12 Things That Happen When You Get a Concussion

My wife says she’s going to buy me a helmet.

New Year’s Day 2017 I woke up to a CRASH. My mind was blank. It took me a minute to even remember who I was. I thought I was still a kid living in Tennessee. What was this door in front of my face? Oh, right, I live in Minnesota now. I’m in… my bathroom? I’ve never seen it from this angle before.

I slowly sat up and looked around. Everything was foggy and going in slow motion. I looked down and saw blood all over my white hoodie. I realized I had a splitting headache and my nose hurt. I slowly pulled myself to standing and faced the mirror. I looked like a bloody ghost. Face white as a sheet, giant purple bruises on my forehead and a gash in my nose that was bleeding impressively.

I woke up Alyssa with a phone call. “Hey… I think… I might need to go to the hospital…” 5 hours in the ER and I officially had my first concussion.

Recovering the first time was weird. I had regular waves of nausea for a few weeks and I felt weak and fatigued. I would randomly start crying. I felt discouraged all the time. It was about a month and a half before I could get back into running and working out. It seemed then like things were fairly back to normal, but a few months in I started getting these awful headaches and had to go back to the doctor. At about 6 months those subsided. I was back to normal and running harder than I’d ever run and hiking up and down mountains.

Life was GOOD! :)

Until August 16–just a few months ago: My wife and I were 4 miles into our 8 mile hike for day 1 in the Rocky Mountains. Scrambling over some boulders, I planted my foot and launched myself up and heard a loud CRACK run all the way through me. I felt like my neck and shoulders collapsed into each other and holy **** my head! I sat straight down, still seeing stars, world buzzing. I immediately knew I had done more than just bonk my head.

But we were 4 miles from the trailhead. In the mountains. So I sat for a while, stretched and massaged my neck and shoulders, waited for my head to unfuzzy itself. Then we were off again. As we kept walking my head started aching worse and worse and I started getting nauseated and dizzy. I kept half-tripping, very off balance. My epic best friend Alyssa insisted on carrying my backback along with hers (keep in mind, these are day-hike backpacks full of food and gear and clothes for mountain weather and a gallon or two of water). I sat down a few more times and we took it kind of slow, but we made it the rest of the way. Having made it to the end of the day I figured I must be okay. I started feeling extremely dizzy and anxious the next couple days in the mountains, but I attributed it to the elevation (14,000 feet is a lot of feet).

We got home and I went back to work. Then things really started going downhill. The more interactions and problem-solving I had to do at work, the more I just felt “off” somehow. I was totally missing things people would say to me. I was forgetful and often confused. I couldn’t find words I was looking for. Staring at my computer screen for 8 hours was miserable. I constantly felt this intense anxiety that was getting worse and worse.

Finally I went to the doctor who said I’d reconcussed myself and told me to take several days off work, go home and sleep, stop looking at screens, and not do any strenuous activity. Unfortunately, we were moving that week. Shout out to my awesome friends Ethan and Colin for dropping everything to help us! We couldn’t have done it without you! I felt like a wimp when I kept having to sit down till my head stopped spinning. The more I did, the more disoriented and uncoordinated I’d get. My speech would start slowing down and slurring and I couldn’t think clearly. A few days later I started three online classes. That was even rougher.

This second time around, recovery has been a lot harder and weirder. I felt like the concussion drastically changed a lot about my disposition at least temporarily. I have felt very introverted and have had a ton of anxiety. Thank goodness the nausea was way less this time, but the headaches have been way worse. Every couple weeks I have tried again to run or go to the gym, and every time have ended up with shot nerves, foggy brain, and a splitting headache the next day. And this time it didn’t get better–for 4 months! It felt like for every one step forward I took two steps back. Only in the last few weeks have I been able to really get back into running and working out, and screens are just now starting to get less painful for me. The worst part of it this time around has been the intense anxiety.

I am so, so thankful that I’m starting to feel much better now. Finally!

