On September 21st of last year I accidentally broke my brain. Ironically, I didn’t actually realize it was broken for a few days. At first I thought I had the flu, and I may actually have had an unrelated virus, but it became clear after a few days that while my body aches and fever had disappeared, my head still felt foggy. Really foggy. It felt like I was slogging through mud when I had conversations more complex than “hello, how are you” and I was suddenly too dizzy to drive. That’s when I remembered I had banged my head the previous Saturday, and the ER doctor confirmed my suspicion: I had suffered a concussion.
No, I didn’t get the concussion doing acroyoga! The how is not super important, except that it involved a friend lifting me up a bit too quickly just to be silly and my head accidentally coming in contact with the wall. Hard.
I’ve banged my head before. On the trunk of my car, on protruding shelves, on any number of things.
But…this time I broke my brain.
What has followed has been nearly four months of lessons. Lessons in patience, humility and forgiveness..
For the first month I was completely out of work. After the third doctor’s appointment I stopped bemoaning my fate and said, f*** it, I’m on a Concussion Vacation. So My Concussion and I sat at home while I was barely well enough to move from the bed to the couch, and we alternated between lying outside on my hammock (it was a gorgeous fall) and lying inside on my couch and my bed. I liked to tell people My Concussion and I were bonding, watching Sex and the City and eating ice cream. My Concussion and I got used to sleeping 12 hours a night.
I am the editor-in-chief of a newsletter and it was all I could do to collect the files in one place and then delegate the remaining tasks to my team before collapsing back into bed.
I stopped writing for my interpreting blog. I stopped taking classes of any type. I canceled teaching my weekly yoga class, I missed my friend’s NYC concert, I bailed on dates with friends and with my husband. When I did socialize, I spent most of my time horizontal. It was just too overwhelming to move.
When my brain did finally start to kick back on I felt like I must be high on crack. Suddenly my mind was whirring a mile a minute and I went from 12 hours of sleep a night to total insomnia. I was popping out of bed every minute to add on to my to-do list and my husband just sat there chuckling because this was the wife he knew and loved, coming back to life and springing to action! The morning that I was able to multitask like normal and not get overwhelmed by washing dishes as I cooked breakfast, I whispered a silent prayer of thanks.
After about a month, the dizziness (hallelujah) began to subside. In mid-October I returned to work, and the neurologist cleared me for my trip to Mexico AcroYoga Teacher Training on the condition that I ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NEVER HIT MY HEAD EVER AGAIN. And that I listen to my symptoms.
I went to Mexico. I listened to my symptoms. I did yoga, I meditated, I co-taught AcroYoga classes. I paced myself. I opted out of poses and practices. Sometimes I had to just try not to think; I realized that I have a tendency to pay a lot of attention, and analyze everything, all the time. I had to learn how to zone out so my brain wouldn’t feel overtaxed.
After over two weeks in Mexico I returned home for all intents and purposes “cured.” I arrived at work with all guns blazing, ready to pick up my life back where I had left it on September 20th. And then…after three full days of work, it all collapsed again. Turns out My Concussion wasn’t quite done with me yet. And it turns out that interpreting, i.e. listening to one language while you simultaneously process what you have just heard and convert it into the other language, might use a teensy bit of your brain. And with that, other things became more difficult once again—complex office tasks, even just socializing with our families and trying to follow conversations when everyone is talking at once and slipping in and out of two different languages.
So here I am now, on January 8th of a new year. I am suffering not only from my concussion but also, unfortunately, my brain is actually well enough now to second-guess everything I’m doing. “Athena, you’re supposed to be relaxing! Are you relaxing enough?” I’m trying to be forgiving of how I got this thing in the first place while not repressing my feelings. I’m feeling guilty that my friends, my coworkers, my family and my husband have had to suffer the consequences of my blow to the brain. I’m anxious and stressed out, and I’m also just tired of not being normal. I don’t like postponing, declining, and canceling. It is not my M.O. It’s not fair!
At the same time, I know there are people out there with much worse fates than mine. The doctors say that I just need to rest and over time the brain fogginess and the headaches will subside. And I believe them—I’m much much more functional now than I was even just a month ago. And I’m truly appreciative now of just how much I used to take my brain for granted.
Every step I have taken since September 21st has resulted in emotional turmoil as I try to understand my limits and accept them. And there is a silver lining to all this. I am a professional over-extender, but just in the last month, as a result of my concussion, I have reduced my regular job to halftime hours, turned down three paid interpreting teaching jobs and outside freelance assignments, turned down acroyoga and yoga teaching jobs, had to postpone mentoring hours, photo projects and other tasks. My husband has taken over nearly all of the housework. And that is all stuff I would have ordinarily said yes to. And I’m only talking about the month of December! I have always overbooked myself to a crazy extent, and it literally took getting hit over the head for me to Slow. The Heck. Down.
So now I have to wait. And in the meantime, My Concussion and I will try to be patient.