Monthly Archives: December 2015

Up and Coming NYC Corporate Young Gun Tastes the Sting of PCS

{Editor’s note: So many of us here at The Project have dealt and are dealing with Post-Concussion Syndrome from our days in sports. When I started The Project, it quickly became apparent to me that suffering people came from every avenue imaginable. Every sport whether collision-based or not was represented. What surprised me, however, were the people who I never considered that we heard from: soldiers, housewives from the Heartland who slipped and fell on ice, people injured in car accidents, cooks who had pots fall on their heads, and kids who hit their heads on the playground.  As a professional, *Anonymous joins the growing ranks of us who can now verbalize just how terrible and all-encompassing Post-Concussion Syndrome is.  –Jay}

By *Anonymous

anon-278x300My story as it relates to concussions started, unfortunately, at a very early age. I was around 8 years old, maybe a year or two younger. Playing backyard baseball with my brother and two babysitters, one of the babysitters hit the ball with a (metal) bat, and flung it away from her. The bat came whirling through the air at me; the thick part of it smashed into my forehead. I was knocked unconscious instantly, and woke up later (not sure how long I was out for) in my kitchen. Everything was bright, so bright it hurt to see, I was woozy, the world was spinning around me, and the sounds I heard seemed to somehow “blend” together. A large lump, almost the size of a baseball, grew on the front of my forehead.

At the time, no one really talked about it being a concussion. I don’t remember how we treated it, or what the doctors or my parents did to help me recover. That whole period is just kind of black in my mind. Eventually I got better and did not have, or seem to have, any symptoms of PCS… I was only a child, after all.

Throughout the course of playing high school soccer, I suffered two concussions, about a year and a half to two years apart. One time I went for an aggressive diving header and ended up flying head first into the goal post. Although I did not lose consciousness, I was sidelined, clearly “out of it,” and have this memory of the light being very painful for me in the days after this concussion. The second concussion came from another incident involving a low-to-the ground header; essentially, I was going for the diving header as another player wound up to kick the ball. My head got to the ball before the opponent’s foot did. When my opponent’s kick was executed, my head now occupied the space where the ball was, and I got a full force kick to the skull. I have absolutely no memory of what happened afterwards, the recovery, or anything in that general time frame. Though I did begin to grow depressed after this, it did not seem to be anything out of the ordinary “teenage angst” that everyone seemed to be going through. I did not think this growing depression could be linked to the concussions.

After this, it was about 7 and half years until my fourth concussion. I made it through college and almost 4 years in the working world without getting another concussion. That changed one day on my commute home at my former employer from Newark, NJ to Robbinsville, NJ. On the NJ Transit, I was sitting with a “train friend” of mine. I got up to go throw away some trash. The train lurched, so I tried to catch myself. In trying to catch myself in knee-jerk-reaction fashion, I propelled my head forcefully up and into the metal rails used to keep luggage bags above your head. I immediately fell back into my seat and was concussed. I do not have any memory of this, or the car ride home. Not sure how I was able to operate a car after this — I may have had my mom come get me, but I really can’t remember as I’m typing this. I do not remember going to a doctor, but I did see my family doctor at some point, who diagnosed me with concussion and ordered me home in recovery mode until I got better.

I was out of work for a while; that week after, light, sounds, TV… everything caused unbearable head pain. I couldn’t think or read or do anything I normally did. My depressed thoughts devolved into suicidal thinking, something I had never experienced before. I could not control my emotions or my thinking, and quite frankly, I wanted to die. I felt like a prisoner in my own body/mind. After nearly 2 weeks out of work, I finally went back. When I encountered my train friend, who I only ever interacted with on the train, she was very concerned for me. She tried looking me up but could not find me online, and we had never bothered to exchange numbers (since she was married and I was dating my now ex-girlfriend). She told me after hitting my head I was rambling to her as if utterly insane or drunk, going on about things that did not make sense or seem logical. Nor were these things connected to my train friend in any way… I was just talking and talking, kind of slipping in and out of awareness, as she later described to me.

She told me she never saw anyone start rambling like a lunatic after hitting their head, while also seeming to be on the verge of passing out. After this concussion, I started to experience depression like I had never experienced before. Depressed, suicidal thoughts became almost normal… and it seemed to take hours for me to build up the will to move. I never tried talking to family, friends, or even a doctor about it… I still did not see a connection between the concussions and the worsening state of my mind. Other than the diagnosis and being told by the doc to rest, I didn’t speak to the doctor again about it or the mental fallout that seemed to be happening to me. I would say after 5 or 6 months, my mental state started to improve and I was able to move past the depression, for the most part.