 

The thing about concussions is that nobody really knows how they work. But having personally experienced the confusion and frustration they can bring, I want to share a few things it may help you to know in case you ever bonk your head too hard or love someone else who bonks their head too hard:

1. Concussions affect everyone differently.

First of all–who knows what will happen! Nausea for weeks, fuzzy eye-sight, headaches, confusion, slow word recall–quick recovery, slow recovery–you really don’t know what to expect. It’s hard to understand or plan for your recovery. Take lots of omegas, lay in bed lots, and don’t look at screens. Those are three easy steps to follow. But how your symptoms go from there is anyone’s guess.

(Quick note: From here on out, I make a lot of “concussions do X” statements. Of course, not everyone with a concussion experiences each of these symptoms in the same way.)

2. Your brain hurts.

This one seems obvious, but it can be weird and disconcerting to experience. It doesn’t just feel like a bruise. After both my concussions, when I would spend time thinking hard, strain hard physically, do quick or impact-filled activity (like jogging), or spend time looking at screens–I would get this foreign feeling of intense pressure in my head. The first week or two this would even happen as a result of just walking. Not quite the same as a migraine or tension headache. It would just feel… off. It felt fragile and … pressury. Then I’d get dizzy and lethargic and all I could do was sit down and hold my head. That can last quite a while. The rest of your body can way outpace your concussed brain’s capacity to handle life.

3. Your emotions go haywire.

I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for how big a deal this one actually was. But since experiencing it, I’ve heard the same from others. One friend recently told me her two tough high school boys got concussions playing football, and while recovering would randomly burst into tears… “Mom, I don’t know why I’m crying!!!”

Your feelings just go crazy. Some people get extremely irritable. Some people get very shy. Some people get super anxious. Some people just cry and cry. The first time I got a concussion I would just feel this awful sense of sadness come in random waves for a good month afterward. The second time, more often than not, I had this terrible sense of doom, this feeling of being threatened, and an awful general anxiety that has very slowly subsided over several months.

The feelings are all very real and intense, make no sense at all, and constantly take you by surprise–so frustrating!

4. You get way overstimulated.

Loud noises and music, fast talking, big crowds, lots going on–all this can become way more overwhelming than it used to be. Your brain isn’t ready to handle what it usually does. You can be the biggest life-of-the-party, turn-the-volume-up type person and then after a concussion hardly be able to handle being around people or noises or sights.

5. Your thinking gets foggy.

You just don’t think as well while your brain is recovering from an injury. Following a train of thought becomes exhausting. You get easily confused. You miss a lot of things. I stopped hearing a lot of the things said to me, or if I did hear it I couldn’t process it quickly enough to keep up. You get spacey and forgetful. I showed up an hour early for a meeting that happens at the same time every week, decided after ten minutes it must have been cancelled, and didn’t even realize what had happened until the next week. Talking gets difficult. You can’t remember words. Sometimes it’s nothing you can describe exactly: Just a weird fogginess.

6. “Toughing it out” just makes it worse.

Here’s one of the only sure things the doctor will tell you: Trying to be a hero and pushing through your concussion by continuing to exercise, going right back to work, etc–just makes it worse!

You know when you sprain your ankle and after a few days in a boot, you get exercises to do that will help to start restrengthening it? Your brain doesn’t heal that way. It doesn’t want exercise to heal, and it doesn’t like physical strain. (At least not at first. After a while, there may be some cognitive therapy that can help your brain continue to recover.)

In both of my own experiences, the times I took away from work and took it very easy, doing nothing but resting, I made the quickest improvements. When I tried to push through it (against the doctor’s orders), it was miserable and the fuzziness and exhaustion just got worse. Best case scenario–take a legitimate chunk of recovery time off work, don’t go to the gym, get off your phone, and don’t watch TV. Rest.

