My Head Injury Was Dismissed as Nothing

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PANEL 1 – AUTHOR is a woman in her late 20’s. She has hit her head while climbing in a mountain. You can see her body on the side of a rocky road, silhouetted, with her blood running down the rocks. Behind her are a few of her friends rushing to help.

CAPTION – It happened when I was climbing and took a fall.

CAPTION – The helmet had a pressure point in the back.

PANEL 2 – The blood from the previous panel is spilling onto this panel, and there is a blood splatter.

CAPTION – My scalp opened. There was a lot of blood.

CAPTION – I was lucid the entire time.

PANEL 3 – AUTHOR is in a chair, in a hospital, with bandages around her head. She is looking at the camera. Everything around her is blurred.

CAPTION – In the emergency room, they stitched me up and did a brain scan.

PANEL 4 – Close up of previous panel.

CAPTION – “No concussion symptoms here. Go home, you’re good.”

PANEL 4 – white text on black background.

CAPTION – This slowed my recovery.

CAPTION – I pretended I was fine when I was not.

PANEL 5 – AUTHOR is in bed, in the dark, sleeping.

CAPTION – The biggest challenge with a mild brain injury is that, for the most part, it’s invisible.

PANEL 6 – Close up of AUTHOR in bed. She is awake and in pain.

PANEL 7 – AUTHOR is up, going into the bathroom. She turns on the light.

PANEL 8 – AUTHOR is hunched over, holding her head in one hand and keeping herself balanced by holding onto something with the other hand.

CAPTION – For years I couldn’t sleep because of the lump on my head, and I still have bouts of vertigo.

PANEL 9 – Text on swirly, dizzying background.

CAPTION – The non-physical effects of the injury are almost as bad.

I sometimes have trouble remembering words or names I should know.

My threshold for managing stress is definitely not what it used to be…

…and when I’m stressed,

I don’t have any way to handle it.

I just feel like shouting or crying or running away.

I get anxiety attacks out of nowhere, with no warning, and when I do, all I want to do…

…is hide.

PANEL 10 – AUTHOR is on a walk with her boyfriend, holding hands. She is smiling.

CAPTION – Going on walks used to be enjoyable, but even that has become a landmine of potential stresses.

PANEL 11 – Zoom into AUTHOR’s happy face.

PANEL 12 – 14 – Zoom into AUTHOR’s smile, which slowly turns into a frown.

PANEL 15 – AUTHOR looks worried. She stops walking. Her boyfriend turns around and stops.

AUTHOR – I need to stop…I’m feeling anxious again.

PANEL 16 – Zoom into AUTHOR’s face.

AUTHOR – I… I just need to stop.

PANEL 17 – the boyfriend looks at her with bewilderment.

PANEL 18 – the boyfriend turns around and keeps walking.

Boyfriend – Ok, fine.

PANEL 19 – The back of the boyfriend from the AUTHOR’s perspective.

CAPTION – I know that he tries. But it always becomes clear that he doesn’t understand.

PANEL 20 – AUTHOR is standing, while boyfriend keeps walking.

CAPTION – I just wanted to curl up against something, somewhere safe, somewhere small, somewhere far away and quiet.

PANEL 21 – Just text

CAPTION – Sometimes those places don’t exist in the moment you need them.

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I experienced a mild brain injury a handful of years ago. It happened when I was out climbing and I took a fall and hit the back of my head. The helmet I was wearing had a pressure point there. It caused my scalp to open and the back of my head to swell. It bled a lot.

Luckily someone had a first-aid kit and bandaged me up so I could hike back to the car and get driven to the hospital. I was lucid the whole time. I recall everything perfectly. In the emergency room, I was assessed and they stitched up my head and did a quick brain scan. And since I was so lucid, and I even told a joke or two to lighten the situation, they told me I was fine. No concussion symptoms here. Go home, you’re good.

Telling me I was okay slowed my recovery. I pretended I was fine when I was not. I was raised to have a stiff upper lip, to be a good girl, help others and for gosh sakes don’t show any weakness. As a result, few people know the difficulties I’ve had from my brain injury. I don’t think they want to know. They prefer me as the happy, easygoing, supportive person I’ve always been.

The biggest challenge with a mild brain injury is that, for the most part, it’s invisible. People think I am fine when I am not. It’s hard trying to explain to someone that I’m having a brain injury moment. Like when I can’t remember a familiar word or name. Or when my tolerance for stress is not great.

My symptoms were the worst during the two years after my brain injury. I had moments where my mind would go blank, when I had trouble putting words together, when my head would spin. The lump on my skull throbbed and for years I couldn’t lie on it or put pressure on that point. Imagine not sleeping because there’s a lump on your head, and trying to explain your fatigue to the people in your life, every single day.

I still get bouts of vertigo where the room starts to spin and I have to sit perfectly still to make it stop. Sometimes it happens when I lie down and there’s nothing I can do but wait for it to pass. That’s the worst.

Almost as bad, though, are the non-physical effects of the injury – most notably an increase in my anxiety.  There are times when I need to leave a situation right now. I need to sit alone in a dark room or huddle in a corner. Those feelings come suddenly, and without warning.

My emotional state is not what it used to be. I used to be calmer, more even. My threshold for managing stress is definitely not what it used to be, and when I’m stressed I don’t have any way to handle it. I just feel like shouting or crying or running away.

Reacting poorly to stress – even in situations which others don’t find stressful – has inevitably affected my relationships.  My partner and I go for walks or bike rides fairly often, and what used to be an enjoyable pastime has become a landmine of potential stresses.  And I know that he tries, but it always quickly becomes clear that he doesn’t understand.

One time I just stopped and told him, “I’m anxious” He responded “sure” and asked what was going on.  I answered  truthfully: “I just need to stop.”

He said “Okay, fine”, but it was clear he was not okay with us stopping. He was restless and obviously counted each second that we were not in motion. Meanwhile, I glanced around, searching for somewhere safe. A fence or a tree to curl up against, somewhere small, somewhere quiet and away. Sometimes those places don’t exist in the moment you need them.

It’s upsetting to have to explain this kind of anxiety to my partner each time it hits. He always wants to know what’s wrong. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell him I’m anxious and that I need a moment, it always takes him off guard. It’s hard to explain why one minute I can be perfectly fine and the next practically in fetal mode.

Story by anonymous, comic illustrated by Sarah Myer.

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2 responses to “My Head Injury Was Dismissed as Nothing”

  1. Readers choice says: |
    September 12, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    followed a link to this article…..i read this, immediately realized this is sort of like my “mes”…. next thought: What was this article about?
    Anxiety starts as physical symptoms (rapid heart beat, racing thoughts , afraid, terrified of what ????)
    Back to my comment about the article, I digress frequently since my ruptured, double brain aneurysms; ripped carotid artery & stint; 3 emergency brain surgeries, multiple misdiagnosises’, nonexistent follow-up care, so severe TBI & all symptoms that exist because of it. I also suffer c-grief as well as, c-PTSD , DID and a myriad of physical disabilities and chronic longterm issues. So, I synchronistically, stumbled upon such a relatable written word.
    Time to re-read the article, for I have no clue about the topic…I remember I needed to remember something….about what….no anxiety please.
    Blessings to all who haven chosen such a difficult path… know you are not alone. Aho!

  2. Corinna West says: |
    September 16, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    It’s all super True. i have a TBI too. But it’s an illness story, not a recovery story.

    Wish she would have discussed vestibular therapy, energy budgeting, rest times, cranial sacral therapy, migraine drugs, or other stuff useful in finding resolution.

    Graphic noveling is super powerful. See my nice aphasia there. Keep up the good work. You can reach many.

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