I’ve been away from this blog for a while, though not by choice. Early in the summer, an innocent fall I took while running resulted in a concussion with symptoms that lingered for months and threatened to ruin my life.
Anyone who’s had post-concussion syndrome knows that’s no exaggeration. Over weeks, then months, I watched everything I love slowly slip away from me. I eventually recovered thanks only to a huge coincidence: my running partner happened to be reading a memoir written by a woman who had been suffering from a concussion for years and had found her way out.
I’m writing about it here in case anyone is in the same situation (although if you are, you’re probably not sitting in front of your computer screen). If you’re not, sorry, this post will bore you. Listening to someone talk in detail about an injury is a bit like listening to them tell you about the amazing dream they had last night. But if you know someone who’s suffering from lingering concussion symptoms, please pass this post onto them. It might change their life.
The book is called Run Towards the Danger by Sarah Polley, and her miracle cure came through a doctor in Pittsburgh named Micky Collins. A lot of concussion doctors have claimed over the years to be the one who cured Sidney Crosby. Micky Collins actually did.
Concussions come in different shapes and sizes, so I can’t speak to the ones that aren’t like mine, but I happened to have the same type that Sarah Polley had (vestibular). One evening, my running friend came to pick me up for a dinner out. When she saw me wearing sunglasses under a darkening sky, she said, “You have to read this book.”
I was being treated by a vestibular physiotherapist who had helped to some extent, but her prognosis (“this could take a year”) had filled me with despair. I had nothing more to lose. I couldn’t exercise above a certain heartrate threshold, couldn’t work for longer than fifteen minutes at a time, couldn’t go outside in daylight, couldn’t focus on conversations, couldn’t go grocery shopping without my head feeling like it was filled with bees. And I had just been offered the biggest opportunity of my career—to teach at a conference I’d dreamed of working at for years—but had no idea how I would manage it.
Collins’s approach to concussion treatment is unlike anything you hear about in Canada. Instead of worrying about thresholds, he advocates ‘running toward the danger.’ Every single thing your brain tells you that you shouldn’t be doing because it will hurt—going out in daylight, sitting in front of a screen, going to big-box stores—he makes you do them, one after the next, over and over, basically until your brain gets bored of them and stops treating them like threats. He makes you ditch the sunglasses and screen filters, stop taking those rest breaks you think you need—in short, he tells you to throw away the crutches and walk, even though you think it will be impossible.
If that sounds, um, unfun—it is. But if it also sounds too good to be true—I can tell you, it works. Within two days, I saw noticeable results. I attended the conference, which was hard at first, but midway through the weekend I felt completely fine. After several weeks I was still struggling with lingering dizziness whenever I exercised beyond a certain threshold, but I pushed through that and am now symptom-free.
For anyone who’s living in quiet misery with a concussion, with seemingly no way out—THIS is the way out. It feels terrible at first, but if you persist, things turn around quickly. You WILL get better.