The list of symptoms of my so-called “mild” concussion is long. Back when I was recovering, I have spent so many hours looking through concussion symptom checklists. And even though I recognized symptoms as “headache, nausea, concentration problems”, these cold and naked words never gave me what I was really looking for. Recognition. Relatable experiences.
So that’s what this blog post is for. To help you feel that you are not alone in your experiences. And that there is hope for you, because I fully recovered from all of these symptoms!
Immediate concussion symptoms
I sustained my concussion the moment I fell with my bike and was launched forward through the air. As I landed on my hands and knees, my body made a whiplash movement. Luckily, my head stayed clear of the ground.
Headache (brain ache)
Somewhere during the moment of impact, a sharp pain pierced my skull. I would say it was more of a brain ache than a headache. It felt like a thick metal pin went right in at the location of a baby’s fontanel and pierced my brain. It hurt very badly. But in fact, nothing really pierced my skull – luckily – because my head didn’t touch anything.
Metallic taste in my mouth
I was funneled away into a range of otherworldly experiences. The first thing happened right after the moment of impact. A metallic taste and smell overwhelmed me. It was a bad taste and felt really wrong. It was so strong that it was as if my nose and mouth were filled with melting metal.
Loss of vision
I kept on trying to open my eyes because I couldn’t see. Why wouldn’t my eyes open? I rubbed them and discovered they were open. All was black. Then it started to rain gold sprinkles from the top of my vision. The sprinkles disappeared behind the thick black in the middle of my vision.
Ringing in my ears
A high pitched ringing made me want to cover my ears. It was so loud! It sounded somewhat like one you sometimes hear in movies when there has been a blast. Only in my case, it wasn’t caused by an outside source. It was a temporary case of tinnitus.
I didn’t lose consciousness
So the way I experienced it, I sustained a concussion without loss of consciousness. Yes, in a way I temporarily lost some of my senses. But also, my senses were heightened and deformed. I felt as if I was inside a fishbowl filled with water. I was aware of the people around me, and I could feel someone grabbing me off the street. But their words were too muffled to understand. And I couldn’t see! It was strange, but I couldn’t feel fear. It was as if time stood still and I just experienced what came over me as if I was watching a movie.
My eyesight and hearing returned
I was lucky, because the experiences faded after a while. The ringing turned down, my vision returned and the bad metallic taste disappeared. And then I saw all the people.
The first thing I felt was shame. A little background will probably help. I had just moved to The Hague for my first “real” job with a Dutch corporate. Being a newbie in my new city, I was still more of a sightseeing tourist than a local.
Every day I cycled to my office building in the chic business district and I felt like an imposter among all the classy people in suits. And now here I dropped onto the street like pudding. In a dress. And everybody was looking at me.
I heard the man holding me asking me how I was doing. I told him “okay”. I pushed myself back up. He pushed me down. I pushed up. He pushed me down and said I should rest some more. I said I had to go.
I felt so tired. Exhausted. I wanted my bed. My whole body was shaking. I managed to pick up my bike. I was mortified. I mumbled thank you and sorry and drove away.
My concussion awareness was zero
Legs shaking, I pedaled back into what I thought was still my life. It wasn’t aware that I had to be on the look-out for a concussion. Let alone a concussion that would take me over 6 years to recover from. (Spoiler: it didn’t have to take this long!)
Delayed concussion symptoms
So I was not aware of the possibility of a concussion after my accident. It seems strange to me now and I wish I had known. But the fact of the matter is that I only learned later that a delayed onset of concussion symptoms is not uncommon and actually quite logical. Especially for a mild concussion.
Anyway, I went back to my old life for more than a week. I thought it had all been a weird nightmare. For real, it was literally as if I had dreamt it up. My brain was confused about the whole thing. It was only after this week that I started to notice things were off.
Brain fog: I couldn’t concentrate
I remember the first moment I noticed 1 particular symptom. I was at work and registered that I couldn’t focus my mind. Come to think about it: I hadn’t been able to focus well these last days.
And now I was completely paralyzed by brain fog. I didn’t know what to do, because I couldn’t think my way out of it. So I stared at my screen, hoping the fog would pass.
As I sat behind my screen in the corner of the crowded work floor, I noticed how loud everything was. Why were people so loud? Even my neighbor had to hit his keyboard aggressively. It was like I suddenly heard every noise. Magnified.
And then the lights! Who had decided an office should be covered with these “hard” fluorescent lights? It felt like the light existed of wooden hammers, swinging against my forehead. Argh! I felt a severe headache coming up.
The symptoms were getting worse
I stared at my screen for hours before I dared to ask my manager if I could leave. Having been raised to suck it up and work even if I didn’t feel well, I felt like I was doing something wrong. Maybe it would blow over.
But the overwhelm and headache increased by the minute. By now, I had my hands coverying both my eyes and ears. Soon, someone would discover me in this corner and I didn’t want anyone talking to me. I felt I would scream and cry soon.
Asking my manager to leave
The only idea I hated more than leaving work, was breaking down in front of everybody. So I gathered my stuff and ignored everybody, walking right up to my manager.
He saw my face and just said: “What’s wrong?” I told him I didn’t know, but I had to go right now. He sensed my urgency and said OK and to contact him later. I was out of there. On to the next battle: the city streets.
I went to see a doctor
I saw my GP, who thought my symptoms had something to do with my fall. He wrote in my medical report:
Subjective analysis: fallen while biking 1,5 weeks ago, maintained consciousness. Experienced nausea, sweating and tinnitus for 1 minute. Now unable to concentrate, dizziness, nausea and headaches.
