One thing that I tried my best to avoid during my entire recovery was medications. I rarely took pain killers when I developed post-concussion syndrome, because I wanted to know exactly when and where my headaches were located, as well as how intense they were; however, after I went into my second month with a concussion, my doctor prescribed me Nortriptyline.
Nortriptyline is an anti-depressant drug that is used to help those with depression, but my doctor prescribed it in order to treat my headaches. Nortriptyline works by restoring the natural chemical balance within the brain. This medication worked the best for me and over time my headaches significantly reduced. But, it seemed to only mask my headaches instead of treating and healing them for good. I took Nortriptyline for a period of three weeks and then stopped the week before my next appointment with my doctor. After I had taken my last dose and the days went on without it, I could literally feel the medication wearing off. The headaches began to return with increasing severity as each day passed without it. For this reason, I did not like this medication. Though it does a great job in reducing head pain temporarily, it does not solve the root issue for good.
The second and last medication that I tried was Gabapentin or Neurontin. Gabapentin is a nerve pain medication and is a anticonvulsant and antiepiletic drug. Once again, my doctor prescribed this to me in order to relieve my chronic headaches. This drug did more harm than it did good. I took the medication right before I went to bed as I was instructed and as soon as I woke up the next morning I knew something was wrong. As I got ready for school I felt more dizzy and weak than usual. Thinking that it possibly had something to do with dehydration and hunger, I ate the huge breakfast my mother had prepared for me–pancakes, bacon, eggs, and grits. I shook it off and went to school. As I waited for my first period class to begin, I remember thinking that the lights in the hallway were more bright than usual, feeling that I might faint I sat down. I decided to look up some reviews on Gabapentin and they were awful. People complained about having intense, nausea, trembling, headaches, difficulty in concentrating, and much more.
This couldn’t have come on a worser day. I was supposed to complete an Algebra test during my first period, but I felt like a complete zombie. I persisted and went to class and hoped that it wouldn’t get any worse. But.. it did. Once the tests were distributed and I took a peak at the problems, everything seemed to come over me–the awful headaches, nausea, dizziness, and trembling. My head began to pound with increasing pain and I was unable to concentrate at all on the test. It took me a significant amount of time to finish it. In the midst of my tears and trembling, I am really amazed that I was able to finish it at all. After class, I remember unable to see clearly, everything was so foggy and I became unbelievably weak. If anyone had touched me, I surely would have fallen.
So, what is my review of this medication? 0 stars. But once again, everyone’s body is different. Mine happened to not take to this medication well at all.
My Overall Feelings
My overall feelings of medication are also somewhat negative. I hoped that by taking medication it would help in the healing process, but it only seemed to discourage me even more. The medications only masked my symptoms without improving them once I was taken off them. I personally wanted to become fully functioning without becoming dependent on a medication. However, if you are looking for something to relieve your headaches temporarily then ask your doctor about Nortriptyline, it relieved my headaches with very minimal side affects.
After four months of battling with a concussion, I quickly became desperate for solutions. I was having chronic headaches every single day and though I had taken a lot of time out of my day to rest and “heal”, I still saw no improvements. Every day began to look the same, I would go to school for half a day, come home with a headache and immediately go to bed, where I would sleep for at least three hours. The increasing amount of time that I spent in my house and shut off from the world began to depress me. So with the extra time on my hands, I began to do extensive research on post-concussion syndrome, as well as people who had and had yet to overcome the condition. I soon came across a particular blog about a man who had recovered from a brain injury caused by a car accident. It took him thirteen months to recover. (Here is the link to his story). It is a really good read and his story is super inspiring! It was here that I learned about the “Expose & Recovery” theory, as well as how he utilized exercise to recover. The idea behind expose and recovery treatment is that you expose yourself to whatever makes you irritated, rest, and then try it again. Over time your brain will adjust and familiarize itself with the stimuli.
It was with this advice that I decided to give this theory a shot, I had nothing to lose. Plus, the workout plan that he completed gave me some form of structure and control that I did not have before. I created a five day workout schedule very similar to that of the man on the blog, but modified it to my liking.
