“Every concussion is different” is the mantra, and not everyone needs to follow a regime like this, but for a lot of us (especially if our symptoms are lasting for a while), these are some of the basics.
Rest your brain (“brain breaks”):
How do you even do this? Just as you don’t realise how heavy your head is until you hurt your neck, you usually don’t think about just how much your brain is doing all the time, even when you think you’re not doing anything. The answer is to shut down as many activities and sensory inputs as you can, and to do this frequently through the day. At the concussion clinic they told us to go to a quiet place and close our eyes for 10-15 minutes every hour through the day.
Every hour. This means you can have a shower, or cook something very simple (perhaps even eat it, or perhaps only get partway through preparing it), or go for a short walk, or read for a while (if you’re up for reading), and then you have to go back to your dark quiet room and practice your brain-resting techniques (which are a lot like mindfulness meditation), and follow this pattern from the time you get up to the time you go to bed. Of course real life means often doing variants of this, and finding ways to take modified/shorter rests when you’re in a parking lot (if you’re lucky enough to be able to drive), or in a cafe, or in the doctor’s waiting room. Sometimes you just have to go a couple of hours without a “brain break,” but at least for me, if I don’t get enough (at least 8 or so?) real breaks during the day, I slide back into feeling more confused, forgetful, and tired.
Most of the time breaking the day up into these tiny chunks is frustrating and not easy. But on the flip side, a lot of things make me really tired way before the 45 minutes are up. At the moment I can only really pay attention to something (listening, reading) for 5 or 10 minutes at a time and then I get tired and start missing things.
Basic self-care (not a comprehensive list):
- Headaches are a big part of having a concussion, and they are also a signal that you’re pushing yourself too hard. Starting to get a headache? You’re supposed to stop doing whatever you’re doing and try to get that “brain break.” (This is easier said than done — lots of situations are hard to walk away from right away (how about parenting?) — but the idea is to pay attention to the signal and not ignore it and try to power through.)
- Getting enough sleep, and having a regular sleep schedule. I’ve become very serious about this. I get up early every morning (even on weekends), and that means being in bed by 9:30 every night and trying to be asleep by 10. When I get eight hours sleep I am a lot more functional — less than eight hours sleep and I feel fragile, disoriented, and overwhelmed.
- Exercise, but in small doses. For me, this is a very small amount. I can walk a few blocks (slowly, as I still feel dizzy when I walk around), but I can’t go far and I have to rest often. Luckily I live in a neighbourhood where it’s easy to find a coffee house and sit down for a few minutes. I can also do most of my errands on foot, but the distance I can travel has got a lot smaller than it used to be.
- Avoiding screens. This is really hard as most of my work happens at a computer (and so do a lot of the things I used to do for fun, like writing). For a few minutes looking at a computer screen seems okay, but after a while I start to feel very sleepy, almost sedated, and it’s hard to pay attention and even to realise I need to step away.
- Preparing for (and avoiding) overload. I’ve become one of those people who carries foam earplugs, and sometimes I just have to leave situations when they become too much (multiple people talking at once, noise levels, certain types of light). I’ve also had to stay away from parties, live music, and even a friend’s memorial.
I got a little excited today about writing and overdid it with this post. Extra rest today, and a vow to keep thing shorter next time.