In this episode of the Concussion Talk podcast, Nick Mercer talks with Melanie about how she sustained her concussion and what she learned along the way. She shares how she should not have listened to the classic advice to take rest and do nothing and explains what to do for a concussion instead.
Table of contents:
00:02 Melanie’s concussion story
03:40 Immediate concussion symptoms
06:56 Delayed concussion
10:22 “Mild” concussion symptoms
14:14 What (not) to do for a concussion?
18:14 The Cure My Concussion course
23:15 Yoga and Buddhism
27:24 Ending the Concussion Talk interview
Introduction to this episode on what to do for a concussion
Nick Mercer started Concussion Talk after sustaining severe brain injury in 2003. He woke up from a coma two weeks after injury and spent years relearning basic skills like walking and talking. To this day, he has a speech impediment, which makes him even more strong for creating a podcast anyway.
What now follows is a transcript of the podcast episode that you can listen to using the player above. The transcript may help you in case you find it hard to understand Nick (or Melanie) at times.
Melanie’s concussion story
[00:02 Nick] Welcome to the Concussion Talk podcast. In this episode 112, I am with Melanie Wienhoven. I think I messed it up again, but Melanie, do you want to chip in and say what your real name is?
[00:16 Melanie] Melanie Wienhoven.
[00:17 Nick] Wienhoven, right. Anyway, yes. Well, so I’ll be talking to Melanie Wienhoven in a second. Okay, now I knew it would certainly mess up. But anyway, we were talking before about… you have your own podcast as well, but you started that because you had a severe concussion yourself. And so, do you want to just tell us about how, when and where did you get your concussion?
[01:27 Melanie] Sure, of course. Yes. I sustained my concussion back in 2012. So, I had just graduated University and I just started a traineeship at a Dutch Corporation. And one day, I was cycling back from work to home. And while I was doing that, I had an accident with my bike. So, I had this little basket in front of my bike that I put stuff in.
[01:58 Nick] I’ve seen pictures of Amsterdam,paintings of bikes with those little baskets in front. It was actually that, was it?
[02:09 Melanie] Oh, well, no. I think those are more solid. So, the problem was the mine wasn’t of good quality. So, it was like… those ones are with crates,the ones you see mostly in the pictures, yeah. But mine was just fixed with one like, I think aluminum, I don’t know what you call it, like not even a bolt. A hook or something.
The headlamp broke off
And I always put a lot in it because they are very practical. But what happened was that in the end, it went down. So, it was loaded too heavily all the time and it bent down. And then it started pressuring my headlamp. And in the end, I didn’t notice this process, but in the end…
[02:59 Nick] Was it dark out?
[03:01 Melanie] No, it was just like 4:30 in the afternoon or so, after work. Or 5:30 I think, 4:30 is a bit early.
[03:10 Nick] It is not important.
[03:14 Melanie] But it was light, it was summer. So my headlamp broke off because of this pressure, and then it flipped in between my spokes – of the front wheel. And so, my front wheel blocked, and then I was launched forward over my steer. And I landed on my hands and knees on the street. And then everything happened.
Immediate concussion symptoms
So, a lot of experiences happened at the same time. So, for example, the first thing that I remember was there was this very sharp pain inside my head, inside my skull. I always describe it as: it felt like a pin pierced my head. It sounds gross, but it’s just the way it felt. And it was cold and hard.
And then, I couldn’t see. So, everything turned black. And this high-pitched ringing started in my ears. So, all of these sensations came over me and it was really… I don’t know, it took a long while in my experience. But in hindsight I’ve of course thought back to this moment a lot, and in hindsight I think it was only maybe 30 seconds or 90 seconds – tops – that all this happened.
Vision and hearing loss
And someone grabbed me off the street because of course I wasn’t safe. And I felt his hands, but I just couldn’t hear him. I heard a sound, but I couldn’t understand words. I couldn’t see anything. Everything was black. I still had this tone in my ears. It was a really, really strange experience.
