A glass more than half full

It is much easier to look on the bright side of things when you are finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just recently passed the 6.5 year mark since the concussion that marked me. To put an approximate number to my recovery, I would say I am 70-80% better. This is good. Not the 100% which is the dream, but good enough to function on a daily basis and start taking on more challenges.

At the end of August, I was able to complete my first triathlon. It was a “Try-a-tri” – a “beginner’s” distance of 200 m swim, 10 km bike and 2.5 km run. I really enjoyed having a goal to work towards over the summer. In my younger days I was a strong swimmer, so I welcomed the opportunity to get in the pool more regularly to train for the triathlon. My biggest fear was getting bumped in the head in the open water swim as it can get quite crowded at the start. So my strategy was to stay near the outside at the front. And swim fast. And for the most part, it worked!

Triathlon swim avec l'arrow.png

The bike didn’t pose any problems for me. Cycling was one of the first activities I was able to integrate back into after the concussion (well stationary bike to start) so I was well conditioned for a 10km ride. Running tends to be one of the more challenging activities for me – that could move my headache from “OK” to “bad”. Luckily the triathlon day was a good day for me. I don’t recall noticing any headache pain throughout the competition, which I am thrilled about! After the event when the adrenaline rush wore off, there was definitely a crash in energy level so I’m glad I didn’t have anything on my schedule for that afternoon other than a nap.

In my books, completing a Try-A-Tri is nothing spectacular. What is exciting is that it marks a milestone in my recovery process. I once was in a place where waking up showering, getting ready for the day and doing light stretches would leave me exhausted and headed back to bed with a headache that never seemed to leave. And now I am here. Thank God.

While yes, it can be easier to stay positive when things are going well; I think this PCS journey has also shaped my point of view. I realized what I took for granted and learned to appreciate the little things. My situation & symptoms post-concussion are definitely better now than in the past but at the same time the journey it took to get here has definitely helped me see the bright/better things a little brighter.

PS – I gave my page a bit of a makeover. Hope you enjoy the new look!

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The Great Circus

Step with care and great tact,  and remember that  life is a great balancing act. -Dr. Seuss

I had the pleasure of watching Cirque du Soleil perform back in December with a friend. I took the 1.5 hour train ride in, did some sight-seeing around the city, enjoyed the show, went for dinner, and then another train ride back at the end of it. Certainly a full day, and was tired out by the end of it, but had a great time.

Flash forward to the beginning of May. I had tickets to see another Cirque du Soleil show in a different city. The itinerary for the day was more or less the same as my previous experience, but wow, did the day ever go differently. I knew I was in trouble when the show started off by one of those competitions where they see what seating area can cheer the loudest. Coming from a background of post-concussion syndrome, these contests spell bad news. Who decided it was a good idea to scream as loud as possible, for fun, in the first place? Is the minuscule amount of entertainment pleasure some may derive from having the volume louder worth the pain it can cause to those sensitive to such things? It was tempting to walk out at that point, but the promise of a good performance and $80+ per ticket, I wanted to stay and see what the rest of the show brought.

There were some incredible acts, but unfortunately these were accompanied by music so loud you couldn’t even hear the crowd cheer. And I’ll remind you this is the same crowd, who at the beginning of the show had mightily demonstrated capabilities of reaching very loud volumes. Some unfortunate placement of spotlights also shone bright light directly in the eye of audience members. I didn’t make it past the intermission.

It was frustrating. I felt defeated. There was no physical or cognitive exertion required from me, I just had to sit there and take in a show, which I was eagerly looking forward to enjoying. Why was it so difficult? Why did I struggle so much this time when a few months earlier my day went without a hitch?

It was a reminder that in some ways I’m still not past this “brain injury”. There are good days and bad days, and I can’t always control them. I still need to walk the tight-rope, and juggle my priorities – balancing to making the most of the abilities I have while respecting the limits that still exist.

 

What is normal?

As mentioned in my last post, I am starting the feel the best I have in the nearly 6 (6!) years since my concussion. But while I am finally drawing further and further away from what was clearly “abnormal” compared to a healthy person in terms of symptoms I experienced on a daily basis, I sometimes find myself questioning what exactly is “normal”?

Does the average person feel this tired after a work day? Is it typical to be irritated by loud noises? Do most people feel the need to double check they really did lock the car?

It has been so many years now of living with lingering post concussion symptoms it is almost a distant memory of life without them. I remember in the time before the concussion my life was so busy with school, work, hockey and other activities I didn’t get much sleep so I felt tired all the time. My energy levels are better now than immediately after the concussion, however fatigue still is an issue and I have paced myself in the activities I do.

On average I seem to have 2 days per week where the headaches are bothersome enough I take medication for them. The bad days aren’t as rough as they were before, but that frequency still is not where I want to be nor would I say that is “normal”.

I have been very fortunate that the concussion did not noticeably affect my cognitive abilities or memory. However, it is in the back of my mind that mTBIs can have these effects, and so sometimes I have a small worry if this could be true in my case down the road. You know, little things like wanting to double check if I unplugged the iron or locked the car. It’s been so long I almost forget if I did this before the concussion. But then again, on the job I notice co-workers who will forget their coffee downstairs, etc. so I think most people will have moments at one time or another of being absent minded.

I am participating in a long term study run by a research team out of a university in the USA that follows people with a history of concussion. While it seems long term consequences or issues emerging later in life on are more so the case in people with repeated concussions; I sometimes worry if because this concussion has had a significant impact on my life in the immediate time period post-concussion, if there is risk for years later on in life. Maybe the long term results of this study will be the only way to know for sure.

But for now, I try not to be too concerned and focus on appreciating where I am at right now and for the progress that has been made. While I do have some lingering symptoms that would not be considered “normal”, I am happy to now be able to function “normally” with some minor accommodations in work, fitness and social life.