7. You lose a lot of life things for a while.

Here’s one people don’t realize. You can lose a lot of your normal “life” things–things that make you who you are. For example: Running, working out, writing (on my computer screen), watching artistic movies, and spending time with people are all big parts of what makes me me, and all of those got overwhelming and painful. It seems obvious things like running and working out might have to slow down during recovery. But a much broader range of activities are affected than people might assume.

If I break my leg and have to stop running, I can sit and watch Netflix all day, or read more, or maybe start hanging out with people more. With a concussion, you might lose your ability to handle all of those all at once. It’s very sad. You feel like you lose a lot about who you are and unfortunately it can take a long time to get those things back.

8. You can’t SEE a concussion.

You just can’t. So people return to work too quickly and try to live up to their normal routines and social expectations, because saying “I feel fuzzy and anxious and I bumped my head three weeks ago” doesn’t sound legit.

9. You feel lonely, misunderstood, and embarrassed.

You feel awkward trying to explain how you’re doing to people, because–again–people can’t see how you’re actually doing. Especially after you look and sound normal. As the days turn into weeks or even months, and you’re not back to “normal” yet, you start feeling like people’s patience and understanding will run out. You feel silly that you can’t think as clearly as you used to, embarrassed that you feel like your work performance isn’t quite what it usually is. You can start to feel like you’re in it alone and that you can only ask people to cut you so much slack. You can even start feeling guilty–maybe you haven’t been able to go to the gym, and you’ve been doing more anxious-eating with your crazy emotions, or you haven’t been able to keep up with all your relationships. You can start to feel like you’re not good enough.

10. It affects other people in your life.

This is another big one. Your concussion doesn’t just happen to you. Your concussion happens to your significant other who is used to counting on a certain level of strength and companionship in you. Your concussion happens to all your co-workers who suddenly have to pick up a lot more slack and might have to do so for several weeks. Your concussion happens to your friends who might not see you or hear from you as often or might not feel as much warmth from you. They’re all in it with you in a supportive way, but that means they can also be drained and hurt by the experience just like you–especially the closer and more valuable the relationship. I sometimes feel like my wife needs to recover more than I do after supporting a few weeks of Concussion-Me.

11. It’s actually really scary.

It’s terrifying.

You’re not yourself anymore.*

You can’t think clearly.

You wonder if some things will ever get all the way better. And some might not. And now you’re at higher risk if there’s a next time.

You have no idea how tomorrow will go. Your doctor can’t tell you how your recovery will go.

And you just want to feel like you again.

12. After a while all of this gets very overwhelming and exhausting.

Any or all of these symptoms can last a long, long time. Longer than you’d expect. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, sometimes it takes months. Some people will keep the effects of their concussion for the rest of their lives. And dealing long term with this wide array of frustrating effects can get incredibly overwhelming and exhausting. You can become deeply burnt out and just feel like it’s all too much.

 

So what can you do to help a friend or loved one who has a concussion?

Try to understand them.

Help them feel safe.

Be empathetic and compassionate. This is an awful experience for them.

And GIVE THEM THE CHANCE to recover.

 

Shoutout to my epic best friend Alyssa who has been incredibly supportive since the first minute, especially with this last one that has taken months to heal.

Here’s an epic picture of her about 15 minutes after my last concussion, cheerfully carrying both our backpacks up the mountain four miles away from the trail head.

20180816_113151

Thanks for standing by my side through all this, Lys.

 

*I said “You’re not yourself anymore.” I want to say one more thing about this: You’re not yourself, but you also still totally are yourself. You don’t feel like you’re used to feeling, you get confused and you have unpredictable emotions. But deep down, you are the same person you always have been–you’re valuable and loveable you–and that is something you can hold on to, and it’s something your people can hold on to.

They Have Feelings, Just Like You

There’s this one cashier at our grocery store that helps us sometimes. He’s disabled and has to sit on a stool while he slowly rings up our items. He’s very talkative and friendly, but his conversation is a little awkward.

