By Alicia Jensen
I was hit. Hit hard. I got up, and stumbled around. I was losing my balance, seeing stars and everything was spinning. I had no idea where I was, or what I was doing. I didn’t even recall the date. The referee blew the whistle to stop the game, and as everyone took a knee, I lay there in a complete daze. He said to me, “21 are you okay?” I, of course, said, “Yes, I’m fine. Just keep playing.”
I turned to a few of my team mates and asked questions like, “Where are we? How have I been playing? What’s the score? Who’s their best player?” I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to admit it. I let my teenage attitude take over and kept playing. Reality hit me again late in the second half with another blow to the head and the realization that I should have stopped after the first hit.
April 22, 2012 was the first day of my new “life”, of my new “normal”, and of my new “journey”.
I would be lying if I said that this concussion hasn’t changed my life. It has completely changed it in every aspect possible. It has changed me physically, emotionally, mentally, academically, and socially. It has put me in a position of trying to find myself, which, for a 16 year old, is still in the process of happening to begin with.
In July 2012, for my 16th birthday, my parents took my siblings and I to Disney World. My doctors had restricted me from any rides or attractions that would aggravate my symptoms. Once again, I didn’t listen. I went on the legendary and iconic “Rockin’ RollerCoaster”. For those of you who have never been on it, it is a concussed person’s nightmare. I didn’t know when the ride was going to start and didn’t pay attention to the “Keep your head back” signs. The ride started and I hit my head on the seat and immediately blacked out. *Bam!* another concussion. My doctors ruled this one as “AMA”, or, against medical advice.
I didn’t realize how stupid my decision was until I had to start all over again at Vestibular Therapy.
I just wanted to be a kid; I wanted to live my life. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be on those rides but for some reason I didn’t care. Afterwards, I just wanted to be reassured that this concussion hadn’t totally taken my life away. Let’s just say I didn’t get that reassurance.
Fast forward to August 2012- I was tested by a Neuropsychologist and was put on half days for school. To be honest, I didn’t follow that accommodation as much as I should have. I didn’t want to be at home. I wanted to be at school with my friends and actually be around people. My doctors didn’t understand that the time I was out was instructional time that I was losing, and I was falling behind. In October 2012, I was put on a medical 504 Plan, which is basically just an official medical accommodations plan for school. For some reason, this basic plan hit me hard mentally. How did I go from an honor roll student and A’s and B’s, to needing help everyday? It was frustrating because I wasn’t used to needing help, as I am so used to doing everything myself. Asking for help when I need it is a huge struggle internally that I still deal with, even though I know it is necessary and that it is okay to ask for help.
I can’t remember what being a normal teenager feels like. Forget parties, because crowds make me feel overwhelmed and anxious. Forget football games, because the lights and the noise are a killer. Forget movie theaters and big restaurants, because the dim lighting and people give an instant headache. I shouldn’t have to live my life like this, wondering every day not IF I’ll get a headache, but WHEN I do get a headache, how bad it will be. Should I go home early from school? Should I not even go to school? Questions I ask myself every day aren’t questions a normal teenager should have to ask themselves on a regular basis.
I can’t focus in school with a headache. Sometimes it’s a waste of time even being in class because I’m not actually doing anything but sitting there with my head down and praying for the class to end and for the teacher to turn the lights out and stop talking. But, I know that this feeling won’t last forever. I know that I’m headed the right way to a full recovery. I know that I’ll get into college and although it may be a struggle, I know that I can do it. I won’t let my dreams of becoming a Doctor specializing in Sports Medicine be changed because I can’t handle college.
Sports have been my life since I was 4 years old. I have been out on that soccer field every week and weekend for 12 years and never missed a chance to kick the ball around. Soccer has always been a way to release my stress and forget about all my problems. That’s why hearing the words “Alicia, I don’t medically advise you to play soccer again” were some of the hardest words I have ever had to hear in my life. Being told you can’t do something that you have always done is hard to accept. I didn’t know anything but soccer and I didn’t want to know anything else. I liked the way things were.
I guess you could say I don’t like change, but this wasn’t just a simple change. It’s a change that there is nothing I can do about; nothing I can say to my doctors will make them clear me to play soccer again. I want to say that I have accepted that I will never play soccer again, but it still hurts every time I hear people talking about it. Every time somebody brings up a game, a tournament, or even practice, it hurts to think that I’m missing out on something- not by choice but instead by force.
It is hard to explain to people what Post-Concussion Syndrome is. Some people like to claim it as “faking”, “wanting attention”, or even “excuses for being lazy”. Nobody understands the pain that PCS sufferers go through everyday. It isn’t “just a concussion”; it is something that changes lives. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it is when people ask me, “You’re still concussed?!”
So much for not wanting to talk about it; I always just nod my head “yes” and walk away. I hate talking about my PCS to people who don’t get it. Why would anybody do something like this for attention? PCS doesn’t just affect me; it affects my family, friends, teachers, coaches, and administrators.
Some say we are put in situations like this to make us stronger, I truly believe that. This concussion has taught me that I need to make the most of every second that I feel well. It has taught me that I need to persevere and overcome any obstacle I face. It has taught me that everything could always be worse and that I have to be thankful that I’m still alive. I can’t take each and every day for granted. I’ve got to focus on the positives of every situation. I learn new things every day from my PCS that some people don’t learn until much later in life.
I see that as a positive in this whole ugly situation. This concussion has changed my life- and it is hard. But, because of those things, I wouldn’t take back a second of it.