[04:59 Nick] I bet, yes. So I mean, did you know you hit your head, or you just thought: I fell off my bike and I hurt my…did you hurt anything else?
Whiplash and concussion often go together
[05:09 Melanie] Well, I had a whiplash.
[05:11 Nick] Okay.
[05:11 Melanie] Yeah. So, it was the whiplash movement that my body made. And actually, I didn’t even hit my head. So, this is a very important thing that I always tell people, because I also thought this, and that’s why I just drove home afterward. I thought I had to hit my head in order to have a concussion. So, it never occurred to me that I had one.
[05:31 Nick] Yeah.
[05:33 Melanie] But it was because of this whiplash movement that my brain was smashed into my skull, as a matter of fact. And that’s how you can also get a concussion.
Going to sleep
[05:42 Nick] Exactly, that is the trigger point. So, did you… you drove straight home, right? And then you went to bed then and woke up the next day, and just acted like things were normal?
[05:57 Melanie] Yes. Yeah. I thought it was all a nightmare, literally. So, I went to bed because I was so tired, I could just sleep. Well, that was also the first sign that something was wrong, because I would never sleep at 6 pm. But then the next morning, I thought, okay, I’ll just go to work. And I didn’t notice anything wrong.
So, I just got dressed. I packed my bag, and then I went outside to get on my bike. And that’s when my body froze. So, my body knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know it in my mind. So, I froze.
And I was crying, and I was panicking. I was like, what’s happening? Why is my body doing this? But it was just protecting me. Because, um, yeah, in fact, I think it registered the bike as “danger” at that moment.
[06:56 Nick] Yeah, right. So how long was it before you actually went from work to a hospital, or did you go from home to hospital, or when did you actually see a doctor?
[07:06 Melanie] Well, it was only one and a half weeks later. That was when I noticed first that something was wrong. Strange, huh? Now I know it’s not strange. But back then I thought it was strange.
[07:17 Nick] It definitely feels like you can’t remember what you did, but you are positive it was yesterday. You are like, that’s weird.
The first signs of a concussion
[07:24 Melanie] Yeah. So in the days after, I was just laughing with colleagues. Like I did something stupid again: I always do these things. So, it’s just one of those things that I was being clumsy. But then, after a week or so I noticed things crumbling.
So, I couldn’t concentrate. People were annoying me; I was never annoyed. I couldn’t stand the noise in the office. I couldn’t look at my screen: it was just too bright. Even if I had it in dark mode, which wasn’t dark mode back then… ancient times.
[08:01 Nick] Ancient times, it was 2012.
[08:04 Melanie] 2012, It was like a white screen, but the darkest mode possible. So, all of these things started to happen to me, and I didn’t know what was wrong. But in the end, I couldn’t do my work. And that was the trigger for me that I needed to go check with a doctor.
Going to the doctor
[08:24 Nick] Right? And what did they tell you when you went to see a doctor for the first time, 10 days after your injury?
[08:31 Melanie] Yeah, um, it was my GP. And he said that I probably had a concussion from the fall. It was the only thing that we could relate it to.
[08:40 Nick] How long did it take you to realize that it got to do with the accident? He would ask: what did you do? And you would tell him: 10 days ago I fell off my bike. Or did you get there like, yesterday, I went for a run or did yoga or whatever. I may have done something, but I don’t know what?
[08:57 Melanie] Yeah, that’s a good question. I actually don’t really remember. Because that time,and especially the time after that, oftentimes, I really didn’t know what was happening to me. Everything went just too fast and was too much, but I figure that he asked the right questions, so that I realized that that was the thing that went wrong.
[09:21 Nick] Right.
Concussion? Take rest
[09:22 Melanie] Yeah. I also checked my medical report. I also shared that with others later on. So, in my medical report it very clearly says: diagnosis concussion, advice rest. And so, he told me to rest and just cancel my work appointments, go home, and stay in bed and do nothing.
Which isn’t the advice that people should generally listen to – that I should have listened to. Considering what to do for a concussion, absolute rest is not a productive recovery therapy in most cases. But back then, I didn’t know better. And a lot of doctors also didn’t know all of the things that will come out in research later on, of course. But that wasn’t the best advice that I could have followed.