Before we get into what this daily workout routine looked like, I must note:
For this workout routine I utilized little to no workout gear. The only items I used are listed below!
*I am not a doctor, this is all based off of my own personal experience. Please be sure to always talk with your doctor.*
I always started my workouts by taking a walk/jog outside. I think this is the most important part. Why? Well, like I said before the goal is to expose yourself to stimuli that you would be in contact with on a normal day. The outdoors are full of various smells, sights, temperatures, and more. In order to heal, you must let go of the idea that you must stay shut up in your house and away from anything and everything that makes you uncomfortable. The truth is you need to be out in the world to retrain your brain to normalcy. Again, this is for those who have had a concussion for at least 3 months and are battling with post-concussion syndrome.
After I completed my jog, I would come indoors for the remainder of the workout, which included high knee steps, Russian twists, left/right side planks, lunges, squats, and more. (Full workout plan at the bottom) When I first started the workout plan, I felt like absolute crap. I remember during the first week I could barely make it through the workout, my head would pound and I would become dizzy. I questioned if I was truly doing the right thing, but as the blog that I read stated, the first two weeks would be super difficult, but you have to continue. Sure enough, this was true and after about a week and a half I felt significantly better. I was able to complete the full exercise and my headaches began to decrease in severity, it was extremely encouraging.
I began the workout routines in April 2018 and did them consistently for about a month and half, as I started to get better I cut down the number of workouts that I completed to about 2 or 3 a week. Even though I had started the exercise routine, I would still have setbacks and bad days. But the difference was that when I did have a setback or bad day, it would not last as long nor would be as severe. For example, instead of having a super intense setback with booming headaches, nausea, and dizziness, a setback would be more mild and I would get a headache in one area of my head instead of all three. The “new” setbacks that I had also did not last as long, so instead of my setbacks lasting two weeks they would last for day or two and I’d be back to normal the next. I was really amazed with my improvement. The improvements were not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Exercising really helped boost my energy levels and helped combat my feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. For the first time, I found something that I could actually do. For the first time, I had some control back in my life.
Exercising was not the only thing that I started, I also implemented daily vestibular exercises and diet changes; which also played a huge role in my full recovery.
Here is the exercise routine that I completed daily. I completed the workouts similarly to how you would complete a circuit, doing each one (except the running/walk outside, of course) a total of three times.
Remember, you will feel like absolute crap the first week or two that is normal. Persevere it will get better!!
One thing that I thought would be really beneficial was to include a post where I detailed my entire recovery from start to finish. I hope that my experiences may be helpful and reassuring for those who may feel that they are going through their experiences alone. So, welcome to my 8-month recovery timeline!
January 12, 2018: The Injury
Friday, January 12th, is the night that I got my first concussion. I will never forget that moment, it will always be ingrained into my memory. I received the concussion after falling to the ground and hammering my head into the ground. Read my full story here
January 18th: The First Doctors Appointment
I had my very first doctor’s appointment at Emory Johns Creek Hospital with Dr. Olseun Olufade. This appointment went as any appointment would go, I took a survey that distinguished and highlighted which symptoms I was experiencing as well as the severity of those symptoms. I was advised to focus on resting that week. No school, no basketball, no thinking, just rest. I met him for a follow-up that next week, to check my progress.
January 25th: The Second Appointment
As I was told, I rested and my health improved. I felt better, but I knew that I was not 100% healed. The only thing that I wanted to do was get back on the basketball court for my Senior Night, but my doctor, rightfully so, did not give me the green light. Not only did he not give me the green light to play, but he also advised that I not attend the event at all. (For those who do not know, ‘Senior night’ is a high school event, in which teams celebrate their graduating seniors) This was an event that would be loud, obnoxious, and long, but this was the night that I had waited for my entire basketball career. I had to attend, I just had to…I thought.
