Monday, September 07, 2015

Panic at the Canadian

I signed up to do the Super Sprint Triathlon at The Canadian a week before the race. My original plans were to do my first open water Sprint Tri in August and the second one at The Canadian but those plans got derailed when I injured my knee while mountain biking in early July. The wound is not quite fully healed yet and I will have a nice big scar to show for it and probably quite a bit of scar tissue under it! When I fell, I also injured my tibiofibular joint and this has kept me from running all summer.

My training for this race was some easy road cycling and many kilometres of harder mountain biking - harder in the hill climbing department moreso than the technical aspect of it. No running or swimming since June. I figured I would have no problem doing the Super Sprint and it would be nice to do a race just for the fun of it.

On race morning, I woke up in a good mood. I was super excited to do this race! I was a little too confident in my ability to have a good race, I think, because the swim put me back in my place. The men were starting 5 minutes ahead of the women so we stood behind them as they got ready to go. My problems started right there and then: I was standing in weeds and they were freaking me out a little. The ground was very mushy and the weeds were everywhere, touching my legs and body. I was trying not to have more than one foot touching the ground at a time, and I could tell I wasn't the only one feeling this way: most women were grossed out.

The horn finally went off and off we went. The second I put my face in the water, I was hit with the biggest panic attack you can imagine. My heart rate was through the roof and my brain stopped working. All there was was fear - irrational fear, I know, but uncontrollable fear nonetheless. I turned on my back because I felt I was going to drown if I tried to keep my face in the water. Once on my back, I told myself to breathe deeply, to just keep moving, to feel the wonderful freshness of the water on this hot day. I managed to lower my heart rate quite a bit with those thoughts, but my hands would get tangled up in the weeds every couple of meters and I would get unsettled again. It's been hard for me to swim on my back since the concussion - it throws off my balance and makes me a bit nauseous, but in that case, I had no other option. Eventually, I got to a spot where I didn't feel any more weeds and I decided to try doing a bit of breast stroke. I made it 10-12 meters before I freaked out again. Back to square one, I couldn't breathe, I was terrified, I could not think straight. I turned on my back again, focusing on just making it through the swim. This was the longest 200m of my life. I have wanted to quit at least a dozen times, but I willed myself to just keep moving and it would end. The tears were welling up in my eyes and I told myself to keep it together, that I had faced worst things in my life and that I could make it through. I told myself I was brave and I was so proud of me for pushing through.

It's a miracle, but I did make it through the swim.

When my friends saw me at the swim exit, I looked like shit. They got worried because I wasn't my usual happy self.

As I approached the T-zone, I got pissed. Really pissed. I was disappointed about how things rolled and I was in a terrible mood. I passed the OTC tent and everyone cheered for me, but I could barely smile at them!

I got to my transition area and someone had dropped their towel on my stuff. I grabbed the towel and threw it as far as I could. Some of my rage left my body thanks to that inconsiderate person who didn't care about putting their stuff on mine. T1 was fast - I was 37/37 out of the water but my swim time, which includes T1, says I was 29/37.

I applied the advice given by coach Geordie during my bike: use the bike as a warm-up for the run. My initial plan was to treat the bike like a 20K time trial, but his words made a lot of sense: I had to keep some gas in the tank for the run. I gave a steady effort, but didn't go all out. Interestingly, I managed a 25 kph average speed (same as what I did at the Early Bird in May when I pushed really hard on the bike) with that strategy. I was pissed for the first 8K of the bike, the bad feelings from the swim didn't want to leave!! 19/37 on my arrival in the T-zone for T2. I'm very pleased with being in the middle of the pack on my strongest sport.

T2 was smooth and uneventful. The run was hard. Not only had I not run all summer, but it was almost noon by the time I started the run and it was very hot and humid. My asthma was flaring up big time and I wished I had brought my puffer
with me on the run. I was still in a somewhat crabby mood, and gave myself objectives: you run until that house, you can stop and walk after you pass that cone, you gotta start running again once you run by that sign, etc. It worked really well for me. There were a lot of water stations, the course being an out and back, and I was properly hydrated and refreshed the whole time. Before I knew it, I reached the 4K mark. I decided to focus all my anger in this kilometre to give me the strength to finish strong. There's no shortage of reasons for me to be angry considering the year I just had, haha, and by the time I passed my friends again 500m or so from the finish line, I was all anger. It fuelled every step and kept me going.

