Normalcy Slipping

The Week of October 22, 2018

It’s two weeks post-concussion and I am already feeling lost and impatient. The loss of routine with work, exercise and other seemingly little things like just being able to effortlessly get into the car and go for a drive is starting to get to me. 

Growing up, I was taught that you have to work hard for everything in life. This flowed into my competitive nature and spirit in sports. The mentality that if you work harder, you will be at the top of your game and be successful. My Dad would always say and still says, “Give 110%.” During this recovery, I keep getting down on myself because I’m not progressing. I work harder, push myself harder, but my symptoms just keep getting worse and worse.

My busy, active, purposeful routine vanished and was replaced with hours of lying in the dark and no routine at all. Every hour of every day I am riddled with pain and fatigue among many other symptoms but in an attempt to maintain some sort of normalcy, I start going to the gym.

I attempt to incorporate some light cardio exercise at the gym. The doctor gave me the green light to do this. Busy environments are very triggering for me with all of the sounds, lights and movement. It seems like this issue is actually becoming worse, not better. I thought with more exposure, it would become easier but it has really been the opposite.

I just want to be active and really I am hoping this will allow me to recover fully and get back to work and on the ice soon. I am trying hard to hold on to the thought that this is only a small bump in the road and I’ll be back to my normal again very soon.

The gym environment is not very welcoming to my symptoms. My orange lensed glasses only help so much. The lights, TVs, music and people moving about cause my heart to pound, tinnitus to become louder and to feel a general sense of panic. This is new – anxiety. I’ve never dealt with this extent of anxiety in my life. 

I hop on the elliptical but just the little up and down movement of the strides causes me so much dizziness and nausea that I have to stop immediately and close my eyes. It feels like I am out on rough waters again, the same way I felt just after the concussion. “This is pathetic,” I thought. I went from being able to skate, run, and work out to this. 

Maybe the stationary bike will be more tolerable. I start pedaling at the lowest level possible at a very slow pace. I close my eyes so I don’t have the visual input of the space around me coming in. I am trying to get my heart rate up but if I get it up to 115 beats per minute, my head starts to pound and I can hear loud whooshing into my right ear in addition to the ringing. It is as if my head is about to pop. 

The stationary bike becomes very monotonous – riding so slow and at such a low intensity with my eyes closed. I ride for twenty minutes which feels like an hour. I’m starting to wonder if I am already severely deconditioned. How could that happen within two weeks?

I want so badly for my balance to be better so I can show them on the next concussion assessment that I can do it. I go into an area of the gym with a handrail against a blank wall. I attempt to balance on one foot which I can do while holding the rail. I slowly release my hands to balance without holding on.

As soon as I release my hands, I get the feeling like I am unsteady and about to fall over. I grab ahold of the handrail on the wall and squeeze it tight in fury. I become so irritated with myself. I think, “I can do this, I just need to try again and try harder; this is mind over matter.” I try over and over and harder and harder with each leg and I am unable to do so without falling over. 

I feel like I’m giving 150%. I am trying harder than I ever have in my life and somehow, I am still getting worse. I am becoming more frustrated and more impatient with myself.

I soon become enraged. What can I control anymore? How will I be able to go back to work or skate again when I can’t complete such simple tasks? I clench my fists and nearly punch the wall. This just isn’t me. I start crying in the middle of the gym.

I describe my experience to one of my best friends who has been very understanding and validating. She offers to start coming to the gym to ride the stationary bike with me. I cannot express how much this means to me; it brings me to tears. This simple act of kindness allows me to feel supported and a little less alone, which means everything.

We continue to meet at the gym, do our stationary biking, lie on the mats in the ab room mostly pretending to do some core exercises and laugh. And just for a brief moment, it was a temporary escape from the reality of my situation.

Me in my “stylish” orange lensed glasses looking like a conehead at the gym

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