I received a concussion April 2013 playing basketball at a McGill Rez War event. I didn't get the chance to rest, instead writing 4 exams, and found myself helplessly upside down once summer hit. I canceled all my summer plans, and ended up returning to school in the fall for one class. Recovery has been slow but curiously rewarding.
What's In A Name?
The English language, for the most part, is equipped with a word for just about any feeling, apart from long vague concept like the German schadenfreude, which is the guilty pleasure experienced when something bad happens to someone you are friends with, but also jealous of. Even those few missing words seem easily navigable by employing a sentence to describe them, as I just did.
The first time I stumbled upon a concept I couldn't properly communicate through words happened when I received a concussion playing basketball.
I have found such a concept that has given me much grief in describing. Perhaps that is due to my concussion itself, which at times blurs my thinking, but I think it is more profoundly related to my concussion, because this concept is actually my main concussion symptom. No past medical experience has given me the vocabulary to describe it, because it is specific to my head injury. I guess the list of concussion symptoms is made by doctors and medial professionals, not the ones with concussions. Perhaps they never realized to ask about something more, something that was not on their list. It could also be that I experience a symptom unique to myself, just as my entire concussion journey was unique. None the less, I am going to try my best to communicate what relatable experiences I have had.
I am going to try my very hardest to use, not just a sentence, but many paragraphs, to describe a symptom that I hope will, in years to come, have its own unique name and its own unique scientific understanding and medical treatment associated with it.
As I started seeing doctors, I found myself bombarded with a list of symptoms I was supposed to identify with. Dizziness, fogginess, fatigue, headaches, pressure in the head… The list went on and not once did I feel confident in the identification of my true symptom. It was not that they are wrong, all of them have been felt at various times in my experience. However, I knew that they were not exactly right. They all described things I have experiences before my concussion, and a concussion was something entirely different, much more than frequent headaches and fatigue. If you asked for a lime and I have you a lemon, you'd most likely manage. Yet you would notice a difference. Its is this level of difference that leaves me feeling uncomfortable that my concussion cannot be described. I am a girl, equipped with a lemon, trying to convey the taste of a lime.
To start let me say that if you mixed a light headache, a bit of dizziness and fatigue, and maybe a pinch of pressure together in a fog and then poured that into you head after running in the wind and sun all day long, you probably would have a good starting point for understanding a concussion. For simplicities sake, one could just say headache and be done with it. But I think the uniqueness of this hard to grasp symptom is worth dwelling on, in order to address the uniqueness of concussions themselves. Where a concussion varies significantly from a headache is that it is not exactly the pain that makes it debilitating. It is more like it is actually debilitation itself, an internal protest to continuing the activity at hand. Sometimes I find it causes my speech to slur, as if by slurring my words and keeping my mouth from opening fully, I fool my brain into thinking I am not actually talking. When this happens, I become overwhelmed by an internal cringe and usually disengage from whatever activity I am involved in. And here is what truly sets it apart form a normal headache. In most cases, (exempt the most extreme), ten minutes of meditation and silence result in a decrease in symptoms. This "headache" I experience is acutely responsive to my activities. If you got zapped and random, you would keep active. But if you got zapped in direct correlation to your activity, you would stop that activity. But what about when that activity is life? My closest relatable relatable experience is not actually a headache, but the removal of my wisdom teeth. For a week or two after I had them out, I complained not exactly of pain, but more of an inability to truly open my mouth, as if elastic bands held my teeth together. Maybe what I am trying to convey is that despite the pain, it is not always the pain that is the main symptom. My head hurts, but more significantly, it resists. This often leaves me grappling to communicate to my friends ideas that are clear in my head, but 'resist' expression. The mental work of putting them to words is to much.
As I heal, I find this problem decreases, yet its often in the back of my head, a slight buzz, and I know its still here. But what is scariest of all is when I don't notice it, and it seems as if the concussion has become a part of who I am. To realize that this state of decreased health has become my new reality.
Now I know finding a word for this symptom will not help convey a priori what a concussion feels like anymore than spinning in circles can emulate alcoholic intoxication. But if what I describe is not specific to me, if it rings a bell to other people with head injuries, then finding a word for it may make people suffering understand that they are not alone, and facilitate communication for a brain that is struggling to do all the things it once took for granted.