More cheers from the OTC gang, a great smile from a volunteer and the finish line was in sight. There was nothing left in my legs, but I didn't want to walk, so I focused on Joe who was at the finish line taking pictures.

Another miracle - I made it across the finish line.

This race was the toughest I have ever done. My body was undertrained but it could handle the distances without problems, but my mind was not ready to face such a massive panic attack and it tired me out. I am very proud of myself for facing the panic and making the best I could in the circumstances. I was terrified and it brought out the brave side of me. I see good things in my future and I can't wait to make them happen.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Getting the Job Done at Ottawa Race Weekend!

I have a love-hate relationship with running. I love running because I feel so good after a run, and sometimes even during the run itself. However, running is hard for me. Maybe that's because I only have one speed and I always push too much, so I end up hurting all over when I do it. Regardless of my feelings for running, I'm grateful that I am able to run and because I love the Ottawa Race Weekend, I decided to register for the 10K again this year.

I can't say that I followed a training plan. Following the events of the past months, I've learned to respect my body more than I did before. There were days when I experienced debilitating concussion symptoms and, on those days, I learned not to push it and get some rest. On the good days, though, I have been out exercising as much as I could to keep the dark beast of depression at a distance. You see, I've felt pretty useless in the past months. I don't contribute anything to society because my full time job is to get better. I have been limited in what I can do and it has been really hard for me to commit to activities because I never knew if they would happen on a good day or a crappy one. Socializing has been difficult - it required too much attention, focus and energy and I could only be around people for a limited amount of time. So yeah, my FB activity does not tell the whole story of my dealings with post-concussion syndrome and I feel the need to set the record straight here to illustrate what made me the runner I was when I got to that start line on Saturday. That runner has developed a huge amount of self-control and mental strength at the same time as she built strength and endurance in her body. She learned to take things one at a time and not to look too far into the future. She knows she can handle physical and mental pain. She has finally fully comprehended that she is capable of more than she thinks. Limits exist for a reason, but she learned not to pay more attention to them than what is needed.

The day before the race, I felt a stabbing pain in my right calf while going down the stairs. This freaked me out because it felt the same as when I injured my psoas years ago and was benched for many months. Sure, I was worried about my 10K race, but I was even more worried about everything else I want to do this summer. I decided that this 10K race was not my priority and that I would DNS if needed to protect my longer-term goals. Thankfully, it didn't come to that, but I was at peace with this decision.

The race itself went well. I am still making my way through a modified Learn to Run program and on race day, I was up to running 5 minutes, walking 1 minute. I have been running really fast lately during my running intervals and I can't seem to slow myself down for the life of me. My plan for the race was to do 3:1s and I followed it for 80% of the race. I ran my 3 minutes intervals at a 6:20 to 6:40 pace and the kilometres flew by so fast! It was hard but totally manageable. When I got near the 5K mark, I knew a 5K PB was possible and I kept pushing despite having to go up a small hill. My Garmin says 35:38 for the 5K and the Sportstats mats say 36:26. I guess my new official 5K PB is 36:26, but I'll have to enter a 5K race later this summer to officialize it. Following the run to the 5K mat, I developed a side stitch that refused to go way for over 6 minutes. I walked for that long, trying to lose the stitch without success. I was also starting to feel a blister forming on the left arch of my foot. I also got passed by the 75:00 pace bunny, which I was very disappointed about, so I thought maybe running would rid me of the stitch and it did! So I got back to my 3:1s and got it done. By the time I reached the finish line, everything was hurting and the tank was empty. I'm very happy because I left everything out on the course and I completed the race 5 minutes faster than last year, and only about 35 seconds off my 10K PB.