January 30th: Senior Night AKA The Setback of all Setbacks
Against my doctors wishes, I attended the senior night. It was loud, it was busy, it was bright, it was everything that my brain did not need in order to heal. I experienced an immense amount of pain that night, it felt like bombs were going off in my head and like my brain was falling apart, literally. If I could go back, I would not have attended. This night, I believe is the reason as to why my concussion lasted for so long.
February: The Month of Setbacks
After the tumultuous Senior Night, I wish that I had said, “Ok, I need to cancel all of my commitments and focus on my recovery from here on out”, but I didn’t, I kept persevering; forcing myself to keep going. I persevered to participate in all of the many clubs, organizations, and events that I was involved in. My logic for keeping my many commitments was that since I was a senior, I would never get to do any of these activities ever again. I always thought my concussion would just go away one day, like it had been for many of the blog posts I had read, but mine did not. It wasn’t until my symptoms did not change that I really started to regret my decisions.
I continued with the doctor visits, every other week and started physical therapy for vestibular and ocular training. My doctor cleared me to attend school for full days and I was allowed to start math again. Though I was happy to be going to school for the whole day again, a part of me questioned if I was ready. I wore sunglasses in school to protect my eyes from the fluorescent lights and I would often take breaks in the dark rooms of the counselor’s office. Though I was at school, by the middle of the day my head would be booming and I would be forced to sit in a dark room. Every day seemed to go the same, I would go to school, participate the best I could and by 5th period I was done. I needed to rest and by the time I got home, I would just go straight to bed. I was not ready to attend school for the whole day, but I figured that over time I would adjust. I did not adjust, day after day, with the same results I became very discouraged. The world seemed to be moving on without me.
I also became very fearful during this time, of lights of sound. I remember one particular Sunday, my mother insisted that I go to church. I was anxious, so very anxious before I even entered the sanctuary doors I was in tears. Not because of the music or loud noise per say, but because I was so scared and anxious. I rushed out of the room and sat outside. I became scared to do anything that would cause a headache or another uproar of symptoms, it would immediately make me nervous and bring me to tears. This was when I realized that I wasn’t just fighting a physical injury, but also a mental one.
At the end of February, my doctor prescribed Nortriptyline to help with my constant headaches. I was excited to try something new.
March: The Illusion of Progress
In the last week of February, I have prescribed Nortriptyline, which is a medication that helps relieve headaches as well as treat them. During this particular doctor’s visit, I told my doctor how I was unable to make it through a complete school day and in addition to that, math began to give me trouble again. I was sent back to attending school for half days and was barred from math once again for two weeks. I was relieved because now, I would for sure begin to heal. And hopefully would be in a better condition for me to compete in the FBLA competition at the end of the month. I was determined to do everything that I could to be in the best of health.
March 10, 2018:
Leading up to the night of March 10th, I had been doing really well. I was getting less and fewer headaches and for the most part, if I did they were bearable, but on this night is when that quickly changed. It was the night before my Poetry Out Loud competition, I had gone to Ross and Walmart with my mother to get some new clothes and groceries. It was normal everything was normal, until I didn’t. After we had left Ross, I started to feel a bit off, but I brushed it off. We entered Walmart and it all came crashing over me. My head began to pound, I became nauseous, and my vision became blurred. My mother rushed me home and I surrendered to my bed. The headache became so bad that I quickly came to tears. It seemed that the the harder I cried, the worse the head pain became. I remember cursing God for allowing this to happen to me, especially on the eve of such an important day. It was by far one of the worst setbacks that I had ever had.
