#MindfulMarch: My Experience with Concussion & Migraine

By Brittany

Do you know someone who has had a concussion? Whether from a car accident, a slip and fall, a sporting injury? Maybe you know someone who has had multiple concussions throughout their childhood or adult life.  If you’re a sports fan of any kind, or played any sports in school, concussions are something being talked about more and more frequently.

Prior to mine three years ago, I didn’t understand the severity of a concussion or what it really meant, let alone how dramatically it could affect one’s life.  Although I’ve had people close to me have concussions, their lives weren’t dramatically changed. So based on my experience of concussion, I thought it was a bump on the head and one would quickly recover.

When I slipped on the ice and hit the back of my head on the stone facing of a garage, I experienced some of the worst pain of my life, but I didn’t want to go to the hospital.  It was a very busy time at work and I thought if I just rested, I would be fine the next day (I don’t recommend this!).

My boyfriend insisted on taking me to the ER, but since I didn’t want to go, he kept checking on me all night.  He watched for concussion symptoms (which were present) and kept asking me if I wanted to go in. By morning I had hardly slept, I was experiencing unbearable nausea and could hardly stand the morning light coming through the blinds.  So off to the ER I went.

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As I stood in the triage line, I needed the support of the wall to hold me up for fear the dizziness would land me on the floor.  When I got to the nurses station and told them what happened, someone quickly took me back to a bed and a doctor was with me almost immediately doing an assessment.  I was thoroughly impressed with the royal treatment I was receiving!

As the ER doctor checked me out, she confirmed I had a concussion.  Her instructions were to take a week off work and reduce my brain activity to almost nothing (no phone, TV, reading, music, computer, etc.).  I complied and stayed in my dark basement bedroom for a week, unable to eat anything other than cereal and fruit on rare occasions because my appetite was almost non-existent.  In a week, I was no better. I called my family doctor and he got me in immediately (again, the royal treatment!). I was sent for an urgent CT scan and x-ray of my skull and neck (as I had quite the indent in the back of my head from where my skull met the friendly stone facing of the garage that was present for at least 3 weeks post-concussion).  

Everything came back normal again, and my doctor advised I continue on with the resting and weekly appointments to monitor my post-concussion syndrome before I head back to work.  Three weeks post-concussion, I started back at work for two hours a day. It took another six weeks before I was back up to full time work, and even that felt like it was too much too soon.

At five weeks post concussion, my doctor diagnosed me with a mood disorder and prescribed me antidepressants.  I was disappointed in this diagnoses as I knew the reason why I was now suffering from depression was I went from being a bubbly and outgoing busy-body to bed ridden in the dark, with the worst head pain I had ever experienced with constant, overwhelming nausea.  I didn’t fill the antidepressant prescription. Instead, I did my own research and discovered that a B6 supplement could be used as a natural antidepressant.

I went to my local health food store and found a B vitamin blend called B-Calm that I began to take immediately, and within 3 days my depression started to dissipate, my appetite came back and I started to have energy for the first time in weeks.  For me, finding that was a saving grace and is something that I would recommend to anyone post-concussion or with a mood disorder of any kind. I’m all about the natural remedies first!

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Post-concussion syndrome turned into chronic migraine which turned into daily migraine.  I abstained from medication for my pain for as long as I possibly could, convinced my body would recover on its own from the trauma.  

After four or five months, I couldn’t take the pain anymore.  I tried multiple medications including triptans, SSRI’s, anti-inflammatories, and muscle relaxants.  I spent thousands of dollars on naturopaths, RMT’s, acupuncture, NUCCA and regular chiropractor, Botox injections and many other things.  I believe all of my medical professionals along my journey have done their best to support me in recovery, and I’m so grateful for each and every one.

At about two years post-concussion, I begrudgingly began to accept that chronic migraine was something I would likely have to deal with for the rest of my life.  I had also developed anxiety with intermittent depressive episodes and sporadic panic attacks, all of which are comorbid with chronic migraine. I’ve had substantial personality changes and have had to make even more substantial lifestyle changes to support my chronic and invisible illnesses.

I don’t think anyone could have predicted this would be my life three years after a concussion.  I certainly couldn’t have, and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around that this is my life.  I think this is why the movement of #MindfulMarch and Brain Injury Awareness month are gaining more and more popularity.  

We’ve come a long way in research about the brain and concussion, but there is still so much that is unknown.  Here are some stats that I found staggering:

TBI

Unfortunately, it can be more challenging to treat migraine as a result of a concussion or TBI.  Currently, there is no cure for migraine, but research continues. New drugs and treatment options are on the horizon, and I will continue to try everything that becomes available that my doctor deems fit for me.

Until we find something that works for me, I will keep spreading awareness and sharing my story to help as many people as I can.  There are many organizations and support groups out there that can connect you with individuals in similar situations or with similar experiences.

One great program is LoveYourBrain Yoga (LYB).  They’re a non-profit organization started by two brothers — Kevin Pearce, an olympic athlete in training who suffered a traumatic brain injury during the 2010 Olympic training season, and his brother Adam who took time off work to be his primary caregiver.  LYB provides a free 6 week gentle yoga and meditation series for people recovering from TBI’s and their caregivers.

Here are a few ways their yoga program addresses some of the common concerns they hear from the TBI community:

  • Adapts specific poses to prevent dizziness and headaches
  • Offers similar movements in a similar sequence to support learning and memory
  • Uses soft lighting and soothing music to make the yoga class environment welcoming
  • Incorporates strategies to focus attention and release negative thoughts
  • Builds community through group discussion with empowering TBI-related themes

Another great resource and support group I’ve come across is OneCussion.  Two best friends and a concussion doctor in Dallas, TX started OneCussion after one of the best friends suffered a debilitating concussion while actually working in a concussion clinic. They’ve now made it their life purpose to make major improvements in raising awareness and solutions available for people who sustain concussions.

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(via @onecussion on Instagram)

I’m sure there are countless other organizations and support groups available, but these are two I’ve had personal experience with.  The community they’re developing started in the United States, but is rapidly growing across North America, and will no doubt be world-wide in no time.  

I encourage you to seek these organizations out, especially if you’re feeling alone in your post-concussion journey.  In my first LYB class, I cried tears of gratitude to be in a space with 13 other people who could relate to what I had been going through for 3 years.  

Every concussion is different, and recovery will be different for everyone.  Sometimes you need to go through multiple medical professionals, treatments and support groups, but I assure you, you’re not alone.  

Here are five tips to help carry you through on your tougher days:

1. Be compassionate with your body and your brain.  They’re doing the best they can to support you, despite the trauma they’ve been through.

2. Ask for support from loved ones, friends and your employer when your body and brain try to take you out.  Even if they don’t fully understand what you’re going through, people want to help more than you’ll ever know.

3. Find an outlet that gives you joy and peace, whether that’s yoga or meditation, being artistic (even if it’s a children’s coloring book), a soak in a bubble bath or hot tub, a massage, a walk in the park or journaling.

4. Take your recovery seriously, and no matter what, hold onto hope that one day a cure and better treatment plans are on the horizon.

5. And most importantly, you’re not alone.  Millions of people are walking the road you are too, and together we will create a brighter future for those of us recovering from concussion and migraine.

 

#MindfulMarch

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