I'm so proud of myself! Running, I love you again for now. :)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Friending The Mental to complete my first Sprint Triathlon

This is the story of my first Sprint Triathlon: a story of a dream that started many years ago when some friends instilled in me the desire to do triathlons. They inspired me to dream big and to work hard to achieve my goals. I had to learn so many things to get to that start line: swimming, riding fast on my bike, pacing myself, running off the bike, hydration and nutrition for performance, how to train and how to rest, and above everything else, I had to learn to believe that I can do this. There were many obstacles along the way: injuries, self-doubts, accidents, lots of heartbreak, job changes. There were moments of over-the-top optimism and many days of discouragement. There were times when I put my triathlon dreams on a shelf and decided that I was not disciplined, talented, speedy, determined, strong enough to achieve them. There were other times when I picked myself up and reminded myself that I was the one in charge of what I can and cannot do. And then, there were times when life reminded me that I was lucky to be alive, to have the use of all my limbs, to be so resilient and to have such an ability to connect with people and surround myself with an awesome support system. The road to the start line of my first Sprint Triathlon was not a straight line. It was bumpy and full of obstacles! In hindsight, I now know that this road was my journey to get tougher so that one day, I would fully understand that nothing can stop me.  

Following my concussion last July, I was not able to exercise because any elevation in my heart rate was accompanied by terrible headaches. In October last year, I was given the yellow light to start trying to exercise again. Biking was fine, as long as I didn't push too much. At first, I was just riding around the bike path system on my hybrid bike. In November, I got on the mountain bike again, but stayed away from any technical trails because rolling on roots and rocks made me dizzy and I could feel my brain moving in my head (huh!). I also started spinning with the Ottawa Triathlon Club (OTC) in November. At that time, I attempted a couple of runs, but they made my concussion symptoms worse so I didn't push it and stuck to walking and biking. I got back in the pool at the end of January this year. At first, I was a bit dizzy from bilateral breathing, but I quickly got used to it and a month later, I was swimming 1-2 times a week. In March this year, I decided to attempt another return to running and was successful. No real concussion symptoms from it. Yay!

If you've been following along, you know I've dreamt of completing my first Sprint Tri for a very long time but I was so scared I would not be able to do the swim that I kept to try-a-tris for many years. Well, enough with the doubts, I thought during one of my swims this spring. I'm going to get this Sprint done at the Early Bird! So, I did.

I was wide awake at 5:30 on the morning of the race. I was feeling more excited than nervous and it was a nice change from my usual "oh my God, I don't want to do this!" race morning routine. It was then, just before getting out of bed, that I had an epiphany: the day was not going to be about 'beating' or 'shutting up' The Mental. The day would be about trying to work together with The Mental so that I can have a good race. The Mental seemed to agree with my strategy because I was soon filled with positive and happy thoughts.

When I got to the race site, everything became chaotic for me: a sherpa would have been very handy at this point, if only to take care of standing in line for me to pay for parking! I didn't want to leave my bike on the car rack as I was going to pay for parking, but I didn't want to bring it with me either. It was at that moment that I saw my friend Suzy and had a mini freak-out on her. Poor girl! The lines were so long to pay for parking that I decided to go get my T-zone set up and come back after. Best decision, even though it ended up making me run all over the place for the next hour.

I saw many OTC people as I was setting up and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. There is such great camaraderie at triathlons and for someone like me who likes to chit-chat with people, it is not difficult to find people to talk to. Once I was all set and parking was paid, I headed out for the pool and this is when I started getting a little nervous. Positively nervous, I would say, but nervous nonetheless. I met a man in OTC uniform and we chatted for a while before going inside for the long wait before the start of our swim. As we were waiting, Coach Mark came out of the swim, looking strong and happy. We wished him well on his race and off we went to get ready for our own.

I got in line for the swim and started chatting up a man who was standing behind me. It was his first triathlon and it was nice to hear someone else's story, their motivation, their nervousness. Soon, I was talking to everyone around me in order to seed myself properly. Unsurprisingly, many women underestimated their time and ended up passing me in the pool. On the other hand, I was right where I said I would be and the men also generally were seeded properly too. I went into the pool in the warm up area to pass the time, but also to get some stretching done and a feel for the water. As I was swimming, I felt so calm and noticed how nice it was compared to my usual over-stressed state just before race start.

