Simply Nahala

Writer. Photographer. Soul Traveler.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Post Concussion Syndrome

In honor of Brain Awareness Week March 14-20, 2016, I thought it might be a good time to share my story about learning and growing from Post Concussion Syndrome. My hope is that it may help others cope with a brain injury/concussion.

In July 2014, I was involved in an auto accident. There were five of us in the vehicle and all were injured. A driver failed to stop at an intersection, and we were t-boned. My car was totaled and the brunt of the impact hit me on the passenger side. My sister was sitting in the back seat and said that my head kept slamming back and forth. At one point, my head twisted completely around facing her, while my body was facing the opposite direction. “Freaky!” she said. Quite simply, my brain got scrambled.

I didn’t lose consciousness, but right after the impact, felt nauseous and dizzy with severe pain in my occipital region of my head (base of the skull).  We all went to the ER to get checked out. My CT scan was clear, no bleeds in the brain.

At the time, I was an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) working at a hospital in Guest Services. I had completed my Paramedic prerequisites in order to apply for a Paramedic Program, so I did have some medical knowledge as well as years of studying alternative medicine. Long story short, I was clueless!

After the accident, I took one day off from work and thought, “concussion, no big deal, I’ll feel better in a couple of weeks.” I use to be a “push through it” type of a gal, but that approach didn’t work this particular time. Those weeks turned into months, then into a year and here we are…

When I returned to work after the accident, I was out of it. I couldn’t focus or remember anything. My brain felt boggy, like it would explode from too much pressure. I would stare off into space and lose track of time. Someone would say something, and I couldn’t remember or understand what he/she just said. I would think that I was saying one thing in my head, yet I would say something completely off the wall. I also had some vestibular issues that affected my vision and balance. I tripped, fell and dropped things for the first few months. I was EXTREMELY emotional, nervous, anxious, sad, depressed and angry. I felt frustrated and vulnerable, and suffered from loss of confidence, lack of self-worth and hopelessness.

Due to light sensitivity, I removed everything out of my room except for a bed, which I put a white comforter on. Color was too stimulating for my brain. I could only be on the computer in small increments or else I would get a migraine. Once a voracious reader with five books or more by my bedside, I’ve only read three books cover to cover since the accident.

The sensitivity to noise was unbearable at times. I couldn’t watch TV or listen to music. The sound of a lawnmower in the distance was excruciating. When possible, I would escape to the high desert where the only sound was the wind. 

I could only drive for about twenty minutes before getting a migraine behind my eye. These headaches put me out of commission for the rest of the day. Some days, I just didn’t have the energy to get out of bed.

After careful consideration, I decided to leave my job three months after the accident in order to take some time to heal because I was not getting better; I was feeling worse. This decision was a relief in some ways but also extremely stressful, in more ways than one. I felt that everything I had been working towards was just ripped away from me, like the Universe slammed a door smack in my face! Yes, I had a few poor me moments.

I was finally at a place in my life where I was pursuing a career that seemed rewarding and challenging. It was important for me to be with my three daughters while they were growing up as much as possible. Consequently, I would get part-time jobs that worked around everyones schedule.

After witnessing a brutal dog attack and helping the victim while others just stood by and watched, I decided to become a medic. At the time, I was a librarian at an elementary school and on the Emergency Response Team for the school district. I was also a vigil volunteer with Hospice. The burnout rate for emergency responders is high, but I also have a business degree and felt that I could teach classes or do administrative work after being out in the field for a while. My decision felt like a good viable plan. An exciting endeavor!

After the auto accident, my life was dumped upside down. Two of my daughters were injured as well. I was busy making sure they were getting the care they needed as well as trying to take care of myself. It was difficult to manage everything to say the least when we were all struggling in so many ways, especially emotionally. There were so many facets to our healing journey. Below are some things that I found especially beneficial when dealing with a concussion:

*  In the first few weeks of a brain injury, get plenty of REST. Can’t emphasize this enough!!! It is not uncommon to sleep 14 hours or more. The brain needs sleep to heal. I had bouts of insomnia then times when I would sleep fourteen hours or more. In order to get some sleep, I took a supplement called Kavinace Ultra PM. It was recommended by my sister’s naturopath and worked wonders for me.

·       *  Avoid activities that can reinjure the brain. My daughter sustained a concussion as well and did not pass her sports physical. She was devastated that she couldn’t play volleyball. Although looking back on her journey, she realizes now how important it is to protect the brain while healing.

        *  LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If you are feeling tired or activities are exacerbating your symptoms, take a break. You must balance brain activity with rest. My daughter left public school and did online school with Connections Academy (highly recommend) so she could rest when she needed to. The long days at school, noise and people in every direction was way too much stimulation for her. She was falling asleep in her last period of the day and coming home in tears.

*  Work with practitioners that you feel comfortable with and that have experience with brain injuries. If it's not the right fit, move on and trust your intuition. Always advocate for yourself and loved ones. It's one thing to learn about a condition and another to actually be living with it. You are your greatest physician.

*  Anthony William's book Medical Medium: Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal provides many suggestions for herbs, supplements and foods that will help to heal the brain. This is also an excellent read if you have been suffering from chronic illness or misdiagnosed. Be prepared to be shocked!  

        *  Simplify your life as much as possible. Let go of things and relationships that are not supportive. I needed to spend quite a bit of time alone in order to heal. Interacting with people was draining for me. I just didn't have anything to give. It took all that I had to take care of my daughters and myself. 

