My story begins with my head making violent contact with ice. It's a story that a lot of people can probably relate to as they insert name here, type of accident here, and shitstorm to follow here. Why am I sharing it with you? Because most of my story and years of my life could have been different if my family and I only had information. We had none, and there I was lying in the snow. I was sixteen when I had the snowboarding accident and helmets weren't really a "thing" yet.
(What could possibly go wrong flying down the face of a snowy mountain with your feet strapped together?)
I crashed, and my helmetless head hit a patch of ice. I remember thinking to myself while airborne, "this is going to be bad," and then it was quiet. Paramedics stuck a shoehorn-looking thing down my throat to get me to gag and cough and wake up. My friends and family watched as men beat my sternum with their knuckles to try and shock me awake with pain. It left a stark purple knuckle pattern on my pale chest, but didn't work either. My dad remembers the paramedics exchanging the kinds of looks you fear most when your daughter is the one they're trying to save. I was unconscious for about twenty minutes- too long according to doctors- and then in and out of consciousness for a few hours. The hospital went through the motions of scans and tests and because I had no physical injuries (spine or neck) or visible brain bleed, I was released after a time. Our only "notes" from the doctor was that walking would be a bit tricky for about a week and other than that, it was a "just keep an eye out" sort of send-off.
Around eight months later was when I first noticed my short-term memory loss. An angry outburst from a friend about me not paying attention and asking the same question four times in a row was what tipped me off. The memory loss was something we assumed was residual from the head injury and would simply get better with time, and it did- with time. However, soon after I began to experience other seemingly unconnected problems.
(Oh, how I wish I had Jenni's book then.)
Personality changes hit first. I became extremely 'depressed', and quite paranoid I'm told. During one week in college I quit my job, quit my boyfriend, and quit school. I know you don't know me (unless it's you- Hi Mom), but unhappy and unmotivated is nowhere near my normal. While my sudden shapeshifting was concerning, I was also an eighteen-year-old 'young woman,' and therefore was socially diagnosed as such. Yet the sudden (and I mean overnight) onslaught of migraine-like symptoms couldn't be swept under the rug with moody teen stuff. Every day for months I was crippled with a kind of pain in my head that I've never felt before or since. Everything hurt. I cried in class. I cried when I got home. All I could do was lay down and cry some more.
Doctor #1 told me the migraine-like symptoms were possibly the result of a brain tumor. He did not ask me about any history of TBI (traumatic brain injury) or any history at all, really. I waited two weeks to find out if I'd be having brain surgery or not. Those were some of the longest two weeks of my life. Fortunately for me, this doc was off his game. Doctor #2 said my crushing headaches were a result of my depression. It was all psychological. I was just a depressed little girl, and the cure was simple- pills. So pills I took. Was he quick to label me because I was female? Possibly. Did he ask about history of head injuries? Negative. Did I know to tell him? Also, negative. As you may know, taking anti-depressants when you're not depressed will MAKE YOU depressed. It took about a week or two of swallowing pills before I completely lost my mind and sobbed for three hours on the floor after coming home to an empty fridge. I was very hungry.
Next came the Chinese herbalist, the therapist, and finally, the acupuncturist. The acupuncturist was the FIRST person who listened to what I was going through, and asked me if I'd ever had a head injury. Ironically, and thankfully, she had previously specialized in head trauma patients. Finally, over two years later, I was able to connect the dots. They were all connected. The memory loss, the personality changes, the anxiety, the paranoia, the headaches and sensitivities- my brain wasn't getting what it needed to heal. I will add that even once the dots were connected, what came next wasn’t Jenni's book in my hand, or any alternative information on what to do. All I had to work with was determination and resilience. I would find my way back to myself by trying every single day, and also being a little kinder to myself every single day. A
decade later, here I am.
What would my life look like now if I had known to simply let myself sleep? What if I had spent more time outside, letting the sun heal me too? What if I had taken a break from college to let my brain rest and have some time away from focusing on screens all day? What if had known I wasn't actually going insane?
I could go on, but you get the point. I could have healed much faster and could have been saved from so, so much personal agony. However, my ending is a happy one- and that's much more than a lot of people who have gone through the same thing can say. The brain is complicated, but that can't deter us from staying knowledgeable. Knowing what delayed TBI symptoms look like is crucial, as is knowing how to heal from brain trauma naturally. Being cognizant that males aren't the only sex that are capable of hitting their heads is worth repeating. Females play sports. We are also susceptible to head injury. Personality changes that last for over a year are not a result of our mysterious moon-cycles. This is not okay and has nothing to do with my uterus. We need to LISTEN and pay attention.
Today my energy, focus, and memory are better than ever before and it's not just because I've made a full recovery, but also because I continue to take care of my brain health. What I'm after is being able to perform at my best, every day. There's no reason I can't, and there's no reason you can't. It just takes knowing a little bit, and I'm grateful to people like Jenni who can help us laymen achieve that.