally, one night I remember getting out of bed and getting into my car and just screaming, sobbing, and at that point I was so scared I called my dad finally processing that threat of death from the accident. And it wasn't until the end of April that I cried about the break up. PCS is real and it's serious because it can effect every aspect of your life.
Some things you can do for your friend or teammate with a concussion: First, don't abandon someone who is going through depression. Second, talk to them and be persistently observant. I remember the greatest thing my roommate did for me was become the persistent one. Usually being the lazy one who'd skip and be messy, she would clean up and wake up everyday for class asking me if I was coming with her. In the moment I thought it was annoying, but afterwards I realized how much her actions meant to me. Lastly, help them get help - DO NOT TELL THEM TO HELP THEMSELVES WITH SELF HELP - GOD NO. I would go to my professor and ask for help and he would just tell me ways in which to help myself. That did not work. What did end up working besides treatment was this app called SuperBetter, which provided a video game like experience to get me motivated again.
To everyone out there who may have a concussion I just want to say, take care of yourself, rest and let your body go through what it needs to in order to heal. You don't owe it to anyone to be okay all the time. Get help and download that app, because it was fun and it really helped me. We all know that a little fun helps us get out of strange funks anyways. You can, and you will get through it!