Scarlett Zhu's Community Story - "Silver Lining"


The Old Me

If only I could rewind time. I wish I could make all the pain disappear. I would do anything to go back to the old me. These were the thoughts that constantly replayed in my mind in the months following a concussion I sustained from a car accident in fall 2017. Before the accident, 2017 was the best year of my life – I had graduated from university, transitioned into a full-time position at a job that I love, moved into a cozy apartment with a close friend, and fell in love. Then, my world turned upside down. Prior to getting a concussion, I viewed them as “just a bump to the head”, common in the realm of hockey and football, and something people recovered from in a matter of days. Oh boy was I wrong, and little did I know that I was about to go through the most difficult chapter of my life. In the initial days following my accident, I was in shock and pain from the whiplash, but the concussion symptoms were not apparent. So, I pushed through the pain and continued with my daily routine. I had played sports for a large part of my life, running on the cross country and track teams in high school and university. In sports and in life, I have always operated on the philosophy that when life gets tough, push yourself even harder. It’s all mind over matter, right? What I didn’t know how to cope with was when the mind itself is the very thing that is injured.

Rock Bottom

In the months following the accident, despite the medical treatments I was getting, my concussion symptoms worsened. I hit rock bottom and took a medical leave of absence from work in January 2018. I was an insomniac, in constant pain, living with daily persistent headaches, and emotionally broken. For weeks, it was hard to even get out of bed to shower, let alone make breakfast. I struggled with post-concussion depression and anxiety, neither of which I had ever experienced before. I began isolating myself as the world became too much. I just didn’t feel human anymore.

The Old Tough

After a few months, I was able to manage my sleep with medication and hastily returned to work. I knew I wasn’t fully recovered, but I was not giving up. For weeks, I pushed through work like a zombie, trying to do as much as I could with an injured brain. I left work every day with a pounding headache, sensory overload, complete brain fog, and throbbing pain. I forced a fake smile on the outside, but was struggling on the inside. The best analogy I can think of to describe a concussion is the feeling that your brain is trudging through mud. On better days, the mud might feel more like sand. On worse days, it feels like cement. In August, my symptoms became so unbearable that I had to take a second leave.

The New Tough

I finally embraced the New Tough and realized that concussion recovery takes time and a lot of patience. Although I accepted that I needed more time to recover, I was still going to fight, except in a different light. Before, I fought to push through my symptoms, desperately trying to get back to the old me. This time, I fought for my brain. I accepted the temporary me, and promised myself that I would do everything in my power to get better while letting my brain heal on its own schedule. I began to view myself as a science experiment, and sought additional treatments in addition to the regular physio, chiro, and massage appointments – including hyperbaric oxygen therapy, cranio-sacral therapy, acupuncture, neurofeedback, and manual therapy with a concussion specialist. Neurofeedback and manual neck therapy were the two treatments that finally gave me pieces of my life back. I have also just started vision therapy with a neuro-optometrist, recognizing the importance of rehabilitating the eye-brain connection in concussion recovery. In December, I will be travelling to Guelph to participate in the MyoWorx program at MMTR Physiotherapy (check out webinar if you want more info)

Lessons: Forgiveness, Acceptance, Resilience, Hope 

Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.
- Eckhart Tolle

I believe the concussion was a blessing in disguise. I learned the importance of forgiveness and being kind to yourself. I had a lot of guilt knowing the pain I put those closest to me in, and through meditation, I was able to forgive myself and let the past go. Another piece to the recovery was acceptance, and I strongly resonate with Eckhart Tolle’s quote above. As soon as I accepted the current situation as is and worked with it, my mental health improved drastically.

Another key lesson I learned is the power of resilience in the face of adversity. I often tell myself, if I can get through this concussion, I can get through anything in life. In yoga the other day, the instructor brought up a teaching that is at the heart of Buddhism – that to be human is to suffer, and out of suffering comes strength, growth, and compassion. If it wasn’t for the concussion, I would not have developed the level of compassion I have now. I believe that we, as human beings, are all inextricably connected to one another, and we all desire human connection. I hope no one has to ever experience the level of pain and hopelessness I have felt at the lowest point of my concussion journey – and if they do, I want to be there for them, hug them, and reassure them that this will pass. Being able to connect with others who have gone through a similar journey has been incredibly rewarding, and I am so grateful that Headway has provided this opportunity. Concussion recovery can be a lonely journey, and I believe being vulnerable and open to sharing our stories is both powerful and therapeutic. As Brené Brown puts it, vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.

To everyone who is or knows someone going through the concussion recovery journey, know that you are never alone. My heart hurts with you, cries with you, laughs with you, and fights with you. Remember there is always a light at the end of the tunnel during hard times, just hold onto hope and it will take you there. Something beautiful will grow from all of your struggles – and it will be you.

Headway Foundation