The Fifth Of Five Lists: My Brain Injuries: One of the most important tools to my recovery has been lists. A year into my recovery I started making lists to sort out my memories, including embarrassing memories, favourite movies, friends I’ve lost and the fifty-two places I’ve lived. Getting them out on paper has allowed me to place important events which were otherwise confused and scrambled into some order. In my opinion these lists can be very helpful to someone with manic depression or clinical depressions as a means of putting perspective into our lives. As proof I’m offering my lists.
This is a list of definite brain injuries I’ve suffered over the years. I was knocked unconscious at least three times between the ages of seven and twelve, and again when I was seventeen. I’m not sure if that’s considered a little, or a lot… but it feels significant.
There were other head-centred injuries, which were basically concussions where, afterwards, I saw stars and was woozy for an hour or two. But, from what I can remember (heh), there were only the four times when I was knocked out. It’s strange, I’ve been trying to put together this list for weeks, but the more I try to remember these incidents the faster they fade away.
The idea for this list came long before I found out about the research into the brains of professional athletes. The research is showing a direct link between multiple concussions and severe depression. I’m fairly sure that I don’t qualify, I never played in the NFL, and I never had four or five concussions in a month. but I also haven’t read anything defining “multiple”.
“While most people recover from concussions, a few experience persistent problems with memory or other neurological functions. Doctors believe individuals who experience severe or multiple concussions may be at a greater risk for neurological disease later in life than the average person… . Researchers know concussions disrupt chemical reactions in the brain and this imbalance may be what leads to depression.” — Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, 2003
I started exhibiting the symptoms of manic depression when I was, roughly, seventeen. So I doubt my head injuries are to blame for the severe depression and manias I went through from 1987 until, roughly, 2009. But the damage from even a single concussion can effect the rest of your life, and there are many studies connecting concussions suffered in early adulthood to severe depression in middle age.
The symptoms are also very similar, at least between post-concussion syndrome (PCS) and unipolar depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of PCS include “headaches, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, loss of concentration and memory, and noise and light sensitivity”.
“In some cases, people experience behaviour or emotional changes after a mild traumatic brain injury. Family members may notice that the person has become more irritable, suspicious, argumentative or stubborn.”
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, it doesn’t take floating away into unconsciousness to develop PCS: “Researchers haven’t determined why some people who’ve had concussions develop persistent post-concussion symptoms while others do not. There has been no proven correlation between the severity of the injury and the likelihood of developing persistent post-concussion symptoms.”
There have been studies looking into the possibility of concussions being a contributing factor to the onset of manic depression. In 2001 researchers used the Danish Psychiatric Case Register, the Danish National Patients Register, and the Danish Population Register, and found 10,242 patients with “bipolar affective disorder, and 102,420 matched controls”.
According to their research, “bipolar affective disorder was associated with an increased risk of a history of head injury. The increased risk was confined to head injury occurring less than 5 years before the first psychiatric admission.”
Just to be clear, I’ve been unconscious due to injury four times, but I’ve never been hospitalized. I have, however, had more than four concussions. But that’s another list entirely.
Baling Hay (1977-ish): My grandfather has a hobby farm in Quebec’s Gatineau Mountains, which he still worked when I was a kid. Every summer we’d cut and bale the hay, but because the fields were so uneven — a couple of them felt vertical, so we’d use a pickup truck to collect the bales. One summer we had seven foster kids staying with us, and I was showing off. The load on the truck was four or five bales high, with two on the top, and I was riding one of the top bales like it was a horse. The truck, driven by my grandmother, hit a dip a little too hard and the bales came dislodged. I fell from the top of the load, and hit the ground on my head. Then the bale I was riding hit me.
I was seven-years old. I was unconscious for about a minute. Afterwards, I spent most of the day confined to my bedroom. I was dizzy and nauseous, I can remember eating something at dinner though… at least I remember not not having dinner.
The Public Pool Shower (1980-ish): A bunch of us kids were playing… basically “tag”, I guess, in the change room at the public pool. I slipped running into the shower area, I can remember seeing my feet above my head as I fell backwards… but I’m not sure if that part is real or not.
I woke up about five minutes, or more, later. It was long enough for the lifeguards to have come in and lay me out on a bench, and someone had found my mother and brought her in. I’m pretty sure I remember someone talking about an ambulance.
There was also a lot of blood. I did need stitches… I’m pretty sure it was five. I was either nine, or ten-years old at the time.
The Backyard Pool (1981-ish): My little brother and I were spending the afternoon with a family friend and her two daughters. They had an above-ground pool, and as I was climbing the ladder I guess I was a little more violent than I should have been, because it detached from the pool. My head hit the concrete patio stone, I also came away with a five inch cut on my side and a cut on the knuckle of my little finger.
I remember nothing. I have no idea how I made it to her couch, but I did wake up for a few seconds to hear the woman and my mother discussing how I was “going to be fine”. I do know it was dark, and I was wrapped in a blanket. I went back to sleep almost immediately.
I still have the scars… and they’re pretty freaking cool. I was eleven-ish, but I could have been twelve.
Gym Class Soccer Game (1987-ish): Our gym “teacher” was away, so the woman who normally substituted in the math department was assigned to look after twenty testosterone and adrenaline-fuelled farm boys… I found out later there were also a lot steroids in those farm boys. From what I’ve learned there were only four or five of us who weren’t juicing.
So she threw us a soccer ball, then walked thirty feet away where she sat down and opened her book. I’m pretty sure there’s a lawsuit in that sentence.
I was the goalie for the high school team, so I decided I’d rather get out and play halfback instead. As I was running up the sidelines, I made a sweet little move to get around a guy I never really liked. And I guess the ambivalence wasn’t mutual, because he straight-armed me, really violently, across my nose and forehead. Basically, the guy punched me with his forearm.
When I was in grade twelve I was six-feet tall, and 185lbs. Jeff was a bit bigger, and juiced. Someone who watched it said my entire body was parallel with the ground before I fell back and slammed my brain holder into the pitch.
I came-to relatively quickly. I was only out long enough for most of my classmates to have gathered around me, I was told it was less than a minute.
Blood was pouring out of nose. I was surprised, when I approached the substitute teacher for the key to the locker room, that she didn’t hurl. I think she was too shocked at my face. Then I had to walk through the girls gym class on the way, and most of them looked like they could have thrown up.
Basically I looked like the cop after Hannibal Lector stole his face. The entire front of my T-shirt was also covered in blood. It was awesome.