In September, I went out surfing with a friend in Stinson Beach, California. I’m not a very experienced surfer, I’d only gone out twice before, but I was excited to give it another try.
While we were out on the water, my friend pointed out there was a couple kayaking ahead of us. We didn’t think about it much, until it was all I could think about: All of the sudden, a massive wave broke, the couple fell into the water, and the kayak came crashing right into me. I was pummeled by the wave, my own surfboard, and this kayak all at once.
Fortunately, I didn’t black out, but I remember wondering: “Did I just get a concussion?” I didn’t think too much about it, got out of the water, and then just continued with my day.
Then, when I went back to school two days later, I started to feel differently. I was sitting in math class, and I could not focus on anything. I felt like the world around me was spinning out of control. My parents took me to the doctor, who confirmed I had a concussion.
The doctor told me to rest for two weeks, at which point I should be able to go back to my normal everyday life. I waited one week, then two weeks, then three, then a month—but my symptoms weren’t getting better. I was experiencing blurry vision, dizziness, and I just felt completely detached from my own body. I was so uncomfortable. I spent all my time sitting in my dark bedroom, isolated, because that was supposed to be helpful for concussion recovery.
My doctors told me to be patient, but I was getting so frustrated—after all, I’m a very busy, active person. I went from everyday school, activism calls, and dance classes to complete inactivity and isolation. I was left with nothing but my own thoughts and emotions, which amplified my anxiety symptoms. I was so confused and scared about why I wasn’t feeling any better, and I worried this was something I might deal with for the rest of my life. I tried so many interventions, too—acupuncture, massages, more doctors—but nothing seemed to help.
Then, by December of that year, I started to feel a bit better. I crammed for my finals and made up essentially three months of schoolwork. I went back to school the rest of December and January. But the whole time, I was so scared of hitting my head again. I was moving through the world overly cautious about everything I did. Then, when I was walking into class the last week in February, the person in front of me took a step back and we bumped heads. Immediately, everything went blank, and I experienced overwhelming pain. I thought, this can’t be happening again. I tried to convince myself it was fine, because people bump heads all the time. But as the day progressed, I started feeling worse and worse. When I went back to the doctor, they concluded I likely experienced another concussion.
This time, in addition to the blurriness, I also experienced excruciating, piercing pain in my head. Those symptoms last for the next few months, until June. Everyone went to prom in April, and I was stuck in my bed.
It took all of my energy and mental strength to persist through the first round, and now my experience was repeating itself. At this point, I’d already missed so much of high school due to COVID and now because of my concussion, which led to a profound sense of alienation. What’s more, I felt very plagued by depression, because doctors couldn’t tell me exactly what was happening to me, even though I was going to the ER a few times due to overwhelming pain.