It was finally my time to get in the pool sometime after 9:30am. At that point, I was more than one hour behind the fastest swimmers! I got in and followed the plan: 50m front crawl, 50m breast stroke. I did that for the first 300m, but after that, I switched to breast stroke whenever I was out of breast and front crawl as soon as I felt recovered enough. I tried the unilateral breathing but I have a very hard time with it since the concussion, it is making me very dizzy and disoriented. I think the breast stroke solution was the best option. It was a hard swim. I felt a little panicky and out of breath a lot of the time. I asked The Mental to help me and it did! Thoughts of how awesome I was, how amazing it was that I was finally doing this race, how I could do it flowed over me and helped me through the hardest part of my race. Soon, i was out of the water and walking towards the exit with a huge smile on my face. I did it! I swam the 500m of a Sprint Triathlon! :)

I ran/walked to T-zone with a smile on my face until I saw coach Mark and a few other OTC members with medals around their necks: they were finished their races already and I was just getting started! The Friendly Mental jumped in and said "they may be finished, but you still have the fun part ahead of you!".  ;-)

T1 went fine, nothing to report. It was my first time doing a race since I started riding clipless last summer and I hoped that the clips, along with the OTC triathlon training program and the handful of time trials I've done in the past year would help me have a strong bike. I'm very happy with my performance. I feel I've given an even effort throughout the 23.6km bike leg of the race. I maintained an average speed of 24.9km/h (which includes the run to and from the mount/dismount line) which I believe is my fastest average speed in a triathlon (I have done a bunch of try-a-tri, super sprint and the bike leg of many relay races both at the Sprint and Olympic distances). Thanks to coach Mark for the great workouts over the winter. They paid off in that I felt strong and confident on the bike. I knew how much energy I could expand and I would say I spent the race between the bottom and the middle of zone 4. The bike was pretty lonely, which had its pros and cons. On the one hand, I had the road almost to myself, especially during my second loop, but on the other hand, I like the energy of having to watch for others, passing and getting passed, cheering one another on as we push on. I missed this part of the race, but such is life. Thankfully, I saw a lot of OTC'ers on the run course as I was still riding and we cheered on each other. And above all, I had my own personal cheerleader! My friend Rae-Ann came to cheer on me and she even made a sign just for me. This nice gesture was much appreciated each time I rode by. :)

I made a point of eating on the bike even if I wasn't really hungry. I had brought energy balls with me. They had peanut butter in them and by the time I opened up the ziploc to eat them, they had melted into a giant 'energy turd'. This made me laugh a lot, but it made consumption a bit trickier than I had planned. Note to self: stick to salted boiled potatoes next time!

When I got to the 2nd turnaround during the first loop, the volunteer there asked me if I was hurting, to which I responded "just enough". This was a very accurate answer. Everything hurt somewhat, but it was all tolerable. For the first time ever, my glutes hurt on the bike. I suppose it has to do with the swim or maybe they were just tighter than usual that day. I tried to stretch my legs and lower back a few times during the race by standing on my pedals and it helped a bit, but the pain always returned. I was glad I only had a bit over 23K to cover, otherwise the whole thing would have been way more painful. Anyway, I got it done and was dreading the run a little because I felt I was starting to run out of steam.

I got to T2 and my friend Maria, who was done her swim-cycle race, came over to ask how I was doing and make sure I was doing well with my nutrition and hydration. How sweet of her! I drank half my bottle of eLoad, and it was seriously the best eLoad I have ever drank. The run to the trafic cone that marked the 1K mark felt a lot longer than 1K (and maybe it was). My right calf was very unhappy and so was I. The run course sucked! We were running on the grass by the side of the road for about half the distance of the run. Thankfully, there weren't many people still out on the course so it was manageable. I can only imagine what it must have been like for people who were going all out among a big group of people.

I ran by perceived exhaustion. I ran when I could and walked when I needed to. I pushed myself to keep up with a few people who had passed me and I was successful at keeping them in my sights until the end. At one point, I saw a beautiful lilac and decided to stop to smell it. What's a few seconds off my race time when nature is so generous with us? ;-)  When I got to the place where the run course was right beside the road, I saw that the kids run was on. It was really cute to see all the toddlers and young children run with their parents, until they merged with me about 200m from the finish line. They were all cheerful and energetic and were running/walking in every direction and stopped unpredictably. Honestly, this was awful. I didn't need that. My brain was becoming foggier by the minute and I was not feeling great at this point. A kid stopped in front of me and I'll be forever grateful to the dad who looked behind, saw me approach and made space for me to pass them. My eyes saw what happened, but my brain could not tell my legs what to do. As I approached the finish line, I became very emotional. If my brain was working properly, I would have thought of all the things I went through and how great it felt to be back doing things that challenged me. Instead, all I did was feel. I felt the things I could not put into words at the moment and that I'm struggling to put into words now: gratefulness for being alive and for my body to be functional enough that I could achieve this, sorrow for all that is behind me, grief for all that I have lost, fear for the therapy for PTSD I now have to face in order to finally get better, hope for what lies ahead of me and pride because in spite of everything, I am still standing and getting stronger.

