I've got a concussion

and now what?

Family and friends

For family and friends it helps when you know what to expect when someone has a concussion. Therefore, by way of example, you can find some tips here based on my own experience.

Invisible symptoms – lack of understanding

One the things that can most bother you when you have a concussion is when friends, family, doctors, work, etc. show a lack of understanding. How do you explain what’s wrong with you?

The spoon theory is in my opinion the best metaphor to explain why you have so little energy. https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

In addition to being tired, you run into the shock that you need to start doing everything differently than you were used to. As a result of your symptoms you run into all kinds of issues. This can bring a lot of emotions into play.

Being ill for a week is manageable, but after a couple of weeks it is simply unavoidable that you need to adjust your life to your symptoms and new limits. In addition, you don’t know how long it will take before you get better.

That’s why this document is handy. It discusses the phases you go through while recovering:

http://www.tbiguide.com/emotionalstages.html

You can’t see a concussion from the outside. But on the inside you experience a lot of things at the same time. You live in a sort of fog (or like you’re feeling drunk) and especially at the beginning you may experience a lot of symptoms. Such as:

headaches,

dizzyness or vertigo,

nausea (due to vertigo),

sensitivity to light and sound,

lower responsiveness,

low concentration,

memory issues,

some people also have a constant beep or sound in their ear and your sense of smell and taste may also change.

You can imagine that all of this at the same time, 24/7, is very annoying. Especially if you do not experience improvement after a week and if you run into these symtpoms whatever you are doing. Not exactly relaxing. The exhaustion lowers your resilience and therefore you see in many cases that you get irritated or angry really quickly. Because the default for you is already so irritating. This is what makes life so ‘tough’ when concussed.

Emotionally speaking it may also be tough, as suddenly you’re not that ‘strong’ anymore. You run into your own limits, become dependent on others, are disappointed in your own possibilities and as a result you may get frustrated, sad and angry.

In the beginning you are still waiting for improvement, as you would in case of a flue. But when you have a concussion and things don’t improve quickly, it could take months. Sometimes you’d just want to take a break from it. But you’re not going to get it.

All of this is the result of the connections in your brain not functioning properly. Trying to live a normal life with these symptoms will make you extremely tired. This is why the aftermath of a concussion can sometimes look like a burn-out.

Logic sometimes seems far away when you have a concussion. I often did not notice how bad or good I was doing; my GP therefore tried to help me put things in perspective. “You can’t even ride your bike and you’re constantly nauseous but you do want to work two hours per day?” Help a concussed person by trying to give them insight in their own situation. You are living in a sort of fog, so it is difficult to make those kind of assessments all on your own.

My IQ has not changed; in my head I still know and think of a lot of things, but sometimes I just can’t express myself properly, especially when over-stimulated.

Stimuli

Stimuli (any kind of ‘input’ for your brain) are tough to understand when you aren’t easily over-stimulated yourself. Try wearing ear plugs for half an hour and then take them out again in a noisy room.Everything will seem much louder. This is what someone with a concussion is going through. Your brain is on constant alert, which is really exhausting.

You can read more about over-stimulation here: http://www.braininjury-explanation.com/consequences/invisible-consequences/overstimulation-flooding

Activities

  • Diversity and keeping things short (max 15 min for example) are key

You can mix ‘doing’ things with ‘thinking ‘ things. For example, you can do the dishes for 15 minutes and then take a 15 minute break on the couch. Take a deep breath, drink some water. Then maybe read a bit in the newspaper. Refill your water glass and go outside for a short walk.

Taking walks really is one of my best cures. At a leisurely pace. In nature. A quiet environment. Not a lot of traffic. Not a lot of people. Not a lot of noise. Clear your head and breathe deeply.

Unfortunately I could often only do one thing at a time, as my memory was limited by my concussion. Putting a key in a lock while someone was asking me a question was definitely not something I could do early in my recovery.

Where are my keys? Do I need to eat? When trying to think about these sort of things it was helpful for me to literally stand still or sit. Without movement and in a quiet environment. Without a lot of people, images and sounds.

Appointments

The easiest is to make appointments when you want to meet someone with a concussion. Take into account that the person might have to cancel at the last minute and please don’t hold it against that person. Her symptoms may make it important to have that flexibility.

  • 1 on 1 conversations are easiest, in a quiet place. No TV, music or radio in the background and no loud people

Always go along when the concussed person is visiting a doctor. Firstly, it will help remember her what happened and secondly you may be in a better position to ask critical questions. It may also help to record these meetings (for example with your phone).

Indicate up front that the appointment should be short (max 15 min for me) or ask for breaks every 15 minutes. My focus was really non-existent, especially during the first couple of months and therefore these meetings were really exhausting. I’ll thank you later 🙂

Traffic

  • Driving and riding a bike, even just being a pedestrian can be dangerous. You’re less alert, your responsiveness is lower and it may be difficult to judge how far a car is or how fast it is going

Never mind all the things you need to do and pay attention to at the same time while driving; looking in your mirrors, shifting gears and using the brakes.

While recovering from my concussions I did not drive, as I did not want to put myself and others in danger. You will notice what you can and cannot do when you try driving again with someone next to you.

How long will it take until someone recovers from a concussion?

In my experience it differs for each individual. Doctors often say they know too little about our brain to be able to give a good assessment of your recovery time.

The standard is that after 6 weeks most people will have recovered. Some recover in a matter of days and only experience a couple of mild symptoms.

But there are plenty of people who experience symptoms for weeks, months or even years. And then you might end up in the ‘brain injury’ category.

In my experience, it helps to take it week by week. Keep hope for improvement, but don’t plan further out than a week or so in order to avoid disappointments.

I do believe that your brain has a lot of capacity for self healing (see also ‘neuroplasticity’) as long as you are patient and create a peaceful environment where you can get real (emotional, physical and mental) rest!

Disclaimer – Anyone reading this should realize that this website is NOT managed by medical professionals. Hence the information on this website should not be considered as medical advice. In case of symptoms it is crucial to always consult a doctor first.

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