The Impact of Concussions

Haste became a habit. Busy bodies and college students tend to do that: rushing to meet deadlines, racing to class, hurrying to meetings, casting calls, and shoots. Then one day, it catches up with us. We get sick from all the nights we stayed up editing, writing, rehearsing, or partying. We grow tired and we start to slip up. Or if you were me on Friday, Feb. 11, you just slip. Concussion: the rattling or violent shock to the brain caused by a heavy blow.

I didn’t know I was concussed nor would I ever think I would concuss myself. Running with wet feet on wet tile, how stupid was that, Mia?

Cue the spinning room and nausea, followed by tunnel vision, which graduated into complete darkness. The noise distortion faded into silence to be concluded with an incessant ringing in my ears. It was a cinematically orchestrated brain trauma.

Some people pass out, others have seizures and altered motor skills, reflexes, or memory. Everybody has a different experience, but those are the quintessential concussion signs.

Like the speeding cars we daringly dart in front of when the walking sign takes too long, I had a tendency for rushing, as well. The hustle of the city matches the bustling that exists within me. Bouncing from meeting to meeting, class to class, filling my down-time by catching up with as many friends as possible, my mind never ceases and my pace is always in fifth gear. Music constantly blasts into my ears and it is not until nighttime where I am alone with my thoughts, where silence finally shrouds me. Then I turn on music to mute the obnoxious silence and block my racing thoughts.

“Our whole lives are centered around chaos and America does a great job of amplifying that,” says marketing communication major Hantzley Audate, ’17. “Everything in this country is explosive: our culture, our military, our politics, our people,”

It has been eight years since Audate recovered from a concussion-induced coma that lasted over 20 hours. The subdural hematoma he received while playing football required two life-threatening brain surgeries followed by physical therapy to relearn how to walk and speak. Since then, Audate’s perspective has altered.

“There’s not one thing that hasn't changed in my life, from the way I view things to how I appreciate people. My relationships have changed. My attitude about life has changed. For me, it was like a reset button,” says Audate.

After the lights go off, our settings are reprogrammed, bringing in new experiences but also ideas and knowledge. Yet, often a concussed person loses pieces of them, too.

“I feel like a concussion robs something out of you, it kind of robs you of you. It’s a temporary period, but for that period it’s a big deal. Specifically, my concussion has made me reevaluate life, in a lot of ways, it made me reevaluate how I see things,” says Audate. “I’ve adopted an attitude of gratitude.”

We are grateful for those that help us. The people who help keep your head on straight when it’s spinning and the people who help with the work you can’t do or the messages you can’t send are the ones we keep in our lives.

When a person gets a concussion, the world stops for them. They lose time in their unconscious state and time loses importance when they are confined to a dark room.

Journalism major Daniel Johnson, ’17, considers himself the poster child for concussions, having over seven concussions and being “essentially brain dead for five months,” he says.

His football career dates back to when he was nine years old — his first concussion was in middle school.

“There wasn't a lot about concussions, it was just ‘getting your bell rung,’ that’s what my dad would say,” says Johnson who is now impacted daily by his post-concussion syndrome.

It has been four years since Johnson was denied clearance to continue playing football for St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Massachusetts. Today, Johnson cannot regulate his body temperature—feeling cold when it’s sweltering hot outside, and feeling hot when it’s bitter cold. He cannot recount all of his memories, words sometimes escape him, and he still experiences mood swings and tunnel vision, among other effects.

“I loved what I was doing and I wasn’t going to let anybody take that away from me,” says Johnson. “What’s the point of living if you're not doing what you love?”

His concussions present him with challenges, but as a competitive person and athlete for Emerson’s baseball team, Johnson rejects losing. “Everything’s a challenge and I refuse to let things beat me. Only I can beat me,” says Johnson.

The encompassing difficulty with concussions and post-concussion syndrome is that overcoming the challenges and side effects requires brain power, yet the challenge is our brain.

“I think I'm a stronger person because of it and there’s a lot of good from that—a much stronger person, mentally and emotionally,” says Johnson. “It’s just how you handle whatever that causes you some sort of anxiety or harm. It’s how you handle that and how you come out of that, that defines you as a person and your character.”

Concussions, like most injuries and traumatic experiences, take something away, but also leave a takeaway. We lose our minds, and seeing as our minds are the control centers for our body, it seems we lose control of everything.

ImPACT cites that people with concussions will experience not only physical and cognitive effects, but emotional instability and unusual sleeping patterns, as well. My emotional instability manifested itself in the grocery store aisle when I couldn’t find the peanut butter.

For the busy bodies, concussions are a lesson in perseverance and pace. Slowing down and keeping a careful pace and learning how to keep ourselves from being overworked. People are not superheroes, and our mortality implies the possibility of weakness while also testing our fortitude.

“I’ve always been taught to be self-reliant,” says Johnson. “There are certain times where I need to lean on people, and there are certain people that I’ll allow.” And these are the people who understand. They are the ones who will fill in the blanks, who will say the right things or know not to say anything at all.

Head trauma forces us to take off our capes and acknowledge our vulnerability. It teaches lessons. I learned the importance of shower mats and the dangers of wet tile. I mastered the craft of midday naps and experienced the pain of being unable to respond to the messages glowing on my phone. I realized the hazards of not only sports, but every day life. And I learned that silence can be deafening and darkness can be illuminating.

Illustration by Taylor Roberts