The connection between concussions and mental health

If anyone approaches me with the topic linking traumatic brain injury (TBI) and depression, I’ll be the first to stop them and say I know it’s true.  I know, because that was me.  I didn’t realize I was wrestling with depression at the time, but I certainly know I was struggling. In lieu of National Depression Awareness, I wanted to share my personal journey.

I remember the moment leading up to my concussion vividly.  It was like an athletic scene in a move, but in slow motion.  I was playing rugby and remember catching the ball and running up the sideline.  I was turning on the jets; ready to sprint towards the goal line. In my periphery, I remember seeing a flash of color from my left.  I remember being launched into the air.  I did a near 180-degree rotation, knowing that I was going to be tackled straight on my back.  I knew my head would hit the ground.  I didn’t think I’d smack the ground, setting off stars, and then hit my head again, and again, like a basketball on a court.  It hurt.  Like, really bad.  I didn’t black-out per say, but I definitely didn’t feel right. So, I went to the hospital.

The doctor in the Emergency Room told me I had a concussion. Um, duh?  I paid a lot of money for someone to tell me the obvious.  What I was more interested in learning was maybe how soon I would go back to feeling normal.  At that time, I was feeling fuzzy.

I felt fuzzy for months.  In hindsight, I needed someone to tell me to take a break from my studies.  It didn’t help that that same semester my uncle died. Between the grief and the struggles with my memory, I just could not focus on my academics.  It wasn’t for a lack of trying, I was just seriously distracted and my heart was hurting.

I know I was taking a Geology class that semester.  I got a D in that class, and quite honestly, I’m not sure how.  I don’t remember a damn thing.  Of course, I wish I did because I really like geology.  Thinking back to that semester, I would be using the Pomodoro technique to studying, and I would take a break.  When I’d take a break, I couldn’t recall a single sentence for what I’d been “studying.”  Honestly, I couldn’t even recall the subject I was supposed to be studying.  I couldn’t recall my Professor’s name, the location of the class, or the days of the week I had the class.  I would sit there crying, trying with all my might to remember anything.  But nothing would come up.  It was a rough semester.

I barely passed.  I recovered, and my short-term memory eventually came back.  My verbal comprehension is still lagging sometimes.  Sadly, most of my childhood memories are non-existent.  If it weren’t for childhood pictures, I wouldn’t be able to recall anything other than where I grew up. I guess you can take the girl out of Virginia, but you can never take the Virginia out of the girl.  I don’t regret for one second playing rugby in college, I just wish more students knew to get help when they needed it.

There is one student athlete who I recently read about named Matthew Benedict.  Matthew was a student athlete who struggled with mental health issues, and his life was cut short.  His family created the Matthew Benedict’s One Last Goal Fund[JL1] [JL2] .  The fund’s goal is to support athletes that are struggling with mental health issues.  We need more of this!

My hope in sharing his personal story is that maybe it will show up for a parent of an adolescent or young adult with a recent concussion.  A parent that may not understand the full implications of a concussion, and what is really happening in the brain.  A parent who believes the best thing they can do after a concussion is to push their child back into a classroom, with hopes they get “back on track, or don’t feel behind.”  Sadly, this it the exact opposite of what I would recommend.  School isn’t going anywhere.  Forcing a young person whose brain can’t hack it now into academics is guaranteeing failure.  It’s not that I want to avoid failure, in fact I think failure is necessary to grow up.  In this situation, your young person’s brain is swollen.  They aren’t themselves.  They need a brain from academics to let themselves heal.  Healing is way more important than academics will ever be.  Remember that.

If you have a kid or are working with a young person who recently experienced a concussion, don’t hesitate to connect me to them.  I’m more than happy to be an ally, a friend, a resource, and someone they can see who has been through it. I can be the beacon of hope that one day, they’ll be as back to normal as possible.

For anyone looking for additional resources around mental health, substance abuse, college transition coaching, or parent resources you can find them on: https://www.lilley-consulting.com/ or follow @lilleyconsulting, or https://www.facebook.com/LilleyConsultingLLC/.