I’ve noticed a lot of people avoid him. They know checkout will take longer and the topics will be weird, so they find a different line. More convenient, more comfortable. I caught myself avoiding his lane and felt awful.

He definitely notices when we recognize him and awkwardly shuffle away, as if we realized there’s a shorter line somewhere else. He can feel our impatience as he clumsily shoves our groceries into the bags. He knows we think his small talk is awkward. He can hear us thinking that employing a faster worker would be better customer service. After all, we’ve got important things to get to.

And he carries all this home with him every single night.

He’s a good sport and he makes the best of it. He tries to connect and he makes your day if he can. He knows some people like him. He’s proud of his work ethic and he’s a very sweet person. He’s got some friends and family who love him.

But sometimes he feels the hurt. Some days it really bothers him that people don’t want to see him. He wishes he could move faster so his customers would be satisfied. He replays the awkward comment he made to be funny, and hears again and again the pitying chuckle. He falls asleep to the impatient drum of your credit card on his counter. If he were more coordinated, he’d be more likable.

And he falls asleep with the same big feelings that I have when I’m embarrassed in front of my friends, the same big feelings you have when your boss makes you feel stupid.


“I can’t stand the IT guy. He’s super rude. Really unfriendly.”

Cassie always said what nobody else would say but everyone was thinking, so I knew that the rest of my team probably felt the same way about Ryan, who was there for the day installing new computers.

“Really? What happened?”

“I don’t know, he just… always looks really angry, and he seems annoyed when I tell him something’s not working. He never even says hi.”

I always encouraged my employees to speak freely, so I wanted Cassie to feel understood. But I’d worked with Ryan a lot, and he was a good guy.

“Have you gotten to talk to him much? He’s actually pretty nice once you get him talking. Maybe he’s a little shy, but he’s always been really helpful to me and he’s one of the hardest working people I know. You might like him if you get to know him.”

“Nope, his attitude sucks.” Cassie’s mind was made up.

Ryan is often misunderstood. He is very quiet and can be very serious. Focused, direct, and professional. Not exactly a social butterfly.

When people think and talk about Ryan the way Cassie did, it hurts Ryan. It’s not always to his face, but it gets around to him. Dirty looks, “feedback,” conversations overheard.

Cassie doesn’t know what has made Ryan who he is. Ryan served in active duty and saw some pretty dark stuff while trying to protect his country. Some of the stuff he had to see and do, he won’t talk about. “It just changes you,” he says. “You can never unsee it or undo it. And nobody back home will ever understand.”

Some nights he startles awake, ready to fight, only to find he’s sitting in a bed drenched in sweat. He has been through so much, sacrificed more than a lot of us can imagine. And it has left scars he carries with him to work every day–scars that rub people the wrong way. He’s seen more than just rainbows and butterflies, and you can see it on his face. But if you don’t know him already, it may just look like “unfriendliness.”

Ryan is a complete softy deep down. He’s head over heals for his wife and would give the world for his kids. He loves to serve. He has big feelings, just like the rest of us. It’s easy when we’re in Cassie’s position to forget that.


When I was about 7, I knew this girl named Bridget. She had a couple lively little siblings with cute curly hair–picture perfect. But she had plain black hair and lots of freckles. She was quiet and kept to herself. Shy.

Bridget brought me a picture that she drew of me as a gift. She had given me freckles, too.

“That’s so ugly! I don’t look like that at all! You’re so bad at drawing!” I yelled at her as I tore the picture down the middle and crumpled it up.

Tears welled up in Bridget’s eyes and she hurried away to hide. All alone.


Billions of people share this earth with you and me. Each one is unique. Each one has his or her own struggles and fears, insecurities and soft spots. But each one shares our humanness.

