I never imagined that one day at the beach would change my life forever. A day trip to the coast quickly turned to a year long battle with concussions. While surfing, a woman fell out of a sea kayak, the kayak traveled over the wave, and consequently hit me multiple times. Immediately I knew that I had suffered a traumatic brain injury. However, as assured by the doctors, I expected a quick recovery, anticipating returning to life in a matter of weeks. But when things didn’t get better, when my progression slowed, things started to get scary. And so began my battle with post concussion syndrome.
Concussions are not fun. Especially as a 17-year-old in high school. But my journey with concussions has taught me many important lessons about life, overcoming obstacles and learning to appreciate the little things in life. Prior to hitting my head I took a lot of things for granted, such as the privilege to go to school, exercise and spend time with friends. I began to find joy in the little things such as taking my dogs for a walk or driving to school with my best friend. While these may have been minor activities that I would have overlooked in the past, now I was more present and grounded, taking appreciation for any time I could spend outside of resting in bed.
In addition to spending more time being appreciative of what life had to offer, my concussion challenged me on the premise of acceptance. I have spent so much time this year beating myself up, imagining what my life would look like if I hadn’t hit my head. It eventually dawned on me that I couldn’t spend time and energy wishing my life was different. That would get me nowhere, and only make me feel worse about my life. Instead, I had to take a more holistic approach to my situation and accept that I was facing challenges, and make an active decision to embrace those challenges.
The tricky thing with concussions is that there are a lot of unknowns. Many things are up in the air, from the medications that will help symptoms, to when symptoms will subside. It is scary when doctors can’t give you a clear timeline for recovery. This is where the skill of patience was crucial. I had to learn to trust that I would make a full recovery, and be ok with living until that happened. The concept of living day to day, hour to hour became a coping mechanism for me. I found that patience and acceptance went hand in hand, and once I could be more accepting of the unknown, I started to feel relief.
Finally, my concussion taught me the importance of self love. Concussions can be very isolating, after all you are spending lots of time alone, in pain, recovering. Concussions very literally force you to spend time with yourself. During this time I realized how important it was to have self-love and gratitude. For many years I have been very harsh on myself, criticizing my work effort, performance in school and contributions to society. I found myself getting mad at myself for not being able to go to school, work on projects or workout in the gym. I told myself I was lazy, unproductive and wasting my childhood. I went weeks, if not months, convincing myself of these things, even though it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t perform to my full capacity, it was the fault of my concussion. There came a time when I had to transition to a new mindset of self-love not self-hatred, and congratulate myself for staying strong and persisting through such a difficult time in my life. It was this mindset change that made me feel better in all facets of my life, mentally and physically.
While I would love to go back in time to that beach day and get out of the water before the kayak struck me down, I know that I am stronger for it. Life can throw things in your way (very literally!!), but it is how you cope with those challenges that can sometimes change your life for the better, showing you an alternative way of living.