Concussion: The Journey

CONCUSSION: THE JOURNEY

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COMMUNITY STORIES | 8.1.2015 | BY KIMBERLY BECKWITH MCGUIRE, Ph.D., ABPP, FACHP, MSCS

February 20, 2014, about 9 PM in Montclair, NJ. I stop at a red light and BAM, someone rear-ends me at roughly 30 MPH. I had whiplash – felt it within 10 minutes. An hour later I had nausea and headaches. Days, later, I had a full-blown concussion. But a concussion’s not that big a deal, right?

A week later, my life had disappeared down a rabbit hole. I went from being a fast-paced, single mom, clinical psychologist, professor, and endurance athlete in the midst of intense Boston Marathon and Ironman Lake Placid training, to being a patient sitting on the couch for endless hours, unable to hold a single thought. My heart and brain were bent and broken; I couldn’t work, couldn’t train, couldn’t teach and I could barely parent. Month after month, I followed prescribed regimens to include rest, medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, meditation, acupuncture, massage, traction, along with non-traditional therapies such as reiki and shamanism yet my symptoms did not abate. I had headaches daily -- the type that combined a migraine with your worst hangover, every day for months. Often the pressure in my head felt as if someone had a constant vice grip on my brain.

Ironically, at a time when I needed support the most, I was the most isolated. Friends wanted to help, but I couldn’t tolerate conversation, voices, technology, noise, light or public places. The concentration required to hold a conversation was overwhelming to me. I could not understand why all the treatments and guidance from well qualified professionals were not working. Why did I keep experiencing setbacks and relapses? Doctors continued to tell me that I needed more rest. I had ceased social interactions, exercise, was only working a few hours a day, and resting felt like all I did. If I took out the garbage, my symptoms would increase. If I went to a grocery store, I would be done for the rest of the day. 

Having a background as an endurance athlete was a big part of what fueled me to continue time and time again when I kept hitting the proverbial brick wall. In the midst of pain, fatigue, nausea, or feeling helpless, I would reflect upon my experiences training and racing. Endure the pain, Endure the worries, Endure for enduring’s sake, and at some point I would see progress. After 7-8 months of a lot of rest, isolation, and cycles of relapses with severe symptoms, I took a different approach. I began to meditate on and practice mindfulness of the pain and pray for the courage to live a life that I had not envisioned for myself. Interestingly, as I began to learn to let go of controlling the pain, my life began to shift.

Kimberly, left, with her daughter and two life-long friends.

Kimberly, left, with her daughter and two life-long friends.

In September 2014, through a serendipitous course of events, I was introduced to therapies that were outside the box. I had to travel to NYC to access some of these therapies and I mustered up the energy to work out a schedule of friends to drive me to and from these appointments several times a week. Through implementation of functional neurology exercises together with mindfulness, psychotherapy, breathing techniques, meditation, craniosacral therapy, and proper sleep and nutrition, I am gradually returning to experience some semblance of quality of life. 

Now I am faced with a new endurance challenge...Trying to use my life skills and apply them in a different way. But how does one go from operating at 100mph? I had to learn to look at life differently... not at how much could I accomplish in a day... but how could I manage to make it through a day?... how could I manage the lingering pain? I had to reprioritize. I went from planning and preparing for race day to planning and preparing for every day... making sure I have my sunglasses to avoid painful glare, my earplugs to block out unwanted sounds and all my related gear. Every day I experience without a debilitating headache and every day that I can smile is my new personal best.

It’s taken a lot for me to own that I have a persistent brain injury. But that is my reality. I am thankful for my support system as they wrapped me in their love and surrounded me with their strength when mine was running low; they reminded me of the tenacity and perseverance that I have when I forgot. They continue to carry me through the depths and celebrate the new milestones. They understand that with a brain injury the symptoms are silent... if I don’t tell you about them, you would not know. From the outside things look normal; what folks don’t see is the inordinate amount of time it takes to do many tasks. I have a renewed respect for my brain. I’ve learned it’s detrimental to pace myself. I’ve learned that it’s important for me to have a quiet day (no phones, no computers, no visitors, no noise, etc) every week as well as quiet hours throughout the day. 

Now I slowly rebuild. I continue to create new ways to identify myself and find new paths to follow. I continue to learn new ways to parent and spend quality time with my daughter. I continue to learn that it takes a village to recover and to move forward in a good way. I slowly rebuild....and it feels AWESOME to smile and laugh again!

Kimberly with her daughter in Woodstock this summer.

Kimberly with her daughter in Woodstock this summer.

Thank you for allowing me to share these pieces of my life over the last year and a half. I would like to close with something my 11 year old daughter (9 at the time of the accident) said to me in 2014, “Mommy, one day you’ll look back and this will all make sense!”