Behind Michelle's Mind

     Growing up in figure skating, I lived a chunk of my childhood and adolescence at the arena. When I think back to the hours I spent not at school or home, it was almost all on the ice. As I grew up and reached high school, it was the time of my day that grounded me and made me forget anything else I was worried about, like an escape. On the ice I could always just focus on my body and its movements, and not have to think about anything else.

That was until I got my fourth concussion. The others had been nothing, but this one took me out of all sports (I also played competitive soccer in the time I had leftover) and I missed probably 3-4 months of high school altogether. I had to go to therapy to regain my walking balance, vision therapy to help the double vision, and have glasses now for the rest of my life because of it. But it wasn’t the physical injuries that I suffered the most from – it was the mental ones.

I spent so many days lying down in a dark room because I was sensitive to light and noise. This would be depressing enough in itself, but I also lost everything I identified with – I couldn’t skate anymore, or run, or anything else that I found my escape in. I didn’t know who I was anymore without it. And as someone who always worked hard in school, I could barely look at my school work and didn’t know how I would ever get into university. I was in chronic pain from the headaches, and none of the medications were working. I barely left my house for months and even when I did, I felt like a shell of the person I used to be. Looking back on those months, it was like walking through a fog or having an opaque glass covering my whole life.

I don’t know if it was the moment of the hit or the months that followed that triggered my anxiety. I’ll probably never know. Sometimes I wonder if I would have developed anxiety anyway, but in my gut I know that everything shifted after it happened. The brain is so fragile and uncharted. I started having crippling panic attacks and the first time it happened, I was so afraid that I went to the hospital because I genuinely thought I was dying.

My neurologist put me on anti-anxiety medication and it was like I woke up one day and could breathe again. My mom said she felt like she was getting her daughter back. I still couldn’t do any sports and even now I am too afraid to risk going back, but I started to find myself in new things; I started university, made new friends, and over time, my headaches improved and I started to feel like myself again.

There were so many people in my life who thought I was being dramatic missing school, who thought I was “milking” the injury to skip out on assignments. Some may never understand how brain injuries can impact your mental health. I hope they never have to experience what I did, but it made me infinitely stronger as a person. I’m proud to have gone through what I did and still end up succeeding in my personal and academic life. In a few years I’ll be adding a doctorate to my name, and I never would have imagined that in those first few months.

Struggling with mental health puts everything in your life into perspective. I know now how lucky I am to have my health back and to live the life I do. There are so many people who do not come back from brain injuries or other illnesses. I have such a strong support system in my life who without, I would not be where I am today. I believe it takes accepting your weaknesses to be able to start strengthening yourself. In accepting my anxiety, I can talk to my friends and family for encouragement and I can ask for help when I know that I need it. I am not ashamed of my anti-anxiety medication, because I know that it takes the edge off that I need gone to function in my day-to-day life. Accepting help is not accepting defeat.

I’ll finish by sharing a Buddhist concept that got me through the darkest times of my recovery: All pain and suffering is temporary, because nothing is permanent. Whenever you are feeling depressed, or anxious, or afraid that your life can’t get better, just remember that nothing stays the same. From here, you can only go up.

 

Michelle M.

Ottawa, Ontario

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