Concussion vs PTSD – An Epiphany

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This past August I was rear ended while on vacation in Hawaii. There were three of us involved, but I was by far the oldest; the other two were fine. I immediately felt “off” but wasn’t sure if I was injured. Turned out I had sustained a concussion and my brain would continue to swell for the next week or so. By the time I was headed home my mood was off, sounds and light were bothering me I felt moving through space as difficult. On the plane ride home I had to wear noise cancelling headphones and an eye pillow to block light. I slept almost all the way.

The dizziness began shortly after I arrived home along with a sense of disequilibrium. My body was never completely sure where it was in space. I was tired, very tired and fell into weird “blackout” sleeps notable for their complete absence of dreams. I was irritable and anxious. Noises and light could be unbearable. My eyes and brain couldn’t handle screen time. I became low grade nauseous 24/7. It reminded me of my years with PTSD when sensory input became intolerable, my mood was unpredictable, there was dizziness and nausea, and sleep was off.

I went to urgent care to see a physician who had been in the military. He was very experienced with concussions and traumatic brain injury. After years of my brain and nervous system complaints being brushed off by medical professionals I was surprised at his level of compassion and recommendations: I needed to rest my brain; absolutely minimal screentime; do as little as possible for several weeks. He went into a great deal of detail about the neuroscience at my request (my intellect was not impaired!) and we discussed the overlap between PTSD symptoms and TBI symptoms. He admitted there were many similarities and that they affected similar parts of the brain. He said it was great I had time off and recommended I take even more time off to reset my brain and nervous system. He gave me Zofran for my nausea.

So, that was great. I felt really understood, cared about and protected by this physician. But why had I never, ever felt like this after an interaction with a provider around my PTSD?? I didn’t even know this level of care was possible.

Here’s the problem:

PTSD is brain injury every bit as much as a concussion is. There are numerous studies with brain scans to show this reality. Also, PTSD often happens in conjunction with head trauma. Yet, no medical provider had ever expressed concern for my brain, my nausea, my disequilibrium, my mood changes, my impaired sense of proprioception in space and my sensory overloads. Until concussion I did not know that 80% of the brain’s functioning includes connection to visual and auditory stimuli. I did not know that the main way to take care of brain injury was total rest, including and especially rest from visual and auditory input. My mind was and still is blown. Physicians would ask if I was seeing a therapist (maybe!).

PTSD is treated as a phantom reality, something “psychological” or “in our heads” by the medical establishment. Concussions are treated as a real medical condition, with prescriptions that are both behavioral and medicinal and, apparently, with greater understanding and compassion by the several doctors I spoke to.

As I say in The Trauma Tool Kit, “the brain bone is connected to the everything bone”. There is no purely “psychological” event because the brain is an integral part of the body. Yet the medical profession continues to treat PTSD with a helpless and dismissive attitude. Weird. I would like to see this change. What do you think?

2 Responses

  1. Had enough! says:

    Stop dismissing trauma (or otherwise putting DAMAGING labels on people as they DO NOT apply) and not seeking to help, thus leaving people feeling helpless and hopeless….

  2. Susan says:

    I am a ptsd survivor who had a tbi resulting from being rear ended. I SO agree with everything you said and experienced. Thanks

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