Anatomy of a Concussion

I hit my head last month. Not a terrible blow, no blood, no blacking out. Just a good 'flat on the back, head reverberating on a concrete slab' wallop, with a nice big egg on the back of my head.

"Was there blood? Did you black out?" I answered these questions repeatedly to insurance agents, Urgent Care receptionists, nurses and finally even a doctor. "No and No," were not the exciting answers they were looking for, so not much attention was forthcoming.

What got my attention was still feeling foggy inside a week later, a busy week of house guests and our son's Eagle Scout Award Ceremony that we'd been aiming towards for six years and couldn't cancel. There was plenty of help for that occasion but I clearly was still not okay. So I visited my 'Brazilian-mom-who-understands' regular doctor. 

She apologized for the lack of care from the Urgent Care Clinic (and a whole frontdeskful of staff lavished sympathy, which was what I really wanted) and then my doctor ordered ten days of Rest for the Brain. 

No reading. No screens. No phone. Lots of liquids. As much closed eye nothingness and good old fashioned sleep as possible. And of course no sketching.

I had my latest sketchbook from a recent trip to London with me. My doctor asked to see the sketches, got very excited, and exclaimed, "This is marvelous, marvelous. My husband must see these. You really should publish! Keep up the good work ..."

Then added, "But not this week!"

My usual version of Resting the Brain—lie down and read three Helene Hanff books cover to cover in two days—did not apply this time. Though I did try it. Nor obviously did my other favorite break, sketching. So I crossed the requisite ten days off my calendar and set about doing what a character in Hanff's Duchess of Bloomsbury Street calls, "Enjoying bad health." 

Photo by wildpixel/iStock / Getty Images


Resting is not something our culture has much time for. The Atlantic this week informed me I'm lucky to have any time to indulge in recovering from a concussion. Senior Editor Rebecca J. Rosen, analyzing a recent Pew survey, concludes today's parents are money-rich but time-poor. (As a mom of six who stays home, I'm usually both time and money poor. But never mind. Ms. Rosen was talking of two income parents.)

So I entered the dangerous world of much leisure and found that resting is something you just have to make time for when it's your brain that needs healing. And that it can be a fruitful experience when you do. 

I also discovered that when you are in the habit of seeing, boredom is always out of the question.

The Gift of a Difficulty 

It's true that doing so little was a shock to my system. I couldn't help adding in one small task. Once I'd peeled back the layers of activity that usually characterize my life, I began to notice the piles of paperwork patiently waiting for attention. And, while trying to follow doctors orders, little by little, in as restful a manner as possible, I did tackle the old stacks of paperwork on my floor.

In small increments I made simple, blunt, throw/keep decisions, trashcan at my side, for about fifteen minutes of every hour then closed my eyes for that hour's balance. I kept this up most days, off and on, interspersed with the occasional genuine nap. I took a photo every few days and was astonished to realize (as I snuck an illicit glance at the forbidden camera screen) that the piles were actually diminishing steadily. 

But all that accumulation really gave me something to think about. And of course, I had the time to think. 

It was an excavation of sorts through the layers of my proclivity to start new notebooks and to take enormous quantities of notes. Obvious trash went out quickly but the notebooks remained, and I began to dig back through them, unearthing the tenor of the past few years. Then lying back with eyes closed, I revisited decisions strangely made or left undone, confronting them in my long leisure hours, and drew not sketches but conclusions.

It was a dangerous sort of rest: eyes quiet and mind all abuzz. The irony is that sometimes we can see the most clearly when there's nothing to look at. 

This concussion has given me two gifts. First, the time to think about where I'm heading. And second, the incentive to choose differently.

A Conclusion, Or a Beginning

The real paperwork treasures are back on the shelf and the jumble and fuss of unnecessary stuff has been cleared away. Now that I'm much recovered, though occasionally fuzzy, I have seen a sharp clarification of where I'm heading. 

The impetus for starting this blog came as a result of a weekend with the Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life in the East End of London a year ago last May. From that marvel of a weekend a fellow student produced the lovely blog, A House in the Algarve. And one recent day, feeling a lot better, I thought to look it up and see how it was doing.

I was delighted to find my fellow student's blog had taken on a life of its own. It had been set up immediately after the class, its goals clearly stated, and had been faithfully written each week since. Over 70 entries! I, however, like a flaming match, had burned brightly and snuffed out quickly. A good start, all undone by the heap of winter that covered Boston last year and the heap of extraordinary family stuff that had also snowed me under. 

So here I was, energized by my friend's faithfulness, delighted by her writing, and rested in myself. Perhaps the net result of having concussion was to have some sense knocked into me.

Also, life is still not back to full power. I keep finding out where my limits lie, the outer edge of which is steadily growing. But as I make choices and still have to limit activities, I have an incentive to choose important over urgent and long term over always just 'now'.

As I looked over the original notes from my class and for this blog, I found the story I'd meant to tell all along so wrote this. A small victory.

I'm wary of labeling events good or bad. Some of the high points of my life have contained the seed of many difficulties, and some of our family's deepest struggles have resulted in crowns of joy. And so, here I am, thankful for this respite from the headlong fling of events, this space in which to see. Back to where I meant to be. I am thankful for this concussion. 

From the lovely pen of Casey Chambers and the imagination of Tolkein.