The next day, I surprisingly felt somewhat better. I took some Advil and competed in the Poetry Out Loud competition, when it was over I rushed to my bed once again. I had overexerted myself. The anxiety and stress had caused yet another setback for me. At this point, all I wanted was for all my commitments to be over so the pain would go away and I could actually heal. This was also when I really began to develop anxiety over loud and brightly lit places. It occurred to me that after that setback, anything could
March 20, 2018: The First Test
Following the setback, my health began to improve again. I continued taking my medication and saw some improvements. March 20th was the day that truly led me to believe that I was healed. I went to my nephew’s track meet, it was my first real outing since my last setback and I wanted to go, in order to test whether my symptoms would resurface. The track meet was moderately loud and had super bright overhead lights. To my surprise, I had no complications at all, but I was still on the medication…
March 24, 2018: The Second Test
Not only was the track meet success, but the FBLA competition that I had been anticipating was also a successor so it seemed. I even went to the loudest events held at the competition: the closing ceremony. Not only did I attend, but I was also laughing with my friends. I remember going back to my hotel room calling mother and telling her how I was able to sit through the whole ceremony without any problems. I thought I had reached the light at the end of the tunnel, I thought I was done the fighting, but the fight was only beginning.
March 28, 2018: “And It All Came Tumbling Down”
Dr. Olufade had instructed that I take the Nortriptyline for three weeks straight, then stop taking the medication for one week to see if my headaches had gone away. I took my medication for the last time on Sunday, March 25th. That week I could literally feel the medicine wearing off. By that Wednesday, which happened to be my basketball banquet, my headaches were back and in full swing. I remember sitting at the banquet, flinching at the soft candle-like lighting. And when my teammates asked if I was better, all I could say was “I’m getting there”, because after that night I knew that I was not better, not even close.
April: Fight Time
At this point, I began to see the trends in my recovery. My recovery was like a rollercoaster. For two weeks, I would get better than ‘BAM’, I would have another setback. It never failed, every time that I would start to feel better, I would overexert myself and push my recovery back. It became increasingly difficult and discouraging, especially as the months continued to roll on.
By the time April rolled around, I became desperate for solutions and did extensive research on the post-concussion syndrome. One site that sparked my attention, was by a man who had suffered from a concussion for over a year. What saved him was exercise. He implemented a regular workout routine, which significantly reduced his symptoms. It occurred to me that if he was able to be healed after a year with a concussion than surely I could recover and be healed as well. And I decided to give it a try. I created a daily routine for me to complete each day, which included my exercise plan and some vestibular and ocular exercises I had learned at physical therapy. I knew that by now, my concussion would not go away if I just sat and waited, I had to put the work in, in order to get my life back.
Surprisingly enough, my routine worked. My headaches began to decrease in intensity and duration. I had finally found the key! Even with the setbacks that I experienced during this month, they were not nearly as bad as the ones that I had endured before. So, I continued, determined to eliminate my concussion symptoms once and for all.
May: A Slow Down
By the time that May rolled around I was about 70% better. It was the end of the school year and I would hope by the grace of God be able to attend prom and graduation without any issues. About a week before my prom night, my doctor prescribed to me Gabapentin. I had taken the medication one night before school. When I woke up that next morning, the side effects were almost immediate. I remember the day distinctly because I had a math test that day in my first-period class. Upon receiving the test, I felt the same headaches that I once received when I first received my concussion, I felt everything, the bombs, the piercing knives, everything. I quickly came to tears. Not only did I have a headache, but I was unable to concentrate for more than a few seconds. It took me a significant amount of time to complete the test. Upon leaving class, I remember barely being able to walk, I was so weak that I felt I might fall over.
I went home shortly after and called my doctor. He told me to immediately stop taking the medication and continue my regular routine of resting, but the damage was already done. The medicine caused a major setback, I would not be concussion-free at prom or graduation.
I attended prom with earbuds to help block the sound. For the most part, I was okay and took many breaks in the quiet bathrooms. I was just glad that I wasn’t in torturous pain. Graduation was the same and I wore my sunglasses throughout the entire ceremony. In either of the events, I didn’t experience excruciating headaches, but they did linger. Though I was feeling better, this became discouraging because all I wanted was to be completely done.
June-July: Back to Work
June and July went by so fast that I hardly remember them in full detail. I went back to work during these months, at the YMCA. This was the first time that I actually stayed under fluorescent lights without sunglasses for long periods of time. It was truly a struggle for me at first. Some days I would leave my shift early and go home when my headaches became too severe. I still had a few setbacks, some very very painful, but they wouldn’t last more than a day or two. By the time July rolled around, I really started to adjust. I had fewer headaches and if I did, they would rank low to moderate on the pain scale. I was finally starting to get my life back.
