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You're not meant to know when a concussion will end. The not accepting and the wishing for it to go away will only prolong the symptoms and cause anxiety – so they told me. The books. The concussion specialist. The acupuncturist. The chiropractor and massage therapist. The osteopath. All with their expert advice. It was an exercise in patience and self-control.
The obstacles along the way were unforeseen, the most challenging being people saw a perfectly healthy looking person, not her invisible illness, the bruised brain jarred by the hard smack against a concrete chimney when a bedtime story for my granddaughter was abruptly cut short.
For months to come, the regrets ran loops in my head. How that eventful day, more than a year ago, had changed my life as I reached down to pick up the picture book of Elmo's adventures off the floor. I should not have kept my legs tucked inside the guardrail on the bed. Pure laziness. Oh the guilt. Whatever possessed me? I might have left my cushy position for a few moments to fetch the book properly. Really, how many seconds had I saved? Ahh. There's the rub.
I was in denial: I had a mild concussion. It couldn't be happening to me. I had a life: a trip to book, teaching to finish, workouts and cycling and grandkids to enjoy. Summer was coming. Friends and neighbours offered their kind but often conflicting advice. Some had taken more than two years to recover. Two years! My GP's words echoed in my ears: Count on one to six months. Smugly I thought, I'll be in that one month category.
What are you doing out here, the neighbours admonished. Why aren't you lying flat in a dark room?
Doing nothing? I had visions of muscle atrophy and mental decline. But health-care providers in step with the latest research stressed mild exercise and meditation. Minimize screen time. Avoid reading and lengthy socializing. People could be loud and irritating, could drain me of my energy. I learned how to say no – to party invitations, a hike with the grandkids and even a glass of wine with a neighbour. My life, as I had known it, came to a halt as I lopped off each activity. I became a recluse of sorts and dealt with the headaches, the dizziness, the extreme sadness and despair.
The drill became familiar: activity, then rest. Rest, then activity. The couch held constant appeal. Amazon became my refuge as I grasped at anything that could possibly promote healing. Was there no fast way? The books covered cognitive behavioural methods and ways to destress: "Do not attach emotion to a thought." Excellent Chinese psychology, but try it on nights when your thoughts are racing and your heart thumps like a galloping horseman on a wooden bridge. Or, when in panic mode, you tell yourself to bring your thoughts back to the soles of your feet. Still, using essential oils seemed effective. Mornings, I'd daub my temples and occipitals with "Serenity" or "Joy." Peppermint and frankincense oils masked my headaches. Were they working their magic? At night, I doused my pillow with lavender. I was becoming an obsessive freak.
My mantra became "pace," "monitor" and "journal." I referred to log sheets to keep me on track: Day 100, Day 101, 102 … Had I taken my fish oils, my B vitamins, the dose of berries and portions of protein? Had I covered the mandatory hour of meditation? Upon rising, I documented the state of my head, when it might improve or worsen and why. Weekly, my concussion specialist had me check off the prevailing symptoms according to severity: Are you nauseous? Dizzy? Is there pressure in your head? Do you feel as if in a fog? Are you sad, more emotional? Are you sensitive to light, noise?
My unglamorous wraparound sunglasses, referred to as goggles by a less-sensitive family member, saved me from the glare that was everywhere. I carried wax earplugs.
Of course I made mistakes: bumpy boat rides, loud street festivals, the glass of beer I should not have had. But there were gains. I relished my leisurely walks where I communed with swans, spoke to a hawk high on its perch, zoned in to the rustling of beech leaves. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Spring. Photography became a hobby. I'd watch the geese take off and land again and disappear for months from the small reservoir around which I trudged. Like-spirited people greeted me and I them. I began to take note through a new lens and breathed in cedar and fresh air.
I came to realize that the power of intercessory prayer is palpable and instills hope. I was on prayer lists. Nightly, a dear aunt, far across the ocean, prayed for me. A peace washed over me as an Indigenous woman in another province held her private ceremony for my healing while I held mine, lighting two candles in the privacy of my home.
Better days began to outnumber the not so good, the bad now lagging far behind, as my pacing, planning and attaining of little goals began to bear fruit. And then, the light came back as I had been told all along it would.
Back on track, I ease into my life as it was, grateful for my recent vigour and happy for everything I thought was lost. Each moment is truly a gift. I must never take it for granted again.
Mary Ann McKenzie lives in Stouffville, Ont.