Living with a brain injury is a new life and means a new normal
On October 13, 2011, I sustained a severe concussion while playing in my high school soccer game. Almost two years later, I still suffer from symptoms 24/7; I could never have imagined my life turning out this way. I am often asked what it is like to live with a brain injury. It’s difficult, but I have learned to live with this “new normal” and face the fact that living with a brain injury is a new life. Often times, I cannot do things that normal teenagers do, like going to the mall, movies, concerts, sporting events, stores, restaurants, or crowded places. I have slowly integrated myself into going to these places again on a limited basis, but I plan my days according to my pain.
I live with a constant dull headache, sharp head pains, an endless state of fogginess, fatigue, balance problems, memory loss, neck pain, inability to concentrate and carry on a conversation, and sensitivity to light and noise. In terms of visual stimulation, things like sunlight, flashing lights, revolving doors, swaying trees, bright colors, and disorganized rooms are all daily occurrences that increase my headaches. In terms of noises, things like bells, high-pitched barking, baby and toddler voices, shopping carts, and clanging utensils also increase my headaches.
School is exhausting even with a new normal
After missing three months of school while on brain rest, I was nervous to return. I wondered if people would think I’m faking—after all, I look fine. School is exhausting, and one of the worst places for people with concussions—slamming lockers, bells, fire drills, commotion between classes, AND having to use my brain! Although I have maintained my grades, it is with more difficulty, and with learning issues that need to be accommodated. I now read at a slower pace and have trouble comprehending orally. I spend more time doing homework, I have extended time on tests, and I can take tests outside of the classroom. Patterned carpets, shiny floors, bright rooms, open windows, small desks, and crowded classrooms create more headaches, fatigue, and make taking tests difficult. Certain subjects like math are challenging because of graphing: the boxes on the paper and following the lines create more headaches due to the extra effort involved in concentrating.
But I am healing and finding my new normal
Currently, I spend several days a week attending various appointments to help myself heal. Eating healthy has also improved my quality of life and decreased my fogginess as well. It has been a difficult journey over the past two years, but with a great support system at home, my medical team, and my positive attitude, I have managed to navigate my “new normal.” I know my limits, I listen to the doctors’ orders, and I live my life in constant caution. Concussions are often perceived as a sign of weakness because they are invisible, but they are not to be taken lightly, because they can have devastating short-term and long-term effects. Recovery can be slow, but there are many resources and plenty of support, as I have found, and there is improvement over time.
About the author
Madeline Uretsky is now a college student and has become an advocate for concussion awareness and prevention through her speaking and writing.