Concussion. A word I don't want to say for the rest of my life. But that's just not the case, because I'm about to say “concussion" a whole lot. I wouldn't wish a concussion on my worst enemy… well maybe my WORST worst…
So how did I get my concussion you ask? Will all tell ya! It was September 11th 2019, yes, September, as in nearly NINE months ago!!! I went to a theme park, which I've never been to before, with the intent of having a jolly ole time, but unfortunately it didn't end up that way. After having a few snacks and riding some rides, Frank and I decided to go on this interesting looking roller coaster. It looked different, but I didn't think much of it. I looked at the safety warnings, and they were no different than any other roller coaster that I've been on.
So we get on the roller coaster, strap in, over the shoulders seat secured, and the ride begins. The coaster starts out normally like any other coaster, and goes up for the drop.. the coaster drops and it immediately goes directly back up and BOOM my head and neck thrash back causing my head to hit VERY hard against the headrest. I feel an immediate blow to my skull, feeling an intense sense of pain right away. In this very moment I want to get off this ride immediately, but unfortunately this was only the beginning. The whiplash motion happened a few more times, each time my head slamming against the headrest. After the last drop, which was the highest drop of all, the roller coaster took a few rough upside down turns, slamming my head even more, and the last loop, we remained upside down for a few seconds. Fun, right????
So the ride FINALLY comes to an end, and I get off the ride and immediately feel like a huge bag of SH%T! I felt nauseous, dizzy, and obviously in a ton of pain. So I took a seat to rest for a while. I put ice cubes on my head, neck, and body to kind of wake myself up (I didn't pass out, I just felt extreme fatigue; like I wanted to go to sleep). At this time it never occurred to me that this could even possibly be a concussion. I've never had a concussion before so it never crossed my mind that a roller coaster could cause a brain trauma injury.
Frank took this picture moments after I hit my head; he was trying to cheer me up by saying I looked cute, but clearly I look ANYTHING but cute.
This picture of me looking sad, angry, and in pain is EXACTLY how I was feeling. And yes, those are tears forming in my eyes :’( To be honest, I don't remember much of the day after this, but the next day, Frank and I had plans to fly out to LA to film a quick project. I woke up that morning feeling like absolute crap, but we stuck with our plans because I thought the pain would pass. On our ride to the airport, I felt extremely nauseous, like I was about to throw up. I honestly thought I was feeling this way because I ate junk food the day before, but looking back, I was clearly feeling nauseous because I had a brain injury.
Days go on, and I still have a horrible headache, weeks go on, I still have a horrible headache, a month goes on, and SURPRISE, I still have a horrible headache. It wasn't until my older brother, Dewey, told me I could possibly have a concussion. At this point, about a month after my head injury, it still never crossed my mind that I could even possibly have a concussion. When I think of obtaining a concussion, I think of being in a car accident or being punched in the face or getting knocked out or being thrown off a Hell in a Cell… not riding a roller coaster. I've been riding the biggest, tallest, most intense roller coasters across the country since I was in first grade (yes, I was tall enough even at 6 years old). Over the past 20 years I've rode hundreds, if not thousands, of roller coasters and I have NEVER had any type of issue or injury, so something about this roller coaster in particular must have had poor design or something, if I left the ride concussed.
Right after Dewey told me about the possibility of a concussion, I did a simple google search, and it turned out that I had almost every single symptom of a concussion. So I finally got an appointment to get my head checked out. Right away, the doctor confirmed it was a concussion and ordered me to have physical therapy sessions and also ordered me to get an x-ray of my neck because the doctor could feel my neck was very stiff. The x-ray came back that the cervical spine in my neck was curved backwards, most likely as a result of the whiplash of the roller coaster.
So what is it like to have a concussion, you ask??… PURE HELL… not even joking! You know when you get those throbbing headaches after you stand up too quick and feels like someone is pounding at your head with a hammer? Well, that's been my head every day for the past nine months. Sometimes I wake up with it pounding, other times it gets progressively worse due to any type of lights or noise. Basically, I'm allergic to light and sound's. I'm extremely sensitive to all light: sunlight, indoor lights, Christmas lights, outdoor lights, TV lights, car headlights; car headlights are so bad I can't even drive at night. I can count on one hand how many times I've driven at night in the past nine months. And when I'm in the car at night, with someone else driving, I have to wear sunglasses and completely cover my face with a jacket, blanket, or hat. As far as sounds, it feels like I have the hearing of an owl. Fun fact-owls can hear the heartbeat of the mouse 400m away. Well maybe my hearing isn't THAT intense, but it is still super-dee-duper sensitive. From the vacuum, to the TV, to my little brother talking too loud, to my dogs barking, sometimes it feels impossible to escape the sounds. So that's why I have earplugs next to me at all times so I could just pop them in if the noises are too overwhelming.