August: Time to Let Go
By the time August rolled around, I would say that I would have around 2-3 headaches a week, and they’d be relatively mild. One thing that I had to let go of during this time was a ‘victims’ mentality. I had grown so accustomed to being in pain and expecting to be in pain, that I would still decline going out with my friends or do anything that was outside of my daily routine: work and home. I had to let this go, in order for me to truly be free from the concussion.
September 8, 2018: The Test: Am I Really Healed?
The final test to test whether I was truly free from the concussion was the One Musicfest concert. It would be loud, hot, and packed with people. My body would be attacked by various stimuli, it was the perfect test to see if I was truly done with the concussion. And well, you guessed it! I was healed, done, finite with the concussion–DONE! I had a blast and getting to see my favorite artists without any complications was the icing on the cake(:
The concussion that I had was a monster and it challenged me mentally, physically, and spiritually, but I am proud to say that it did not win. Out of all of the low moments that I had that I did not mention in this post, I easily could have been gone. You have to decide to fight, in order to overcome your concussion. . It was not the slightest bit easy but because of it, I am a better and stronger person.
In a battle, it is important to know who and what you are fighting against; therefore let’s dissect how concussions affect the brain and the resulting symptoms that follow. First lets look at the brain itself. The brain is composed of millions of neurons, glial cells, and blood vessels. The cell most important for this post, is neurons. Neurons are what allows us to do regular everyday activities like walking, talking, sneezing and everything else that we do in any given day. Neurons are what allow for messages to be sent from our brain to different parts of our bodies. Their shape is very similar to that of worms; long and lanky. At the head of a neuron is where the nucleus, or cell “computer” is located. Similarly to how we have a brain, cells have a nucleus,which is the cell’s control center. At the end of the neuron is the ‘axon’, which is where neurotransmitters are released. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry messages from cell to cell. They are the messages that are sent from the axon to other cells.
Now that we understand the basic structure of the brain and the cells that compose it, we can better understand what really happens during and after a concussion. To start, the word concussion comes from the Latin word concutere, which means “to shake violently”, hence a concussion is caused by a sudden jolt, shake, or hit to the head. Once someone has been hit or struck, our jelly-like brains bump up against the interior of the skull, resulting in contusions or bruises on the brain. Our neurons are then disrupted. The axons tear from the neuron body and neurotransmitters are released, causing a chemical imbalance. Oluseun A. Olufade MD, sports medicine physician with Emory Sports Medicine and my former doctor, describes this situation best. He says the disturbance aroused from a concussion injury results in the need for more energy to reestablish balance in the brain. The need for this increased energy occurs simultaneously with the decreased blood flow due to the concussion. There is then an imbalance between decreased blood needed and increased energy required for the brain to heal. The body must then work overtime in order to restore balance, which is why you may feel fatigued and tired right after having receiving a concussion.
The aftermath of a hit can result in a multitude of symptoms, the most common being headaches, sleep disturbance and fatigue, behavior and mood changes, cognitive complaints, visual changes, hearing and light disturbances, and coordination/balance complaints. The greater the number, severity, and duration of symptoms after a concussion increases the likelihood for a prolonged recovery. If the brain does not completely heal after the first impact and an athlete sustains a second injury, this can lead into worsening cognitive deficits. For this reason, physicians will often order their patients to avoid symptom triggers and rest as much as possible during the first few weeks of recovery.
It is also important to understand that each concussion is unique to another, though it may have taken two weeks for your friend’s concussion to heal it may or may not take longer for yours. 80% of concussion cases resolve within three weeks, while the rest can take months to years to resolve. Everyone must understand that every brain is different, thus every concussion is different, and therefore everyone recovers differently as well, but with the right practices in place you can heal at a faster rate!