My name is Renee and I am an 18 year old girl from New Zealand. I love running, playing soccer, studying and hanging out with friends. So of course it was the first two that caused my downfall. As you can imagine I felt like a shell of myself, not being able to participate in the activities I love after I sustained the concussions two weeks apart, on 31st May 2017 and 17th June 2017.
I received the first injury running in PE class, where I slipped on wet concrete and fell face first down a hill. I refused to believe I was concussed and continued to study and play sports, despite the migraines that followed me around for the next two weeks. My second concussion occurred in a soccer game. I was a starting player who was generally kept on for the whole game because my team was always short on defensive players. The entire game my head was pounding, I couldn’t see well, had poor reflexes and I just wanted to be subbed off; which I now recognise as common concussion symptoms. The moment came when myself and an opposing girl a lot bigger than I was were sprinting at full force towards the ball. If she reached the ball before I did she would almost definitely score the winning goal. Time almost slowed in those moments and even 20 months later I remember it so clearly. I knew it would be my last play of the game before I likely fainted, but I am the type of player who will quite literally put my body on the line for my team. We collided with each other at full force, and I was thrown backwards, smacking my head on the ground. I lay there for about 5 minutes drifting in and out of consciousness, and remember trying to tell my teammates to stop screaming at the ref but I was so exhausted that no words could form. I was taken to the hospital immediately and diagnosed with a mild concussion, (but hey, at least I managed to get to the ball first!) and even though it was my second knock there was still an expected healing time of around 4 weeks.
The first 2 months were the hardest. Doctors put me on complete bed rest when they noticed I wasn’t healing and I couldn’t do any activities I previously enjoyed. I was meant to be going on a soccer trip to Australia with the First XI at school but had to cancel, which was heartbreaking. Some of the symptoms I experienced were headaches, noise & light sensitivity, fatigue, vision problems, difficulty concentrating, motion sickness and in-coordination. An example that comes to mind was when I wanted to make a salad, so I grabbed some lettuce with one hand, then a cucumber with the other. My hand suddenly relaxed and I dropped the lettuce because my brain was so focused on holding the cucumber. This was a very eye-opening experience because it showed me how much my body was altered by the concussions, and how far I still had to recover. For reference, a baby will usually learn to hold an object in each hand by four-six months old, so my lack of that skill was quite concerning at the time. At this point I became depressed and knew I couldn’t recover on my own so we started a concussion rehabilitation program in effort to get back into my usual activities. This was when I found out I had post concussion syndrome which I was relieved to hear because it meant I wasn’t alone; there were other people going through the exact same thing.
The next 16 months had the exact same focus: getting me back into (and passing) school. I attended appointments with general practitioners, behavioral optometrists, an ophthalmologist, occupational therapists, massages, a health school program, holistic healing, reiki, neuro-physiologist and I’m yet to see a neurologist. Though I managed to complete Year 12, I did eventually hit a plateau in my senior year. Going from pre-concussions A’s to failing was a big blow to my study-loving self. I became sick of the pain from school – all I wanted to focus on was exercise. To me it didn’t make sense that I could recover by sitting in insane symptom stimuli – a busy, loud classroom doing math and sciences (environments NOT easy on the brain). But time and time again my request to change the focus to exercise was declined by the rehabilitation program: I could only settle for 20 minute walks with my heart rate not exceeding 105bpm. The problem was this was because I hadn’t done any exercise at all since before the concussions, my heart rate while walking around my house was reaching 100bpm. So 105bpm was reached pretty quickly. All the while I was googling recovery stories and trying to implement survivors techniques, but it seemed no one had been knocked quite like me.
I became restless and decided to take matters into my own hands to restart my fitness journey through a resistance based workout program (exactly what I had been advised not to do). It was on January 6th that I discovered @concussionbegone on Instagram. This was one day before Nicole launched the blog, which whether coincidence or fate, I was drawn to her journey. The most interesting post I came across was “Exercise to Recovery”. I have always known in my heart that exercise is what my injury needed to heal. The workout program provided is similar to the resistance based program I had already purchased, and three weeks into the program I am already feeling SO much better. I am now able to do 3-4 big things per day (eg: making lunch, shopping, unpacking dishwasher, going out for meals, etc), as opposed to the 0-2 things I have been able to do for the past 20 months. It can still feel impossible at times but taking the time to invest in your health is the most important thing in the world. The hardest part of my concussion is helping people to understand my daily life when they themselves have never experienced a brain injury. My friends and family are extremely supportive, but the support from a community of people, all at different stages, who let me know I’m not alone is the most inspiring part of it all. I am not fully recovered, but I know in my heart there can be a future without symptoms for all of us.