The back of my head is still extremely sensitive to touch. Even when I'm trying to go to sleep, it hurts to put my head on the pillow, so I have to readjust a lot to find a way for my head to be comfortable. Also, every time I've been in the car, I have not let my head even touch the headrest, just in case we hit a bump or hit the brakes a little too hard, I just cannot risk my head even being slightly hit. I'm scarred from headrests, literally.
Aside from the obvious pain that comes with concussions, I've also been suffering mentally and emotionally. In simple terms, I've been a mess. Not a hot mess, not a cute mess, just a straight up effing MESS. Basically, every single emotion of mine has been heightened and amplified. I've been through periods of depression throughout this whole concussion journey. I've had mental breakdowns, meltdowns and panic attacks; some of which being in public. One of the very last times I was in public, before this whole pandemic, Frank and I went out to this nice restaurant for dinner, and they sat us at a really nice table, BUT it was right under a bright light, so we had to move tables. We sit down again at a dimmer lit table and we're looking at our menus, and a big party is sat down next to us. Right away they start taking pictures with each-other… WITH FLASH!!!! My mortal enemy!!! And by the fourth flash I internally start to FREAK THE EFF OUT! I grab my stuff, tell the waiter I have to leave (he was very confused) and I essentially run away out of the restaurant… leaving Frank behind. And then I let it alllllll out in the stairway (my tears). It really sucks because everywhere I go I have to be on alert of bright lights and loud sounds, even at places like restaurants. And this certainly wasn't the first time I had to leave something because of lights, cameras, or loud noises. Do you know where this happened a lot? The Disney Cruise I just went on a few months ago.
I booked a Disney cruise back in October; one month after my concussion. After a little research, I found out that most concussions last 1 to 2 months, TOPS! The average concussion typically lasts 7 to 10 days. The cruise was booked for the end of February and I thought “There is NO way I could possibly still have concussion symptoms by then”. Well boy was I wrong!!!
I was looking forward to this cruise SO much!!! As most of you know I'm a HUGE Disney fan, and I haven't been on a Disney cruise since I was in middle school, so I was just really excited to feel happy for once… but it did not turn out that way. The morning of the cruise, I was just feeling absolutely horrific; even worse than normal. Most likely due to a few restless nights before. Basically, sleep is the only thing that helps me, but if I don't get enough sleep, it's going to be a very very bad day for me. So we get on the cruise, walk around for a little, eat some lunch, and all I want to do is lay down, even on this gorgeous cruiseship. I felt so horrible that I even missed dinners, shows, and even the Pirates of the Caribbean dance party :( I basically missed every fun activity on the cruise ship because my head could not tolerate the pain and I was internally miserable; despite what my Instagram looks like… SPOILER ALERT: Instagram is not real!!!! Most of my Instagram pictures in the past nine months have either been throwback pictures or me just putting on a fake smile.
Here is what I actually looked like on the cruise:
And here is a Live Photo of me struggling just to smile while in the Bahamas:
It is a very scary thing how much pain a smile can hide. And not just in pictures, but in real life too. I put on a smile for other people when the last thing I wanted to do was smile… I just don't like to be a downer or bring down the mood of others… especially while on vacation. I do feel bad for Frank because he missed out on all the fun activities of the cruise because he stayed with me (for the most part).
In the beginning of my concussion journey, I could barely talk or smile because I was in so much pain and it was honestly exhausting to put that much energy into something as simple as grinning and speaking. Overtime I got better at talking and smiling, not because I was feeling better, but because I got better at hiding it. The average person would never suspect I was in so much pain underneath my smile.
Yep, so that's how my concussion has been going. I've been trying lots of different treatments for my head, but nothing seems to actually help. I've tried physical therapy, acupuncture, electrotherapy, cupping, breathing exercises, extremely deep neck massages to help break up the pressure in my neck, flotation tanks, SOS manual therapy, herbal medicines, exact supplements that other people have used and suggested, I've been eating healthy since January to let my body focus on healing itself instead of focusing on digesting junk food which is harder to breakdown). You guys know how much I love my junk food, but I am willing to try anything at this point that could help me. I've also been resting a ton; I’ve been self quarantining even before this pandemic-again, despite it looking like I'm living my best life on Instagram). I didn't leave my house for three weeks in January… and I didn't wash my face for those three weeks… that was where I was at, just no motivation for anything. I’ve cut down screen time on my phone and computer, I stopped emailing companies, which has made me lose a lot of work. I've cancelled fun plans and trips. I haven't been able to work out in nine months because it makes me feel even worse. I’ve basically stopped LIFE. And I'm sure a lot of you are feeling the same way right about now because of the current situation of our world. I want to continue to try out other treatments, even the most outlandish ones, but it's been hard the last few months; with places being shut down, and I don't want to put myself (or my family) at risk if I were to go to clinics that are open. I've recently been trying to manage the pain with monthly migraine prevention injections. THEY HURT LIKE A BIOTCH!!! Way worse than any other shot or blood I’ve had taken. AND I have to do the shot myself. Some days it helps, other days it doesn't… at all.
