Misjudge a wall, knock myself out, and come to sitting on the floor. Tears. Shock. Pain. I can’t figure out what’s happened. Get up, apply icy fingers to the protrusion, and drive into town for work on automatic pilot. Surreal landscapes. It feels like a truck hit my head. I soldier on through the day, take paracetamol, go home, look up concussion on the internet and meet multiple criteria, then hope for a quiet weekend.
Return to work but I can’t focus on anything. I’m incredibly sensitive to light and voices, and feel angry and confused. I want to scream ‘PLEASE SHUT UP COS IT’S HURTING MY HEAD!’ Not professional, not PC, not like me, to have such jangly thoughts.
Impossible to do my job with headaches off the scale (like the worst hangover times a thousand), nauseated, no sleep, freaking out with sensory overload in the supermarket, my eyesight and balance wonky, I visit the doctor.
‘You’re concussed,’ she says. ‘Take ten days off work.’
She asks about previous head trauma and rattles off a list. I nod along like a plastic dog on a dashboard, yep, yep, yep … increasing evidence of the implications of repeated concussions … I never knew the past could catch up with me like this.
I go back to her because nothing has changed.
‘You’ve got post-concussion syndrome and need to rest for a month.’
Very few people see my squinty eyes, wobbly legs, ringing ears, slurry tongue, unpredictable emotions, and this brain that doesn’t even do quarter-speed. My tongue won’t wrap itself around kupu like it used to, betraying me. I forget things and repeat myself all the time. I can’t multitask or write anymore, and I’m so damn isolated.
Rehab begins, but it takes weeks to realise that I have to STOP EVERYTHING, and then by trial and error learn to balance my limitations.
‘You’re improving,’ the experts say.
Yes I am, but this morning I want to say ‘F*@# that shit right off and give me some sleep!’
I’ve tried zen-goddess-mode where I breathe deeply into my puku, but I toss and turn, sit up, try to read (but that’s a laugh cos my eyes can’t stay still), listen to the white noise app, lie down again and hear the birds start their day. With no sleep everything is chaotic, regardless of meditation, yoga, relaxation, distraction, or herb teas.
During the day I struggle to connect, and withdraw into a realm where this thick fog separates me further.
I noticed when people stopped enquiring, the contact dribbled off and I exited their orbits … like a death.
Imagine what all of this is like, just for a second.
And by god, if one more person says, ‘You’re looking great!’ I might explode.
How I look, sans gaping wound or scar, has nothing to do with what’s going on inside. If I did have a scar, according to research, people would be more likely to empathise, believe me and make allowances. But since I don’t, maybe they think I’m bullshitting.
A ‘professional’ accused me of that on Day Fifty-Three. Koretake.
I ask of them this. Why would I choose to stop everything that was going well in my life, including career, and be forced to move into a cabin where I mimi overnight in a pot because I can’t afford to live in a whare anymore? How many freaking times do I have to explain how I banged my head? No, it wasn’t violence related … not this time. Here’s a fact. Women with head injuries are taken less seriously than men, athletes or rugby players. Ponder that one.
If you’re managing a concussion, the ‘how it happened’ is irrelevant when you’re struggling every day to manage the symptoms. It doesn’t matter how hard the knock was, or whether your head sprayed blood over the multitudes, or if previous injuries combined forces to bugger up your wairoro, like mine did. YOU are the one living with it. People who’ve had a concussion know that.
Day One Hundred and Five.
I’m improving, but it’s impossible to fake anything. If I can’t be completely honest I’m quiet. If you notice my eyes glaze over after thirty minutes of conversation it’s because I can’t listen any longer. It’s not about you; it’s about me getting through this thing.
This thing lies luminous inside my wairoro.
I watch a man in a car at the lights bash his arms with his fists and my hands seek my flesh to pinch away this ever-present-unexplainable-dullness.
This thing lies luminous.
Iona Winter (Māori/Pākehā) has a Master of Creative Writing and is a published author of fiction and non-fiction. Visit Iona’s website here.