If comedy is tragedy over time…..and I don’t tend to take myself that seriously….well then, I think it’s time I share my own TBI story. Okay sorry, I hate acronyms too (and if you grow up mormon and/or around the military….which I did…the very SIGHT of an acronym initiates the gag reflex. I digress….). TBI stands for traumatic brain injury. On Friday January 3, 2014 I was out training alone in Seattle and was descending down the familiar concrete slabbed roads (which is one of THREE things I hate about Seattle. The other two are the pedestrians and those god awful duck boats for the tourists. I won’t even post a picture. I’ll provide the link though in case you’re super curious. Yep. gag me. And don’t get me started on the pedestrians. There is no other place I’ve ever been that the pedestrian has complete entitlement to walk right in front of traffic – car or bike – regardless of how inconvenient or nonsensical the timing. You’re not even going to look are you?!….I digress). I forgot what we were talking about….Just kidding 😉
Anyway at the bottom of the descent there was some water which I attempted to avoid but there were also several concrete slabs which joined together in the same area, which were cracked and in pieces…..I tried to go over the ‘smoothest’ of the water filled broken concrete and instantly hit the ground. So fast. Faster than I’d ever crashed before. I remember hitting my head, screaming and watching my powertap computer skip across the road. Construction workers down the road heard me screaming and took me back to work. Where I walked in, aimlessly…….and moments later they took me to the emergency roomy. Thank god. I spent two whole days in my bosses house asleep except to stretch and eat. I went back to work on Monday.
The main reason I wanted to write about this is to warn others who haven’t hit their head or who recently have, to not make the same mistake I did. When you have a brain injury your brain is…….INJURED. You can’t think clearly, you don’t make sense to yourself or others, you do stupid things, you say stupid things, you make bad decisions etc etc. You have NO business racing a bike until you’re symptom free for several weeks. Unfortunately I couldn’t afford to not work so I had to go straight back to work, which was hardly ideal. I should have been in bed with very little stimulation of any kind for at least a whole other week. It’s just like any other injury in that, if you don’t allow it to heal properly it’ll take longer to heal. I had TBI symptoms for 8 months (exacerbated by a SECOND concussion in June when I….well anyway dislocated my shoulder because a pole jumped out in front of me and I hit my head right on the pole. Randomly ejecting poles are more dangerous than Cat 4’s in a crit. I digress…..). Why did I keep racing my bike you ask? BECAUSE I WASN’T THINKING CLEARLY. So, allow those close to you who know better and give a sh!t to tell you NOT to race and stay home if at all possible. I’m amazed I got the results racing I did…..but everything else suffered.
I had a very difficult time holding conversations, reading, listening to people talk, sound, and if I was in a room full of people I’d eventually back myself into a corner, not talk to anyone and wait until it was socially acceptable to leave. I couldn’t handle it. It was depressing, overwhelming and physically hurt to be around that much stimulation. I’d have conversations with people and walk away thinking ‘who was THAT?!’ I didn’t recognize the person who was talking, what they (being me) said and why. Everything was foggy, delayed and confusing. I certainly didn’t have to PRETEND to be blonde anymore anyway.
Things got really dark, depressing and frustrating too. I did everything I could to avoid human contact when possible. I would suddenly find myself slamming on my brakes in the middle of a training ride, then I’d throw my bike, yell a stream of expletives, and scream and had no idea why I was so upset. My personality changed to. And that’s the worst part. The limbo….the wondering…is this the new me? Or am I supposed to wait around for the old me to come back? I didn’t recognize myself anymore and so I didn’t know how to interact with people…which meant I pushed them away even more. I alienated a lot of friends too (all of whom I’ve made up with, which I’m very grateful for). I got lost all the time. I couldn’t read for very long, maybe 5 minutes at a time and I spent a lot of time in bed exhausted.
There was one more symptom that I didn’t fully grasp until last fall. When your brain is injured your physical recovery and endurance suffers too. How is that possible? Think about it. If your brain is injured and the neural connections aren’t working properly then that means the neuromuscular system is affected also. Your ability to train, benefit from the training and recover properly are all affected…which is explains A LOT from last year.
So unless you WANT to have your IQ >/= 75 points lower than normal, a severely altered personality, enjoy sounding stupid and don’t mind making a lot of bad decisions then by all means….don’t let your brain heal. However, I would guess that you don’t. How do I know? I’m a little smarter than I used to be.