How Multiple Concussions Have Permanently Changed my Life

My right hand fell numb when I tried to grasp the handle of my seat. My vision started to blur amidst the fluorescent lights of the hospital as my pupils dilated. I sat in the chair of an empty waiting room during a school night, trying to remember how I got to the hospital and why I was there.

Earlier that evening, I was at cheer with my friends. “Suicide runs” were a common practice, and I was conditioning while being timed just like any of the other girls. When another cheerleader and I happened to collide during the runs, her chin rammed straight into my temple. I fell on the ground, unconscious, and unable to move.

This happened just months after I fell out of a stunt, a year after I lost control while tumbling and a few years after my head bobbled on the floor after a freak accident. Unfortunately, this was not my first or last time dealing with traumatic brain injury.

Little did I know at 12-years-old, I would be spending the next few weeks without any stimulation. No written material was to be read, no sunlight was to be seen and little to no music could touch my ears. My life was restricted to the walls of my room within just days of my diagnosis.

This is the story of my fourth concussion, which unfortunately was not my last. Since then, I have acquired a series of traumatic brain injuries. When people hear the term “concussion,” they tend to imagine 2-3 weeks of no physical activity and rest. What parents, coaches, teachers and students don’t understand is how devastating the consequences of head trauma can be for a developing child.

Over one million children will suffer from a sports or recreation-related concussion each year. Just because it happens once, does not mean it won’t happen again. High school athletes who have a concussion are three times more likely to sustain a second head injury.

I was one of the unfortunate millions to sustain a head injury that year. I was forced to miss months of school due to my worsening symptoms. I was excused from final exams, most of my workload and had no way of communicating with others my age during that time. As a student about to enter the transition from middle school to high school, those were consequences I wished upon no one.

Just years after, I missed another two months of school due to another severe concussion, accompanied by whiplash and small fractures in my spine. I was forced to endure more isolation, not only from my friends but from the classes I needed in order to prepare for the SAT.

Continued blows to the head are known to cause a degenerative disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).  The brain of someone who endures CTE will lose mass and gradually deteriorate over time. Common symptoms associated with CTE are loss of memory, impulsive or erratic behavior, impaired judgment, aggression and depression, difficulty with balance, and a gradual onset of dementia.

Although I’ve had a long history with head trauma, the long-term problems I struggle with today began as soon as I experienced my first concussion. Many people do not know who I am without the symptoms I have faced since my developing years. I became tired, sluggish and even disoriented beginning at the age of ten. Later on, my symptoms would be worsened with repeated blows.

By the time I had my last concussion at 17 years old, I had difficulty reading, suffered from worsening headaches and watched as my grades suffered while applying to colleges around the state. I witnessed as the permanence of my symptoms washed away scholarship opportunities, acceptance into nationally-recognized institutions and ruined my chance of scoring what could be my best on the SAT.

Think of your brain as two large sponges, one filled with soap and the other with water. If you took those sponges, placed them in a plastic container – the skull – and shook them around, would the water and soap ever return to their original placements?

The chemicals within our brain work the same way. As we endure trauma, the chemicals can travel and interfere with certain processes. Alongside these changes, areas of the brain can start to lose function as their cells die from impact. Take it from someone who has experienced the impact of multiple, severe concussions – there is no such thing as “going back to normal” after repeated injuries.

Concussions are not something to be taken lightly or viewed as a temporary outing from a physical activity, sports affiliation or school setting. Going back to your daily routine after a serious injury can damage your brain permanently. Some post-concussive symptoms can span the rest of your life if you don’t take the proper steps to heal.

When we start to take brain injury seriously, we can prevent the everlasting impact my injuries have left me with for the rest of my life.

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Photo credit: slgckgc

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