Look with compassion at the next person you see today, at the next person that bothers you, and the next stranger who interacts with you. They have feelings–big feelings–just like you. Good feelings and bad feelings. And you are going to have something to do with those feelings.

covey quote

I Think, But I Don’t Know

What do you see in this picture?

william ely hill illusion

In 1915, the American humor magazine Puck published a drawing by British cartoonist William Ely Hill. The picture was entitled My Wife and My Mother-in-Law. The caption read: “They are both in this picture–find them.”

Can you?

If not, show someone else. Maybe they’ll see it differently.

The illusion was popularized by psychologist Edwin Boring in 1930. Variations of the picture were more recently used by author Stephen Covey to illustrate that, as he put it, “two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right.”

I grew up very smart, confident, and passionate. I thought very deeply, came to the right conclusions, and cared so much about everyone in my life that I had to help them see my conclusions, too. I never genuinely considered I might be getting stuff wrong until I had a big enough crush on a girl to listen when she told me I didn’t have all the answers.

What’s funny is that years later, the majority of big things I so confidently knew and so passionately tried to help other people understand–I no longer see the same way.

We all have our perspectives and our perceptions. We can’t help that they are very limited. And we can’t help but act according to them.

 

Seeing my own illusion

I remember one time I flew to another state to visit my recently married sister and brother-in-law. My sister and I had been extremely close friends for a long time and cared deeply for each other, so we were excited. But I was also there, more importantly, to visit the girl I was dating. The schedule was lopsided significantly in favor of girlfriend time. Later, my sister expressed that she was a little hurt by how the visit played out, and I just couldn’t understand. She supported my priorities but felt frustrated that it was very different than she expected. She had the impression that I was there to spend a few days with them, too. But I spent less time than expected with them, and when I was there I wasn’t exactly present. Again–and to my sister’s credit–she didn’t think my priorities were wrong. She just wished I had decided and communicated initially that I wouldn’t be spending much time with them. It would have saved her some disappointment. TO me, her feelings seemed a little selfish and unreasonable.

It wasn’t until years later when I experienced similar scenarios, but with roles reversed–I was the one with expectations too high, missing out on people I loved–that I finally understood that my sister was completely right. I wasn’t wrong, but she wasn’t either. I was so sure she was seeing things inaccurately, but she wasn’t. And I just was not in a place with my focus and priorities at the time where I could truly see her perspective. But years later, when I was in her position, I also felt a little ignored, mislead, and taken for granted. And it didn’t feel good.

I was so sure. Saw things so clearly. And I was thinking very deeply and had the best intentions. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that there was a completely different way to look at it. And this is just one example. There are a hundred more, and I’m sure you have plenty as well. Times you took a dogmatic stand, only to look back some time later in embarrassment.

Do you see the old lady? Or the young lady? Which one is the right one?

The problem is not that I took a stand or believed what I believed. The problem is not that I acted on my perceptions. The problem was what happens when I don’t recognize that there may be other perspectives–just as valid, just as clear.

This idea gives a deeper meaning to the term “Self-Centered.”

Sometimes we do what seem to us to be the greatest, kindest, most caring thing. But because it’s born out of our narrow perspective, because our focus is completely on our own Self’s perception, without attention to another’s interpretation, we can leave a path of hurt and confusion. We can act passionately in one direction, completely missing the collateral damage we’re doing in another direction.

 

Why do we see many things so clearly, but so differently?

For one very simple reason: We’re different people. I’m not you and you’re not me. I grew up in an extremely black-and-white home, preoccupied with ethics and judging whether we’re getting things right or wrong. Maybe you grew up in a similar home, but experienced so much hurt that you threw out all standards as causing dysfunction and depression.

Or maybe you grew up in a very chill home where good intentions were assumed, self-esteem was encouraged, and time and energy were devoted to free creativity and expression of individuality. Maybe this was a positive thing. Or maybe there was too much obsession with freedom, and you couldn’t hold your siblings responsible for just being honest and treating you with respect.

I’ve had a quarter of a century of experiences, shaping my focus and my understanding–my perspectives and perceptions. I’ve had very unique experiences leaving me with unique needs and unique sensitivities, unique priorities and unique comfort zones.

