The long plateau — and small surprises (concussion recovery)

I recognise this feeling from almost every time I’ve had the flu or even a really bad cold: that certainty that I am never going to get better.

It’s been three and a half months since I fell off a horse and got a concussion. And there are hours in the day — some days — when I feel “normal,” like my old self. (Or maybe I should put “feel” in quotation marks?) But a lot of the time — sometimes for a couple of days in a row — I feel worse, and like I’m not recovering at all. On those days I feel fragile and easily overwhelmed, emotional. Getting one or two things done in a day is too much. (My to-do lists are already laughably modest: online banking, renew library books, buy milk — but I still have to whittle them down.)

Everything I am able to accomplish is only through slow focussed grinding effort, and when whatever it is gets thwarted I get completely flummoxed, and don’t know what to do next. The problem-solving part of my brain is so slow that I have to give it a few hours or a day to let the wheels turn, and then if I’m lucky I might see a solution — and one that would be perfectly obvious to you, or maybe even the old me. (For instance: bought the wrong thing at the store, and it’s stamped “final sale”. Oh no! Think for a day. Oh yes, I can ask the manager if she can make an exception.)

But in a way that’s the kind of thing I’d expect from a head injury.

There are other little things that surprise me.

For example: Coming up to Halloween, I had the idea that I would do some tweaking to a story I wrote a few years ago about a ghost. I knew I wasn’t up to actually writing, but I thought I might be in the right frame of mind to bring a fresh perspective to the plot. So first I wanted to get more familiar with the genre.

So I went online looking for ghost stories, and I asked for recommendations, and I read anthologies — but the stories were all really disappointing. None of them seemed spooky at all. Even the ones with the best reviews just felt dull and uninteresting. Could it be that I just wasn’t finding scary enough stories, or was my sense of spookiness impaired? (I started to wonder if the bump on the head had turned me into The Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was — it’s probably a good thing I didn’t pursue that too far.)


An H.J. Ford illustration from the Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang.

Well, now I have an answer to that question, at least. This morning I happened across a discussion thread about haunted libraries. It’s an uncharacteristically bright December day here in Vancouver, but after I read a few posts about mysterious noises and books flying off shelves in the dead of night I started feeling like there might be someone else in my apartment. I definitely felt something.

So maybe my spooky-spidey sense is coming back, at least.

It’s important to note these things, small and silly as they are. Progress is progress.

From the Safety Harbor Public Library, Florida.

The getting-better trap (concussion recovery)

Things are always simpler, in a way, when you’re really unwell. If you’re lying on the bathroom floor because you don’t dare move too far away from the toilet, you know you’re too sick to go to work, and that someone else should make dinner for the family. You can focus on your immediate and urgent situation and let everything else go.

It’s all those subtle gradations of kind-of-functional and not-that-bad-really that are hard to figure out.


An Amphicar is something that does a couple of things really not very well. Source:

I was lucky in lots of ways with my injury. Right from the beginning I was able to speak pretty clearly and keep up a reasonable conversation for a few minutes at a time. I was allowed to drive. And those things, along with my natural independence (even stubbornness), and the switching off of the anxiety channel, meant that I more or less tried to do things as usual and didn’t worry much about it — except that I was unable to do higher-level thinking, make technology work properly, pick up social cues, walk more than three blocks at a time, or do much of anything for more than ten minutes. After I went to the concussion clinic and started The Regime I started to understand better what was happening, and got determined to get better. I started to make some improvements (longer walks, being able to read a whole chapter of a novel at a time, less feeling hopeless and distraught over small things — like the time the kid ate some leftovers I was saving).

Lately I’ve started to have more good days, when I felt a lot closer to “normal” for longer periods. My forgetfulness, fatigue, and so on, feel more like they’re on a continuum with my old self, rather than being entirely new and catastrophic. On days like that it’s easier to forget or ignore the things I still can’t do, like reading above the level of children’s literature, sitting through any kind of noisy event without earplugs, decision-making beyond “what should we have for dinner.”

It’s also easier to ignore The Regime, since I don’t feel broken enough to be in urgent need of fixing. And there is always something that I know I should do right now before I forget — or some other reason to just keep going rather than to take one of the Regime-mandated breaks.

And I do hate The Regime. I don’t like rules and structure generally, and I don’t like the way The Regime breaks my day up into impractical teeny-tiny pieces. It brings out a lot of my rebelling-against-authority instincts. Actually doing it is hard. And so on.

My challenge now is to keep with it even when it doesn’t feel like I need it.

Because I do need it.