I can now say that over the past years I have often lived in fear. In the eyes of some clinicians it was even an anxiety / panic disorder as a result of my concussions. At the start I did not really recognise myself in this description, I’m not afraid of spiders and I’m not scared to present to large groups, for example. An anxiety disorder, me? I had to laugh about it. Mentally I was doing fine despite everything, only physically there was a lot wrong with me.
But years later I realised that there had been a lot things that worried me since the last concussion. Unsurprising, as due to the continued symptoms I lost my job, my welfare grants, a large part of my social life and even keeping up with daily routines was difficult. In addition I was in a lot of pain. So many things were happening at the same time. And they wouldn’t go away. A lot of questions remained unanswered.
OK, so that is a pretty scary scenario.
And physically my body sometimes responded in a panicked way since my last concussion. So in that sense I did concede to my neurologist that I had become more anxious. In any case in a physical sense, like over-stimulation. Over-stimulation is scary, as there are so many external factors can lead to you being over-stimulated. It is almost completely outside of your control. The only thing you can do at that moment is get out of such a situation. However, in my thoughts I wasn’t anxious at those moments, only my body responded in a panicked way. A strange phenomenon.
Over-stimulation in the case of brain injury is often a consequence of tiredness. And as a result of that tiredness the impact of over-stimulation can quickly get out of hand. So for example I boarded the wrong train one time as a result of the noise at the train station. Crying and shaking I subsequently had to explain to the train staff that I did not have a ticket for that train. De muscle tension in my body was horrible and as a result I just wanted to go home. To calm myself, to protect myself and to be safe. I really did not get it, I was fully aware that my physical reactions were not normal, however, I had no control over them whatsoever.
Time to stop. The limit
I did not take this overloading well. In some sense it was a sort of panic mode of my body, in case I did not respect my boundaries. Usually I wasn’t even aware of that and my body stopped me by making it nearly impossible for me to speak or move. Like my battery was suddenly completely drained. It turned out to be a signal from my body: “Time to stop”. My head still wanted to go on, but my body did not. And therefore I could not continue even if I wanted to.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way
In the beginning this frustrated me greatly and I fought against it. I really did have the spirit to continue! But my body just doesn’t want to go on! And I hoped that doctors and therapists had a solution for this, mainly from a neurological perspective. Since my last concussion there was something wrong with me. And at some point I started to get angry when people said that it might be [psychological/mental] instead. What do you mean [psychological/mental]? I wanted to, but my body just didn’t cooperate. It seemed so sensible that the problem was physical, not my thoughts/my will. I also wasn’t depressed or anything. The concussion was by the way also the result of external factors, so it did not seem logical to me to focus on internal factors (maybe only as a way of coping). Before the concussion I had a life without symptoms. So my subsequent complaints had to be the result of that physical event.
I’ve had a lot of therapy on the physical and mental front, but the symptoms did not go away. Worse, my frustration kept increasing. As a result my confidence collapsed (the confidence that I was self-aware enough to be able to protect myself) and I became increasingly anxious. I was losing control, it even seemed stupid to go outside anymore. Like a deer in a wildlife park in Africa. Why did that doctor send me back into that wildlife park without a second thought? In other words, how come he thought I was able to work 40 hours per week? My fear of going back to work was also justified, if I look at what I’ve been through. Because my body was giving me plenty of signals. In some sense that’s actually really good. When my head wasn’t able to fully grasp a situation my body did give signals. But that doctor didn’t agree.
The doctor did not acknowledge my symptoms, only if I could ‘prove’ them. In addition to the hockey ball that caused my concussion, that doctor also became an external factor I had to protect myself against. He clearly did not have my best interests at heart. Was I finally listening to my symptoms, I now also had to protect myself against outside parties. As a result my external focus became even bigger. I tried at all costs to control these external factors. It was exhausting.
I noticed that I was now also losing this fight mentally, in addition to physically. I increasingly got stuck and I became increasingly emotional. The lack of understanding of doctors and their inability to deal with this was killing me. Financially, for example, because my welfare was being cut. I was now properly starting to panic.
My theory: where there’s a will, there’s a way, wasn’t working. I continued to look for clues, for new ideas. Unfortunately there weren’t many options left that I hadn’t tried. So maybe we should give this ‘anxiety / panic disorder’ a chance, as one neurologist had called it? Who knows that leads to some progress.
Today I am so glad that I had the courage to change approach. People say that fear is a bad counsellor. And I agree with that, in the situation where you make a choice purely out of and are not aware of that.
But in the end I learned that fear in your body can give a lot of physical reactions, such as palpitations, sweating, muscular tension, stomach aches, rapid breathing, uneasiness, irritability, vertigo, even motor disorders, etc. Physical reactions which are trying to tell me something and which are trying to protect me from something.
In essence fear is of course a way to protect yourself. Back in the days it protected us against sabre-toothed tigers, in 2017 against a car which is speeding while you are trying to cross the street. Your body responds by before your mind is able to consciously process the fact that it needs to take action. Which is great, right? That’s how you stay alive and how your body stays whole, experiences no pain, etc. Only a brief moment of shock.
But also in the case of less tangible situations, such as, ‘will I get that promotion?’ Or ‘what does that other person think of my response to his message?’ These kinds of situations can also lead to physical reactions (albeit small ones, usually) because you are experiencing some anxiety. And that anxiety is not always based on real danger, but it does say something about your emotions.
For me there was no tiger against which I wanted to subconsciously protect myself, but a hockey ball which came out of nowhere and hit my head. It’s quite something when outside of your control comes this ball which hits your head and hurts you so much. I could have been worse off, and even have died! External focus was needed in order not to let that happen again. But in total it happened to me 4 times (4 concussions).
Still, this did teach me something valuable. My body has for a long time responded before my head could consciously think about a situation. I did not see or understand that ad hence I call it my blind spot. My subconscious fears triggered me. All my symptoms are expressions of this protection mechanism. And that’s really kind, without me noticing it I’m being protected by my own body. Whether I want to or not, I can rely on that.
In the end I learned that I am not consciously aware of some of my fears and anxieties and that therefore I should be looking closely at my physical signals. If I’m experiencing pain somewhere, I can look at whether there is a certain anxiety behind that, or another issue which needs my attention.
By looking at those anxieties and by discovering the subconscious origins of it I was able to dissect and subsequently neutralise them. When dissecting my subconscious fears, it often turned out that I did not believe it still served a purpose. As I became increasingly aware of a particular fear I was better able to make a choice on whether to keep it. It cleaned matters up and that provided rest, relaxation. So back to my internal focus.
Perhaps it sounds like a platitude, but I learned to trust my body again and therefore myself. I understood that 4 concussions = 1 sabre-toothed tiger. My tip: acknowledge your symptoms (of anxiety) and see what they are trying to tell you. If that does not work, listen to your body and see what it is trying to tell your mind. They work great together!
Ps. After 4 concussions I managed to recover fully. You can read more here on how I accomplished that.