“Mild” concussion symptoms
[10:22 Nick] So what were your symptoms that were very difficult?
[10:29 Melanie] Well, so many.
My initial symptoms mostly were… concentration was number one. I had always been able to rely on my brain. It was my whole life. Everything I did was built on: more, more, more, more. I could always study more, I could always work more, I could always just build everything around my brain and I could do it.
And then it didn’t work anymore. So that was a very clear symptom for me.
Dizziness & vertigo
And then also, I had these episodes of dizziness and vertigo, I don’t know exactly where it was on the spectrum. But I could just stand, and I would have the feeling that I was falling over. So, then I would fall over because I would grab things.
[11:22 Nick] Right. I’ve had that.
[11:25 Melanie] You had it too?
[11:26 Nick] Yeah, I mean, my balance is very unsteady. I am just unsteady. And that was a long time ago. But I do find now and then that I will walk around a corner and I will be walking on one leg and all of a sudden I’ll stop until I’m steady again.
[11:53 Melanie] Okay. Well, that’s a good way of dealing with it, because it is actually dangerous if you don’t feel steady.
Trouble finding words
So, one of the other things that I also had was that I had trouble finding words. So, now again, I can speak, and I can find my words. But back then, I…
[12:14 Nick] You can find English words as well as Dutch words. That’s impressive. I don’t know, like I told you, I don’t know any Dutch. I can find English words. But now, I still can’t find Dutch words,so.
[12:32 Melanie] But you haven’t learned. Your brain is able to do that,as you know. Yeah. No, that’s unfair, because we grew up hearing English of course and you have probably never heard Dutch probably. Or you have?
[12:50 Nick] I’ve heard it. I just never lived in Amsterdam, or Holland or the Netherlands, or what you call it.
[13:01 Melanie] But have you been?
[13:02 Nick] I’ve never been there, no. I’ve been to Ireland, but never to like mainland Europe.
[13:10 Melanie] No. Okay. That’s something that could be done later in life.
[13:15 Nick] Definitely, it is up to me. But actually now, COVID can stop me but, you know, in general. Sorry, you’re saying you had difficulty finding words.
[13:28 Melanie] Yeah. So, that was also something that was really hard for me. Because before I could always use my words to achieve things and then I wasn’t able to communicate well anymore.
So, this wasn’t only a problem for example with work, but also in normal life. Like arranging things that I needed at that moment: medical help, support from others, but also going to do groceries. Anything was a problem now because I had this… not inability, but this…
[14:04 Nick] Confusion.
[14:04 Melanie] Yeah, yes.
[14:06 Nick] Yeah. Communication confusion.
[14:09 Melanie] Yes. And then also a side effect of that was that I lost confidence because of that.
What (not) to do for a concussion?
[14:14 Nick] Yeah, yes. That’s a big one, yeah. When did you decide and knew you needed to make a change? And has your mindset changed? Or did your mindset change at all? When did you realize you needed to do something to help yourself, different than just going resting?
[14:42 Melanie] That’s, that’s a very, that’s a very good question. So, I heard two questions. And the last one is very… the answer to that is very literal to me. So you asked, when did I learn that I needed to help myself right?
[14:58 Nick] Yeah, yeah.
An attitude of passive recovery
[14:59 Melanie] And that to me… That’s when I learned that no one was going to do it for me. In the beginning, I was so passive about my recovery. I’ve forgiven myself for that because how could I know what I should have done?
Plus, the doctors were always telling me that recovery was achieved, because of passive behavior (like rest, wait and see, avoid stimuli).
Losing her identity
And in the end, this didn’t yield anything else than that my entire life, almost my entire life, just fell away. And my identity even eroded. And I had trouble remembering who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. All of my dreams were worth nothing anymore because I couldn’t even live a part of that in my daily life. So taking rest, in my case, was certainly something on the list: what not to do for a concussion.
[16:01 Nick] Yeah.
