To be honest, until I heard Stevie Ward talk about his struggles with Post-Concussion Syndrome on the Mantality podcast I hadn’t even considered talking about this….. Nor was I really ready to share what it’s been like, because to be brutally honest it’s been far from ok.
However, having heard him talk so well about the challenges and how it mimicked so much of my own experience, I felt empowered to get it off my chest as this subject hasn’t been spoken about anywhere near enough, especially within sport. As someone who’s used to dealing with an invisible condition on a daily basis, I thought I’d be relatively well equipped to cope but there was a key difference to this diagnosis from the off. This time I opened up from the off and told people what I was living with, a different approach to my type 1 diagnosis, but ultimately very quickly I was reminded why I adopted that approach before….
When people can’t see, feel or experience what you’re going through they find it hard to believe what you’re telling them. Throughout society there’s a distinct lack of empathy (in my opinion!), that ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes for just a minute. I think it’s a root cause of many many issues across the globe but this is slightly away from my point. It’s also had a huge impact on my life again coping with post-concussion syndrome ( a brain injury!).
I’ve had people almost patronise me, almost can’t believe I’m still talking about, think it’s not that serious, think I’m overdoing it and overall think I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. Another invisible condition, something else people can’t see through my eyes for a moment and here we go again, another condition with stigma attached.
For me it again just demonstrates why people with hidden conditions like type 1 diabetes, don’t talk about it much in mainstream society. You’re made to feel as though you’re constantly the problem. I hear the lip service paid to the words diversity and inclusion all over the place in 2021 but until individuals become accountable for those words to themselves, how can those things really be achieved?
I wanted to make that point clear, that empathy can make all the difference and if you catch yourself making a pre-judgement of someone, see if you can just take a minute to look at the world through their eyes….. It might change everything.
But I want to talk about what the condition has been like as well, because it’s been awful at times and it needs more people talking about it.
So, since September 2020 I’ve been dealing with symptoms of post-concussion syndrome which started with not much more than being off balance for a header which then came off the wrong part of my head and followed with a number of other knocks in the same game, contributing to an initial concussion. But the concussion wasn’t immediate….
My symptoms didn’t start until 4/5 hours later….. I was just sat in the pub with my friends that evening and I suddenly felt incredibly tired and my brain was a bit foggy, whilst struggling to engage in the conversation around me. Luckily, we all headed off pretty early that night and I got home and went straight to bed not thinking too much about it, other than the fact I was a lot more tired than usual…. Then I woke up the next morning.
The first thing I noticed was that I’d slept for 9 hours without stirring, which is unusual for me. Following that I could tell I still felt extremely tired despite sleeping that long! I felt I could’ve slept another 3 hours easily. Both of these things really struck me… Then the really obvious issues began.
I didn’t quite feel steady on my feet, I mean I wasn’t falling over or tripping but I just felt a bit off, then I had this foggy way of thinking which affected my recall and ability to properly participate in conversation. Ultimately, I was struggling to process information and provide speech as easily as I had found it 24 hours before. I was also noticing that concentration and especially on screens, such as my phone or laptop would really flare up a headache and intensify the throbbing, pressurised feeling I had in my head. Alongside this was a feeling of nausea when I concentrated too much. This was the day after the first concussion.
I then woke up on Monday morning and felt much the same, with things ever so slightly improving but I needed to speak to my GP to understand what was happening. So I managed to get through and speak to them about what I was experiencing and through a telephone triage appointment I was diagnosed with mild concussion, no tests, no examination, all via the phone. As this was my first experience of concussion in my life, the lack of urgency or need to examine me, filled me with a view that it wasn’t too serious, and I’ll be ok in a few days. The advice was to rest and not do contact sport for 2 weeks. If things got worse, I was told to go to A&E to have a scan but as things improved I didn’t feel that it was necessary to do that. The key word was REST in the GP’s advice, but rest looks different to each person and without any sort of definition of what that looked like I chilled out for a few days, took time off work, didn’t really exercise and then gradually incorporated some of that back in, towards the end of the week. The very blasé view given at the start of my diagnosis filled me with an ill-informed opinion of the gravity of the situation and no real insight as to how to approach the next 2 weeks bearing in mind my personal situation. It could’ve been read out of a textbook. I now know that this was a huge mistake but I can’t turn back the clock…. I wish I could.
