Get Up: A Letter to a Young Person Recovering From a Concussion

{Editor’s note: I am thrilled to share Lindsey’s piece today on The Knockout Project. In the fog of post-concussion syndrome, it is easy to lose one’s way. Lindsey’s words are a most important compass for anyone who considers themselves lost in this journey. They also serve as a pertinent warning to those who might unknowingly venture down this path.  –Jay}

By LB Carfagna

Get up.crosby-get-up1

Even if you can’t get up physically, get up in your mind. Stand up straight. Look the world in the eye. Even if you’re wearing sunglasses. You matter. Your life isn’t over. It’s just different now. You’ll have a chance to mourn what was, trust me. Right now might not be that moment, if you’re anything like me. Crying makes the headaches worse. (It’s ok to cry though.) Right now, you just have to believe.

Keep going.

The only way out is through. You probably haven’t heard this yet. You’ve probably heard to turn out the lights and lay in bed. That’s ok. Stay there if you need to for now, that’s important. Listening to your doctor is important. But promise yourself that you’ll try to sit up soon. You’ll take visitors and learn to be ok with quiet. You’ll try that mindfulness stuff your therapist told you about. Your strength will become your endurance through these hard times. Practice that. Practice your resilience. These moments will be gifts one day when life gets hard. Other people don’t know what hell you’re in, but one day you’ll make a hard day look like the best day. Learn your new perspective. It will save you now and serve you later. It’s going to hurt sometimes, but you’ll learn the difference between hurt that will take you down and hurt that will make you stronger.

Find a way.

I wrote this on my white board in my home gym after my last concussion. Every morning I got up and practiced my balance, stretched my back and neck, and then would take a walk around the pond by my house. At first, I couldn’t go 100 yards without needing to stop and sit down. Each day I tried to go further. I enlisted friends in my goal. We’d walk until I couldn’t, then we’d sit and talk or be quiet or just be. One day, I walked around the whole pond. It’s only a little over a mile, but that was a huge deal. Huge. Now, I’m at Crossfit and holding my own during WODs, even if only barely. Even if there’s stuff I can’t do yet. It’s ok. Six months ago I couldn’t walk around a pond.

Let me say that one again: Find a way.

At school, I was terrified. I’m not far from completing my PhD and I was suffering short term memory loss from this hit. I forgot entire days. How was I supposed to remember theorists and literature and research? I would stop mid sentence and forget what words I just said. It was terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. But I found a way. I turned my current students into brain buddies, and paid a former student to work with me at night. It sounded crazy to ask other people to be my brain, but it was worth a shot. They took notes while I talked, organized things for me, asked questions when I made no sense, and kept my eyes off a screen as long as possible. In meetings they were ready with “you were just saying this” when my face went blank and I started to panic because I couldn’t remember ten seconds ago. I asked for help, and help arrived.

Be kind.

This sucks, I know. Like really sucks. Like might have you questioning if your life is worth it sucks. This is called vulnerability. Not too long ago you were invincible. You were an athlete. You were doing ridiculous things to your body and calling it fun. You had dreams and you could see yourself living them. Now the grocery store makes you lose your balance and you can’t update your facebook without wanting to puke. Everyone is telling you that you have to stop everything fun and awesome and part of you. It’d be really easy to just be a monster. Don’t do it. Be kind. This is part of that perspective thing. In college, I went from effortlessly getting high marks to not being able to read after my career ending hit. I worked with the office on campus that helps students with learning and physical disabilities in order to get through my classes. I met students who never knew what it was like to have school be effortless, or athletics, or their emotional life. I was wallowing in self-pity and they were taking everyday in stride. They taught me so much about seeing the strengths in my struggle and in many ways brought me back to life. When I felt like I was weak because I had to read bigger print or had to take untimed tests or use a notetaker, they taught me that it was just another way to learn, and what a privilege it is to learn. They taught me to look up, to smile at people more, to be kind. To get over myself.

And you know what? When you’re kind, people help you. They say “yes, of course” when you ask them to sit with you because you’re afraid that all the sitting in the dark is making you lonely and will lead to depression. They’ll walk slowly with you to the next bench around the pond and cheer you on when you say that was one bench further than last time. They’ll sit in a Starbucks with you after a full work day while you struggle to form sentences and take notes on your painstaking dialogue. They’ll help you get up. They’ll help you keep going. They’ll help you find a way.

And when you’re about to turn 29 and you’re almost six months out from your last hit, your 10th concussion, or maybe it’s your 15th but you’re afraid to really count how many you’ve had, you’ll remember what it was like to have people be kind and help you out. You’ll remember it when a workout gives you a two day headache. You’ll think of them, invested in you, when you don’t want to invest in yourself. And that’s important, because some days you’re going to want to quit. You’re going to think it’s crazy to get back to school, or work, or working out, your family, your relationship, your church, your friends, your life. You’re going to think that it will never feel good. You’re going to wonder about what they’re saying about those old NFL players and CTE and guys who are suicidal or full of rage or can’t remember their kids names. You’re going to wonder about early onset alzheimers or that car crash you might be in one day that will turn your brain to mush. You’re going to think about these things and wonder if it really matters if you push through that next workout or if you attend that class or if you’re kind to your little brother or if you eat dinner with your family and not in the dark by yourself.

It matters.

You matter. Live like you matter. Train like you matter. Learn like you matter. Love like you matter. Be kind like you matter. You matter.

And if you’re not sure, find me. Find someone. Go on twitter and search for all the young people with concussions who are reminding each other that they matter.

Get up. I know you can do it.

Get up.

(And thank your parents or siblings or teachers or whoever is helping you through this – you scared the crap out of them and they really love you. Don’t take their vigilance as annoying. They’re your biggest allies. Let them be scared for you – because right now, you need to be brave.)

2 thoughts on “Get Up: A Letter to a Young Person Recovering From a Concussion

  1. garrarda

    Well said; I know your words inspired others in similar situations. It’s a great piece for those who are “the friends, parents, siblings, teachers” and anyone else impacted or trying to support someone who has suffered the injury. It reminds us what you all battle every day as we say or do things that encourage you to continue or holdback from opportunities. We ALL matter! Embracing other in times like this exemplifies how important the relationships we have truly are. God bless all those taking the journey and God thank you all for being there to support them.

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