There are a few reasons why my concussion symptoms are lasting so long. One doctor told me that I could have gotten multiple concussions, a cluster of concussions, while riding the roller coaster. Each time my head slammed on the headrest, I could have got a concussion on each hit. Another reason why could be because of the curve in my cervical spine being backwards, therefore putting extra pressure on my neck, not allowing enough circulation and blood flow to go to my brain. I have been trying out different ways and supplements to increase blood flow; there's a lot of science behind it so I'm constantly trying new things to see if anything helps.
I recently spoke on the phone with Olympic Speed Skater, Carlijn Schoutens, who also suffered from Post Concussion Syndrome for nearly a year. It was really nice to talk to someone who shared some of my exact struggles and knew exactly what I was going through. It definitely helps to speak to someone who has been in a similar position. I know what you're probably thinking right now… “what about your dad??” While my dad has suffered many concussions throughout his wrestling career, he said none of his concussions ever lasted this long. So it's hard for him to give it advice other than just rest and take it easy, but he did connect me with Chris Nowinski who is the CEO of Concussion Legacy Foundation, who has helped me find the correct clinics and doctors to go to.
Not only has this concussion affected my life, it’s affected my family and loved ones’ lives too. I can tell my family is super annoyed by me and my concussion. They say they have to live their life under Noelle’s rules… which is kinda true! Noelle’s rules include: NO BRIGHT LIGHTS, if they turn on any lights they have to let me know before so I can take cover and close my eyes, and same goes with turning off lights. No loud noises, so they need to keep their voices low, keep the TV low, and prevent my dogs from barking at all costs. Sometimes they have to help me take food out from the fridge because the fridge lights are way too bright for me. My little brother, Mickey, loves to play the guitar and drums, but it's just too much for me so I always have to tell him to be more quiet… which I feel very bad about because he loves to play guitar and he's super talented! I'm cheap-plugging his YouTube right here, which is Beat and Strum Covers, if you want to check out his work: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCndE5VG-XdhJhYCdNBVR6Fw
And Frank, poor Frank. He's had to deal with a NIGHTMARE of a girlfriend for the past nine months. I know I've been a real pain in the tuchus and very hard to deal with through my emotional ups and downs, but I'm very thankful that I have had Frank on this journey. Frank is the only person that knows just how miserable and how much of an emotional WRECK I've been, so if you're reading this Frank, just know I appreciate you and sorry for being such a handful over these past few months.
This whole thing has majorly sucked, and I cannot wait until the day where I can be headache free and not force a smile and I can drive at night, and take pictures with the flash on, and to just be HAPPY. All these things I've taken for granted my whole life. I really cannot wait until all the pain is gone, because this is truly ruining my life.
Riding that roller coaster was by far the BIGGEST regret of my entire life!!!! But it's not like there were warning signs saying “May Cause Concussion”. I remember the warning signs saying to be careful of loose change and cell phones falling out of your pocket during the ride, but nothing about a traumatic brain injury.
Every day is different for me. Some days I'm okay, and some days I feel like I got hit by a train. Some days I feel completely defeated by my concussion, but I still have hope that there are better days ahead. And if you're reading this and you are also suffering from a concussion or anything else going on in your life, just know that things will eventually get better, even if it takes a long time. You just have to stick with it and think positive thoughts, and not give up!
And if you're still reading this, THANK YOU for letting me vent to you and let it all out!! Man, that feels good! And sorry this was kind of a depressing thing to read… most of you are used to me only talking about funny, happy things, but it does feel nice to talk about some REAL SH*T!!!
On a side note, I wrote this entire blog by hand in a notebook and then “talk to texted” all of it to my computer, to cut down on screen time. (Thumbs up)
Also, apologies ahead of time if there are grammar errors or misspelled words... my brain is a little slower than normal from the hit.
And on a lighter note… NIPPLES :)
Thanks for reading and have a nice day :)