So I had banged my head.
I had banged my head once before. It was a snowy day in January and I was out on the park with the kids. This was four years ago, so they were not the serious teens that they are now, and I was probably trying too hard to be fun time snow Dad.
We had been flinging snowballs and making giant snow-rolls, and doing all the usual stuff you do on a beautifully crisp winter’s day. We played daft games and worked up a rosy glow before wandering over to the skate park to hang out before going home for roaring fires and hot chocolate. I decided it would be a fine idea to try and slide down one of the skate ramps on my feet. I had spent time skiing in my younger years and was fairly confident that if I could navigate 5km of French Alp, then three feet of skate park was hardly the greatest challenge. The fact that there was ice everywhere did not occur to me, my feet shot out infant of me and the laws of physics insisted that my upper half shoot back and down. I pivoted around my mid point and the back of my head cracked into the freezing concrete. I was out cold and when I came round I could not remember a damn thing – I knew I needed to get back home, and somehow got back there with some help from the kids. I was a little confused for a while but soon came round and all was well. I had no after effects and I never really thought much more of it.
This was different.
In the few days after banging my head at the Badminton court, I spent most of the time in bed. My energy levels were low, I found it hard to concentrate and I was extremely labile with regard to my emotional state. I was half deaf in one ear and had completely lost my sense of smell. I felt broken – and I was. I still am to a degree, but, as the doctor said, the “trajectory” looks good.
In the two weeks that followed I experienced what I can only describe as an uncertainty of self. Every morning I woke up to the real possibility that I was no longer who I had been, I was in a state of flux where my sense of identity was shattered into a million fragments of neurological unknowns. I am not a neurologist, but I have worked in neuro settings enough to know very well that what doesn’t kill you does not necessarily make your stronger. I have seen the effects of Traumatic Brain Injury and stroke, and I have observed, with clinical detachment, how desperately the individual will cling to the idea of who they once were even when that person no longer exists; and in some ways (and this is the bit that scared the living shit out of me) never existed. I was clinging to invisible smoke, hanging onto nothing in blind panic, hoping and praying that I would come back to myself; whoever that was.
During this initial period, once everyone had gone to work and school and college and wherever they were due to be that day, I would go through a kind of meditation, In that invisible space I would try to reassemble myself as a cogent entity, I would reach out in to the swamp like memory of self to try and bring me back. Every so often, during these meditations, I would encounter the memory of that sickening moment of impact when the bruising had been caused to the soft tissue of my brain. It was liking staring into the headlights of a car speeding towards me, my feet rooted to the ground and unable to move, then the moment would be gone leaving me with sense of confusion, fear and panic – that and a ringing in my ears. That moment was a nightmarish non-memory. I know that in post traumatic stress disorder, memories that have not been filed correctly are replayed over and over again. I could not comment on whether or not this was what I was experiencing, but there was a definite disconnect between my “self” and my memory of that moment. I kept seeing myself slam into the wall and collapse in heap, as if I was watching CCTV footage.
The ringing became a torment. Tinitus is unrelenting. Craig Gill, the Inspiral Carpets drummer, committed suicide after twenty years suffering with the affliction. I would manage to ignore the fizzy ringing noise only to have it intrude once more when my defences were down. At the time of writing (6 weeks post injury) the ringing has subsided significantly, and I am told that it will disappear in time. In my case the ringing has been caused by the temporal lobe damage, and I also have the sensation of blockage in my ear even thought there is nothing there. This is one of the tortuous aspects of neurological injury: it messes with your senses to such an extent that your subjective reality is altered. Our realities are created by sensory input which is processed by our brains, when these sensory processing faculties are disrupted it is not just our experience of reality that is changed, it is the very nature of that reality that is warped and distorted. We are plunged into a world which is not being experienced by anyone around us, we are isolated and detached from the “normal” world that others are living in.
These initial post trauma experiences were extreme and intense. The accident had happened at the beginning of a two week half term holiday from the school where I work as a school librarian, so I was able to rest without the added anxiety of work. After the first week I was beginning to regain strength, although I was still experiencing anxiety and many bleak thoughts relating to my own mortality and the futility of existence – yes, I promise you! I was experiencing depressive intrusive thoughts, but I was able to put it down to the concussion and move on: “not my problem”, I would tell myself, “it’s just the concussion, don’t worry about.” We will come back to the issue of morbid ideation in a later part of this story.
As I make these reflections I realise how damaged I was, and how weak the concussion had made me. One of the reasons I wanted to write this blog was to give me a tracking tool for my own recovery, and it is certainly reassuring to see the progress I have made. I continued to post messages on Facebook and received many beautiful and touching messages from family and friends. These messages were invaluable to my mental and emotional wellbeing during the post trauma stage, to know that there were people with genuine concerns for my wellbeing gave me strength and a resilience to the isolation that I felt.
So thing were looking good; I had support, my strength was returning, I was still deaf and with no sense of smell, but I could manage and my sense of confusion was ebbing away. I was getting better. This was excellent news because in a weeks time I would be marrying my darling fiancé at a wedding that we had spent the whole year planning. Everything was going to be fine, of course it was, it was only a concussion after all.