Consider this example: Two people look at the same religious organization. The organization does a lot of good for people and gives a lot of hope, but there are a number of people involved in leading it for selfish reasons. One person sees it as a breeding ground for judgement, hurt, and disappointment. Another person sees it as a vehicle to bring hope to unfortunate and hurting people in the community. Both people are completely correct, but both people will think, speak, and act completely differently towards the organization.

 

This CAN’T and SHOULDN’T be avoided.

A simple solution is opening up your mind and starting to see everything through your neighbors’ lenses. Problem is, you’re not going to get their lens quite right, either. And even if you could, there’s another neighbor whose perspective you won’t have the time to consider as well.

Refusing to take a stand for anything just because you don’t know everything just results in a crippled world, a world where nobody can help each other. Maybe my help isn’t quite right.

Imagine a world where nobody stood up to slavery or persecution because there’s a chance the “other side” might see something you can’t see.

 

So what SHOULD be done?

What if we tried living every single day with a deep awareness, acceptance, and appreciation for the huge variation in yours and my perspectives? What if I always kept in mind that you may have just as clear a perception of something as I do, but you may be seeing it differently?

A few things may result…

  • When it seems like I hurt you, but I know I wasn’t wrong, I’ll try to take the time to figure out why you’re hurting and see if we can fix it together.
  • When you see that I’ve latched onto an idea that is bringing weakness and sadness into my daily life, like a self-defeating attitude about myself, you may be able to help me, because I may actually grant that you see a real thing in me that I’m not seeing.
  • When I could do with a change of mind about a big subject, a respectful, constructive discussion can take place where we both come out better educated and appreciating each other.
  • I don’t have a subconscious need to control everything, to make sure people are doing what I need or want them to do, to get you to live life my way, because I realize your way includes some strong and helpful perspectives I can’t give you.
  • I can let you do you, with the peace of mind that all my solutions for you probably aren’t the right ones anyway.
  • I can freely and happily admit that I am just doing my best and don’t have all the answers, instead of feeling like a fraud, trying to hide all my doubts and insecurities.
  • I can ask for help because not having it all together is only a weakness to those who think they can have it all together.

 

At your funeral, people are going to remember you–people who have their own lenses.

Will they remember someone arrogant, who was sure they knew best, always focused on getting their own way, and always trying to fix other people?

Or will they remember someone humble, compassionate, and open-minded–someone who instead of judging whether others’ feelings were valid or invalid, just honored their feelings and beliefs as theirs? Someone who instead of trying to control the people they cared about just made sure to be there for them?

“Come See Me in My Office”

The dreaded invitation.

“Come see me in my office.”

When you’re the one inviting, here are a few truths to remember…

  • Your employee didn’t wake up this morning intending to make life miserable for you or anyone else.
  • Your employee is trying. If not, there’s a much deeper problem that’s been simmering for a long time.
  • Your employee is probably very nervous or afraid.
  • Your employee will definitely feel misunderstood and possibly bullied.
  • Your employee almost certainly will not say most of what he’s really thinking.
  • Your employee really wants some encouragement after a tough conversation.

And here are a few things to try…

  • Start things off with a less scary invitation: “Do you have a few minutes? I’d like to go over some stuff with you.”
  • Visit your employee in their own office where they’re comfortable.
  • If you need to close the door, tell them it’s because you want both of you to be able to speak freely with each other without having to worry about what anyone else thinks.
  • Show your employee honor by genuinely allowing that their motivations could be very good. Honestly try to understand your employee (they’ll know).
  • Make it a two way conversation. Ask them what their take on the issue is, what factors are causing it, and how you can help.
  • Tell them how much you appreciate them.
  • Ask them for feedback.
  • End on a positive note. Smile. Be truly excited to help each other make things even better!

Unless, of course, you really are just trying to kick them rudely out the door. In which case, you may be the problem…