Category: Symptoms

Mental Symptoms Symptoms

Overcoming Suicidal Thoughts

I didn’t think that writing about this chapter of my life would be this difficult. Looking back, it is extremely heartbreaking to know that I was once in such a dark place that I contemplated suicide multiple times a day, or even that I kept a bottle of painkillers under my bed for easy access in the event that I made the final decision to end it all. No one ever talks about the emotional and mental strains that brain injuries bring, so now, it is time to speak up. I hope by sharing my story, I can help others understand that they are not alone.

Before my brain injury, I would at times contemplate suicide in the events that I was really stressed with school or overwhelmed by circumstances in my life, but these were only occasional instances. I had never experienced these thoughts at the intensity and frequency with which I experienced with the brain injury. The depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts all seemed to come all at once. Like everything else, the suicidal thoughts would intrude as I became more stagnant in my recovery and especially when I made major strides in my recovery only to encounter a major setback. This cycle was deceiving and unbelievably debilitating. I questioned God, I questioned myself, I questioned my purpose. My life seemed like a joke now, I prayed to God for healing, but he didn’t seem to be listening at all. I cried to God to stop the head pain only for him to laugh at my tears. I felt like I had been forgotten and nobody understood what I was going through. My family, my friends, my teachers. Nobody understood the turmoil that my life was in.

When you feel worthless and purposeless, that is when you really wonder if it’d be best to just end it all. I often thought, “What’s the point”. I was doing everything right but was making no progress or what it seemed to be no progress in my recovery. I knew that I would much rather kill myself than live the way that I was living for the rest of my life. The thought of my dreams and hopes also going to die hurt me as well. I have always been a person who knew I would change the world in some big way, but my life was stuck for what had been six months with a brain injury. It was incredulous. But something inside whispered inside me that it was not over. That this was not the end for me.

I can remember the night that I almost gave up all too vividly. It was the night before my Poetry Out Loud competition (I know what you’re thinking, a Poetry Out Loud competition with a brain injury?!, yes I know. I shouldn’t have been doing it but it was my passion and nothing could stop me from competing, not even a brain injury). I had gone shopping with my mother to get an appropriate outfit, we had only been out for an hour or so and I began to feel a headache coming along. I knew that this wasn’t good, so I told my mother we needed to go home as soon as possible. As we got closer and closer to home, the headache only continued to grow. I remember getting home and going straight to my bed, to my darkroom. But, it was too late, it only continued and didn’t stop. I couldn’t sleep, I was awake and in an immense amount of pain. I cried and I cried, but the intensity only grew as I cried harder and harder. How cruel isn’t it? A headache that intensifies as you cry. This is the reality of brain injury headaches, they’re unforgiving and ruthless. I wanted out right then and there, I was angry that THIS could happen the night before my big day, I had practiced, I had rested and layed low for so long so that I could do well at this competition. It didn’t make any sense. I’m ashamed of it, but I cursed God for allowing it to happen. I remember taking pain killers… one, two, and three. I remember looking at the rest within the bottle and really considering taking more. I don’t know what stopped me. Some inner voice, God, I’m not sure, but something told me that my story was not over yet.

The reason as to why things like brain injuries happen to people, good or bad, is a mystery. Maybe that’s not the question that we should ask. Maybe the question that we should be asking is what are the situations that we go through teaching and showing us? Before my brain injury, my mental and emotional health were always an afterthought. I stressed myself out, taking on tasks that I couldn’t handle, saying yes to everything, doing everything and going above and beyond on it all. I would often have anxiety attacks that led me to hyperventilate and cry uncontrollably. I wasn’t taking care of myself, and I didn’t take care of myself until I was forced to. My injury forced me to take care of my body, my mind, and my spirit–all of which were vital for me to take care of in order to recover.

