Assembling a human: Putting together fragments from a brain injury

Posted: January 25, 2017 in fitness, hockey, ice hockey, NHL., Sports
Tags: , , , , , , ,

t has been almost seven years since I suffered my worst concussion to date. As many have read on the blog about the recovery and the initial trauma of the injury, I thought it would be interesting to do a piece on how life has moved on and find out, whether I was able to assemble a person from the fragments that were left as a result of the blow.

To recap briefly if you haven’t followed this blog long. I suffered a brain injury (which I refer to here as concussion) whilst playing hockey about seven years ago. I can’t remember much from the day it happened or the months following, but what the doctors told me is that I had a bleed in my brain and I was being monitored very closely by medical professionals. Being an idiot that I am, I ignored the doctors’ advice and caused myself more harm, returning to play after a week off (which was WAAAAY too soon). My symptoms were severe. I had to spend days in a darkened room due to intense photophobia, my head was pounding like I’d been on a week long bender, I was iritable, I could not remember what I’d done two minutes prior and I was laughing hysterically one minute, only to break down in tears the next. I felt I lost myself.

The recovery from the concussion took almost a year and a half, mainly because I refused to rest, so I suffered from headaches, dizziness and low mood/irritability for a long time. These symptoms are usually quite persistent in the early phase of concussions and should subside if you follow the appropriate recovery protocols.

In the early phases of the injury, my handwriting changed dramatically and my decision making was impaired. I also did things like try and dry myself after having a shower, whilst still standing underneath the shower. There were also difficulties associated with concentration and anything that required a prolonged period of attention, were difficult to deal with as I got a blistering headache from it.

However, now nearly seven years later, have I and my family managed to assemble a person of the mess that was left from the concussion? Neurologically, speaking I am fine. All my reactions and nervous system work as they should. Also, scans of my brain show no sign of permanent damage. That’s all well and good, however…

Despite getting a “clinical” all clear, I am still left dealing with concentration problems, usually in day to day life and at work. I am good at starting on a task, but then my mind wanders and I’m left thinking, what the hell it was that I was doing. Usually, I have to park the activity for a bit and come back to it once I catch the thread of my thought.

Additionally, some may have noticed in conversations with me that my eyes wander when I’m speaking to them. This again is associated with the concentration problem. Where I am listening to whoever I’m speaking to and paying attention, it is a monumental challenge to maintain eye contact. So, if you are speaking to me, and I’m not looking at you, please don’t be offended.

It is weird as when it comes to game day and the minutes leading up to when we take to the ice, that’s where I find I’m most focussed. Though having said that, it too has been an area where I’ve struggled. I’ve since been seeing a sports psychologist and have been using various techniques from hypnotherapy to NLP to help me achieve a better level of focus before games. I have to do the same in professional life when it is time to give a presentation, for example.

Prior to the concussion I had a pretty good memory. I would be able to recite circulation figures of publications, who the editor of a magazine was, which player played with what number and what sticks they used etc. Today… No chance. I struggle to remember names of people I’ve done business with for a long time and also I get easily confused on how many reps or sets I’ve done at the gym, despite having a workout log in front of me.

I am also maybe a touch more irritable than I was seven years ago. I seem to let little things get to me and eat away at me for days on end. However, I’m not a 100% convinced that my irritability is due to the brain injury, as my close friends and family have often described me as the most wound-up laidback person they know prior to the injury.  

The other aspect which has become more prominent in the wake of the concussion are my depressive cycles. I had been battling depression before the injury, but it seems like it has exasperated the problem, in that my depressive ‘episodes’ are more frequent and tend to be a quick decline, rather than something that happens gradually. Another issue which I remember vividly from the symptoms was that I looked myself in the mirror one day, must’ve been 2-3 months after the initial injury and I broke down in tears. I remember telling my wife that I don’t like the person that is staring back at me in the mirror and that I wanted to change. It was almost like the line in the Springsteen song Dancing in the dark: “I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face”. Body image was never really a big deal to me, but that was a defining moment in my life and I still have the same feeling everytime I see myself in the mirror. And that is despite losing loads of weight and putting on more muscle. With depression, I’ve reached a good place and have become better at identifying when I’m starting to ‘lose it’ and can seek to rectify it. I am likely to eat pills for this for the rest of my life. With the body image thing… who knows.

Coordination is something that has been affected. It may be brash to say that it’s all coordination. I am completely fine and in control when I’m playing, working out, driving etc. I’m absolutely fine, but tell me to do start jumps, I’m boned. I get there eventually, but I have to run through everything in my mind as to how it all comes together.

Those are in the main the areas where I still struggle a bit or that I know that have changed. What of the answer to the question: Am I still the same person as I was before the concussion? The answer is no. And to be truthfully honest, no one would be after 7 years. I feel I’ve grown and evolved as a person since then so it is impossible to say whether or not I am the same as I was back then. To what extent the concussion affected that process, I don’t know. but it definitely had an impact.

However, what I do know is that I am incredibly lucky in that my injury was not as bad as some of the ones I’ve seen while I was recovering. In comparison, I felt like a fraud next to people who are having to re-learn to walk, eat, write etc. The drive these people have is astonishing and I have nothing but the highest levels of admiration and respect for people who are going through that level of arduous recovery. 

 

However, whether or not me and those around me have managed to assemble a person of the fragments that were left: I think we’ve done alright. It hasn’t been easy, particularly in the early weeks and months post injury, but I’m a relatively respectable citizen.

 

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