Portrait: Kym C
I am a wife, mother of three, and a second grade teacher. By sharing my story, I hope that someone might find comfort in knowing they are not alone and that recovery from brain injury happens at its own pace.
On December 23rd, 2018, I was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). I was 36 years old. I was at work, teaching my second graders, when I experienced what I can only describe as the feeling of someone hitting me in the head with a baseball bat. I could not speak, I could not think clearly, and I honestly cannot remember how I was able to walk out of the building that day. After leaving work I went to the hospital where they diagnosed me with a SAH. I was extremely lucky as my bleed had begun to clot so surgery was not necessary. Listening to the doctors explain to me what had happened and what could have happened was terrifying.
Returning home and early recovery
After being monitored closely by the neurological team I was released to go home. I was scared that at any moment it could happen again and terrified that I would not be so lucky if it was to occur again. Leaving the hospital, my doctors were confident that I was not at risk of bleeding again provided I followed restrictions; I was instructed to rest as much as possible and to begin with my therapies and follow-up appointments as soon as possible.
The tricky part of navigating my recovery immediately after, was that I never knew what to expect; pain and confusion were constant in my life.
Each appointment was spent making changes to my treatment plan. My neurologist would explain to me that “the more we know about the brain, the less we know about the brain.” As a teacher I value the process of finding answers and truths to impossible questions. It was the first time in my life where my answer was that there seemed to be no answer.
Returning to work
I returned to work after the holiday break and told a select few friends of what had happened. I felt that I needed time to process what had happened before I shared it with others and going back to work teaching was a way for me to find normality in my life. Once I returned though, I quickly recognized that I had some severe cognitive impairments which were preventing me from teaching in the way I had done before. After consulting with my doctors, I reduced my work time by 50%. It was the most difficult decision as I felt like I was abandoning my students. It devastated me as I was desperately trying to be my old self again; yet my brain just would not allow it. I stumbled while recalling my words and had tremendous difficulty reading. I’ll never forget the moment I was reading a book to my students and I did not recognize the word “come.” I had to ask someone for help to tell me what the word was. In my daily life, I was fatigued doing errands, walking was treacherous as it made me incredibly dizzy, and I had no energy to make it past 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I felt exhausted, frustrated, and sad.
Support system challenges
At first my friends were incredibly supportive. When I was able to spend time with them they always asked questions about how I was and were understanding if I could not stay long. Noise and light greatly affected me and limited what I could do and where I was able to go. As time went by, some friends would say to me that I “looked great” and appeared “back to my old self.” Even though these words were meant to be encouraging, they stung me, as my time with my friends was an act. Over time, I had adjusted to life in constant pain. I was not fine, and I was not my old self. I was living in chronic pain. It was lonely.
Navigating the highs and lows of recovery
Since my SAH, I have continued to make steps forward in my recovery as well as significant steps backward. There are times that I joke to those close to me that my other full-time job is going to doctors’ appointments, between weekly therapies, specialists, and check-ups with neurology.
One of my biggest discoveries in the past few years since my SAH is that I must make decisions that are right for me. Although I am getting better at accepting this, it has been and continues to be, a struggle to take time from teaching to invest in my health. I love my students dearly and it breaks my heart each time my health keeps me away from them. My doctor has helped me to understand that taking care of myself helps me to be a better wife, mother, and teacher.
Accepting that the “old” me might be different than the “new” me was a life-changing moment. I am no longer grieving for who I used to be but am embracing all that I am now.