Finally, in March of 2015, I sustained my 5th and (hopefully) final concussion. I was with a new employer in NYC since November of 2014, and I started off tremendously strong at my new job. Everyone liked me a lot, and people were impressed by my willingness to take things on and always lend a hand. I was apparently a huge upgrade over the person who was my predecessor. One day before that 5th concussion, the wife of our CFO (my boss) came by our office to visit and when she met me she said “Oh so you’reeee the one I hear so much about! Well, let me tell you, he really loves you. Keep it up, kid.” I was ecstatic. I was on cloud 9. I thought I had been nominated for “top 30 under 30” or something really worthy of the great feelings that comment gave me.

That all changed after my 5th concussion… dramatically. Walking to work with ice on the ground, I slipped on my block just a few hundred yards away from my front door and landed on my back. My head jerked backwards and smashed into the icy concrete. I remember struggling to get up, needing the help of a person walking by to get back on my feet. Though I was woozy and really hurting, I was also freezing and only thinking of getting to work on time. I did not think I had concussed myself. I walked the 2 miles to the train station, got on the PATH train, and took it into NYC to go to work. The one memory I have of that walk is constantly wondering why walking was so hard. It didn’t make sense. I knew it was icy, but I also knew that my legs and body in general shouldn’t feel so clumsy and mushy because of ice on the ground.

On the train I nearly vomited due to overwhelming nausea, which did not start until the train began moving. Then I put two and two together, and realized I must have concussed myself again. After getting off the train, I turned around and went home, emailing my boss what happened. He was cool with it, since I had not called out before, and he seemed to be a sports guy, so I assumed he knew a bit about concussions and understood. I went to the doctor’s office who I told the story to, the doctor took one look at my eyes (one pupil was huge, the other was very small, apparently) and I was diagnosed with concussion; they ordered a scan of my brain. Luckily, there was no bleeding.

After this 5th concussion, everything in my life spiraled out of control. Horrible, earsplitting head/brain aches became common… every day I fight some form of head and/or brain pain. It is like an ever present, dull ache. Some days intense, other days less so. I thought about — and unfortunately continue to do so — suicide on an almost daily basis; I do not seem to have control of these thoughts. I do not want to think these things, but they come into my mind. There is no off button to press to make them go away. When I try to muster the will to shove these thoughts aside, it is like I am drawing power from a source whose supply of energy has dried up.

My mood swings became unbearable and uncontrollable. Depression worse than ever before, and there seems to be no end in sight. Never have I experienced anger that infuriates me beyond reason. Never have I experienced absolutely crippling depression, to the point where I don’t want to get out of bed. I also have this fluctuating pressure that comes in my head and seems to go from one side of my skull to the other. I hear ringing every so often as well, like a prolonged and subtle screeching-type of tone that no one else hears if I ask them if they hear the same thing. My eyes now also do this thing where they kind of twitch/flicker — not my eyelids, but my pupils. They’ll just kind of flicker without me intending to move them. Usually they flicker up and to the right. This never used to happen to me before my 5th concussion.

Many important aspects of my life suffered after this concussion. My relationship with my ex-girlfriend, a woman I am still very much in love with, who I once thought I would marry, suffered perhaps more than anything else external to my mind. Essentially, my PCS symptoms – notably, me and her being unaware that PCS was the underlying cause of my new-found, horrible perception of life – drove her to the point of having a psychotic breakdown. Without knowing about PCS, I let the mood swings and the anger consume me at times, and I treated her very poorly. My treatment of her eventually drove her away from me and made her display behavior that was extremely out of character for her. After learning about PCS, I have tried to recover and rebuild what we had, but the damage was already done… it is too late to fix, even after she knows why I changed so dramatically.

I was living with my ex for over a year before that March 2015 concussion. We were very happy together; no fights or bad things that were out of the ordinary for a young couple living together. As of Dec. 15th, 2015, we broke up in horrible fashion and she moved out. She cannot tolerate my mood swings, my anger, my depression, the way I have changed, the way I attack her verbally now when I am mad… when I think about the fights we’ve had, and how the root of them are my inability to control my mind and what I say when I am overcome with rage and anger… in addition to my inability to properly process and understand what she says… I want to cry. I get depressed. Dark thoughts invade my mind and do not relent. I wish she did not have to experience this, and that I did not use my words to hurt her, but I cannot turn back time.

