It was a weird week. I fell while walking to my friend Jesse’s house and hit the front of my head hard enough that, for a second (a minute, 10 minutes, a month, seven years), I was out cold. When I woke up, a woman and her toddler were asking if I was alright and, despite the throbbing in my skull and the ache in my left bicep, I assured them I was.
I wanted to cry. I always want to cry when I fall down. Normally, I do, especially if some objective but sympathetic person is there to ask me if I’m alright. Usually I can keep the tears at bay until I get home or to some place private. But the minute I get person-to-person concern, it’s more than I can stand and here come the waterworks.
Part of me thinks that it’s strange this time that I’m not crying. I lock eyes with the sullen kid latched onto my Good Samaritan’s hand and I think, I guess I’m growing up, no longer staving off impulses to frighten children on the street with my emotions.
As I walk on, I briefly wonder where I’m going. After a second I remember and I keep going. Between this and the lack of tears, it should have occurred to me that I maybe had a concussion. It took throwing up and calling my roommate Alex “Paul” later that night to convince me that seeking medical attention might be the best plan of action. Still, I wavered.
One of my brothers is into extreme activities (he is a professional smoke jumper, so this is unsurprising) and has experienced brain trauma more than once. I know that unless something is bleeding in my head, the doctor is just going to send me home and forbid me from using a forklift or getting my swag on at the club — two things I have no intention of doing any time soon.
But that night as I lay in bed, exhausted and sore, my head sings an atonal fugue that keeps me awake. Is that the sound of my brain slowly bleeding? I stare at the bruise on my arm from where I tried to keep myself upright using a doorframe and gently probe the egg on my head. If I fall asleep right now am I going to die in the night? It is the first time I’ve thought about dying if I fall asleep and not had a total panic attack. Progress, I think darkly as I read a book about Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Leopold, and remind myself that since I am not male, I am not a hemophiliac like the 19th century prince of yore. I should have maybe, like, just read a Far Side compilation or something. Foxtrot?
The next morning my right eye isn’t responding to light. I look like David Bowie, but not in a hot way. The first thing I do when I get out of bed is throw up. So I’m either pregnant or concussed. Or worse yet — both.
The distance I feel from the whole situation unfolding is a lot like the first month I was on the pills. I remember how I felt silent, wordless, and apart. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, either, to feel on the outside. For a person who has spent far too much of her life wrapped up in the incessant self-battery of her own thoughts, it was wonderful to quietly observe and feel no pressure to make my mark, to ensure I was liked, ensure I was heard.
I haven’t felt that way in a while, that chemically induced distance. I haven’t been stuck on the hamster wheel at all times either, I’ve been treading somewhere in between the two. To be suddenly apart again is strange and frightening and makes me realize, as I struggle to form sentences in my concussed fog, how important the connections I have formed as an adult are to me. I want to grab all of my friends when I see them and tell them how much they matter to me and how I want to be as present for them as possible, forever. But like, this is maybe a scary thing to do when you are just going out to eat ribs with someone. I mean, unless the ribs are really, really good I guess.
WebMD frightens me into going into Urgent Care. They shine a light in my eye and ask me a series of questions. When did this happen? The other day. Are you pregnant? I sincerely hope not. No, no I am not. Last visit to the doctor? I tell him about the melanoma, he grimaces in an un-doctor-like way, but I appreciate it. Are you on any medication? Yes. That’s when I realize that for the past 48 hours I haven’t taken my pills. I tell the doctor I am and blushing furiously as I add how prone I am to withdrawal symptoms. He makes me feel better instantly by shaking his head. “No, no, what you’re describing isn’t withdrawal, it’s concussion.” Then he tells me to go home and rest and not to operate a forklift or get my swag on at the club. He looks at a scan of my brain and while he’s telling me there’s no bleed, I’m studying the image on the light box too, looking for anything abnormal, looking for the answer.
He warns me that things will get worse before they get better. I mean, don’t they always. Wouldn’t it be nice if for once, just once, things just got better as they got better? I think about saying this to the doctor because I like trying to force movie-style moments onto people I will probably never see again, but instead I nod and leave. He is right about things getting worse. I nap a lot for the rest of the day. When I wake up, it takes me twice as long to separate dreaming from life. I try to read the Leopold book and fall asleep, I wake up panicked and sweaty and positive that there is a young man in the kitchen with hemophilia. Clarity comes back.
“The brain is resilient,” says the guy I am dating. “Yeah,” I say, and then mention taking my brother’s car to go grocery shopping. The guy I’m dating is all, “Dude, don’t drive concussed.”
How do people find this balance, trusting in resilience, trusting at all and being patient while you wait for it arrive? For me, waiting for anything feels grim and hopeless. But the bruise on my arm is fading, the egg on my head vanishing, and the thoughts I scrambled for are sure enough, coming with a little more speed now.