[16:04 Melanie] In the end, that left me in such a place that I realized that the only one was going to change it…- Even though other ones would have so much wanted to help me and other ones were trying to help me, how could they have known?
Even I didn’t know, and I still knew a little bit more because I was experiencing it. But they didn’t have an idea as well, and they couldn’t have. So that’s when I realized that I needed to be the one to change everything. And if I wanted to change it, I needed to make it my highest goal in life at that moment, that’s when everything changed.
[16:40 Nick] So, what did you do then, when you realized: I need to do this. What did you actually do to heal your concussion?
[16:50 Melanie] So the most important thing that I realized, and they were based on everything that I did wrong in the beginning, is that instead of passive, I needed active recovery. So if you ask me: what to do for a concussion? It’s active recovery for sure.
And active recovery involved a lot of lifestyle changes; involved conscious and consistent habit training, but also a lot of well-controlled brain training. Exercises, but also whole programs that I all incorporated and improved upon over time.
That entire package is, in the end, what helped me recover. And it was… it’s not like a magic pill, right? You’ve probably also experienced this. So, there are a lot of aspects that come with it.
Brain injury CAN recover after 2 years
It took me I think three or four years in order to figure all of it out. And then after five years, five years after my recovery, I started feeling – only then – that everything came together. And that’s very interesting, because a lot of doctors told me, and I hear others saying this as well, that they have been told this as well, that brain injury after two years can’t recover.
[18:11 Nick] Yeah, I heard that too.
[18:12 Melanie] Yeah, that isn’t true.
[18:13 Nick] No, it is not.
The Cure My Concussion course
[18:14 Melanie] I did it more than five years after injury. But the most important thing is that it didn’t have to take this long, had I known everything that I had learned, I would have been faster.
And that’s why in the end, I created the Cure My Concussion course so the course that I made. That’s where I bundled all of these things, all of these aspects, in there. So, strategy, but also tools, everything.
[18:40 Nick] So, that was your Cure My Concussion course, but you also have Lifeyana. Is that your whole company, or is it a charity? An organization?
[19:16 Melanie] Yes, organization. So, back when…at that lowest point when I realized that I needed to make the change because otherwise nothing really would happen, I really felt this need… At that moment, I felt like I had lost almost everything about who I was before. And I wanted no one that I could have an influence on or impact on to go through the same thing.
Offer help with concussions
So, in that moment, I felt this very strong drive not to do it just for me, but to… after I recovered, come back and help others who are going through the same thing. It just came automatically: it’s not me, it’s all of us.
And we have to change this: we have to change what’s going on and that a lot of doctors don’t know what’s going on for us and all of the side effects and everything. So that’s why I knew that I was going to do this. And now it’s like six years later, and now it’s here.
You are not alone
And I wanted to make it into an organization where I could do this from, and I was looking for a name. And that’s when Lifeyana came up because yana is… in American, it’s an acronym for You Are Not Alone, which is my most important message.
Also, I’m always studying Buddhism, and Yana is also a Buddhist term, which represents so much as a vehicle that helps you on your road. That’s a bit of a rough translation. But I would like to help people on their roads to recovery.
So that’s how that all came to be. And Lifeyana is just a name, but the whole idea is to help people learn from my lessons and to help them recover faster.
[21:28 Nick] Oh, I think that’s amazing. It’s great because you put it all in one spot. My injury was almost 19 years ago. And then my physio who was in Chicago. And I was of course in Canada, but she was here for a few months of work.
I know there’s a professor with whom you’re going to talk about this on your podcast, but she taught me about neuroplasticity. I learned a bit about it, it was just interesting. She also did a course on it,she’s an amazing physiotherapist. But also, like you said, the habit changes, it is important.
I also interviewed a woman last year, and she lives in a small town in Canada… not a small town, but smaller than Ontario. But yeah, she does habit coaching, that is her thing. She has a brain injury herself and she thinks that habit training is just an essential part to learning habits and training your brain. And training your brain is something that’s really important.
And if they put it all in one spot it is just amazing.
