How To Enjoy A 50K — Step 16: Get Help
I always think it was 2016 when things fell apart. For five years now, as I’ve struggled with a long list of symptoms coupled with a complete lack of energy and motivation, I’ve told myself it’s because my oldest friend had cancer and my other friend committed suicide and then I had this experience at work where I told one of my bosses I didn’t like it when my other boss (his brother) ogled me and touched my shoulders or my back and the very next morning I had an email from HR saying “We understand you’ve quit.” That incident turned into a sexual harassment and wrongful termination lawsuit, which my lawyer told me are some of the hardest cases to win.
Those are the things that threw me off track, I’ve been saying for years. Those are the reasons I can’t get my life back to normal. It was just all too stressful and it rattled me to the core.
My oldest friend survived her cancer and is thriving in love, life, family, and career. My friend who killed himself wasn’t someone I was close to on a day-to-day basis. And the lawsuit turned into a mediation that only took a few hours because the evidence was crystal clear and both my bosses (and HR) knew they screwed up. I didn’t even have to fight for it – they just handed me a bunch of money because they were desperate not to go to court.
So, what then? What else happened in 2016?
Well, there was also that time I was setting up an event in a rustic barn and I moved a ladder and a hammer fell on my head. My concussion was so bad I couldn’t form a sentence or walk in a straight line for three days. For more than a week I couldn’t look at a screen or read a book. The CAT scan at ER showed no brain bleed so I was told I was fine.
And then in 2017, on a bike ride in Ireland, I was hit by a car, thrown over the hood, and landed on the back of my head. The impact crushed my helmet. I couldn’t speak or stand up on my own. In the hospital I was poked a few times and given a cup of tea. And while everyone was quite pleasant, no one helped me. No one ran a test or was concerned about my headache, or the whiplash, or my trouble focusing. They said, “You’re lucky” and sent me away with the suggestion that maybe I go to the pharmacy for some paracetamol (aspirin).
And then in 2018, at a massive event with thousands of people, I was accidentally elbowed in the ear, a blow so hard it sent me straight to the ground. That concussion was the hardest to get over. That concussion lingered for longer than a month. That concussion made it difficult for me to drive, sign my name, look at my phone, read, think straight, calm down, sleep, and the list goes on . . .
For the past few months, I’ve been diving deep into post-concussive syndrome, which is a catch all for anything that can happen after a person experiences a concussion. Some symptoms take weeks to show up, some take months or even years. As a person going through it, I can say that it’s more like the symptoms build up slowly over time and are hard to organize cohesively. Most of them have been easy to attribute to my own personal failings (as far too many well-meaning friends and family have made me feel). Most of them don’t seem logically related. Many of them just seem like my fault – You’re stressed and anxious? Well then shut up and do some yoga! You can’t figure out what to do next with your life? Well get out of your parents’ house and get a boyfriend for fucks sake! (Side note: my parents are totally fine with me being here.)
And—news flash!—an enormous part of dealing with a brain injury is having trouble remembering anything that happened or how you felt last week, or yesterday, or ten minutes ago, etc. etc. All while appearing perfectly fine on the outside.
I blame myself for forgetting to take my supplements. If I just had more self-esteem, I would take care of myself! I blame myself for feeling sad and lost. If I was a stronger person, I would get this figured out and not need so much help! I blame myself for being clumsy. If I could just stick to an exercise program, I would regain my core strength and stop dropping things! I blame myself for forgetting names and feeling like a space cadet. If I just paid attention and cared about people, I would remember! I blame myself for dragging you along on this blog adventure about running a 50K without even getting to the running part by Step 16! What the hell is wrong with me already??
The best thing that has happened to me recently is finding Amen Clinics and Drs. Daniel Amen and Michael Grin, psychiatrists who study brains through SPECT scans which measure blood flow. I went to their office in New York City two months ago and the results of my scans are enlightening. I have low blood flow in two specific areas of my brain: the exact spot where the hammer hit the top of my head and the exact spot my head hit the pavement when I was thrown from my bicycle. These areas (thalamus, basal ganglia, and temporal lobes) are involved with emotion processing, stress, anxiety, memory, balance, decision making, word finding, and the list goes on . . .
My doctor sent me to two specialists for further evaluation for Cranio Cervical issues and Irlen Syndrome. X-rays and an excruciatingly stressful and uncomfortable two hour long upright MRI show the Atlas vertebrae at the bottom of my skull / top of my neck is out of alignment which has been messing with my cerebrospinal fluid, the primary way that my head and neck “talk to each other.” Imagine a pulse of cerebrospinal fluid coursing up and around your brain every single time your heart beats. Its purpose is to wash your brain and keep all of its functions on the up and up. When your vertebrae is out of alignment it causes a kink in the hose so one of two things can happen. Either not enough fluid gets pulsed up and around to do its job, or it goes up and then gets clogged and you have the equivalent of wastewater sloshing around in your brain. Hence, stress, anxiety, inability to process emotions or make decisions, brain fog, memory issues, and the list ges on . . .
Cranio Cervical instability and chronic neck pain are even linked to food sensitivities and digestion problems, which I’ve been attempting to navigate (or should we say failing to navigate?) for . . . you guessed it . . . the last five years. Folks! 😳 😳 😳
Irlen Syndrome is concerned with eyesight and abnormal sensitivity to certain colors of light. (Think of the blue light blocking glasses that folks have started to wear to calm eye strain from overuse of screens. It’s like that but on a megadose of steroids.) Irlen also shows up as difficulty with reading, eye fluttering, blinking constantly to focus, squinting, double vision, severe headaches, depth perception issues, skipping lines, words moving on the page, images fluctuating, re-reading a sentence or paragraph over and over without being able to comprehend the meaning, falling asleep after a few minutes of reading, and more. I have every one of those symptoms and my Irlen Syndrome screening came back as “severe.”
What does this all mean? Every issue I have struggled with over the past five years is directly related to an unhealed brain. Mounting stress, anxiety, inability to move forward with life, inability to make good decisions, brain fog, short term memory loss, chronic neck pain, headaches, trouble looking at screens for an extended period of time, difficulty focusing, digestion issues, food sensitivities, feeling stuck yet not having the energy or resolve to move, And. The. List. Goes. On.
More importantly, all of them have prescribed courses of treatment for healing.
I had three serious concussions over the course of three years. I’m not an idiot for being lost in the muck. I’m not a failure for not solving all of this on my own. Staying at my parents’ house for two extended periods of time in my forties does not mean my entire life has gone off the rails. It just means I needed help and they could provide it.
If you or anyone you know has ever had a concussion, even one that seemed mild, I would recommend you check out Concussion Rescue: A Comprehensive Program to Heal Traumatic Brain Injury by Dr. Kabran Chapek. SPECT scans and Amen Clinic treatments are not cheap, but the book (written by an Amen Clinic doctor) lays out much of the information. At the very least, it could help you figure out if some of your issues are aligned with an unhealed brain injury and show you a course of action that could really help!
It’s been very frustrating to not be able to figure out how to get my life back on track and to feel like everything is my fault because gosh darn it, I’m just not good enough. Now I see a path to healing. I’ve taken the first step and look forward to everything that is to come!
Sending love 💛 and light 💡 from a vision that is just starting to come into focus.
P.S. I think it’s safe to say this blog adventure will be as much about enjoying a 50K as it will be a metaphor for life. Fair warning!