Needless to say, that 2 weeks after that first concussion I went back and started an FA Vase game. Looking back, I think I knew I wasn’t quite right but with it being a biggish game for the club and me being a senior player, I wanted to get out there and play. When you’re a competitor you always want to be out there. I played the full 90 minutes, we played really well, won the game 4-1 and after initially feeling a tiny bit rough, by the end I was good as gold, or so I thought. I had played the game with no head collisions or challenges and made 6 or 7 routine headers, so I thought I’d probably be ok as a result. But after the adrenaline subsided, the symptoms came on quicker. On the car in the way home (I wasn’t driving!), I could feel that the nausea was there with the fogginess and they were getting worse. This time I obviously knew what it was, so I accepted I was going to feel awful for a few days again and hoped that maybe after a month of not playing this time it’ll go back to normal….
I was obviously wrong… I went back to square -1!
The symptoms were worse than previously and because I was having to work to bring in money, and I wanted to try and keep my mental health in a good place by exercising too, I was struggling with making any progress as I wasn’t getting enough rest. I got better to a point after 2 weeks and then after that I had lingering reoccurring symptoms which affected me on a daily basis. It was worrying, frustrating, frightening and all the other emotions mixed in between.
After continuing like this for a month to 6 weeks, my anxiety about it reached the point where I needed some advice. I rang my GP again, I reached out on Social Media and I looked for anyone who could help. Coupling that with the November Lockdown and it was a really tough place!
I got some good advice and support which has helped to move me forwards and my symptoms have gradually lessened but I’m still not able to work at a full intensity with my exercise and I struggle with continuous screen work as it brings on a throbbing pain in my head and I can feel a little skippy or unbalanced but compared to October/November it’s a world apart. I need to look after myself for a moment and forget about playing sport, this is bigger than that.
But still to this day I’ve not been scanned, examined or seen in person at all regarding my concussion and my memory/ recall is just not as sharp as it was. I hope that one day it’ll come back to something closer to where I was but my recovery is still in progress and even recently took a bit of a hit after too much time spent at a screen working. I thought I was in a place where I was ready for it but in turns out I wasn’t! I heard Stevie say it and I resonate it with so much, the recovery just isn’t linear at all, one day I’ll feel like it’s disappeared and then another I’m really reminded it hasn’t!
I look back now and I know I should have stopped myself playing. I reflect on that every single day. I wished I’d taken things far more seriously and I wish that there was less stigma surrounding talking about brain injuries or mental health conditions within sport. It might have been the difference in me taking the time out to properly rest.
We can’t change that overnight but even if me just sharing this blog post and my experience can help one other person who may be going through this, has gone through this or may unfortunately have to face this in the future, at least through the dark times I’ve been through someone else might take some comfort.
A huge thank you to Stevie for sharing his experience so publicly, which has given me the courage to put mine out there, as writing some of this hasn’t been easy, especially when I’m still going through this. I hope to one day look back at this post and say I recovered. If you have never checked out Mantality before, you should! The work that Stevie and Natalie are doing is shedding a light on concussion specifically and mental health more broadly. It’s a fantastic project and it’s certainly supported and inspired me.
With the premier league recently introducing concussion substitutions and demonstrating a step forward around these types of injuries, more stories and experiences need to be shown as to how it effects everyday lives. It needs more awareness to end the stigma and allow people to feel comfortable talking about something so dangerous.
I have no idea if my Diabetes continues to play a part in my recovery or whether it had an impact in the concussion in the first place, but like with everything I’ve faced in my life, this challenge is one I’ve accepted and will continue to embrace.
I now advocate for Type 1 Diabetes and for greater awareness around the impact of concussion.
I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this subject and thank you for reading.
A summary of some of my symptoms below:
- Immediate symptom: tired much earlier in the evening than I’d ever been before.
- On and off symptom: Felt a little bit off balance.
- Continued symptom: Working with screens would really upset my head. Whilst looking at them in the mornings before I’d got going would cause a headache which lasted for hours.
- An immediate symptom and when I’ve done too much: Felt skippy, turning too quickly would set me off.
- An early symptom and when I’ve done too much: Pressure in my head and a headache for quite a number of days.
- An early symptom: Nausea, feeling a bit like being car sick or motion sick.
- An early symptom and when I’ve done far too much: Foggy, I struggled to connect my brain to the conversation around me.
- I even got my eyes tested to check that I wasn’t irritating my head with my eyesight.
- When I exercised or ran too quickly, I’d irritate my symptoms and go backwards.
- Immediate and continuous symptom: Forgetful – Forgetting names of people I always remembered previously and getting frustrated and worried/upset about noticing this. Just forgetting what I was doing a few days ago or situations I always remember.