Picture it: Sicilily 1922……wait, I am not that old! (If you don’t get the joke, look up the Golden Girls. Okay so maybe I am that old )
It was a frosty spring morning, the kind that makes you inhale deeply and it hurts your nose, in a good way. I needed to do my chores before work, so I tackled the chickens first. Into the feed room, and onto the ramp with a bucket of feed, and I went down like a sumo wrestler on a teeter-totter.
I came to, looked up and the light hurt my eyes, I was seeing double and my teeth felt funny. There was feed everywhere, and I had no idea how long I’d been out so I tried to shake it off and went to the house to get some ice for the back of my head.
Later that day, still seeing double and trying to “cowgirl up” and do my day job, I couldn’t seem to put simple things together, but I muddled through. Who has time for this ? Definitely not me, working mom of four with a farm to run.
Two days later, I ended up in the emergency room after falling again due to missing a step because I couldn’t see. Diagnosed with a moderate concussion, my family doctor put me off work for two weeks, and on complete brain rest: no screens, no bright lights, no driving, no stress. And I received a healthy lecture on the danger of having another blow to the head.
After a head injury, if it doesn’t get a chance to heal properly, and the brain gets shaken inside the skull again, it can cause permanent brain damage, loss of impulse control, and puts you at an increased risk for anxiety, and depression. It can even cause death. The effects of how a concussion can affect you as an individual are unknown really, as there are many risk factors (specific to the individual) which can affect rate of healing, and whether you even started with a healthy brain at all. See more here: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1705319491836
I fell feeding the chickens in April, and by October of the same year, I was in the depths of a huge work burnout. I felt like I was in a fog, felt desperately unable to muster the passion I used to have for my job, and perhaps most alarming to me, had stopped engaging in hobbies outside of work. The things I loved to do like cooking, reading, walking, crafting, sewing held no interest for me. I stopped sleeping well. It all came to a head when I stayed up for 48 hours and had what could only be described as a “breakdown”. I took time off work, and I had a wonderful team of professionals who helped me over the next three months to regain my brain strength, lift the fog, and fully return to work.
This experience became preparation for our second head injury in the family two years later. My youngest daughter Charlize rides horses and is very diligent about helmet wearing. However, on this occasion, she was stretching her horse out after riding, she brought her head up and her horse brought her head down spooking at something. She blacked out briefly, saw “stars” and had a ringing in her ears. She wanted to keep riding the next day at the horse show, despite having a headache. We let her against our better judgement .
She continued with concussion symptoms over the course of the next few months : nausea, light sensitivity, headaches, irritability and anxiety. She was being monitored by our family doctor, and then the perfect storm happened: a wack to the side of her head with the horse trailer door, a traumatic experience with a group of kids at school resulting in her receiving serious threats, and an allergic reaction causing burns on her face. Charlize sunk into a deep clinical depression less than 4 months after hitting her head the first time.
I told Charlize I was going to write about my concussion and she wanted me to include her story as well. She wants any other kids who aren’t feeling well after getting a concussion, to know it isn’t just “all in your head. ” Ironically this is often what many suffers of Post Concussion Syndrome are told by others and what they start to think about themselves.
And I would be lying if I said, as a parent, I hadn’t questioned whether this was normal teenage angst or something more. And sometimes when the injury isn’t on the outside, there is stigma and shame. Like you should just “suck it up” and put on act for others so you don’t make them uncomfortable . But my gut always went back to something serious was going on with Charlize’s ability to process things in her brain since she hit her head. And I was right, unfortunately.
We ended up in the Emergency Room after her regular counsellor believed we needed more help. We are ever grateful to the caring team who surrounded us over the next year as things definitely got darker before they got better. Charlize was diagnosed with Post Concussion Syndrome, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Severe Depression and would attempt suicide three times believing she was never going to get better and she was better off dead, rather than live with this pain and the thoughts in her head.
What saved her ? Equines. The only reason Charlize wasn’t sent to an inpatient program, was because she was so distraught about leaving her horses. Her healthcare team agreed if I left my job to look after her*, and eventually homeschool her when she became well enough, she could stay home with her horses to recover using a mixture of medication, and therapy. So that’s what we did. Every day just moving forward, some days going sideways, day after day while she built resilience, and her health back up.
(*A little note here about the financial implications of being able to do this : we are not wealthy. I exhausted all my sick time benefits, we budgeted relentlessly and had to access an unreliable government program through her psychiatrist to be able to this. I took a leave of absence from my job. Our child was critically ill and we did what we had to do. I just don’t want to gloss over this point as if it was no consideration. )
And now, two years later, she is medication free, teaching children to ride, doing therapeutic riding with a recreation therapist, and is back to school getting ready to graduate. It was not easy, not one little bit. Like not at all. I can’t even explain the hopelessness we felt as parents watching her experience so much pain. Also listening to people judge her recovery, when they had no idea how much effort we were all putting into her treatment plan. I had a concussion so I understood that part. But not how it manifested in the teenage brain.
Concussions can mean a long journey back to wellness. But I know since this has happened to us, we have talked to so many other people who just weren’t “the same” after a head injury. Teenagers, in particular, are more prone to drug addictions and reckless behavior after head injuries.
Once bitten, twice shy rule definitely applies here. We may not always avoid injuries here on the farm ( I am a big klutz) but we certainly try our best. If you think you or someone you know has a concussion, please ask them to contact their doctor or ER for treatment and to get a baseline established for the traumatic head injury.
Some things we did to tighten up here on the farm to encourage safety:
- Put shingles on all ramps so we have grip on wood;
- Attached ropes to the trailer doors so they can be tied back securely ;
- Put motion lights in outside;
- keep things tidy to avoid things falling on your head;
- use head protection as much as possible;
- and BE PRESENT.
That last one was the hardest for me, I was only feeding the chickens right? But when I am already working on that “To Do” list in my head instead of focusing on what I am doing, I put myself in a perfect position for an accident. In a society where being busy is revered, being present is an individual responsibility.
We can rage at God about having an injury from an accident, its not OUR fault after all. Even if we are super careful, accidents happen, life storms happen. The concussions aren’t our fault, but healing from the concussions is our responsibility. And don’t let anyone judge how you do that. They don’t have your brain.
Love, Jenn xx
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