My Concussion Almost Made Me Take My Own Life

It was like someone had switched my brain with the brain of someone wicked.
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This time, it happened on Wednesday, February 3, 2016.

My girlfriend and I had just gotten back to her apartment after a night of playing dodgeball.

Tired, hungry and still very sweaty, we made our way into her bedroom. Playfully wrestling on her bed, I grabbed her feet and started tickling them. Instantly, her body thrashed and her head swung forward, her face connecting with the side of my head. My head was pounding, but I figured it was just a headache and I could sleep it off.

I woke up the next day and went to work. I was a fourth grade assistant teacher.

Initially, I felt completely fine.

Then after lunch, I experienced a panic attack. My entire body began to sweat; I couldn’t sit in the classroom because I felt like I was going to throw up or pass out, or both. I left work early and I immediately ran to my car and raced home.

I crawled into my bed and tried to fall asleep, but I couldn’t. My mind wouldn’t let me.

Something felt off.

“It was like my body and my brain were unleashing every negative and harmful thought that could ever pass through someone’s mind.”

Thoughts started flooding in. Thoughts about suicide, thoughts about things that happened to me in the past, people I haven’t thought about in years, feelings, emotions that were foreign to me; it was like my body and my brain were unleashing every negative and harmful thought that could ever pass through someone’s mind.

I had absolutely no control over my brain. I panicked even more.

It was like someone had switched my brain with the brain of someone wicked, someone evil, and I was in constant internal battles with myself.

It took me three weeks after the impact to fathom that I could have actually sustained another concussion — this one would be my third major one over the span of 10 years.

But I pushed myself because that’s what I’ve been taught to do. As a competitive athlete all my life, I’ve learned how to push through injuries, playing both basketball and softball in high school and college.

I’ve had dislocated shoulders, high ankle sprains, and eye surgery. With a partially torn Achilles and a slipped disc in my spine, I was determined to finish my senior year of college basketball regardless of the pain I was causing my body. Physically, I wouldn’t let anything stop me from playing.

Not even collecting one too many hits to the head playing basketball and softball.

So this time, once again, I pushed myself.

For the next three weeks I continued going to work, all the dark emotions still very much on my mind. I tried my hardest to ignore them. I continued going to CrossFit. I continued playing dodgeball and hanging out with my friends.

I would get into my car after every activity and I would weep, unleashing all of the pent-up emotion I had buried within myself throughout the day. I was exhausted, my body and my mind felt completely depleted.

“It’s hard to fully explain to people what I am — still — going through because a concussion is not a visible injury.”

It’s hard to fully explain to people what I am — still — going through because a concussion is not a visible injury. For those of us who have experienced this type of trauma, you understand its magnificence. Life is not the same as it was before your concussion.

We ache to find ways to cope with our new “selves.” Our stories, our pain, and our fight to get through this — we are all similar in our suffering.

This issue has hit mainstream media, but the conversation revolves around the experiences of men, especially those who are or have been professional football players.

For women, our stories tend to remain trapped within our damaged brains. Our pain does not make the headlines on SportsCenter. But our struggles overlap, our Google history overflowing with searches of “how long do concussion symptoms last” and “the link between concussions and depression/anxiety.”

The information we can find about concussions is no longer scarce, but knowledge doesn’t take the pain away.

During basketball practice at Cal Lutheran University

“For women, our stories tend to remain trapped within our damaged brains. Our pain does not make the headlines on SportsCenter.”

What we knew about concussions was different in the 2000s, when I suffered my first major head injuries in high school, then while attending small liberal arts college in New Jersey.

In high school, I attended a sleepover basketball camp at a local university. During a game of pickup, I went up for a layup and was pushed forward by my defender. My body sailed, my head slammed against the side of the portable basket, and I fell to the floor.

I continued playing.

That night, I was in the shower and I lost my balance. My head was foggy, I was dizzy, and my eyes were blurry — I staggered back into the dorm room and asked my roommate to call for help. I went to the hospital and was informed that I had a concussion.

Me playing softball for Drew University.

During my freshman year of college, I was warming up before a softball game. My teammates and I were taking routine ground balls in the outfield as we normally did before every game. It was my turn. The ball left my coach’s bat and as it was rolling towards me, it hit a divot in the grass and popped upwards towards my face. I turned my head to the side — the ball connected with the side of my head and I immediately blacked out, gaining consciousness a few seconds later.

But I played in the game.

I went up for my first at-bat and struck out. I remember my teammates telling me that after my strikeout, I went back to the dugout and threw my bat and helmet at the bench. I’d always been able to keep a level head, regardless of how frustrated I may have been. I rarely ever showed negative emotion during games, let alone anger.

I hit the ball during my next at-bat and got on base. The batter after me got a hit as well, but instead of running to the next base, I just stood, motionless. It was like my brain forgot where I was — my coaches and teammates screamed at me to run, but by the time I realized what was happening around me, the opposing team tagged me out. The rest of the game is a complete blur.

“As a student athlete, you never want to let anyone down. Your coaches, your teammates, and your family  —  you feel like everyone is counting on you to be successful.”

As a student athlete, you never want to let anyone down. Your coaches, your teammates, and your family — you feel like everyone is counting on you to be successful.

You are your own worst enemy.

A knock to the head wasn’t taken as seriously as it is today. I had no idea that getting hit in the head with a softball would do so much damage to my brain.

