Friday, 23 June 2017

Concussion Part 1 - The Art of Doing Nothing

I am a busy person. I have a full time job teaching and 2 teenagers to run around with karate and dance as well as being involved in fundraising and organising for community groups. I have my own interests in gardening and genealogy and technology to keep up with. My life is always full on and I love it.
Then I turned to look at something going on in a room to the side and walked smack into a glass door and my life has changed for a while. I stood for a minute after hitting my head and knee, thought "that hurt - a lot" and carried on with the day at work. I went to work the next day, feeling a bit tired, but not really out of sorts. The next day I woke up and could hardly get out of bed. I felt nauseous and exhausted and had a headache. I slept most of the day and then the next day decided to go to work anyway as I felt slightly better and there were things I wanted to do. Halfway there I thought I shouldn't be driving, made an appointment with the doctor and came home with the diagnosis of concussion. It was a long weekend coming up so I was told to go back if I didn't feel any better after the weekend. Sure enough I was back at the doctor on the Tuesday and 3 weeks later I'm still at home. The support I have had has been amazing, from friends, family, colleagues and services, everyone has been so helpful, but it has been exceptionally frustrating and I thought I would share my thoughts, in the hope that maybe they would help someone down the track or at least give some insight into this strange thing called concussion.
After that first week of feeling shattered, frustration really set in. The amount of things I have on the go at any one time is huge. Rearranging, cancelling, organising and changing things takes almost as much, or more effort as doing them myself. Passing on information for the most urgent things took energy and I was so lucky that we work the way we do at school and I didn't have to do huge amounts in that area as well. It also backed up my mantra of always documenting everything at school. I have learnt in the past to make sure I have shared all the information I gather, particularly aorund communication with students. Keeping a track of those conversations is invaluable when all of a sudden you are not there and someone else has to pick up the thread. Support from my kura has been fantastic, food has been flowing in so I don't have to cook and sometimes this can be quite overwhelming - I'm not good at taking help and support from others. I've been quite humbled by the help I have received.

In the first week ACC (Accident Compensation Coorporation for those not in NZ) called me and asked lots of questions about the accident and work and what I needed support-wise and I was referred onto the Insight people, commonly known as the Concussion clinic.
The first meeting with the Occupational Therapist (OT from here on) from Insight was tiring. Many questions were asked and there was lots of thinking about how I feel. Marking scores from 1-10 is always weird for me. My pain tolerance is quite high and I know that for me I'd be very reluctant to go anywhere near an 8,9 or 10 but then, does that mean that I am playing down the pain or nausea? The biggest overwhelming feature was that they told me to do nothing. Don't watch TV, don't use a computer. Nothing. How do you do nothing? I don't have that in my DNA. Rest she said, listen to music. It could be months she said. Months!? Surely not I thought, it was just a bump on the head. They said I have to be 100% at home before I can start to go back to work, small steps at a time. I think I came out more confused and stressed than I started.

So my research started. I googled "what to do when you have concussion", "how to do nothing" and a few other choice phrases. I read as much as I could manage (probably too much) and I contacted a friend who has had a very long road with concussion and got the message loud and clear that I needed to , yes, you guessed it, do nothing! She suggested listening to audio books and podcasts and listening to meditation tracks and she also talked about Binaural beats which I went away and looked up. A book she suggested was " AGhost in my Brain" by Clark Elliott and she suggested walking in parks and green areas. A colleague from work connected me with Anna McCone who has written a couple of blogs about her journey very aptly named "The moment that changed my life" and "Concussion I would not wish it on my worst enemy". I was lucky enough to be put in touch with her and had a good conversation around the same thing, doing nothing! I think that being able to talk with other about what they went through, knowing that what I am experiencing is normal, and read about their experiences has been invaluable and part of the inspiration to write this.

After the conversations with these two amazing busy people, I heard very clearly that doing nothing was my only way forward. Not being the type of person who can do that easily, I decided I needed to write myself a timetable that gave me a plan to follow. This was version 1:
Breakfast
Check emails and do urgent things like pay bills etc. max 10 mins
Do 1 thing I need to sort or do for the day (sort transport for kids, appointments etc)
Read
Go for a short walk to the park
Listen to music/podcast
Lunch
Meditation/rest
Read
Watch 1 hour TV
Dinner
Write blog
Read

This soon changed as I realised that listening to music and podcasts also made my head hurt - I think it is partly due to my deafness - I have to work hard to listen, but also when I listen to music I tend to analyse it and listen hard, not just let it wash over me. The joy of being a music teacher.
I added colouring in to my day and this has become my go to for turning my brain off. It now takes up about 3 or 4 hours each day and I am thankful for adult colouring books!
I had a few visitors over the first couple of weeks, particularly from work. It was great but also not so great as it reminded me of what I was missing out on, a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out). I miss the amazing conversations and the energy that I get from teaching at Haeata. The support has been outstanding from everyone there. I can't explain how wonderful they all are.

The whole problem with not being able to do things, the frustration and the knowledge that I can't do much is something I have thought about a lot and, having work always sitting in my thoughts, have related this to our students. To understand that I have to do things in very small steps has been quite a challenge but also an eye opener. I felt myself slipping into depression and having been there in my past, I was keen to not go there again! After working through why I was feeling that way, I realised it was because I couldn't achieve anything. Everything was too much for me. I felt overwhelmed and everything was out of reach. I needed to break things down and set achievable goals, very much like we need to do for our students.
Small steps are my saviour from feeling depressed and frustrated. Being able to walk to the park is huge. Making dinner without collapsing into tears is a real feat. The little steps mean I am progressing and however small and slow they are, it is forward motion. I'm keen to keep this in mind when I get back to school and show those students that even when they feel it's all too much and too hard, that those little steps can be a gamechanger. Little steps. Every day.

This is the first part of a few blogs that I think will get written. I have been writing them on paper and typing up in short bursts as I can manage (being on the computer I'm not meant to be on...). Part 2 coming in a week or two.

Any suggestions on how to do nothing will be gratefully received.