Today, I am so thankful that I didn’t give up. My only regret is that I doubted God and his plans for my life, but I’m just glad my story didn’t end there. I am thankful that I have this platform. I am thankful for all of you and my only hope is that you all understand that your life is not over. Reinvent yourself, find new purpose, never stop growing, never stop fighting. My life didn’t end with a brain injury and yours will not either.

Do not give up on yourself. You are worth fighting for.

Happy healing everyone,

Nicole

*The suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255, they are available 24/7*

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Mental Symptoms Symptoms

Overcoming Anxiety

*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, all information is based on my own personal experience. Please be sure to consult with your doctor*

Never in my life did I think that I would become afraid to go to school, the store, or any fluorescently lit or loud room. Never in my life did I think that I would become afraid of the world, but this what my life soon became with a brain injury. This fear quickly developed into anxiety, for which I dealt with on a daily basis.

At the beginning of my concussion recovery, I didn’t understand the impact or severity of brain injuries. Most of the people that I knew who had obtained concussions healed within a week and/or showed no signs of struggle or pain. With them as an example, I thought that my injury would be the same. I thought I would be healed within a few weeks and I certainly never imagined I would endure the physical, mental, and emotional pain that I endured. Early in my recovery, on good days I would go out to the store or to school without ever thinking about the consequences that these environments could have on my brain. It wasn’t until I had setback after setback after setback that I began to become nervous about leaving my house. The thought of going to school, work, or just the store made me unbelievably nervous.

I didn’t realize how severe my anxiety was until one Sunday morning my mother asked that I try to attend church. I told her no, but she insisted that I “at least try”. Thus far in my recovery, I believed that anything and everything that was not ‘rest’ would set my head off and cause me to regress. I had begun a routine of school, rest and more rest and I was committed to sticking to it. I believed that this was what would lead to a full recovery and anything outside of it would impede my recovery. That was how I saw everything, so when my mother suggested I attend church, I quickly made up in my mind that this would inevitably hurt my recovery.

I do believe that this mindset did have an effect on the outcome of my trip to church. I did in fact setback, but I think my anxiety heightened its severity. Before I had even entered the church sanctuary, I immediately came to tears. The increasing sound of the music and lights as I approached the room caused me to hyperventilate. I did not even enter the room, because I was completely overcome by fear. I ended up sitting outside to deal with the painful headache that had overtaken me. It was here that I knew I had an anxiety problem.

My anxiety was something that I never disclosed to my doctor, which I certainly do wish I had. By keeping my feelings and emotions from my doctor and even my family, I became more and more isolated. I figured that my anxiety and depression was something that I had and should deal with on my own and so, I found a few things that seemed to help me remain calm even in the most hectic of situations.

The first tip that I have for you all is meditation. For me, it wasn’t as much meditation as it was a method for controlling my breathing. Whenever I would feel myself becoming overwhelmed either by lights, sound, or people, I would go to a bathroom and breath–in through the nose and out through my mouth. I would do this at times when I would become overwhelmed and also throughout the day in general. This allowed me to remain calm in the majority of situations that I found myself in. The second tip that I have for you all is to stay focused on one object when in crowded places. For me, I would become especially anxious in crowded areas. My physical therapist recommended that when I am in crowded places like the hallways of my school, to fix my eyes on one object that is in the direction of my destination. This will cause your mind to remain focused and not turn to the things or thoughts around you.

One thing that I made sure to never do was isolate myself completely from the world, I learned that this only added to my levels of anxiety. The more I exposed myself to the world and the things that made me uncomfortable, I slowly began to readjust to them. For example, the first time that I went to church I couldn’t even sit a minute within the service, the next time I tried 15-30 minutes and worked my way up to sitting in full service. Once I realized what I could handle, I was not as anxious anymore.

Remember, recovering is slow progress; therefore, it is all about celebrating the little victories along the way. These are just a few tips that helped me, but be sure to ALWAYS talk to your doctor on ways to reduce your levels of anxiety.