Evaluation: diagnosis: concussion
So, I called my manager and shared the news with him. He was as supportive as he could be and I know how lucky I have been because of that.
My symptoms worsened
After resting for a week, I felt 2 things happening to me:
- my symptoms worsened: they got more intense
- I had more new symptoms now.
If I had to name the one symptom that affected me most, it was my inability to concentrate. My whole life, I have had one thing I could always use. One thing I could always count on. And that was my ability to think.
I could always think on my feet and my life was built around this. A week after my incident, it all started to slip away from me. It was such a strange experience. I continuously felt as if I was living inside a bubble, without a working brain.
Light and sound overwhelm
If I was talking with colleague on the work floor, for example, it felt like I was locked in a vacuum. I could register that I was in a conversation: I saw the person talking. I knew I was in the office because I heard all of the office noise. And saw all the bright office lights.
But I couldn’t process my colleague’s words. I couldn’t give her anything back in terms of timely facial expressions or a verbal response. It was like everything passed by me like in a blur.
It looked like I was perfectly capable of being in a conversation from the outside. On the inside, however, a war was raging. I was under attack by the noise and the light and the pain in my back.
I was trying to find ways to defend myself, while trying to respond to my colleague in the first place. Even though a concussion can’t be seen from the outside, it affects each and every interaction with the outside world.
One of the new symptoms I had started to experience was a tingling headache. I would describe my head aches as a crunching and tingling head ache inside the back of my skull. It was located right where babies have their fontanels.
This was the exact same spot of the piercing pain at the moment of impact. I would get these continues headaches e-ve-ry-time I tried to concentrate, on anything. It would come when looking at screens, but also when I tried to focus on a conversation with one person.
I could press on, but then it would get worse by the minute. The headaches felt like a leash constantly pulling me back: “Stop doing something with your life.”
I especially got these tingling headaches when I tried to focus on my laptop. I could turn my eyes toward a computer screen, and right in that moment, something inside the back of my head would start to crunch. (Not really, of course, but it felt this way.)
I would squeeze my eyes so that less light would come in. But it was no help. The light, the switching between screens, the focusing: the headaches completely overwhelmed me.
If I forced myself through them, they would get stronger and stronger and I would have to recover for days. This made it nearly impossible to organize and oversee my work.
I was tired all the time. Exhausted actually. But I couldn’t sleep well: I would wake up many times during a night, for no reason at all. My sleep cycles were disturbed and my circadian rhythm washed away. My sleeping pattern changed from sleeping at night to sleeping whenever I could. Which reinforced a vicious circle of fatigue and overwhelm.
Whenever I slept, however, I had the strangest dreams. They were vidid dreams: it was like I was awake through all of them. And a lot of them were nightmares. Every day, I first had to recover from the night.
Dizziness & vertigo
The dizziness I experienced on a daily basis isn’t easy to describe. Maybe it’s vertigo comes closest: the feeling you get when looking down from a height. But also, it would feel like vertigo in reverse. Like when you’re looking up at a sky scraper.
It would feel as if the ground started to shift under my feet and I would fall over. Oftentimes, I would fall over. Not that I fell down, but I just stumbled.
Then there was the nausea, and this was typical, too. It wasn’t like the nausea that you feel in the pit of your stomach. It felt like it originated in the back of my throat. And when it came, it persisted for minutes: I felt this intense feeling that I had to throw up, but I never had to in reality.
After a while, I learned to suppress the instinct to run for the toilet and it was just nauseating.
I had several vestibular problems. Like I said, I would experience vertigo and topple while being in conversation with people. I would walk in the street and bump into people because I couldn’t walk straight and couldn’t estimate distance well.
Whenever someone would hand something to me, I would make the wrong spatial calculation. I can’t count the times stuff would fall on the floor because I couldn’t coordinate.
I had a super uncomfortable back and neck pain from the whiplash I had sustained. Sitting was a constant pain. And the longer I sat, the more the pain turned into a throbbing pain. This made it extra strenuous to do my desk job.
Laying down was the only way I could somewhat release these disturbing aches. But it was hard to fall asleep in pain and OTC drugs didn’t do anything for me, unfortunately.
The list of symptoms above is just a part of all the symptoms I experienced. There are too many to write about right now.
Others include for example: short-term memory problems, speech problems, intense fatigue and brainfog, trouble finding words, loss of emotional control, trouble controlling movements with my hands, and cravings for food.
Mild concussion symptoms aren’t mild
My concussion was diagnosed by a neurologist as a mild concussion. Traditionally, medical professionals divide traumatic brain injury into 3 groups:
- severe traumatic brain injury
- moderate traumatic brain injury
- and mild traumatic injury (mTBI) – aka a concussion
Top scientists have already determined that mild traumatic brain injury is not so mild. How neurologists feel the need to further diminish concussions by diagnosing someone with my symtomps with a “mild concussion” is beyond me.
If you recognize my mtbi symptoms
If you have been diagnosed with a concussion, or you are fairly certain you have one, you probably recognize many of my symptoms.
I want you to know 2 very important things:
- I never experienced any of these symptoms again since my recovery (more than 2 years ago at the time of writing)
- Full recovery is possible (even if experts tell you your brain damage is beyond repair, like they told me)
You are no longer alone
Let’s agree that from this moment that you are no longer alone. I am here to support you and teach you everything I had to learn the hard way. Let’s get started with 3 things you can do right now to speed up your recovery.
I would really like to hear from you. Do you recognize yourself in my symptom checklist? Please leave your comment below so I can connect with you ❤️