An invisible injury changed my identity


“I’m going to tell you three words, and I want you to remember them for later,” the doctor said to me. By my junior year of high school, experiencing my third concussion, I was all too familiar with the standard questions the doctor asked to assess a possible concussion: say the ABCs backward, count down from one hundred by 7s, say the months of the year in reverse order, and finally, remember three words. Spoiler alert: they’re almost always red, ball and book.

Cheerleading was a huge part of my life. From June to February, my time was consumed by practices, cheering at football games and performing. Cheerleading was my thing, my sport, my hobby. I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about it ending until it was my last competition or my senior night. But things don’t always go as planned.

It was my junior year, Tuesday, Dec. 10, around 8 p.m. I set up for my stunt for the hundredth time that night, but it didn’t go like every other time. After my flyer’s head collided with mine, I was knocked to the ground, and the back of my head bounced off the mat.

I remember sitting up after a minute of feeling out of it and thinking, “oh no, this isn’t good.” After trying to convince myself for two days that this wasn’t another concussion and that I would be fine, I accepted the truth.

My third concussion brought me back to sitting in the doctor’s office, as I struggled to keep my balance with my eyes closed. The doctor officially diagnosed me with a concussion and repeatedly told me how I made a big mistake waiting to report it.

I returned from winter break expecting to be fully recovered and ready to get back to practice, only to find my condition had worsened. The first two days of school after winter break were two out of the five full days of school I attended second semester.

Physically, I struggled with a never-ending headache, constant nausea, fatigue and a brain that felt like it was functioning at 30 percent. Mentally, I battled depression and anxiety. A couple of weeks into my concussion, one of my doctors (I was seeing seven at the time) advised me it would not be safe to return to cheerleading and risk another concussion. I battled my doctor, my mom and myself as I struggled to accept losing cheer.

I didn’t know who I was without cheer. I felt that everyone had the “thing” that they do, whether it’s a sport, fine art, club or hobby. Mine was a cheer; that’s what defined me. A year and a half later, without cheer, I still don’t exactly know who I am, and that’s okay. High school is about taking the time to figure out what your interests are, learning from friendships and relationships, and continuously growing.

No one is a static character; we are constantly growing. I guarantee you, by senior year you’ll be a lot different from your freshman self. Most of us might cringe when we think of our freshman selves. You don’t need to have yourself figured out by the time you’re a senior and ready to graduate.

Today, I have taken advantage of the additional time I have. Cheer had taken up so much of my time and energy that I never really had the time to explore my other interests. For example, if I was in cheer, I would not have the time to take on an editor position for TSP. I now have the time to express my creativity through my writing and help myself, and others, grow as writers.

I used all this new time to explore my academic interests. This year as an AP Research student, I pursued my interest in cognitive psychology and was able to relate this to my concussions. Surprisingly enough, a brain injury has made me fascinated by neuroscience and neuropsychology.

Although these weren’t some sort of hobby or skill, I feel like being able to grow my interests in an academic setting has helped me grow as a student and researcher as I get ready to move onto college.

A traumatic brain injury is something not a lot of people understand or take seriously. I am fully recovered, but I still often experience headaches, and I find my memory and cognition is not as sharp as it used to be. I am no longer a cheerleader, and I no longer have a completely normal brain. However, I am someone who has overcome an invisible injury, and I am someone who has redefined herself.