Everyone knows those uncontrollable, life-altering situations that happen to people. You know, the ones that sneak up on you and leave you feeling devastated? That’s what concussions can be like. I know most people would not include concussions within such a significant category as ‘life-altering,’ but for me and many other Christians, it is.
Concussions, or in medical terms, mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), have a variety of symptoms that can be different for each person. This article will address those who experience symptoms past six weeks (post-concussion syndrome, PCS). This article is for those who are past the hope of thinking “I’ll be fine in a couple of weeks,” and “it’s not that serious.” Those who have chronic pain and/or symptoms for months and years, this article is for you.
There is not a lot of research for concussions currently in the academic field, and if there is, it usually focuses on sports or military-related concussions. I haven’t been able to find any resource which offers a Christian perspective or applies the gospel within this specific context, so I hope this article can be one step in the direction of creating a sort of crossroads between Christianity and concussions.
Faith and concussions
The “Christian” part may not seem relevant for some, but for me, everything I do relates to Christ and who I am in relationship to Him. Christ matters because who I am now wouldn’t exist without Him. So, faith is tied to Rebekah’s concussion experience simply because Rebekah doesn’t exist without Christ. In addition, I do not claim to be an expert on concussions, but I find the relationship between Christianity and concussions to be lacking, and so the purpose of this article is to encourage other Christians walking through this journey.
For me and many others, this is not simply a concussion, it’s our life. Over these past five years, I’ve had multiple bumps to my head that have set my recovery progress back. This is normal because balance and depth perception can be affected by concussions (aka, we’re more likely to hit our head again). I’ve experienced the “I think I’m feeling better” days and the “my life will be like this forever” days (which often happen in sequence). I have been a first-hand witness to the impact that my concussion has had on my life: The most notable change is the effect on my cognitive abilities. I normally rely on my quick thinking and take pride in it, although now I can’t process as fast and it requires more effort. The concussion also impacted my emotional stability in significant ways. My mood was unpredictable at times and difficult to understand by myself and especially others. In addition, my sleep patterns changed. I couldn’t fall asleep with my mind on overdrive. Unfortunately, less sleeps makes me more irritable too.
Unexpectedly, the relationships I have with others changed too. It’s definitely not easy loving someone with a concussion, they require patience and comfort longer than most want to give. The worst part of my symptoms was during my early twenties and so even social events became overwhelming and painful. It was discouraging to try and then leave soon after. Needless to say, my social life was practically extinct at times. Furthermore, the relationship I have with God shifted as I often found reading Scripture, focusing during prayer, and attending church functions difficult. These are the basic ways to grow and my concussion symptoms made them very difficult. The confusing part is that doctors tell you not to exacerbate your symptoms but church leaders, mentors and Christian friends are encouraging these very practices. I know that missing church, fellowship, prayer and Bible reading stunted my growth, but it seemed like an unanswerable dilemma. Finally, my identity has been shaken and consequently re-evaluated. I have been an athlete and student for most of my life and these things weren’t a part of my life in the same way. It felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Concussions do not discriminate between the areas of life they affect. They don’t care that you have children, marriages, a job, financial struggles, they don’t care about family traditions or special holidays, their effects flow into all we are and do. They can frustrate, they can change us, and they can break us. If you’re a concussed Christian, hopefully my experience relates to yours in some ways. There is something comforting about resonating with another’s experience, reminding us we are not alone.
Being alone is not how we survive as a Christian suffering long-lasting concussion symptoms, especially in the struggle with sin. The real messy part about being a Christian, while having a concussion, is that sin doesn’t take a break while you try to recover. Sin is front and centre, bursting out at the seams. The imagery found in 1 Peter is helpful in this situation. Sin really does become a prowling lion looking for every opportunity to devour us, from overthinking a simple situation, taking offence at everything your family says, or outbursts because of accumulating pain. Sometimes I would go crazy trying to analyze whether my explosion of anger was because something actually matters, because I am sinful and hurt people, or because there is something happening on a physiological level. And there wasn’t always an answer to the pathology.
Through this journey, my faith has strengthened and struggled over these past years. I have experienced Christ in ways that I probably never would have known had I not had my concussion journey. But I’ve also reached places of despair and defeat that probably wouldn’t have existed without my concussion either. I think this point can be illustrated further by sharing the fact that I started writing this article over a year ago but soon realized I wasn’t at a place in my faith-walk to genuinely tie the hope of the gospel into this journey.
I would consider myself to be a stubborn person and one who doesn’t give in too easily, but this concussion journey has exhausted my defences. I’m tired. The hope that Christ gives to those who are tired of chronic pain and those struggling with what feels like “losing their mind” doesn’t always penetrate when we’re done fighting. But God’s fighting. He’s working. He doesn’t need our acknowledgement for Him to be the good God we often doubt that He is.
To the concussed Christian
Dear Concussed Christian: There’s a place for doubt in this journey. There’s a place for despair. They’re awful experiences. [awkward pause] … Are you waiting for the “but”? It’s there, but it doesn’t come quickly or easily for those experiencing concussions. Without trying to sound harsh: “get used to it as part of your new reality” … But Christ comforts and speaks to all your losses. He reveals to us what we’ve gained in the promises of Christ and often shows us in ways we wouldn’t choose.
[Side Note: Notice how I didn’t promise healing for us? Well, that’s something I can’t do because the Bible never promises to heal on this earth, although it does promise suffering and heartache for Christians. Healing can happen, it just isn’t a guarantee. The Bible does promise help in this life and healing in the life to come when we are made perfect in heaven.]
So, I am not going to tell you to do more reading, praying or being a better Christian, but simply rest. Rest in Christ to do the work for you. Give your weary mind, body, and spirit space for God to work. However, if you’re anything like me, “rest” isn’t a part of your vocabulary. So be patient with yourself as you learn what rest means for you.
In the church, we often refer to our walk of faith to age. Phrases like “baby Christian” or “young in their faith” often get thrown around, well this can be useful for life with a concussion. You are essentially relearning how to do life with your concussion at a slower pace than normal. At three months into your concussion journey, you’re going to be needing a lot of grace for yourself, you won’t know how to do things on your own and will need a lot of support from others. But as your symptoms decrease over time and you learn your symptom triggers, you start to experience competence, and with it, acceptance grows too.
Life is no longer measured from year to year but from moment to moment. Life moves fast and we move slow. Whether your young in your concussion journey or practically a senior, rest in Christ to whatever degree you can at this moment.