Post-Concussion: Friendship Redefined
Esther Lovett is a 17-year-old high school student who has suffered three diagnosed concussions and struggles with post-concussion syndrome (PCS). Esther is writing a blog for the Concussion Legacy Foundation to help spread awareness about the effects of PCS and to reach others suffering with its pervasive symptoms.
I have found it hard to find support from my friends. Some of the lack of support results from my personality, as I am not a complainer and don’t like looking weak.
After my first serious concussion in eighth grade, there was an initial outreach of support. Once I was back in school, the support pretty much stopped, and that is when I needed it the most.
I was scared. It’s terrifying to be in situations in which you normally thrive, like giving a presentation or studying for a test, and feeling like something is very, very wrong.
Right after my injury, when I should have been home in a darkened room, I went to school to give a science presentation for which I was well prepared because but I didn’t want to let my partners down. That’s when I realized how symptomatic I was: I shook from head to toe, almost vomited, had a splitting headache and could barely stand the stimulation of the noisy environment.
Returning to school, I would try to study and I couldn’t remember most of what we had learned. Struggling through the adjustment to my symptoms was when I really needed support from friends.
I thought that this year I would be fine with my medical leave from 11th grade, but when I had to announce to all of my friends it became all too real. Having to say ‘I’m going on medical leave effective tomorrow’ hit me hard.
I had a little speech planned out: As you all know I got another really bad concussion and at this point I just cannot do what the school needs me to do to be a Junior. I’m going on medical leave, effective tomorrow. I have a spot here as a Junior next year and I’m also applying out to other schools to have options. I really hope to still be friends with all of you. I’ll still be in the neighborhood—I’ll be taking online classes and doing an internship. Expect invites to my house—Super Bowl party is on—and I hope that when you all do things together you’ll include me. I’m going to need friends more than ever over the next few months. Thank you guys for everything.
I only got to ‘I’m leaving school’ before I couldn’t keep it together. There was no denying it any longer, no pretending that it wasn’t happening—and it was awful.
I never cry, I dislike crying, and more than anything I hate crying in front of other people. I think it freaked my friends out since they had never seen me cry before. Right after that decision, I was numb. I had no idea what my year was going to be like and I already missed my friends and school.
You would think that the fact a friend who never cries and is always active had to leave the school she attended for twelve years and was clearly very upset about it would elicit sympathy and concern. It did with most of my friends, but some were surprisingly insensitive. Probably the worst thing a friend said to me that day was “we’ll all be living vicariously through you.” I spent most of my days alone at home taking online classes, trying to get exercise although there isn’t much that doesn’t hurt my head, and trying to do normal things like reading. Not how I wanted my junior year to go.
Only a few of my friends reached out. ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ I guess.
There have been good things. My best friend, though she has little time with a busy Junior year, has been there during the times when I really needed someone. I have one friend who I wouldn’t have considered one of my best friends who texts me often with a simple ‘how is everything? How’s your head?’ and honestly that means the world. It’s that simple. And I will always remember his kindness. I have another friend who checks in, and it always means a lot to hear from her and be updated on what is happening at school. I am so grateful to the friends who have reached out.
It feels awful to be suffering through the worst thing that has happened in your life and have almost radio silence from many of your good friends. You place so much trust in friends and you expect them to be there in hard times. Someone I considered one of my closest friends didn’t respond to my upbeat texts suggesting we do something together. I know she is busy but an “I’m so busy I can’t get together but thinking of you” text would have taken 15 seconds. She told a mutual friend to tell me that she was too busy to talk but would call soon—she never did. I haven’t really talked with her in nine months. After reaching out several times, with no response, I just stopped trying—it got embarrassing for me. When she finally got in touch with me I agreed to get together, though I felt like our friendship was likely already over. When she told me during lunch that she totally understood what I had gone through because she had come back from a trip and had expected more friends to contact her to get together when she returned, I really knew that our friendship would never be the same. That comment was unjust—she has absolutely no idea what I had been through this year. How could she if she didn’t speak to me at all? It was like she was a totally different person.
I learned an important lesson about friends through my experience as I truly saw who was there for me. It was hard to realize that a few people who I considered very good friends completely let me down; to not talk to a good friend for nine months is awful, especially when they are going through something difficult. I also realized that you are very lucky if you have a couple of really good friends and that at the end of the day, a lot of people won’t be there for you even if you would be for them. I’m extremely thankful for the friends who were there this year, and I will always remember those who were. I’ll still spend time with the friends who weren’t, I just understand that they aren’t my close friends.
I think to a lot of people, concussion doesn’t seem very serious. I don’t know if my friends realize that it’s been over three years of headaches every single day and how debilitating that is. I don’t know if they can empathize with how much losing soccer meant to me.
Soccer was a piece of my identity, an entire friend group, a coach who was a mentor, and simply something that I loved doing and had poured so much time and effort into. It was so hard to come to terms with that loss. I still have a huge drawer in my closet labeled ‘soccer stuff.’ It is filled with a bin with pairs of socks, a stack of old jerseys and shorts from different teams I played on, and all of my club soccer jerseys and warmups right on top, waiting for the next game. I waited a long time for that next game and it killed me to have to give that all up. I have tried so many times to open that drawer and clean it out and give the shirts to charity, to someone who could wear them, but I can’t seem to bring myself to do it. It’s not only a reminder of losing soccer but of all of the losses: hockey, tennis, 20/10 vision, pain-free days, ease in academics, running, watching action movies.
My friends don’t know that while I was in Florida for a week on holiday, my Snapchats made it look like I was having a great time but my experience was difficult. I got a terrible headache on New Year’s Eve (from a normal amount of sun and activity which was way too much for me), and spent the evening in my darkened room rather than at the party at the beach. At midnight I was doubled over the toilet vomiting because of the excruciating headache rather than listening to live music. I’m not always sure how to talk about these things with my friends since they rarely ask and I just don’t like to complain.
I encourage you, as I am encouraging myself, to say something, anything. These are your friends, the people who are supposed to have your back and be in your corner. Maybe they don’t know what to say. My experience isn’t a common high school experience and I think a lot of times people want to reach out, but they don’t know what to say because they cannot fathom this happening to them.
The kid out there silently suffering doesn’t need or expect hours of your time. A quick ‘how are you?’ text, a Snapchat, anything. It only takes a moment to show you care.