Concussion / mild TBI causes the brain to go hyperactive. It’s been injured, and it starts sending out all sorts of messages to the cells without any particular order. It “knows” it’s been injured, and it starts telling itself it needs to Get Going! Go! Go! GO! It’s like a commander in war, or a coach in a critical game shouting at the team. The cells themselves start firing on all cylinders – in any and every direction – like soldiers pinned down and desperate to fight their way to safety, firing their guns in all directions with no thought of who or what they might hit. The panicked cells start sending out impulses and communications to each other in no particular order.
In the process, a lot of chemicals that should really stay inside cells, get on the outside. And a lot of chemicals that should stay on the outside, get inside the cells.
It’s like a frantic football coach telling every single player to get on the field for a play – offense, defense, special teams, and even the kicker, athletic trainers, and support staff end up on the field, running in all directions, none of them quite sure what’s supposed to happen, or what they’re supposed to do.
All they know is, the coach is yelling GO! GO! GO! … and they’re going.
In concussion / mild TBI, your brain is literally flooded with chemicals that aren’t supposed to be there. Scientists call this process a “neurometabolic cascade” — cell walls get “breached” and the stuff that used to be inside gets outside, and the stuff that used to be outside gets inside.
If you’ve ever had your basement flooded or you’ve seen pictures of a flood aftermath, you get the general idea of what happens to the brain after a concussion.
The brain also loses energy after a concussion. So, it can’t work as quickly as usual. This can make you feel “out of it” or foggy… like everything is going in slow motion. That’s a normal feeling after a concussion, but nobody ever told me that.
I remember all too well the zombie sensation of just floating through life, not having any clue what was going on around me. It was a terrible feeling. After one of my car accidents, I had to find my way to a train station to pick up a friend, but I kept getting lost and I showed up 30 minutes late. My friend was pissed off, but I was so out of it, I couldn’t discuss it. It was like I was moving in slow motion. I hated that feeling – not knowing where I was… where I was going… or how to have a conversation.
Another time, after I was tackled in a football game, I could hardly walk – I was wobbling all over the place and couldn’t talk properly. It was terrible. I wanted to get back in the game, but I felt like my body was made of rubber – and my head was a block of wood. I couldn’t hold onto the ball, and I didn’t know why.
This feeling can last a few days – sometimes longer. The brain needs to figure out how to get energy, and it needs to clear out the chemical gunk that flooded it. It takes time for the brain’s processes to return to normal. Just like it takes a while for flood waters to recede, and it leaves a coating of gunk on everything when the waters go down, all the chemicals in the wrong places leave gunk on the connections in your brain.
Depending on the concussion, there may be a lot of “gunk” that your brain needs to clear out before its connections can begin to heal and be repaired.
During that time – sometimes it’s days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months (it varies from person to person) – your brain has to work extra overtime to clean up its act. The problem is, the way your brain creates energy is also negatively affected by concussion.
So, just at the time when the brain needs more energy to clean out and heal, it’s less able to produce the energy it needs.
The net result? You may feel like you’re walking around in a fog. And you are.
Your brain’s connections are “fogged up” by the extra gunk that got released when you got “dinged”. And your brain doesn’t have the energy it needs to clear it all out as quickly as you’d like.
It’s a terrible feeling – especially if you’re the kind of person who’s always on the go, always active and involved in life. If you “just bumped your head”, it might not make any sense to feel the way you do – but you feel this way for a very good reason: your brain is still trying to clean itself out, so it can get on with the healing process.
You’re not stupid – it just feels that way. And chances are good that you won’t feel that way forever.