Happy healing everybody(:

Nicole

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Mental Symptoms Symptoms

Overcoming Depression

*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, all information is based on my own personal experience. Please be sure to consult with your doctor*

Depression — this one thing that I never thought that I would ever have. All my life, I have always been a happy go lucky kind-of-girl. My concussion truly had a life-altering effect on me. I was always happy, optimistic, and active in my sports, academics, and extracurriculars. So, when I obtained a concussion, my life seemed to come to a full stop. Before, I was “go go go”, before I was always doing something, always going somewhere, always putting my best foot forward in all that I did. My concussion crippled me and I began to fall deeper and deeper into a state of sadness.

Things didn’t really get bad for me until I began to notice that I was not healing, in fact, it seemed that I was getting worse. This was after about the third month into my recovery. I had been resting and waiting for so long, that I began to fall behind in school and fall behind my friends. I was making promises that I soon found that I could not keep. I would often tell my friends that I would hang out with them next week or the week after that because by next week I believed that I would SURELY be better. But, I didn’t and I wasn’t. Time passed and the seasons began to change, but I was still the same. My concussion was taking important parts of me and unleashing insecurities within myself that I did not know I had.

My life soon became a perpetual cycle. I would go to school and endure best that I could, come home with an excruciating headache, and immediately go to sleep. If I wasn’t in my bed, then I was at school suffering. Things did not seem to be looking up for me and I became to believe that internally. My brain logically calculated that 1) You are doing everything your doctor is telling you. 2) You are not getting better. This equated to post-concussion syndrome for the rest of my life. I became crushed and lethargic. I read story after story about people who had been suffering from brain injuries for 2 years plus, and lamented for the life that now could be mine.

No one can truly understand the pain that brain injuries bring. I had never experienced pain as severe as that. Being in perpetual pain, day in and day out truly was a living hell and nothing can compare. I had fallen so deep into the depression to the point that I was sure that I would never make a full recovery. Many nights, when I found myself crying in bed, my headaches only seemed to multiply in intensity and severity. The harder I cried, the worse my head pain would become. I soon hypothesized that my emotional state had to somehow be tied to my physical state. I realized that the feelings that I had toward my recovery also had an effect on my healing process. If I believed that I would not recover, I would not. If I was sad and crying all day, I would not recover. With this realization, I decided that I needed to take action. If I continued the path that I was going, I would surely give up on myself and my life.

But change is not as simple as making a decision and all of a sudden your life getting better. I needed to take the proper steps to create the optimal environment for a full recovery. For my physical health, I created a workout and food plan that structured my life in the right way so that I was getting the right foods in my body and doing the right activities to optimize recovery. To keep the right mindset, I physically surrounded myself with words of affirmation, and people who truly supported me in my struggle. This was crucial for me to maintain a positive mindset and attitude. All of this put me in the right place. Because I was doing the work AND constantly renewing my mind to believe in myself and my body, I was now on the right path to making a full recovery.

Battling with depression is not easy, but when taking the proper steps you can overcome it. Always be sure to talk to your doctor about other ways of treating and recognizing depressive symptoms. Changing your mindset and perspective on your injury can be the key to reaching a full recovery.

Happy Healing Everybody(:

Nicole

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Mental Symptoms Symptoms

The Power of Your Mind: A Mental Health Series

The thing about brain injuries is that they are far more than what meets the eye–or in reality, they are more than what doesn’t meet the eye. Traumatic brain injuries are called the “invisible” injury for a reason. The physical, emotional, and mental pain, often times, can not be seen with the naked eye. It is for this reason, that people often believe that brain injuries are not that severe when compared to other injuries. No one can truly understand what goes on inside the mind of a person with a brain injury unless they have actually walked in their footsteps. Brain injuries are life-changing. Brain injuries are debilitating. Brain injuries can make you make question your very existence. They are serious and mental health plays a major role in recovery.

It is because of the seriousness of mental health, that I have decided to create this series that focuses specifically on maintaining a positive mindset, while also spreading awareness about what really goes on inside the mind of one with a traumatic brain injury. This is series will be split up in three-parts that will go over the three main mental strains that I experienced during my own recovery: depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Following each blog post, will be a podcast of the same topic! You can expect a new topic to be posted every two weeks!