The next morning after the game, I woke up with an unbearable headache. I couldn’t even stand up — I crawled out of my bed and stumbled into the hallway, where two of my friends found me lying on the ground. They immediately drove me to the hospital and I was diagnosed with a concussion.

I dealt with the effects of this concussion for the next few months, spending the majority of my days in bed, in complete darkness. I stopped going to classes, I quit the softball team, and transferred to a school back home in California.

But this past February was different. It didn’t happen while playing a sport.

After those first three weeks, I couldn’t push myself anymore. The headaches and the anxiety and the depression were unbearable.

I quit my job.

I decided to contact my doctor. I went in for my appointment and was administered a standard concussion test, which tests for memory, balance, and other cognitive functions. I failed the test… miserably. My doctor diagnosed me with a concussion and instructed me to spend the next 10 days in darkness. No computer, no cell phone, just darkness. I’d hoped that after taking those days to completely rest my brain, I would be back to feeling normal again.

I wasn’t.

Mentally and physically, I felt like I was becoming a different person. I would wake up each morning, head pounding, thoughts in dark places and I wondered if it was worth it to continue living this way.

The horrible thoughts were still there. The pressure in my head was getting worse. I was trapped within my own mind, anxious, depressed and lost in fear. I felt like the only way to get rid of these thoughts was to end my own life, and there were days I wasn’t sure I would make it.

“I’ve been dealing with this physical and emotional pain every day for the past six months, wondering with each passing day when this nightmare will end.”

I’ve been dealing with this physical and emotional pain every day for the past six months, wondering with each passing day when this nightmare will end.

I do my best to show the people closest to me how much I appreciate them for not giving up on me when I so badly wanted to give up on myself. I’m slowly beginning to see the light at the end of this treacherous journey.

I searched tirelessly for ways to survive this. I meditate everyday.

I go to therapy. I began going to therapy after my panic attack and have kept up with it at least once a week since. I was able to find some solace once I realized that my concussion was the cause for much of my anxiety and depression.

I rediscovered my passion for drawing and began creating and designing personalized signs for my friends.

I can no longer stand to watch some of the dramatic television shows that I used to love, so ESPN has become a staple of background noise at my house.

Me continuing to go to CrossFit.

Music has become a source of discomfort for me, so I’ve been listening to CrossFit podcasts as well as a podcast called Invisibilia. The words accompany me on the long walks and hikes I take.

My girlfriend and I are still together and she has been supportive of me throughout each step of my healing process. When I would start crying, most of the time because I’d gotten caught up in a horrible thought, she would reach out her arms and comfort me. I am so thankful for her love.

I have weekly dinner plans with my best friend, where we spend most of the time laughing. It’s in these moments where I forget how much pain I’m in.

I started taking antidepressants about a month ago, so the crying everyday has stopped, but the depressing and anxious feelings are still there. Nothing is a quick fix.

While I was going through my darkest moments, I would write down exactly what I was feeling in the notes section of my phone. Looking back on those notes now shows me that although I’ve come a long way in terms of physical progress, there are still a lot of times where I fall back into those same dark mental patterns. Meditation has helped me stay present and sort of “fight” the urge to beat myself up for the feelings that occur within my mind, but the negative voice inside me is still there.

Currently, I’m not working and I’m not sure when I will be able to go back to work full time again. My anxiety overcomes me when I begin to think about it. For me, coping with this injury is my full-time job.

I live at home with my parents. I’d been thinking about moving out prior to my concussion, but I can’t handle the thought of being on my own right now. I’m so fortunate that my parents support me and have allowed me to stay at home. My mom comes to all of my appointments with me and has been there with me during the worst moments. She’s so calm and understanding and I don’t know what I would have done without her.

Me playing for the Whittier College Poets.

As women, we must speak up about our head injuries. It’s not easy to relive the painful moments that once felt impossible to survive, but our stories are important. You are not alone. When you start to give up, when you start to believe that there’s no one who will understand what you’re going through, just remember that you are not alone.

No matter how many times your mind drifts off to those dark places and your pain becomes so unbearable you can’t even unwrap yourself from your bed sheets — you are not alone. Your story is important, too.

Even if you can’t find the words to explain what you’re going through, even if your life has become a daily struggle to fight through your depression, you are not alone.

I hear you.

“I look back at my younger self and commend my relentless spirit, but I see the toll that those head injuries took on me, and I wonder if it was worth it.”

I wish I had been aware of how detrimental even a single concussion could be to my health. I look back at my younger self and commend my relentless spirit, but I see the toll that those head injuries took on me, and I wonder if it was worth it.

Parents of athletes — don’t let my experiences scare you. My latest concussion wasn’t even a result of playing sports.

But if I had known that continuing to play the same day after hitting my head could have done so much damage, I would not have pushed myself. Now that the information about concussions is available, there are more ways to manage the symptoms once they arise. Coaches and athletic trainers are more aware of the negative effects of a single hit to the head, and most of the time, they won’t allow their athlete back onto the playing field. There are preventative measures that youth sports are taking, such as requiring softball pitchers to wear face masks and soccer players to wear padded headbands.

Most people who have gone through what I’ve gone through would probably never go back to living an active lifestyle. But as I sit here and reveal my story, I find joy in fantasizing about the moment I can return to CrossFit and dodgeball. It would be easy to stop pushing, but I wouldn’t be true to myself if I quit this easily.

I guess the athlete in me hasn’t given up just yet.

_____

This was originally published in The Relish on Medium.