I crossed the finish line with tears in my eyes. I had to fight my way through a crowd of kids to get the bagel and gatorade I desperately needed and to receive my medal. I found my friend Suzy and I burst into tears. She hugged me and said many soothing words to me. I could not explain why I was crying - the words don't come to me easily anymore, especially when I'm tired. I hope I get better someday, because words have always been my way to make sense of this world and when they refuse to come, it's really hard for me. This race report took days to write because there comes a time when the brain shuts down and I can't, for the life of me, write another sentence. This remaining effect of the concussion is extremely frustrating and I wish it would go away. Patience... it is what I need to learn from all this.

All this said, one of my dreams has come true. I completed my first Sprint Triathlon and I have never been more proud of myself. I'm one tough chick! What's next? More triathlons and a full recovery from the concussion and PTSD from the rafting accident.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Long Way Back

I have been meaning to write this update for quite a while now, but I didn't seem to have the brainpower to get the ball rolling, so I waited for a better time to do it. Waiting is something I have been doing a whole lot of this winter. I have waited to get better, waited to see improvements with my concussion symptoms, waited for my next appointments, waited for this shitty day to be over, waited for the snow to fall so I could go play outside, waited until I recovered from an outing so I can have another one, waited to hear back from a special someone who remained silent... For someone who has always been impatient, I sure have demonstrated a lot of patience in the past months!

This concussion has kicked my ass! I was going full speed towards the life I wanted to live and then I hit a wall - a wall of rocks and water, actually. At the same time as my brain was trying to figure out what happened and the extent of the damage sustained, I was imploding and taking note of all the work I had to do to get back on my feet, both physically and emotionally. It has been quite the journey and I have made many discoveries in the process. The main one being that despite my world collapsing around me, I was OK. I could take care of myself. In the worst of times, there was a will to live in me that pushed me to get help and support, to remain hopeful and to work towards feeling better.

More specifically, I have been doing vision therapy since January. I go to the eye doctor once a week and we do all sorts of stuff to get my eyes working properly again. Vision therapy is hard. The first few weeks were hellish - my headaches increased and my quality of life deteriorated. The eye doctor had said it could happen, so I kept pushing and I went outside in nature as often as I could, because it seemed to be the only time when I was truly calm and balanced. Some exercises she has me do are fun, like the ones when she throws balls at me or I have to put pins on a rotating panel. Some exercises are excruciating: there's one when she has me working my eyes really hard so I can bring an image into focus and it gives me nauseating headaches. Others are just difficult or challenging in one way or another. We have done a mini assessment after 10 sessions and progress was noted. I'm still on for at least another 10-15 sessions, but they are worth my time, money and energy. 

I've also been working with the physiotherapist on the vestibular symptoms. He is having me do all sorts of balancing exercises, some with my eyes open and some with my eyes closed. I can't say that I am seeing much progress there. I still rely heavily on my eyes to know where I am in space and to keep my balance. Eyes closed? I fall to my right side. Too much visual stimulus? I lose my balance. Fatigued? Same thing. I fell a few times on my right side this winter while cross-country skiing, either because I looked to the side, someone skied next to me in the other direction or someone talked to me. Yup! Talking to me while I'm struggling with my balance will make me fall to my right side without fail. How weird is that.

I'm still struggling with light and noise sensitivity. Not much has changed here. A part of me is worried that I will never get back to normal, but I refuse to let myself believe this. I have improved somewhat as I am now better able to isolate sounds so I can follow conversations, but noisy places are still challenging to me, especially if there are a lot of lights and movement around me.

I have more endurance in social situations since I have decided to accept and respect my limitations. I went from crashing after 90 minutes with people to being able to spend 3-5 hours with people depending on the setting of the place where we are meeting. The less people the better, although one on one is harder for me than, say, a group of 3 or 4 people. I think it's because there is less attention on me when there are more people. The best social situations are when I meet people outside and we do something active that doesn't require or allow us to talk too much.

My memory is slowly coming back! I remember more stuff, although I'm still more forgetful than before the concussion. I have come a long way!

