The Post-Concussion Blues

Anneke’s Blog

Anneke Beerten, Santiago Oaks, California. Photo by Sarah Viggers

In mid-August I was driving home from a great day of riding! While coming up to the last traffic light from home, it turned green. “Sweet,” I thought, and I kept my truck rolling. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I got hit on my driver’s side of the truck. I immediately knew, “I am in a car accident!” It all happened so quickly; hard impact, things flying around in my truck, tires skidding, truck sliding and coming to a stop across the other side of the intersection. I was in shock, shaking, with a high heart rate and slightly scared. I looked down at my body and did a quick scan; I did not see any blood, and everything was still moving.

I will fast-forward to the hours after the accident. I started developing a headache, my speech was off, I had lack of memory and a stiff neck. I had the feeling my head almost got ripped off my shoulders in the accident.

I’ve had a concussion before, sustained after a crash while riding, and I thought that this was just a concussion and I would be back on my feet and bike within no time. But it was not. It was more severe, and I underestimated it.

It lingered on for weeks. Life gave me motion sickness, bad headaches, nausea and dizziness. The world was suddenly too bright and too loud. I wore sunglasses and blue-light glasses all day and sometimes earplugs, too. My balance was messed up, and some days I was so exhausted from the headaches that I moved from my bed to the couch and back to bed. Occasionally, in the beginning, the words I needed wouldn’t come, and I would forget mid-conversation what I was talking about. I went from being super active and riding a lot to a dead stop. On good days I was able to go on short walks, but the noise of the traffic would bother me, and I was annoyed by the fact that my energy levels were so low. And scrolling through Instagram was a no-go—that made me nauseous immediately.

Luckily, I am surrounded by a good physiotherapist and doctors. I am so grateful I can always count on them, because they see me at my worst. After a few baseline concussion tests and seeing my doctor, he advised me to go see a neuro doctor. After visiting the neuro doctor, I got sent off to the Concussion Rehab Center. After two hours of testing my brain at the Concussion Rehab Center, they found out how severe the brain injury was and where it was located.

My vestibular system (inner ear balance organ) and my vision were damaged and not working well together at all. My left eye would go into a spasm with certain movements, and that would immediately make me nauseous and feel sick. It was a relief that they were able to locate where some of the damage had been done. I just knew something was off, but the brain is so complex that it is hard to figure out what it is.

It is now the first week of October, and it’s been eight weeks since the accident. I am making good improvements in brain rehab therapy, my energy levels are coming back up, I have fewer headaches, I’m back doing some small workouts, and I’m able to spin my legs on the home trainer.

I realized more than ever that without a functioning brain, you are nowhere. These were some extremely difficult weeks, a wild roller coaster of emotions, setbacks, and trying to keep it all together. But, this all gave me so much more knowledge of the brain and made me appreciate a clear and well-functioning brain a lot more.

I would like to bring this matter of concussions to your attention. We still underestimate brain injuries in the sport of mountain biking. If you have had a big crash—and you don’t always even need to hit your head in order to get concussed—please go and see a doctor. We have so much more knowledge about brain injuries nowadays, and you do not want to wait or let this linger on.

It is very dangerous getting back into riding or sports after having a concussion. There is a possibility of getting a second-impact syndrome when you crash or hit your head again, and it is often fatal for the person, or he or she could get severely disabled. In order to prevent SIS, guidelines have been established in American football to prohibit athletes from returning to a game prematurely. For example, professionals recommend that athletes not return to play before symptoms of an initial head injury have resolved. So, please keep that in mind!

Big thanks to all my sponsors for their understanding and support. I am looking forward to the day I can put my wheels back into the dirt. Words cannot express how much I miss the feeling of riding a bicycle right now, but that thought is feeding my motivation to get back at it as soon as I am fully recovered.

Happy trails!

Editor’s note: Anneke Beerten was one of the top downhill racers in the world when she moved from the Netherlands to the U.S. a little over five years ago. She now shares her thoughts with MBA readers on a regular basis.

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