Ki Benson’s Concussion Story
I am a 23 year old from Ottawa, ON, Canada and attended the University of Ottawa.
|Sport||Years Played||Highest Level|
|Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu||3||Nationally Competitive|
|Mixed Martial Arts||3||Recreationally|
I have had 3 diagnosed and I believe 2 more undiagnosed concussions with my longest recovery being 9-12 months.
On March 10, 2018 I was in wrestling practice and I collided heads with my partner. Both of us had shot in for a take down at the same time and, backed by our momentum, cartoonishly bounced off one another. With a goose egg swelling on my face I laughed it off, thinking nothing of it. I’ve been in martial arts since I was a child and bumps are part of fighting. I finished the class, and the Muay Thai class afterwards. I drove myself home with a headache making jokes about my unicorn horn, and took a nap when I got home. When I woke up my eyes would no longer focus, I was massively nauseous and any amount of light felt blindingly painful. A hospital visit confirmed what I already knew, I had a concussion, but thankfully no brain bleeding. Throughout the next weeks (which I barely remember) I developed a host of horrible symptoms which did not improve like the doctors predicted. What was a 10 day recovery prediction turned into 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and now simply uncertainty. At the 4 months mark I realized that my concussion was much more serious than I had realized, and I made the decision to retreat to a family cottage. The decision to spend time alone in nature, away from electronics, florescent lights and the noise of the city was the best thing I did for my recovery. As much as I wish that there was a way to cheat brain recovery, there is no hack comparable to brain rest.
I am now approaching my 10 months concuss-iversary and I still have a wide array of symptoms that sometimes make day to day living challenging. I have good days, and I have bad days. I am learning that recovery is not linear, but, slowly, I am improving. I lifted weights for the first time 2 weeks ago. A joyful milestone that would have made me incredible sick just 2 months ago. I use a heart rate monitor when I exercise now which reduces the risk of me having symptom flare ups. I would encourage anyone who experiences exercise intolerance to talk to their doctor or physiotherapist about sub symptom threshold exercise training. I have also discovered a love for yoga, cooking and audiobooks. All things I hadn’t explored before my brain injury. I have also found that speaking about my brain injury and advocating for safe(r) fighting practices has become a vital part of my healing journey.
Symptoms I experienced through my recovery included headaches, nausea or vomitting, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise, feeling like I was “in a fog”, drowsiness, more emotional, nervous or anxious, “pressure in head”, neck pain, dizziness, blurred vision, balance problems, don’t feel right, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering, and fatigue or low energy.
Emotionally, the most frustrating aspect of my injury/recovery was feeling helpless – not being in control.
What I Would Have Done Differently
If I could go back and relive this process the first things that I would change is that I would not be embarrassed about my brain injury or the tools that I use to make the word around me more accessible. Because of my light and noise sensitivity I often wear earplugs and wrap around sunglasses (the ones that fit over other glasses) when I go in public. In the beginning this made me anxious and embarrassed, but honestly, it doesn’t matter that people are staring (and they’re probably not staring anyways). What matters is that I won’t have a multiday migraine from exposure to florescent lights. Ask for help, express your needs, do what you need to do.
The second thing I would have done differently is to have explored a wider array of treatment options from the start. Originally, I was in physiotherapy and massage therapy, which did help, but there are a ton of other options out there which will not work for everyone, but might help you. Acupuncture, homeopathy, tinted glasses, vision therapy, neurofeedback, float tanks … the list is extensive. I have been surprised at some of the treatments which have helped reduce or stabilize my symptoms and wish I had found them earlier.
The last things that I wish I could have done differently is to have gotten concussion base-line testing prior to my injury. You can get this testing at physiotherapist’s offices who offer concussion rehabilitation and it can be helpful in accessing the ways your brain has been impacted. Comparing the baseline scores with the post-concussion scores can help healthcare providers create the most optimal recovery plan for you.
Advice I Would Give To Others
I would advise prioritizing your mental health and finding a community who understands what you’re going through. Going through a prolonged brain injury recovery can be incredibly lonely, especially because of how much time we spend laying in dark rooms to recover. Throughout this process I felt like I had lost my identity – as an athlete, as a good student, as a capable human being – and that no one could possibly understand the pain of this loss. But I was not alone in this experience, and neither are you. I have found that meeting, interacting with or at least reading the stories of other brain injury survivors was incredibly important for my mental health. I strongly recommend attending concussion support groups, becoming active in an online concussion recovery community and seeing a therapist who understands brain injuries. I find the online group NeuroTalk especially useful. I would also highly recommend getting the book “Brainlash” by Gail L. Denton which seems to explore every feeling I have ever had about recovery and always gives me hope. It is written in big print on low gloss paper, so I find it much easier to read than other books.
The last things that I would advise it to remember that recovery is not linear. While recovering there are good days and bad days, and sometimes there are a lot of bad days all at once. I know it’s disheartening – I get disheartened too – but more good days are coming. Take care of yourself.
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