I'm working with my therapist on the emotional aspects that are painful in my life, whether they are related to the concussion or not. It's like spring cleaning, really, facing the past hurts so that I can move on. This work is surely as hard as the vision therapy, but like vision therapy, i know it will pay off in the long term.

There is more I could say, but I've been writing for 30 minutes and my head is threatening to explode! Time to go to bed. Night, night!      

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

So Long, 2014!

I can't believe 2014 is coming to an end. It felt like the youngest year at times but I feel like it also sped by. As always on the last day of the year, I feel the need to look back at the events that unfolded and how they have helped me grow into a better person. 2014 sure has offered me many opportunities for personal growth!

The year has been an emotional roller coaster. I have experienced loss, grief, despair, uncertainty, through the roof anxiety... alongside hope, happiness, a feeling of freedom I had not experienced in a long time, pride, self-love, infatuation, excitement and passion. The year has been one where I deconstructed my life to make way for new things. I have let go of a lot of things, dusted off my old dreams and pushed outside of my comfort zone. I have been very courageous this year: I reached out for help, I put myself out in the world and met a ton of new people, I risked opening my heart and falling in love and lived through the heartbreak that followed, I tried new activities that I had always longed to try. I am quite proud of where I am today, compared to where I was a year from today.

2014 has been pretty chaotic. It was as dark a year as it was fun, and at some point, I was too out of balance and life sent me an opportunity to learn to rest and relax. I think as I start 2015, I have a better balance between my dreams, my enthusiasm to achieve them and my need for quiet time.

In 2015, I will work towards my long-term goals of going on multi-day hikes/treks, improving my riding both on the road and the MTB, spending more time outdoors, becoming a "real" triathlete and solidifying my network of friends with whom I can do all those activities. On a personal level, I will recover from my concussion and go back to work, sell my house and downsize so that I can live a life that is closer to my heart's desire, continue to develop my newly found love for myself and try to make a difference in this world.

The key word for 2015? Joy. I will pursue joy, embrace it, celebrate it, nurture it and spread it around me. Thank you 2014 for all the teachings and a warm welcome to 2015, the year of joy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Life with Post-Concussion Syndrome

As I was saying in my previous post, I got a concussion after hitting a rock with my face while whitewater rafting. The morning when my brain quit on me, I agonized through a meeting that I was leading, but that I simply did not have the brain power to lead. I could not figure out what the topics of discussions were and was unable to answer simple questions. My headache was unbearable, it was making me nauseated. Also, everyone was talking way too fast, what was wrong with them and why were they asking me to know what the meeting was all about? I barely made it through the meeting without either bursting into tears or killing someone. At some point during that meeting I knew that I was in trouble. I called the health line from my desk and the nurse strongly advised that I see a doctor that day.

I went to a walk-in clinic in Ottawa and saw an awesome doctor. She listened to me and asked a lot of questions. She allowed me time to think and respond. She checked my eyes, the bruises on my face and my balance, of which I had none. It was like I was drunk: my brain was so foggy and I could not stand straight. She told me I had a concussion, gave me a doctor's note so that I take a week off to rest and gave me a one-pager with information on concussions and what to do/what not to do. It didn't say much, only to rest and have someone check over us.

And so, I went home and rested. I was so tired, I don't know if I have ever been this tired in my life. My mood was all over the place during that first week: one minute I was laughing, the next I was very agressive and then I was mellow. On the morning of day 7 after my concussion, I spoke on the phone with my friend. All was good, until about 20 minutes after I hung up. It hit me like a ton of bricks: the suicidal thoughts. They were insanely real: I knew that I would take all the pills in my house and just end my life right there and then. I thought that maybe I didn't have enough pills in the house to finish the job, so I thought I would go to the pharmacy later to get more. I didn't feel any emotions while I was having those thoughts. I was planning my suicide like I would plan a bike ride. Eventually, I started to freak out and called another friend. We met up not long after and that's when I cried for the first time since the concussion. It would take another 2 months until I cried again. The suicidal thoughts left as suddenly as they appeared, but I remained terrified that they would come back.