So lets go! Happy Healing!

Overcoming Anxiety

Here I share my own battle with anxiety and how I overcame it!

Overcoming Depression

Take a look into how I fought and overcame my own depressive symptoms.

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Information Symptoms

When Post-Concussion Syndrome Develops

A visual representation of what goes on in your brain with post concussion syndrome!

What is post concussion syndrome to me? Post concussion syndrome is a bug that reaks havoc on your brain, setting off bombs of headaches and drops of depression & anxiety on a consistent daily basis. This bug not only tinkers with your brain, but also your eyes and ears, making the slightest sound and softest light piercing to the eye and ear. If post-concussion syndrome were a person it would be ‘Mr. Mayhem’ from the popular AllState commercial, PCS reeks havoc on your life unexpectedly and can disrupt your closest relationships. It attacks you physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Post-Concussion Syndrome is a condition that develops after you have had a concussion for more than the average duration of 1-2 months. If you find yourself with lasting symptoms, you will find yourself in a very dangerous area. You see, when post-concussion syndrome develops it becomes difficult for the brain to return to how it once was prior to the initial injury. As symptoms continue to last you may find yourself in a vicious cycle of progressing and regressing. This is where I found myself to be. For a week or so I’d feel better and then BOOM I’d have a setback and symptoms would arise and force me to my bed. Many articles will say that you should just continue to rest and over time your symptoms will just magically disappear. But this is something that didn’t just happen for me, no matter how much I rested my symptoms would stay with no change. If you find yourself in the same situation, then this post is for you.

Maybe the secret to overcoming post concussion syndrome isn’t solely in resting and waiting, perhaps the secret to recovering is in retraining your body to become reacquainted with normal environments and conditions. The Sports Medicine Clinic at UPCM Pittsburgh utilizes this type of recovery treatment in their patients. It is called “Expose & Recovery”, in which patients are encouraged to expose themselves to uncomfortable situations and environments, to rest, and then try again. This technique allows for the brain to become more familiar with the stimuli, so that over time it is able to handle it with no problem. So, when post-concussion syndrome develops you literally have to retrain your brain to familiarize itself with normal environments and activities again.

I unintentionally started using this technique. After I had had a concussion for about 5 months, school had ended, I had graduated and I needed some cash to help pay for college. At this point I had been completing my ‘Expose to Recovery’ workouts, and could tolerate loud and bright environments to an extent, for maybe 30 minutes or so, before getting a moderate headache. This was a significant improvement from where I was earlier in my recovery. I decided to go back to work. I had been employed for some time at the YMCA as a nursery attendant. I felt nervous and uncomfortable about going back, because I feared overexerting myself. I told my boss of my condition and she put me on the schedule for 3 days per week for 4 hours each day, but assured me if anything became too much that I could go home.

The YMCA is fluorescently lit in every single facility in the building, I worked with kids so especially over the Summer it could become unbelievably loud and hectic at any given moment. I knew that it would be challenging, especially knowing that I would not be able to protect myself with sunglasses or earplugs. Each day varied. Starting out I ended up having unbelievably intense headaches to the point that I couldn’t even finish the shift. I would go home rest and then try again and again. It wasn’t that I was working too much or overexerting myself, my brain was just not used to being under fluorescent lights without protection, so it took some time to adjust. After about the fourth week of doing this, I was attending work with no problems. By the end of the summer I even added a few more shifts. I was conquering fluorescent lights for the first time in my entire concussion recovery.

“Expose and Recovery” is a technique that I really do believe works. The anxienty and fear that you may have towards this is real and I understand. But, it is important that you give your brain the opportunity to retrain and reprogram itself.

SO! In conclusion, we all know post concussion syndrome is a complete jerk, but when fought the right way you CAN overcome it.

Happy Healing Everybody,

Nicole

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