My Concussion Changed Me By Catz LeBlanc

Change hits you hard when your brain is injured

The life of Catz LeBlanc changed after her brain injury.

The life of Catz LeBlanc changed after her brain injury.

Sometimes we can feel change coming, like smelling snow on the way or hearing about potential lay offs. Whether you prepare for it or not is your choice. You can weigh the odds of your risks, whether you will have enough food for a full blown n’oreaster or how full your savings account is should a pink slip arrive. Depending on your anxiety level, it motivates you into a certain assessment mode and then either action or waiting for the storm/s to pass. There is your personal character, personality, your general health, your resiliency, your support network both literal and figurative. When those other kinds of storms hit, there is no time for an “assessment” period, plans of action or even plans of non-action. These come without foreshadowing, eerie music or other forms of warning. Under the radar, these come, and bam! HIT YOU HARD. Change you whether you are ready or not.

Where’s my hero?

So many stories of heroes who go through all sorts of trials and tribulations and they are heroes because they triumph over everything. They essentially win. Many times seemingly unscathed.  Are these stories meant to provide inspiration and motivation for us to become better prepared for what life may dish up for us?

I have grown up in a culture that loves to be entertained. We watch the story, we hold our breath and gasp at all the challenges and pain that the hero goes through but we haven’t thought it through, it could be us, next. But without the mute button or pause or eject even, our epic will be real. It will be real life. Our life. We don’t bolt into resiliency training, just in case.

People frequently would comment, “Ooh, you are so creative!” or “You are obviously bright.” or “Well, aren’t you a resourceful one?!”

So what happened to me?

I certainly don’t feel like a hero. I definitely don’t feel triumphant or like a winner. In fact, I have lost so much that there have been many times in the past few years that I didn’t recognize myself. Things I said, choices I made, seeing myself physically so different, very strange feeling. As if I had been under an intermittent spell of varying intensity, sometimes having access to myself, my personality and many times not.

This is what it is like to have a mild traumatic brain injury.

Not knowing yourself anymore, losing many friends, family, your home, job, ability to think, ability to problem solve, ability to change traffic routes to accommodate some obstacle.

I used to just be able to go another way, or another way or another way and even to weigh all three options and choose what seemed best, all in a flash of thought, effortlessly. Many many things about thinking, talking, walking, running, deflecting a ball, rolling over, being a friend…just felt effortless. I just did them, automatically, quickly, exquisitely effortlessly.

It was so hard to get people to understand what it like to have a brain injury until I said this, “It’s like going from having insanely high speed internet, to using a manual typewriter and sometimes that doesn’t even work, so you grab a pen. Within seconds, it is just out of ink.”

Why can’t you understand me?

I became a bit obsessed with wanting my health care providers to understand what was wrong. “What do you mean your brain isn’t working right?” I didn’t have the vocabulary or medical terminology that explained, “Yes, I have memory problems. I normally have an excellent memory and it’s as if I have a really fantastic filing system. I would make some request of my brain and Boom! I had the answer. EFFORTLESSLY. Somehow at some incredible speed something happened from the thought of needing some information and zoom shooting through massive filing system to the exact correct cabinet, the exact correct drawer, the exact correct file and BINGO, there it was.

Now, it was different. There would be some request of my brain and it would just be blank. Nothing was happening. I could feel that nothing was happening and would think to myself, “Come on! Concentrate, pay attention, think HARDER.” I might even get to a memory cabinet but I wasn’t able to open the drawer. I couldn’t get access to the files to see if something would trigger my memory, to help jumpstart it….just get me closer to the right place to get the answer.

We don’t have a word for all this.

It is much more complex than word retrieval or concentration. and if you never experienced this before it is frightening, terrifying because you haven’t dealt with how to adapt for this. In fact it never occurred to you that you would need adaptive strategies.

“You are very articulate and I think you communicate very well. I don’t think you have much to worry about, you are getting older you know.”