Yoga and Buddhism
But to help out with your mind, and not necessarily just your brain, you also do yoga and practice, or read and study, Buddhism. So, when did you start with that?
Yoga during post-concussion recovery
[23:32 Melanie] Well, yoga started back when I was recovering. So about half a year after I sustained my injury, my roommate came to me and said: I have this yoga teacher, and I think you should go, it’s perfect for you. And I was like: yoga, not for me. But she asked me again and again,and then I said: okay, I will go.
And that was partly because in my rehab program back at the time, there was also mindfulness training. So, I already tasted a little bit about it, and it was very calming. So then I went, and since then I’ve been hooked.
[24:19 Nick] And you teach it now too. What type of yoga do you teach?
[24:23 Melanie] Well, my training was for vinyasa. So it is a very active form, but my lessons are more… I often call them slow flow. So, it’s active, but very much listening to your body, having time to respond to what’s going on.
[24:45 Nick] So, you have been doing that for almost 10 years now. This would be 10 years since 2012.
[24:55 Melanie] Doing yoga, yes.
Buddhism and trauma recovery
[24:58 Nick] And where did this Buddhism come from? Did it come from when you started taking yoga and learning from mindfulness training? Did you get interested in Buddhism then or have you always been into Buddhism?
[25:25 Melanie] Yes. So, the interest in Buddhism? It’s a mixed influence. But of course, yoga already triggered a little bit. So, about 2015, 16, 17, something like that, I started looking into trauma recovery, and healing… psychological healing, I mean… and that’s when I found all of these pieces all pushing me toward Buddhism.
Like, you have books about self-compassion, for example, just in general – from Western scientists and I would read a book by the Dalai Lama about joy, for example, and Desmond Tutu.
The Book of Joy
[26:24 Nick] I read that one too, with Desmond Tutu.
[26:25 Melanie] The Book of Joy? Yes.
[26:27 Nick] Desmond Tutu and the Dalai lama. Yeah.
[26:28 Melanie] It’s my favorite book, you know it? That’s wonderful. How did you like it?
[26:36 Nick] I thought it was great. You know, I wouldn’t say it is my favorite book, but it was definitely an amazing book. But yeah, it was just fun, just nice. Just gives you a nice feeling.
[26:51 Melanie] Yes, exactly.
Thich Nhat Hanh
So that was very helpful. But all of these things were pointing me towards, okay: study Buddhism study Buddhism. And then I thought: okay, I’m going to study Buddhism. So, then I found Thich Nhat Hanh, who recently died… He passed away. But he taught me a lot about Buddhism, and I’m still studying to this day because he’s such a great teacher in his books.
[27:18 Nick] Great. Well, that’s such a great story and thank you so much for sharing.
Ending the Concussion Talk interview
But first, before we say goodbye, let’s talk about your website, your social media, your YouTube, whatever.
[27:47 Melanie] Yeah, where people can find us. So especially on Lifeyana.com – that’s the website. And…
[27:54 Nick] L I F E YANA.
[27:57 Melanie] Exactly. L I F E Y A N A. Wow, that went well in English. That’s where people can find blog posts for example, but also download free materials and find the Cure My Concussion course if they are interested. Also, on Instagram and Facebook, it’s @thisislifeyana.
Concussion Stories podcast
And then of course Concussion Stories is the name of our podcast, which you can find on almost every channel that you want to search on.
[28:31 Nick] Oh, great. I never know what to say when people ask: where are we gonna find your podcasts? I’m like: online…?
[28:37 Melanie] Yeah. Somewhere out there.
[28:40 Nick] Yeah it’s there in the ether somewhere. Thank you so much and thank you very much for listening. And I am not sure when the next podcast will be out, this will be out on February 7th. So, thank you so much for listening and and great seeing you and I will also talk to you soon, Melanie.
[29:15 Melanie] Thank you so much, Nick.
[29:17 Nick] Thank you.
What do you take away?
What do you take away from this episode? Have you learned anything new, or heard anything that you can relate to? We’d love to hear your thoughts: please leave your comment below.