“My job as a Special Education teacher is never boring and keeps me very busy. I was given the exciting challenge of teaching the brand new reception students. There were only five more minutes of lunch playtime in the playground. I and several other staff members were on duty. It felt like any other workday.
I was over by the sandpit area where some of the children were digging, others were on the swing, and some on the climbing frame. I look up. One of my students was sitting on top of the climbing frame. He looked anxious, like he was struggling to find his way back down to the ground. This happens quite often during the week, and he manages to get himself down safely with a little bit of guidance.
On this day, I decided to climb up a couple of rails on the climbing frame to get a little closer to him. I pointed to where he needed to place his foot next, he did it, and again and again and again until he was down at my level. I placed my foot on the next rail down to get myself back down on the ground, as I knew he’d be fine without my navigation support from here. Before I could, my student had hold of my top, and I lost my balance as he jumped safely to the ground next to me. I tumbled. I kept tumbling until I fell and hit the back left side of my head on a metal pole, and fell to the ground. That’s it. That’s all it took. Five minutes to change my entire life. A statement I very much was not aware of at the time.
I remember this sudden rush I felt all through my head. It was like a sudden explosion. A fuzzy explosion. It felt like my head was moving back and forth. I took a few minutes on the ground to gather myself. I was definitely a bit lost and I knew I wasn’t thinking clearly. I felt fuzzy, really fuzzy. I knew something was wrong.
It only took a few minutes for more symptoms to present themselves. I was having difficulty finding words, I knew what I wanted to say, but I had to really think about each word and concentrate to get it out. My vision started to go really blurry, I couldn’t focus on the objects and what I was seeing around me, and my goodness did I have a headache! I was having sharp pains down my neck and spine, and the shoulder I must have landed on was aching like hell. I was in shock. I was scared and I was in pain.
After being taken to hospital, put in a neck brace and sent off for x-rays and physical movement assessments, all I had to show from my fall was the tiniest, most pathetic looking graze on my wrists one ever did see! I was discharged later that night with a concussion, and was told to report to my GP clinic the next day for further testing.
It’s amazing how your body makes you feel after an injury like this. I spent the next two weeks in bed unable to move or function like a normal human being. I struggled to stay awake, always wanting to sleep. I was so stiff and sore from my fall as well. I started to notice a connection between the nausea I was experiencing and my eyes. I couldn’t watch TV, look at objects for a long time, and look around my bedroom without feeling terribly sick and having to sleep again. I could barely open my eyes to sit in the car on the way to the doctors.
The headaches and migraines were starting to kick in. It was one of the strangest feelings to explain, I had never felt or experienced anything like it before.
Over the next two weeks, between sleeping in bed, to travelling to and from the doctors with my parents for updates and check-ups, things started to feel worse. I felt broken. My mind was broken, and so was my heart. Still is. It hit me hard, like a massive slap in the face that kept pulling me down, and I couldn’t find my way back up. I felt like Humpty Dumpty after his great fall, and they couldn’t put me back together again. I felt so broken and shattered, as if someone had tried to put me back together but there were still missing pieces out there. Missing puzzle pieces I was trying to find, but couldn’t. I was 100% disconnected from my body, a feeling I would never wish upon anyone. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I still looked like Lauren, and that was the most frustrating part of all, because no one could see how I was feeling on the inside.
My injury was and remains physically invisible, and you just feel like screaming all the time!!! I had a comment made to me, ‘But I can have a conversation with you, I don’t get it?’ Or you know when people really don’t care or want to hear what’s really going on but feel like they have to ask, they’ll put the answer they want to hear already in the question? ‘How are you, you good? That’s good,’ before I can even answer. People around me reacted differently, and looking back its people’s reactions during this time that make you truly aware of who is really there for you, and who just pretends to be.
My eyes would hurt all the time; I couldn’t see or focus on things properly. I would daze out and miss whole or parts of conversations. I’d repeat myself constantly and forget things if I didn’t write them down. I couldn’t listen or filter information. I felt like a tab loading on the internet browser; you keep clicking refresh, refresh, refresh, and nothing ever loads. I couldn’t read or watch TV. I was lost. I was depressed. Anxiety about everything you could possibly imagine kicked in. I was angry, I had never experienced that much anger in my life. I was exhausted in a way I never thought possible. I didn’t feel like Lauren anymore. She had gone. And I wanted her back. Now.
After weeks of trialing different ways to still participate in work, it was decided I was to have complete time off. I swear this was the first time in 5 months I actually felt good about a decision. Not because I hated my job, not because I didn’t want to go anymore, but because I finally told myself I needed to stop, breathe, focus on myself, and ask for the help I’ve been needing for a long time.
I feel very lucky with the team of specialists I have worked with over this process. Many people going through the same things I am have been undiagnosed for years before someone notices or decides to do something about it. In that time, people are left feeling depressed, wondering why they feel the way they do, why they can’t get out of bed, why they can’t hold a job, why are they so bloody angry all the time! Don’t get me wrong, I still experienced all these things, but I’m very fortunate to have experienced them with a medical team by my side. Not every day is going to be a good day. There are times where you’re alone and everything comes flooding in, and you just blurt out to yourself ‘I don’t think I can do this anymore.’ Saying this to yourself, without the support network I had around me, could have taken an extreme turn. But when you’re alone, not getting the help you need, where do you turn?
The people I have in my life, and my team of specialists continually saved me and pulled me out of my dark days, and my ongoing recovery and achievements to date are not only due to my hard work, but to the team I have around me. My specialist team has and still does include a Neuro Ophthalmologist, Neuro Physiotherapist, Brain Injury Rehabilitation Doctor, Occupational Therapist, Psychologist, Neuro Psychiatrist, Personal Trainer, Chiropractor, General Practitioner, Neuro Optometrist and a couple more.
The truth is I have absolutely no idea where my life will take me from here; and that used to scare the living daylights out of me! It’s something I’m still struggling to come to terms with, something I’m still working through. And do you know what? That’s okay. It’s honestly taken me a year to say those words without feeling like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. Some days it still happens and that’s okay too. I’m allowed to have really positive days throughout my recovery where I am really happy with where I am, with what I am doing and how I’m going. I’m also allowed to have days where I don’t want to get out of bed, days where I can’t get out of bed. I’m still battling with everything I’ve spoken about.
This can also be confusing for the people closest to me, the people that see photos of me on my positive days where I look okay, and can’t make sense of what these bad days are all about. This used to bother me, and if I’m being honest, the opinions of others still does affect me. I wouldn’t be human if they didn’t. It is all part of the process of recovery; the process of finding Lauren again.
I’m going to follow my heart, listen to my body and do whatever works for my recovery and mental health. And finally, I’m okay with that. No matter what is in store for me next, I know I’m never going to give up!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lauren Spear of Adelaide, South Australia. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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