The second week after the concussion, the symptoms were worsening instead of improving. The fatigue was getting worse, the headaches wouldn't let up, I was foggier than ever and very agressive. I got scared that this was the new normal for me and somehow convinced myself that I would have to grieve the person I had become in the past year. I loved that version of me. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to be me. I stopped caring so much about people's opinions of me and started to live my life according to my needs and desires. I discovered the person that, deep down, I knew I was, but hid from the world: an adventurous spirit, eager to connect with people and to try new things, with a strong desire to push outside of her comfort zone to experience the world in a whole new way. I had only been 'me' for a few short months and now it was back to square one. The thought depressed me more than any other thought I have had in my life. I knew I should fight back, but I didn't know how and I didn't have the energy to do so.

My time off work was extended. All in all, I wouldn't go back to work before 3 weeks post-concussion. When I went back, I found myself overwhelmed by the noise, the lights, the people and all the action at work. Working on the computer was extremely hard, but I pushed myself to do it because I felt I didn't have any other choice. My director gave me permission to use my sick leave to work shorter days, which I was thankful I could do. The first two weeks, I worked 4.5-6 hour days. On my third week back, I decided it was time to work full-time, but I knew I was pushing it as my symptoms were getting worse by the day. The headaches were unbearable, my eyes did not want to stay open when I was on the computer, I could barely follow conversations, let alone participate in them and I would crash on the couch as soon as I made it home each day. I was becoming more and more depressed at the same time as my aggressiveness was reaching an all-time high. I was particularly aggressive towards the people who were trying to be nice to me. For some reason, they were the ones that got on my nerves the most. Every day was torture.

Thankfully, I had a week of vacation coming the week after, so this was helping me hold on. I rented a cottage close to Quebec City, where I would get silence, peace and solitude. That week was wonderful: I rested a lot, both physically and mentally and I started on my vestibular rehabilitation exercises. These exercises brought on dizziness and headaches, as well as stupidity (my brain could not count from 1 to 15 if I was doing something else at the same time, like moving my eyes between two "x" on the wall).

When I went back to work the week after, I crashed. I couldn't stand to be working on the computer, could not stand conversations with colleagues, the surrounding noise was unbearable. One morning, we had an early morning teleconference, which I took from home. The call went on for hours and I cried my way through it (thank God for mute). Once I hung up, I called my manager and advised that I would not be going back to work until I saw my sports doctor the next Wednesday. I finally admitted to myself that this was a serious injury and that I had to treat it like a serious injury. This was 2 months post-concussion.

When I saw my doctor, he took a look at my imPACT test results and said "you can't be able to work with those types of results" and he put me on sick leave for the next 6 weeks. I was shocked and relieved at the same time. Shocked because it confirmed that this was serious. The thought made me quite depressed for a minute, until relief at not having to go back to the office to stare at a computer all day spread over me.

Tomorrow will be 4 months post-concussion. I am still off work and will be for at least another 5.5 weeks. More on my treatment later, I'm getting very tired now.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Whitewater Rafting on the Ottawa River

On July 26th, I went whitewater rafting with my friend Sonia. After hearing all my adventures, Sonia decided to challenge me to try something new with her and we decided to try whitewater rafting. None of us had done it before and we both had it on our respective bucket lists. We were planning a girls' weekend and thought it would be the perfect time to go on an adventure. Like everything in life that is both scary and exciting at the same time, it sounded like a much better idea in June than it did a few days before it took place!

We ignored our fears as best we could and talked each other into remaining enthusiastic and excited about the whole thing. When we got to the place where the activity took place, we got a bit nervous when we looked at the people we would be rafting with that day. It was not yet 9am and it was already a very festive crowd... Most people were much younger than us and some acted as if they were already a little drunk. I don't mind party people, but I do mind being on a boat in rapids with people under the influence of alcool or drugs! This freaked us out. The pre-briefing did not really do anything to calm our nerves. The organizer told us how the day would proceed and then read the waiver form to us. The whole time he was joking and speaking lightly about the risks involved in going rafting. He mentioned there was the possibility of being evacuated by helicopter if we got hurt, but that they had never done it before and it was very expensive (hint, hint: don't be the first one to be evacuated by helicopter, will you?).

When we got onto the school buses taking us to the start point of our adventure, we had no idea who we would be sharing the ride with. Sonia was ready to throw a fit if we were teamed with the group who had been drinking during the briefing. Thankfully, we were matched with a group of people our age, who were there for fun but who seemed to care about safety. This got us into the rafting boat... We were ready to call it a day if we didn't feel safe getting onto the boat. We were relieved and eager to get started.