        *  Ask for help. This was a difficult lesson for me, but I needed lots of help to make it to where I am today. THANK YOU!!!

        *  Do not drive when tired or experiencing headaches/migraines. There were many times that I had to pull over and rest until the symptoms subsided before getting back on the road.

        *   I found massage and gentle chiropractic adjustments to be very helpful, especially when my neck/back got locked up. Being out of alignment caused my headaches and pain behind the eye.

        *  The repetitious vestibular exercises made my symptoms worse. Resting with my eyes shut or cupping my eyes with my hands was very soothing when my brain was over stimulated.

        *  Walking, stretching and breathing out in nature were the best forms of exercise for me. I couldn’t handle any high intensity workouts, but everyone is different. Do what feels good to your body.

        *  I found that taking a probiotic, Ashwagandha and a brain supplement called HCF | Happy Calm & Focused has helped me tremendously. Our gut or Enteric Nervous System is called our "second brain" because it has the ability to act independently and influence behavior. There are billions of neurons in our gut, and basically what we feed our body, feeds our mind.

        *  CRANIAL SACRAL THERAPY is amazing! It is a form of energy medicine that uses hands-on treatment to assist the body to heal. It’s a bit mysterious, but one modality that completely relaxed my brain and nervous system. It is getting more and more attention due to its effectiveness.

        *  Essential oils and aromatherapy were my best friends, offering comfort during a very dark lonely time. They were also a great way to support my immune system that was struggling to heal my body with all the trauma and stress. 
*  Adult coloring books are all the rage right now. You can find them everywhere. Coloring has been so healing for my brain. I started coloring after my brain had time to heal, a year or so later. It calms my nervous system and keeps me in the present moment. A great form of meditation! It's one fad that should stay around for awhile. 

        *  Speech therapy was very useful after my brain had some time to heal. For a while, when people spoke, I couldn’t register what was being said. It just sounded like “wah wah waaah.” It was also very healing when my speech therapist validated my circumstances. By the time I saw her, a year and a half later, I had some minor speech/memory deficits, yet still very insecure about my memory. She stated that when someone has a severe brain injury and can barely function, that individual is not concerned about how he/she is being perceived out in the world. On the contrary, those that are not functioning how they were before an injury, but appear normal suffer more because people cannot tell they are injured without any physical indication such as a broken arm.

        *  Connect with other kindred spirits. A dear friend posted a recommendation of Dandelion Hunter: Foraging The Urban Wilderness” by Rebecca Lerner on her Instagram. I giggled the whole way through and think that was the first time that I cracked a genuine smile since the accident. Thanks for sharing Anne! It was a turning point for me, and one of the books I read cover to cover.

        *  Ultimately, I decided to take medications to help with post-traumatic stress. The meds helped right away with anxiety. I just sort of flat lined. I wasn’t happy or sad, but zen-like. It felt good and healing until I started having side effects. I’ve since detoxed from the meds and have been using prayer and meditation to calm my mind and nervous system. The quieter you become, the more clearly you can hear your inner wisdom. When your mind is cluttered with thoughts, worry and things to do, you can’t discern the voice of Spirit. Slow down, take a deep breath, take a walk and listen to the yearnings of your heart.

       *   Talking with others that have experienced a brain injury was very healing. It was a safe way to process emotions with someone that understands your pain. There is always an emotional aspect that needs to be addressed when healing from any injury or illness. Research brain plasticity.

       *  Most importantly, have compassion for yourself. Work through the emotions that surface and don’t judge yourself for how you’re feeling. I was so hard on myself and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t healing more quickly. This mindset just created more stress in my life. In the whole scheme of things, it doesn't mean diddly what we do for a living or what people think of us. That's their business, not ours. What matters most is that we love and accept ourselves unconditionally, only then can we love and accept others.

Interestingly enough, writing has flowed from me freely since the accident. Editing has been challenging, but great exercise for my brain. This blog, my support system, being out in nature and taking photographs saved my soul during this whole ordeal. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have anything to share about Post Concussion Syndrome or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) so we can learn and support each other. XO

In Solitude We Find Ourselves,

Photo Location: Taos, New Mexico


  1. Jan, I am a friend of your parents through my mother who lives in the same community. I knew about your injury and had felt enormous compassion as I have spent the past year recovering from a concussion and other injuries from a fall. Your dad kindly referred me to your blog and Instagram account recently while I was visiting Oregon. I felt like I had found a kindred soul. Your photographs are inspiring… You have a tremendous eye and sensitive insight into the environment you are inhabiting. Like you, I am made whole by travel, photography and solitude… And it is doing those things as well as simply moving toward those things that has brought great healing in my own life. I will be following your post faithfully, and thank you for these beautiful images. Also, thank you for sharing your insights into this grossly misunderstood condition. I was shocked and devastated to have so many of the basic skills that I take such pride in stripped from me and find them inaccessible, despite my efforts, which only seemed to make things worse. I am happy to be on the upside of recovery, but I send my great compassion and empathy to a friend who has made a similar journey.

    1. Dear PJ, Thank you so much for your kind and compassionate words! I'm so sorry to hear about your recent injuries, but happy that you are making a come back. It can be a slow process. You are correct in stating that the condition is grossly misunderstood. My hope is that more of us will step out of the shadows and share our stories. A brain injury can be so disabling in ways that are often undetectable by others, which can be exhausting because we are always trying to overcompensate for the cognitive deficiencies. Please feel free to contact me anytime if you need to talk about things. I would love to connect. Sending you so much love and support! Your friend and kindred soul. XO