They don’t seem to believe you when you tell them. I never lose/misplace my keys. I have locked myself out of my car, my apartment (once both at the same time) and even left the stove on on more than one occasion. If you lived with me, you would know this is significantly different for me.

I can’t help but wonder if my face was smashed in, would they take the changes more seriously? I look normal. Well, except when I trip up the stairs or keep banging my right elbow when I turn right to go down the stairs or run into the wall when I go to the bathroom at night and I have to go slow in the shower when my eyes are closed, I don’t feel steady then either.

I almost threw up doing goalie drills at practice, coming up from a somersault, doing 180’s to stop a shot, not good ideas. I’m slow, I feel slow in practice, my reflexes feel slow, my running feels slow. But I don’t know how to explain any of this because it is subtle. This feels different but what exactly is different? I am a quick person, a fast twitch fiber person. A love wind sprints person and can’t do a 5K person.

Something is wrong.

But I don’t want anything to be wrong. I’m pretty sure I will be okay. Just stick things out, stick to it, things will get better. Definitely things will get better. Train steady for a few weeks, back up at 4-6 times a week and I will be fine. Flying up to the corners of the goal, adrenaline pumping – following the ball, following the ball, SHOT! Either a save or a goal unless they aren’t a very good shooter.

That’s all over now. Haven’t gone running in years now. Gotta get my vestibular system retrained before I can tolerate such ideas.

I tried to complete a collegiate alumni athlete survey. It didn’t have a box for I am in rehab for concussionI am not allowed to exercise more than walking. Would I choose to if I could? They don’t have that box either.

It has snuck up on me again.

My disability, my chronic illness, my inability to compete because it is too dangerous. My brain still isn’t right. Once my ear infection was gone, was going to go back to neuro physical therapy. For the third time. Now I don’t have insurance. Other complications from the concussion have prevented me from graduating from therapy, yet.

But this time is going to be different, once I get the health insurance. I can’t behave like an athlete anymore. I can’t ignore symptoms and push through it. Whenever I try to do more, have a little bit of a life, I have setbacks. Migraines, sleep issues, anxiety, depression, fatigue. Lots of fatigue. I was a person who had energy and I could power nap, rebound with ten minutes of quiet in the car. I worked full time, I trained as a handball goalie, I volunteered, I was a mom to my son. I don’t even drive anymore.

Denial is a powerful thing.

Especially when one has always been healthy, able to do what I wanted. Rollerblade fast, skydive, scuba dive, dancing, bike, lift, sprint, even tap dance advance beginner level. I never felt more alive than when I was a handball goalie. I was 45 years old when I started. And I was very happy. In a way, I fell in love with it. It was such a pure challenge. Me and the ball. Every time I made a decent save, I felt such happiness. When I stopped a 7 meter, words can not express the fountain of joy. The odds are always against the goalie and when you beat such odds, it is beyond a sensation of winning sweetness. You are transformed, you are the triumphant hero.

Man oh man, do I miss her.

About the Author

TELL ME THIS 250W

As an accomplished athlete, author Catherine (Catz) LeBlanc knew the risks of sports injuries. As a physician’s assistant, she knew how the brain and body work. But the concussion she sustained in a team handball game was compounded by a rear end high speed auto-truck collision 2 months later – and her life changed completely.Catz LeBlanc is author of Tell Me This: Encouragement and Hope after Brain Injury. Visit her website at http://www.catzleblanc.com 

 Listen to an interview with Catz LeBlanc by Kim Justus on Brain Injury Radio by clicking on this link.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/braininjuryradio/2013/12/19/catz-me-ow-on-recovery-now-with-kim-justus

One response to “My Concussion Changed Me By Catz LeBlanc”

  1. […] it’s finding what gives your life meaning now. This is the first step toward such a huge change. Finding a catalyst that drives you forward toward your reinvention can be incredibly motivating. […]

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