Feeling Better vs Getting Better

The fear of doing further damage to the brain after a concussion is a significant worry. A mild brain injury allows a great deal of mystery (and anxiety) because it is so difficult to measure the effect of a concussion on the brain. The most reliable information a doctor can get is anecdotal. Pro-athletes have the benefit of video replays of their accident (which I am sure are analysed at length post-accident) but the typical accident of a person having a surprise blow to the head isn’t likely to be recorded, so doctors have to rely on the patient describing their symptoms. If no one else sees the irony of relying on the report of someone who doesn’t remember what happened in the first place, then I must have recently developed a warped sense of humor along with my concussion. So today I would like to talk about taking responsibility for your own recovery, or, to quote a very wise OT who is helping me through this process, “Do you want to feel better, or get better?”

The first tip I have to pass along to anyone recovering from a concussion is to find expert advice. Research in areas such neurology and neuropsychology are very specialized, so it is important to find appropriate medical advice and not rely on the internet. (Again, more irony, I’m just trying to point you in the right direction.) I believe that attention to sports-related head injuries have swung the pendulum in concussion treatment toward caution that is important, but it can also be misleading.  Keep in mind the fact that I am not a neurologist, just someone who has stepped into this through my own experience, but I have learned a few things that I feel should be shared. First of all, if your job doesn’t normally put you at risk of blows to the head, then it’s probably safe to go back to work as soon as you have the energy for it. As far as I know, you can’t re-injure your brain by thinking.

Headaches, dizziness, tinnitus etc are common symptoms, but feeling them does not damage your brain further. They feel awful, and as I’ve mentioned before it is so, so important to listen to these cues from your body that are telling you you’re doing too much, but these signs of fatigue don’t cause the brain any more damage. This might not sound that significant to someone who hasn’t had a concussion, but there is so much misinformation out there now, especially with the worry over athletes in high-impact sports, that the caution that non-athletes take in their own concussion recovery can start to cause rather than prevent more problems. This has been my experience. Avoiding triggers of symptoms entirely doesn’t help. I have found the opposite to be true. Wearing sunglasses and avoiding bright lights might stop you from developing a headache, but after the brain tissue has healed from your concussion, you can’t continue to hide in the dark forever. Eventually, you have to start living a normal life again. This is where pacing and alternating activities comes in (see my previous posts.) I have to admit that I am still learning to pace myself, I am just starting to be able to manage my symptoms by stopping one activity and shifting to another, but I can report that it works. If you get nothing else from this post today, I hope you will take away the idea that there is something you can do to start to take on the responsibility of your own concussion recovery. Seek out expert advice on concussion treatment, start to gradually introduce your normal activities into your life again, and listen to the cues your body is giving you to help you set your own pace. I’m almost ready to call this blog 10minuteswithbeth, but not until I get through week two of work.

I’ll leave you with a picture today: this seagull was hitching a very slow ride across the Georgia Strait last summer (20 miles from land.) It was a very patient bird, taking a little rest, but eventually, it had to start flying again.


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