Hello, this is my first post, though I came here a few months ago to search for help with concussion symptoms. I found that there generally wasn't much information or personal accounts available about concussion and post concussion syndrome (apart from Headway's excellent publications). So I've come back to tell my tale just in case it helps anyone who finds themselves in my situation in the future. Sorry, but it's going to be long!
I had a fairly unremarkable fall off a bike in May this year (somebody opened their car door into my cycle path). Had a few bruises but felt the main impact was to the back of my head as my head hit the grass verge with a whiplash style impact. My helmet didn't crack, I fell on grass - I can't be sure if I lost consciousness - but if I did it would have only been for a second. I was a bit stunned but was OK and even continued my commute to work and completed the day (didn't feel right but put it down to the shock). The next morning I had a fainting episode when I got up (not like me at all) so I went to get checked out at the hospital, by the time I was seen I had recovered so they didn't do any tests and sent me home. I realised that I should take a few days off after the knock to the head and to let the neck and back muscles mend themselves from the whiplash.
All pretty standard so far. It was when I tried to return to work that I realised things just weren't right. All I could seem to describe it as was 'a foggy head' or 'a hangover that won't go away'. I couldn't concentrate for the fog and any slightly loud noises/commotion just stopped me in my tracks. I felt slow and found it difficult to think and make decisions. I felt like a complete outsider to my team and as the week went on I became easily upset and emotional and was very tired. By the end of the week I was distraught and was crying even before I got to work - I ended up taking annual leave just so that I didn't have to go in. I didn't understand what was going on so felt too guilty to be off sick again.
I visited my GP the following week, explained my accident and my current state and was given a 2 week sick note and was told I needed mental rest with nobody asking about the accident; after that he would consider ante-depressants and counselling. He encouraged exercise though (I run swim and cycle and asked if I could still do these things). He suspected post traumatic stress even though I thought I was fine with the actual accident - I was still cycling. I accepted the note though and agreed that I needed a break from work but I suspected that maybe one week should do it then I'd be fine.
After a week there was no improvement - I wasn't so tearful but there was no pressure on me so life was a bit easier to cope with the fogginess. Then (in the fourth week after the accident) I developed severe back pain which meant that I wasn't sleeping and was pacing the room in pain, even breathing was painful. I was suddenly very tearful again and with the lack of sleep even speaking was becoming a problem.
I visited my physiotherapist (whom I knew from previous injuries) - after telling her my story she recognised that I was in quite a state and really wasn't my usual positive self. She carried out a concussion test (Sports Concussion Assessment Tool 3). This revealed that I was actually still concussed (15 out of 22 symptoms, a severity score of 52 out of 132, long term memory and concentration affected). She gave some direction for the back problem but the main issue was to address the concussion and she instructed total rest - mental rest and physical rest for two weeks - do absolutely nothing and certainly no exercise (she suggested watching gentle films but keeping screens to a minimum, she also suggested meditation, relaxing in the garden, etc. - oh and no alcohol!). This sounds wonderful when you're fit and healthy but at that time it was very difficult to contemplate. However, I think this was a turning point for my problems, I finally had a reason for how I was feeling and I had a plan - these things really help!
So I got another sick note and went to stay with my parents for complete rest. I did exactly as I was told and by the end of a week and a half my speech was much better and I wasn't so emotional. I did however still have the same fogginess and was still not myself (I attempted a visit to a supermarket but couldn't cope inside and had to leave). So almost two months after the accident I still had not returned to work, I had no life, I wasn't seeing my friends, I wasn't exercising, I still wasn't coping with the fogginess, with loud noises, busy places, the radio being on whilst trying to have a conversation etc. and I had work on my back trying to arrange Occupational Health and Human Resources appointments. Luckily I recognized that I was in danger of depression & anxiety so I tried keeping a diary, I took up meditation, I started some gentle walks and I did some (limited) research into concussion.
This is when I found 'Headway' - I called their helpline and chatted to a lady who listened to my problems and symptoms and she assured me that this was all normal. I just need to give myself time for my brain to recover. She explained why I was unable to cope in busy places - that all the sensory input was just too much for my brain to deal with at the moment. She suggested things like allowing my brain 'shutdown periods' - cat-napping (before 4pm!), wearing earplugs in noisy paces, going shopping at night time when it's less busy (to stores open 24hrs). All great suggestions but again, the main thing was her understanding of my situation and the relief to hear that it is real and other people have gone through it and have recovered.
So I continued the recuperation with my parents (I was very lucky to have this option available to me and it worked a treat). To cut a long story short (sorry, it's already long isn't it?!), I gradually introduced activities and I finally managed to return to work on a phased return (10weeks after the accident). It was very tiring and difficult but I managed with lots of naps! My four week phased return is now over and I'm back full time and I can also finally say that the fogginess has cleared and I feel myself again. So for me, the whole concussion experience lasted about 3 months but felt like an eternity. There are so few people out there that understand it and tried to convince me that I was depressed/anxious - I'm sure that I was in danger of depression taking over but I feel like the concussion symptoms are so under-rated and ignored - I saw four different GPs and only one of them acknowledged its existence! Constantly attending appointments and having to contact work to explain myself didn't help matters at all.
Anyway, that's my story and I hope that the little tips that I picked up along the way are of some use to others, here's a quick list of the things that really helped:
Rest - properly -, turn screens off and accept any help you can get from friends and family (but accept the fact that you must rest!)
Sleep well and eat well - look after yourself and allow your brain to heal
Be aware of depression/anxiety creeping in - try meditation, BUT ,remind yourself that you are suffering from a brain injury and it will heal and you will recover (don't let others convince you that you are 'just depressed about the accident')
Phone Headway helpline - they can reassure you, you're not alone and what you're experiencing is very real (show your friends/family and GP their leaflet 'Minor Head Injury and Concussion'.
Good luck and be kind to yourself