My work suffered after this, tremendously. In fact, I believe I was almost fired, or came pretty damn close — I got in pretty big trouble and was put “on notice” about it — for chronic absenteeism and calling out too much… and for being late (which was not a problem before my 5th concussion), which is usually connected to a morning headache, poor sleep, or feeling really depressed and moving slowly. If you look at my work record, I did not call out a single day of work before my 5th concussion. Post-concussion, not only did I burn all of my sick time in calling out on random days, but I burned through all my vacation time as well, which work had to turn into sick time for me after my actual sick time was exhausted. Some days I called out due to headaches/migraines and some days I was just too depressed to move.

On top of this, at work I am unfocused, easily distracted, and seem to always have a slight headache when I begin to think deeply. I am just not the same employee — or person — I used to be. I routinely forget what I was working on, as I’m working on it. My work looks down on me for calling out so much. They do not want to hear about comparing my sick days pre-5th-concussion vs. my sick days post-5th-concussion. They see it as “an excuse.” I used to be the new young-gun, ascending star in the company; our COO went out of his way to tell me how bright my “Destiny” could be… now I am the problem employee, the one who gets eye rolled at if they talk about a problem (PCS), and the one no one wants to deal with. My thoughts are that soon, they will try to get me to resign. They definitely have not responded favorably to any of my PCS-related problems, or my explanations of the problems… I do not expect them to want to tolerate this much longer… nor do I want to continue commuting into NYC when it causes so much physical pain and mental stress; especially for an employer who is unwilling to make a compromise with me on a health issue.

Fights with friends, family, and random people on trains have amped up. I am systematically isolating myself from everyone who was ever important to me… at least, I was doing so before I was diagnosed with PCS and letting my altered mental state run wild, unchecked. Knowledge is power, and now that I know, I am doing the best I can to keep myself stable.

I am constantly on public transportation, going to and from NYC. The lights, the noises, the poor quality of the commute — getting jerked back and forth on PATH and subway trains — drives me CRAZY. Things that used to annoy me — people cracking their gum too loud, sniffling incessantly, or making tapping noises with their feet or hands — now drive me to the brink of insanity and make me seethe with rage. If I forget my headphones that day, it will be a miserable day, because I end up on the trains in fear of the sounds coming from commuters and the train itself. Even when I do remember my headphones, I get a headache from listening to my music… but it at least beats out the rage from listening to the noises people make on public transportation. I literally want to hurt everyone who makes a noise that makes me “tick”… I feel helpless saying this, but I cannot control the anger or rage and it is virtually guaranteed I will be extremely miserable and nasty the rest of the day. I am so mentally unhealthy, I do not know where or how to begin to get better. PCS is an extremely difficult opponent to fight… and I want to punch every single person in the face who looks at me skeptically, when I describe it to them.

I have tried to get work to be on board with letting me work from home, something almost everyone at my company can do — at least some of the time, which would be a great relief to me — but they won’t even entertain the notion. My position is not defined as a work from home position (which they had to “explicitly explain to me” as they like to point out), and nothing I tell them about concussions or PCS will change their mind. In fact, when I talked to them about this, they look at me skeptically like I am some crazy nut job off the street. I personally feel as if I would be a much healthier person, mentally, if I did not have to commute to and from NYC every day… at least until I get better.

So finally, about two weeks ago — around the same time as my breakup with my ex — I reached out to NYU Langone Concussion Center, which happens to be right around the corner from my job. I saw Dr. Myrna Cardiel, who was great… when I left her office, I felt so happy and confident she would be able to help me, I cried. In fact, thinking about my hopefulness now is bringing tears to my eyes. Dr. Cardiel said I undoubtedly have a bad case of PCS. She gave me migraine medication Cambia and prescribed Effexor, which I have not started yet. I am nervous to use the antidepressant, as I’ve never had them before.

At this point, I really don’t care what happens with my work or anything else. I just want to leave this dark and despair-laden place I have been in for ¾ of a year. My biggest struggle daily is dealing with my own thoughts and feelings. Since I have no sick time left (and since work is convinced I am some delinquent employee seeking to use sick time on a whim to feed my fleeting desire to randomly not come to work), I need to wait until 2016 when my time re-fills to really start doing what Dr. Cardiel wants to do. That includes a 5 hour long mental fitness test that will evaluate my psych, isolate different sections of my brain and measure how they are working, as well as rigorously test my memory. I haven’t mentioned it, but every step along the way from March 2015 to today has been riddled with random patches of lost memory. This memory loss has been a huge factor at work especially, as I am CONSTANTLY apologizing to people for forgetting to do something they asked me to do.

So after these tests in early 2016, Dr. Cardiel will start me on a more specific therapy that will be tailored to me, based on the test results. I think, out of everything she told me, what gave me the most hope was hearing: “You are not alone. We are here to help you, and we will. You will get better.”

Really, that help cannot come fast enough. I need it.