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Excerpt from: You’ve Got Some Nerve: The Battle Back from an Invisible Injury

Updated: Jan 1, 2021

Despite my determination to get better, my condition only continued to decline. I saw my doctor on almost a weekly basis to check-in for my Workers’ Comp evaluation, and after a month, there was nearly no improvement with my symptoms.

“You’re likely suffering from post-concussion syndrome, Derryen,” my doctor explained to me. “Unfortunately, I don’t know how long this could last. It could take weeks, months, or even years.”

Years? I couldn’t wrap my head around suffering like this for years, but there was nothing to be done. I essentially just had to wait it out and let my brain heal itself. In the meantime, I kept doing everything they asked me to do, like physical therapy. Eager to help my recovery along as quickly as possible, I looked forward to the session and welcomed the various drills. As a former athlete, I thought I knew what to expect: the exercises would be hard at first, but I’d get better at them each time. Before long, I’d master them, right? Wrong. Simple balance exercises that should have been easy for me as a former cheerleader were, in fact, incredibly difficult.

True to form, the failures only made me push myself harder. I’d been working this way since I was a little girl and it had always paid off: I’d push a little harder and I’d reach my goal. If the therapist told me to do two sets of ten, I’d do two sets of fifteen. If she told me it would take six months, I’d aim for four. Tenacity helped a little bit with strength training, mainly because I started with such low weights, so I was bound to make progress. But with balance exercises, I couldn’t change the result no matter how much I practiced, and that cut me to the core. I was the girl who always wanted to perform to the highest standard. This was who I was. Wasn’t hard work the recipe for success?

July passed.

Then August.

Still, no improvement.

I was mystified. I didn’t understand it at the time, but there was literally no way I could have pushed hard enough to succeed, because we weren’t addressing the real issue. We weren’t looking in the right places. I did a lot of exercises to strengthen my shoulder, but nobody did any brain scans. The head-injury part of this picture was invisible to everyone but me.

I knew it was there. I just didn’t know what to do about it. I enjoyed small windows of improvement when I would gain some strength and balance, but inevitably, the headaches would come back even worse than before. If I felt slightly better for a few days, I lived in dread of the moment when the migraines and nausea would creep back in.

I was determined to get better, but with each setback, my hope was getting dimmer and dimmer.

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