I have started the gradual return to work this week and my first surprise was to find how quickly I returned to first-week symptoms. It’s discouraging to feel like I’m regressing, but when I take note of the tasks I have taken on this week, it really is no wonder. First of all, I’m driving, and I’m aiming to be at work at a certain time. Driving poses huge demands on the mind and body. I have years of experience at this task, and I try to set up ideal conditions, allowing lots of time, no distractions, taking rest breaks and so on. These accommodations are work though-I had my alarm set for 6:00, and of course I was up before 5. Forgetting little details is still a problem for me, so I had to recheck my checklist several times before leaving. On the plus side, I chose Whole Foods for a break and breakfast # 2, a Greek yogurt parfait. Treats are just as important as good planning. By the time I got to work on day one, I was tired and should have taken a 10 minute rest in my car but I was excited about entering the next stage of my recovery, so I bounded into work, ready to go. I lasted about 30 minutes. Everything came back: I was dizzy, confused, forgetting names, details, nothing stuck in my short term memory. My head had a vice grip that set in, and continued to get tighter until I finally escaped back to my car after an hour and a half. I tried taking breaks, but once I had reached the threshold of symptoms going over a manageable level, I couldn’t slow them down, and just had to leave. Day two-I went in with a plan-rest after the drive,don’t initiate conversations, take rests after each 1/2 hour, sit in one place, instead of moving around. I thought I had a reasonable plan, and stuck to it. I was ready to leave after one hour. Day three was even harder.
So, this is what I have learned from my first week back: My body doesn’t know the plan, and my body is still in charge so I need to follow the lead it is setting. The level of fatigue I’m feeling is probably because I have no reserve tank built up. As soon as I feel pressure in my head, I have to excuse myself, even if that is only after five minutes.I know how to recharge-I have an escape plan, to rest in my car, with quiet music and some deep relaxation breathing. This will help. Secondly, I hadn’t appreciated how much critical thinking is involved in social settings. I have been working hard at getting better for months, but I find conversations to be the most demanding task on my brain, so I have been avoiding them. This is ironic, since social interaction is one of my absolute favourite things to do. It’s what makes me the teacher I am- I love to engage in discussion, listening, learning and making people laugh. I normally thrive on this, but it puts a huge demand on my working memory. So, appreciating the fact that I need to continue to be a social person, I have to take small steps back out into the world (especially the world of education.)
Week two of my back to work plan is coming up, and I have revised it. From the outside, it might look like I’m moving backwards, but I’m going to take each lesson I learn about my own progress as just that, progress. It might take me a few more months to transition back to work. I don’t know if I’ll be the same as I was before, but I do know I will be a more empathetic teacher, a better listener, and perhaps more patient and kind to myself. I’m writing this in hopes that anyone else who is struggling with a slow recovery post-concussion will see that they aren’t alone in their symptoms. I’m about as slow a learner as you’ll see in this process, but I’m not giving in.