neurodiversity / Post-concussion syndrome / Spoonie Challenges / Working / Writing journey

Learning the Hard Way

ID: A blank piece of paper with a white woman’s hand holding a grey pencil, about to write on it.
Photo by Lum3n on

Sometimes you gotta learn things the hard way. Typically that refers to making the mistakes people tried to warn you about. In this case, learning the hard way meant having a concussion (two, actually) axed the coping skills that used to work for me and to finally learn some useful things about myself:

1) I was burnt out at least six months before the concussion, quite possibly longer, from doing too many of all the things I loved in the writing world. 

2) Related to that, turns out that burn out is not just the point when everything collapses in a burning heap. I quite literally told myself, “I’m not burnt out, just worn out. Wearing out.” (There’s a warning sign if I’ve ever seen one, and I trundled right past it.)

3) I probably have always had low-grade anxiety my entire life. Not a capital “A” Anxiety Disorder that needed treatment, but a lower case anxiety shaping the regular static in my brain, like when the radio isn’t fully tuned to a station, and there’s a lot of extra static and noise, but it’s always there, so you learn to listen through it most of the time. And it’s probably the reason the reason I suck so much at sleep and used to take two hours to fall asleep most nights as a kid (no writerly hyperbole here).

4) And the more I learn about ADHD—especially the experiences of women who were “high-functioning” as kids and diagnosed later in life—the more it resembles my own experiences, and I ponder that possibility. Add to that, I’ve learned that post-concussion syndrome has a lot of overlapping symptoms with ADHD.

I swear there was more to that list, or some days it feels like more than just that. 

I moved to Spoonieville just over four years ago (concussion). Is it a temporary posting or is it going to end up like when my family got posted to Ottawa: thought it’d be temporary yet here I still am 21 years later (ZOMGWTFBBQ), more than half my life in this city, and I’m still not comfortable calling it home. (The military brat in me had to go with that analogy.) To be fair, I’d been living on the outskirts or neighbouring town for years; having endometriosis (diagnosed at 17) and patellofemoral pain syndrome (first signs started when I was about eight years old; I thought I was over-tired and never mentioned it to anyone), but I’m very fortunate that both are mild enough and managed well enough that I get to live “normally,” most of the time. 

I have had writer friends who I trust, and whose opinions and experiences I value, telling me for the past four years that it’s okay that I’m not writing because I had a concussion. But the truth is that I have never really believed them. It finally clicked recently in therapy, four years in, just how much pressure I’ve been putting on myself to be better, at least better than I am, when I never took any major time off after my concussions. My work hours got significantly reduced (12 hours a week) so that my symptoms were reduced, but I wasn’t fully off to focus on healing and did not have a fraction of the tools and resources that I do now.

Research says it is still possible to recover, but the challenge is finding the right balance of treatment. I still keep asserting that at least there is still improvement to be had, and I am confident about that. But the big question I have is how do you recover when you don’t know what recovery looks like? I know now in hindsight that I was doing too much before, and I am trying (more often struggling) to accept that pre-concussion me is not coming back and that’s not actually a bad thing. And I am trying (again, struggling) to accept my new normal, or current normal. But how do you navigate the journey of recovery, or improvement, when you don’t know what you are aiming for? I know what too much looks like, but what about just right? An approximate range? Some days it feels like I don’t even have a compass or know which way is North let alone which direction I’m going. Some days just get overshadowed by the stress and worry about whether or not I will ever be able to return to full-time work and even provide for myself.

So here I am, four years into Spoonieville. That’s longer than half the places I’ve lived. I can’t really say that I’m a fan, but some of my favourite people live here. So this is me, learning to navigate life, my brain, and a new normal. 

P.S. This is the fourth time I have tried writing this and finally came up with a version I like that didn’t go twice as long but just get lost in the weeds of my injuries. Please don’t ask when I was originally approached about writing something. Please.

ID: Nicole’s headshot. She is a white woman with shoulder length burgundy hair. She is wearing a black shirt and black glasses and is standing in front of a black background.

Nicole Lavigne has a BA in English and Theatre from the University of Ottawa. She still lives in Ottawa but considers all of Canada her home after bouncing across the country as a military brat during her childhood. She is a professional storyteller, published writer, Web & Logistics Coordinator for Can-Con, Co-Chair for the Ottawa ChiSeries, and daylights as an associate officer for the government. She is a member of the Scrawling Narwhals critiquing group and former Editorial Assistant for Beneath Ceaseless Skies magazine. As a storyteller, Nicole has performed folk tales and historical stories at The Tea Party, Billings Estate, Bytowne Museum, and the National Arts Centre. You can follow Nicole on her blog/website and on Twitter.

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