The first few rapids were fun. I was expecting to be more scared than I actually was and I relaxed and started to really enjoy it. This was fun! Paddle, paddle, paddle, watch out, paddle, paddle, paddle. And in between the rapids, we had a nice friendly atmosphere in the boat, everyone telling jokes and stories and just having a good time. We stopped for lunch and got excited about the afternoon ahead.

The rapids were bigger after lunch and it was more challenging to stay in the boat. I kept repeating to myself the directions we had been given, to make sure I would remember if I needed to: how to paddle, where to swim and where not to swim if I fell into the water, what to do if the boat capsized, not panicking and counting to three if I found myself under water, holding on to my paddle if I fell into the water, etc. This anxiety came in handy when I was ejected from the boat into the "Waikiki Bus-Eater" rapid. I don't remember what happened: one moment I was in the boat, angry at one of the guys because he was taking up all the space and I was uncomfortable, then next I was at the bottom of the water and repeating to myself "don't panic and count to three". I had to count until 5 before I floated to the surface of the water. The waves were coming at me from every direction and I couldn't grab the paddle that was offered for me to grab. I was quickly pushed in a direction away from the boat and I could see the fear in one of my boat mate's eyes a second before a huge wave hit me from behind and sent me into panic mode.

The next 1-2 minutes were among the most traumatizing of my life. I was carried away in the rapids and there was nothing I could do. I tried swimming to the right like I had been instructed but there were so many rocks and the current was so strong that I deemed it safer to move back into the running water. I was having a hard time breathing, which I assumed was because I was panicked, but found out later it might have been from the blow to my head. All the time I was being smashed by waves, I was convinced I would drown and die. I was not afraid to die, I knew I was going to die. It was truly terrifying!

Eventually, I made it to the bottom of the rapids and another rafting boat was able to pick me up. I got off the boat and went to sit on a rock to calm down and talk myself away from the terrible fear I had just experienced. People were willingly jumping into the rapids to experience bodysurf. I watched them and emotionally detached myself from all the scared faces I saw emerge from the bodysurf experience. When my friend Sonia came to ask me how I was doing, I told her with a lack of emotion that it was very scary and I thought I would drown. The rafting guide asked if I hit my head and I said no, but really, I did not know and I should have said that.

I got back on the boat, but got off for the next big rapid. I walked that one, but I tripped and fell while walking, which I attributed to my wet shoes. My anxiety levels sky-rocketed when I had to get back into the boat and face more rapids. Although milder, these rapids were too much for me to handle and soon, I felt like a little child, alone and scared with no one listening to me and validating my fears. I couldn't have been happier to get off that boat when the adventure was over. The bus ride back to camp is a blur. People were laughing, singing and being silly, but I was a bit stunned. So tired. I again fell on my butt trying to get off the bus, which I again attributed to my wet shoes.

It was not until I got back home that I really realized the emotional trauma I had just been through. I stayed up until almost 5am that night, talking about what happened and getting comforted. The next day, I had one of the biggest headaches ever, as well as nausea. I had a nice bruise on my cheekbone just under my eye, and my face was swollen. Looking at myself in the mirror, I felt I did not look the same. I felt foggy, but I blamed the sleeplessness of the previous night for it. I had taken the Monday off work and I spent most of it napping. I was still nauseous and the headache wouldn't go away. I was unmotivated to do most things and feeling overwhelmed. I went to bed early that night but I didn't sleep well.

I went to work on the Tuesday, but everything felt surreal, as if I was a distance away from what was happening around me. It felt like everything was moving too fast, people were talking too fast and using words that were too complex. I felt foggy and blamed the headache. As soon as I got out of the office and had some quiet, I felt better so I went for my planned MTB ride. It was the best ride ever, I had so much fun! But then, the next morning, the headache was 10x worse than the previous day and at that point, I could not figure out what people were telling me. I could hear it, but it did not make sense. I felt so slow and as if I was out of my body, watching people living life from a distance. Just before lunch, I decided that it would be safer to go see a doctor and I got diagnosed with a concussion.

I got my diagnosis on July 30th. Post-concussion syndrome reared its ugly head a few days later. More on this later - I have written too long and have a massive headache from it now.